It has been about 20 years since I trained with Jeff Davis and it seems like much is the same as it was then. Sadly, Jeff seems to have the same problem with credibility and student exodus now as he did then. However, there are a few things I think I can share that will help people decide whether or not to call him Sensei. In short, Jeff Davis is a credible, viable martial artist, with a charismatic flair for the dramatic, and tends to run a school which focuses a bit too much (at least for me) on demanding almost cultish respect from his students while not providing the best training for $90 a month.
In the name of full disclosure I feel I need to identify myself. I am Jim Noonan, a student of Jeff’s in the early 1990’s in both Southern Chinese Kempo, reaching a blue belt – between a green and brown belt, and a green belt in Shorin-ryu. After leaving Jeff’s dojo, say three years or so of on-again off-again training, I studied Aikijitsu/Aikido with Mark Allen (a black belt, sorry I can’t remember what level, who studied with Toyota Sensei in St. Albins, WV) at WVU for two or so years. I never belted with Mark, but I studied a good 2-3 days a week for a good 2-3 hours a day with him and probably had a solid green in Aikido before moving. After a LONG hiatus I have recently started studying Chito-ryu with Drummond Sensei (Go-dan, lineage through Dometrich Hanshi, and its founder, Dr. Chitose (Osensei).
Now back to Jeff Davis. Jeff is a viable martial artist, skilled in many arts. Jeff also has a few exceptional students that reached black belt with very respectable skills (I am thinking of David Reese here). Jeff is also very much the showman. This is neither good nor bad, but it may help to explain the dojo atmosphere and some of Jeff’s rules and behaviors (again, I’ve not seen it for about 17 years now, but based on threads here, I assume it is largely the same). Whether or not he has actually achieved ALL the claims of rank and mastery in arts (see helmutlvx's posts), his skill is definitely respectable and worth learning – if you can tolerate his style of teaching which was a bit egocentric (but we will get to his style later).
His instruction (at least 20 years ago) tended to focus on the finesse side of technique (again the showman) and while Jeff was able to generate massive amounts of power, it was not something he overly emphasized when teaching lower ranks. Now, to be fair, I was never a very good or talented student – certainly nowhere near his best, but some of the criticisms concerning technique noted in the posts are fair. Those are the lack of movement during static and line drills and a lack of hip rotation/vibration, which generates a ton of power as I’ve recently learned. He discussed them, but did not encourage them, at least not at lower ranks.
However, Jeff’s teachings still provide a solid level of basics, that I still have some skill with today. With the exception of kicks, which focused on using the top of the foot/shin, and stances, I have not really needed to adjust my technique for Chito-ryu. Chito-ryu, which I consider a pure lineage, emphasizes kicks with the ball of the foot. I’ve had to basically unlearn all of my kicking technique to conform to the Chito-ryu style.
But these are largely style semantics. Again, I argue that the Gyakunamido style in attempting to blend several styles means students get a good exposure to lots of styles, but master none without LONG periods of study. Given the lack of movement and power taught, Jeff’s style can seem rather light, especially compared to traditional arts.
As for Aikido, I also had to unlearn a lot to adapt to teachings from a pure lineage. While Jeff may have held rank and taught these techniques (I studied Aikido with him for a time as well) my later teachers in the art never considered his techniques and teachings in Aikido to be very valid. The movements and stances for these were taught in static positions. Learning Aikido though other teachers after Jeff all emphasized not just the hand grapples and nerve/pressure/join locks, but also how to move the legs and change stances to achieve much greater effect. Ultimately, these reasons prompted me to leave Jeff’s school and seek better instructors when I started becoming more proficient in martial arts.
As for Jeff’s style of teaching, it was not for me. Jeff expected a large amount of grandeur and adoration from his students (remember the showman). He expected student loyalty, unquestioning commitment, and an almost cult-like devotion. This is especially true if you want to work your way into the inner-circle where you will supposedly really learn “secret” techniques. He expected bowing in public, as an example. As noted in a previous post, I am not surprised to read that Jeff does not allow tournaments, students to train with other instructors. These things are not necessarily uncommon in martial arts, even in the US.
Cult-like, really? Yes. Controlling people’s behavior (not allowing you to train with others, bowing in public, etc.) is a bit cultish, though I respect it if you disagree. In fact, when I told Jeff I was going to leave the dojo and train with Mark Allen, Brian Lowery (who responded earlier in this post) got in my face, told me that I was out of line, claiming I should have asked Sensei to leave. He was so adamant and aggressive about it, it almost came to blows. Expecting such a thing just reinforced why I was leaving. In fact, like Brian’s earlier post shows, he is still defending his sensei in such a manner today. (No hard feelings Brian – that is all water under the bridge. I hope you and Jeff are well and occasionally reminisce about the good ol' days!).
Again, these expectations are not right or wrong (Jeff and Brian are not the only ones to share these views of Sensei/student etiquette and expectations), just know that if you want to commit to studying with Jeff, you may face similar issues where your expectations don’t match. I believe this is why Jeff historically lost students in the past. The get to a point where playing the game wears a little thin.
You might argue that I simply lack respect a discipline. I disagree. As my current sensei and I bet he would tell you I show proper respect and discipline.
But if you like such formality and etiquette, then Jeff is definitely the school for you. If you want a more traditional martial arts experience, you might want to look elsewhere. If you want a more hardcore style, you probably (but not necessarily) want to go elsewhere. If you want to exercise a few times a week with a softer touch, so to speak, then Jeff is probably better.
Sorry for the novel. But I felt it necessary to show things have not seemed to change in 20 years – Jeff is not a total hack in terms of skill, but might be a bit demanding in terms of the level of respect he expects from serious students.