81 – Beyond Self-Defense: Exploring the Transformative Power of Martial Arts with Adam Mitchell

How can practices like martial arts lead to life transformation?

While martial arts are often associated primarily with self-defense, their potential goes far beyond mere protection. Delving deeper into the practice reveals a multitude of benefits it can offer. 

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Adam Mitchell about how mastering martial arts can provide a sense of fulfilment and direction in life.

Maintaining traditional martial arts

“The preservation of the art that my teacher is teaching me is the most important responsibility that I have as a student; to not learn it and then make it my own, and completely manipulate it and create some other thing from it. There is an understanding of how to learn and to study in a model of how we are taught of Shu Ha Ri. 

The first is really learning, just doing as you're told, following exactly how your teacher shares it with you. And to not ask questions, but to simply do. And then the second that Ha stage, is where you begin to introduce different variables and you begin to pressure test it just a little bit, those foundational lessons that you have. And then from there eventually, the Ri, you let go of it, and it becomes something that's natural, it becomes part of who you are.” - Adam Mitchell

Podcast Highlights

Adam Mitchell

Adam Mitchell

Adam Mitchell is a father, martial artist, and entrepreneur. He has served as the director of Yasuragi Dojo for over 25 years, a traditional martial arts and cultural learning centre located in the heart of the Hudson Valley, New York. His Dojo offers lessons, workshops, and online courses in the authentic arts of Jujutsu, Kenjutsu, and Classical Weaponry.

Learning and teaching martial arts

Due to family issues, Adam found himself relocating frequently with his mother, settling in a neighbourhood rife with violence. This environment drew him into the allure of street life. However, as he reached his teenage years, he grew tired of the constant fighting and eventually found work at a nightclub. It was during this time that he truly immersed himself in martial arts.

During one of the competitions he refereed in Long Island, Adam witnessed a spirited match between a young girl and a boy, which led him to question the true essence of martial arts. This encounter influenced him to seek deeper meaning in traditional martial arts, prompting his journey to Japan.

The Yasuragi Center

Adam established his dojo, The Yasuragi Center, located in the Hudson Valley, New York. A dojo is a place for immersive learning, often translated as the ‘place of the way.’ Yasuragi was a name bestowed by an old sensei of his, translating to peace (of mind) or tranquillity, which aligns with the primary goal of his dojo – to be a place of peace for his practitioners.

He founded his dojo in 2000, which later became a registered nonprofit in 2001. In partnership with Sharon Nakazato Sensei, a master of Shodo, they aim to blend martial arts with literary arts. The Yasuragi Center offers martial arts training alongside cultural events and workshops to foster a deeper understanding of Budo (Japanese martial arts) and Japanese culture.

Preserving Japanese traditions

The preservation of his practice of Kobudo (traditional martial arts) is the most important responsibility for Adam. For him, it is essential not to alter the core principles of traditional martial arts, but instead to gradually evolve through understanding and practice. This can be achieved by implementing the concept of Shu Ha Ri, the stages of learning in Japanese martial arts:

  • Shu - Doing exactly as you’re told.

  • Ha - Putting to the test the basic foundational lessons that you’ve learned.

  • Ri - Your practice becomes something that’s natural – that’s part of who you are.

“A martial art is not a martial template. At a certain point, it becomes you and you become it. This is where very much my interest in ikigai comes in, where at this point now, it has become my way of living. It has become my bright future.” - Adam Mitchell 

A Way of Living

Unsui Sensei

Adam learned Shu Ha Ri with the help of Unsui Sensei, who has made a profound impact on his life. His sensei’s leadership and guidance filled a void in him he didn’t know existed. The experience made him feel like he was in the right place at the right time with the right person.

“Because seldom in someone's life do they encounter a moment where they know they're in the right place at the right time with the right person. And when they realise this, they acknowledge there's a certain gift here that is somewhat beyond definition.” - Adam Mitchell 

A Gift


Jutsu is a technique; hence, jujutsu is a soft technique. It involves grappling and leveraging body parts to control or subdue opponents. Its applications vary, with specialised forms like taiho-jutsu for law enforcement. Over time, jujutsu evolved alongside terms like judo. While judo incorporates aspects of traditional jujutsu, it's more focused on a way of life rather than just techniques. The evolution of these martial arts reflects a journey from specific techniques to broader philosophies, with elements of old jujutsu retained in modern practices like judo.

Immersive experience in Japan

Having experienced training in Japan, Adam believes that it is essential for his students to have an immersive experience in Japan as well. He aims for his students to experience different places and people while training. 

They've had memorable experiences such as climbing Mt. Fuji and participating in nighttime training sessions. He also visited his sensei independently to maintain a beginner’s mindset. He believes in leading by example and wants to show his students the importance of being a learner rather than positioning himself as a master.

“That's a really powerful concept, the beginner mind, and it removes the ego. No matter how good you are, or how many years you've spent learning something, as soon as you embrace this beginner's mind, it's like you’re free to learn again. It's a really powerful concept.” - Nicholas Kemp

Beginner's Mind

The importance of continuous learning

In martial arts, continuous learning is paramount. Mastering skills and techniques demands dedication. Adam underscores the significance of visualisation—enabling students to envision their opponents' movements and explore their potential without constraints.


Practising martial arts isn't just for self-defense—it's a journey to learn more about yourself. By training regularly, you build strength, both physically and mentally, and become more self-aware. It's a commitment for life, helping you grow and learn every day, making you stronger and wiser in all aspects of life.