Bujutsu Fighting Gangs in East Timor Part II

Written by Gaku Homma
February 11, 2008

When I awoke that morning, I could tell that something was wrong. In the sky, Australian military helicopters hovered slow and deliberately, low on the horizon. UN police vehicles and military cars moved in quickly through the streets.

I had a meeting scheduled that morning with the principal of the police academy. At the meeting, I was told what was going on. East Timor’s President Halta (the second president since East Timor gained its independence as a nation in 2002) had been attacked at his palace and shot. The Prime Minister had also been shot in a second attack while in transit from his home. Luckily, neither shot had proved fatal. I was already scheduled to leave East Timor that day, and I was lucky that my flight was scheduled to leave before a complete state of emergency was declared and travel prohibited.

This was not the first time I have been in a situation like this. In 2005 I was lucky to get out of Kathmandu, Nepal during a political coup and government take-over. Comparing the two, this situation in East Timor was a little calmer, yet concerning all the same as anti-government elements attempted to assassinate the president.

I am not a military or political analyst nor am I a religious activist.  I am, as I always have said, just a martial artist. I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world, and have made many friends in many countries. I have not collected dojos in my travels to become direct affiliates of mine or of Nippon Kan’s; that is not my style nor is it my purpose. I enjoy the freedom I have in my activities, a freedom I would not have if my purpose was to recruit satellite affiliates. It is much better this way.

I am like a traveling performer. I like very much going to different countries when invited and I do my best to give and share what I know of Aikido wherever I go. My reward is only in how well my teaching is received. Applause at the end of practice is enough for me. I never receive payment for teaching. If my teaching is acceptable, students clap, if it is not, there is no sound. I enjoy the challenge of visiting the front lines in all kinds of climates, social and physical conditions and teaching the best way I can. Sometimes there are many students, sometimes there are not even mats to practice on or an uke to practice with. I have no wild ambitions to be a great teacher with hundreds of dojos. I go to practice and humbly respect the opportunities I have had. Without this strong conviction and humble approach I would not be able to visit countries suffering from political and social instabilities; or countries where Aikido is not a familiar art. Wherever I visit, I strictly adhere to my rules about not getting involved in local politics, social or religious causes. My purpose is to focus on Aikido and the small part I can play in its development in the world.

In East Timor however, the situation is clearly different in the sense that the martial arts are directly involved with the social and political problems of this new nation. Even sticking to my principal belief of focusing only on the role of the martial arts in a given country’s society, in East Timor this leads right back to a place of turmoil and the manifestations of unrest.

Before returning to East Timor I did a lot of research on East Timor’s history, current political and social conditions, and international relationships with neighboring countries. This research helped me to identify problems I wished to verify personally on my return visit. One of the primary questions that continued to plague me after my first visit to East Timor was about the so called “Martial Art Wars.” I still wanted to learn if these wars were true and if so, how and why.

In Part I of Bujutsu Fighting Gangs of East Timor I reported that there were 29,000 young people involved in the martial art gangs of East Timor. I also reported that these 29,000 young people had been labeled as the “root of all evil” by local officials and the cause of all problems in East Timor.

I came to East Timor this second time suspecting that the martial arts had been given a very bad name in East Timor and that this was being manipulated and used by others for their own benefit. In East Timor, all social problems, even poverty, illiteracy and violence are being blamed on the “martial art war problem”. “The Martial Art Wars” have become a political catch-all for all social ills in East Timor and little mention is made of other internal government deficiencies, insurgent influences, ethnic conflicts, corruption and other ills that plague the country.

One underlying reason in having a named culprit of ills like the Bujutsu Martial Art Gangs is that it keeps an international focus and monetary assistance in East Timor through the United Nations’ involvement. The UN may be hesitant to get involved in local ethnic social or political problems but seem readily available to battle a large bag of ills under the name of “The Martial Art Wars.” UN involvement in turn helps the struggling nation keep its Democratic Nation Status. Fueling a martial art war might be the brain child of international and local political strategists, but as a martial artist, I am not happy with this stereotype.
In Bujutsu Fighting Gangs in East Timor Part I, I introduced Sung Ju-hwan, a UN Police officer, instructor and Aikidoist on duty in East Timor. When Sung Ju-hwan first arrived he was briefed on the horrible problems with the martial art gangs. He spoke to me of his experiences. “Everything bad happening in East Timor was blamed on the martial arts. The martial arts had become synonymous with all social evils in the world. I felt ashamed when I arrived here because I too am a martial artist. I tried to start an Aikido class in Dili, but even before I started, other UN police officers, friends and sempai told me it was not only a waste of time, but would put me in danger. They laughed at the fact I even wanted to try. They made me feel like I was a bad person because I practice martial arts. I did not like the way the martial arts were perceived.”
As I returned to East Timor as a martial artist, I wanted to take a second look at the reported 29,000 young people supposedly involved with these martial art wars. I wanted to see if I could find the compounding factors of this problem from their perspective.

Looking objectively at the martial arts practice in East Timor, the understanding of the principles of the martial arts is at a very low level based more on the teachings of Hollywood and the violent action scenes of Bruce Lee or Steven Segal movies than true masters of these arts.

A truer mission to end the violence among the young people in East Timor under the guise of martial arts is to correct the misunderstanding and the differences between Budo and the Bujutsu fighting techniques they are practicing. This is a crucial responsibility for the martial art instructors in East Timor. If this understanding is not corrected, the state of the martial arts there will never improve.

The status and integration of Budo and Budoka into society varies widely from country to country; depending among other factors the way the martial arts were introduced to a particular society. For example, especially in Hollywood, the martial arts have been portrayed both as vicious and violent in cheap action films on one side and as an art to be used for honor and self development on the other side as in the classic “Karate Kid.”

Unfortunately it seems to be standard in underdeveloped or politically unstable countries that the more aggressive and violent southeast Asian martial art movies prevail, offering and exploiting the a very negative portrayal of the martial arts. Even more unfortunate is the fact that under the sometimes dismal circumstances in underdeveloped countries, these movies are empowering and popular. Not only are the young and deprived getting their information on the martial arts from low level action movies, the elite classes, government officials, educators and social leaders who have not formally studied the martial arts get their information from these same sources, and base their opinions on these images as well.

What has resulted in all levels of society in East Timor sounds in itself like the title of a low budget movie–“The Martial Art Wars of East Timor”–a situation that exemplifies the recent history of the teaching of the martial arts all over the world.
To more clearly understand what has happened in East Timor I would like to review the history of the martial arts since the introduction of Bruce Lee and other martial art stars in Hollywood. One point that is clear to me is that the level of understanding of true Budo (martial art spirit) notBujutsu (fighting techniques) has declined dramatically on an international scale since Hollywood became involved in the portrayal of the martial arts. Of course there are instances where Budohas been portrayed and accepted in positive and true ways but that would be the focus of another article for another day.

Let’s start with America.

Nippon Kan headquarters in Denver, Colorado (of which I am founder and chief instructor) has a cultural tour program with Denver and front-range elementary, middle schools and high schools to promote  awareness of Japanese culture. Every year approximately 3,000 young people tour the Nippon Kan facility to learn about Japan, and the tour includes among other activities an Aikido demonstration. Thirty years ago when Nippon Kan first opened in Denver, we did a lot of Aikido demonstrations in schools, and other outside community facilities and I have observed by interacting with these children that their reactions to the Aikido demonstrations has changed over the years. This change I think typifies and reflects the changes in the understanding of the martial arts in general in the United States and internationally.

Today while children watch the aikido demonstrations performed for them at Nippon Kan they laugh or clap their hands. This reaction concerns me. They seem to see the demonstration as a movie, television show or video game; it is entertainment for them. Thirty years ago, children were quietly attentive, sometimes a little scared or shocked when they watched an Aikido demonstration. Their eyes would grow wide, and they would hold their hands to their mouths, some huddling closer to their friends, others holding their breath. What they were feeling inside was easy to read. What children today feel inside is not so easy to understand. Children today do not have this kind of reaction. In today’s world, martial art violence is common in movies and video games, making children numb to consequences of actual physical confrontation. They watch the Aikido demonstrations today like they are comedy routines, with no sense of the physical reality of the demonstrations. Most of the children that visit Nippon Kan today have rarely if ever experienced pain, heat, cold, hunger, severe illness, loud noise or bad smelling places, mosquitoes, flies or other uncomfortable situations first hand. They have only had these kinds of experiences and are familiar with them visually through movies and television. Children of today laugh when they see one of our students twist a fellow student’s wrist and throw them through the air into a break fall. I find it disturbing that children have become this anaesthetized by the modern media that permeates our societies today. Parents are naturally shocked and horrified if a school shooting takes place resulting in death or suicide but do not seem to make the connection between the make-believe world of violence they are exposed to daily on television and in the movies and the unfortunate manifestations that can take place in real life. As I have said, I believe Hollywood is a source of this problem that needs to be further explored by parents and educators alike.

There are many parents today that watch violent martial art movies with their children and then drag them off to a dojo to learn the very same skills of violence. They play video games with their children; killing off “bad guys” and think this is cool. Why do parents today encourage such exposure to violence for their children? I believe it is because this generation of parents themselves grew up in the original Bruce Lee era so they as well do not have a true sense of the reality on the subject. They are passing on to the next generation the distorted perspectives on the martial arts that they too grew up with as children.

For the past 30 years, the practice and presentation of the Budo martial arts have steadily declined, losing a philosophical focus and reverting back to Bujutsu forms of fighting techniques. Parents and children alike have grown accustomed to the martial arts as a form of violent entertainment. The ability to discern what is real and what is imaginary has been lost and many different social problems have developed from this misrepresentation.

During the 1970’s, the Japanese were always the “bad guys” in Hong Kong-produced martial art movies, which more often than not were filmed in the Chinatowns of San Francisco and Los Angeles(AB: I don’t think that’s true. Honk Kong cinema was almost universally filmed in Hong Kong. It would have been enormously expensive to shoot in LA or Chinatown. Bruce Lee never filmed a movie in the U.S.). A typical storyline for these early martial art epics would revolve around the plight of mom and pop restaurant owners struggling to maintain ownership of their restaurant in the face of threats from Japanese with bad attitudes. Mom and Pop would put in a call to Hong Kong, and Bruce Lee (mom and pop’s nephew) would soon be on his was to save the day. He would arrive at the airport in the USA dressed in his Kung Fu outfit, ready to rumble with the bad Japanese guys. The story always ended the same way. Bruce Lee would beat up and triumph over all of the Japanese bad guys who always wore black uniforms and keiko gis.

During the 1970’s, San Francisco’s Asian population was made up primarily of Chinese and Japanese Americans. Internationally, Japan’s economy was going through a boom period and the Japanese were behaving rather financially boastful on the international stage. Under this global economic scenario, other Asian populations enjoyed beating up the Japanese in the movies out of a sense of jealousy over Japanese economic prosperity. There were also lingering hard feelings and stereotyped ill will left over from WWII and the Japanese occupation of many parts of Asia.  Thirty years ago, the Vietnamese and other Asian refugee populations were not as established in the United States as they are today, and in those earlier days, these communities struggled desperately to survive in their new surroundings. Powerful Asian martial art heroes like Bruce Lee and other South East Asian movie stars were held in high esteem as role models and also served as an outlet for the frustrations within their community’s circumstances.

For all of these Asian communities at this time in American history, the Americans were still the “good guys” and hosts in this new homeland. The Japanese then made a good target and outlet for the portrayal of violence actions and a release of frustration for these newly found Asian American communities. The negative portrayal of the Japanese in Asian martial art action movies of the day started a wave of movement that has torn at the image and philosophy of JapaneseBudo martial arts ever since.

Movie story lines have long been used by countries all over the world to promote political positions; this is not unique only to Hollywood. War-time propaganda films have been around since WWI and in the United States in the 70’s and 80’s there were many Hollywood-produced movies that portrayed ethnic and international struggles with political overtones. There were movies about the takeover of American markets by Japanese auto manufacturers during the days the Japanese were buying up America as well as movies about an Italian-American boxer named Rocky who finally beats his Russian adversary during the cold war. Some of these movies have become and remain classics.

Fantasy, fiction, non-fiction or documentary, there is always damage to the community of whoever is portrayed as the bad guy on the “silver screen.”  Beginning in the 70’s, non-Japanese Asian actors dressed in black keiko gis and choreographed martial art Bujutsu fighting techniques scenes. They called it Japanese Karate, butit was not, and it was not from Japan.

These movies were made on very low budgets; and as such the black-and-white uniforms made it easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad.  Just like the hats in cowboy movies, whoever is wearing the black hat or the black uniform is the bad guy and it did not take long before Americans assimilated what they were seeing in these movies and formulated new assumptions about Japan and the Japanese. Some Americans at the time did not know there was any difference between China and Japan and I personally have had people ask me in the United States, what part of China Japan was in.

Bruce Lee’s United States acting debut came on a television drama that first aired in the United States in 1966 called The Green Hornet. In this fictional portrayal, Bruce Lee played the part of Mr. Kato, a Japanese American butler with martial art skills. The series was a hit and a boon for all Japanese martial art dojos in the United States at the time. It is was the popularity of this television drama that helped to launch the popularity of the martial arts in the United States and Japanese martial art instructors eagerly jumped on this bandwagon of popularity.

The authenticity and philosophical content of the Japanese martial arts as portrayed in the movies and television from the start was not protested by Japanese Karate and other Japanese martial artBudo instructors during these early years. Instead Japanese instructors took advantage of the newfound interest in the martial arts in the United States, even posting Bruce Lee posters in theirdojos to attract new students, thus reaping new profits from this elevation in interest… however distorted. Japanese instructors mistakenly believed that the rising popularity of the martial arts might also be due to skills of the Japanese martial art teaching community when in actuality it was Bruce Lee on TV. Falling in step and in turn perpetuating the distortion of true Budo martial arts, Japanese instructors picked up the torch and took the opportunity to line their own pockets with proceeds from what has become a large part of the downfall of the true spirit of Budo in the martial arts not only in the United States, but around the world.

What began with Hong Kong and Hollywood martial art action movies took root in martial artdojos in the United States as some Japanese instructors embraced this new image and newfound influx of students. They changed their teaching to match the images portrayed in the movies, forsaking many of their own principal philosophies and disciplines. This furthered the decline of true Budo teaching, a lesson that many of these first-generation Japanese instructors in the United States did not learn until too late in their teaching careers. Many lost their way and lost their connection to their original Budo spirit by chasing a Hollywood dream. I know some of these instructors personally and have listened to them as they lamented “IF only there were one more movie boom…”.

Perpetuating this phenomena for further generations, some of these instructors produced students who also missed the essence of the true Budo spirit of their arts and without any sense of the loyalty commonly built between teachers and students, would break away from their instructors organizations at will to start their own money making enterprises.

In the end, some of this first generation of instructors in the United States not only destroyed their own careers, they damaged the very Budo martial arts they came to this country to teach. They cannot criticize the decline of the martial arts in the world today because they played a role in this decline by jumping on the Bruce Lee Boom Bandwagon and sacrificing their own integrity for profit. Now dojos sit idle and the massive wave of students are gone. Instead of understanding their own hand in their downfall they blame instead the influx of new Korean martial arts for stealing their business.

Since the 70’s, many martial art magazines and books have also hit the scene. Many of these publications have been filled with graphically detailed descriptions of deadly fighting techniques, even offering weapons of destruction for sale by mail order. Many of the articles are written by unqualified “instructors” without any attempts at authentication by publishers. Martial art magazines have long been filled with articles by “closet martial artists” with the credibility of the MySpace Internet sites of today. It is very concerning to me to think of the damage that can be inflicted by young people and adults with mail order weapons and “how to” instructions in a magazine. The publishers of these magazines seem to have thought much more about their profits than possible repercussions. It is even more concerning to me is that the name of Budo has been used to sell this junk, adding perceptibly to the degradation of the true Budo martial arts.

Following Bruce Lee, the next on the scene were the occult type martial arts typified by the Kung Fu TV Series (1972-1975) which focused on secret powers and secret knowledge in the martial art training of fictionalized Chinese monks. While at least the message had a better sense of honor, it also laid the way for any type of self-proclaimed guru or “master” to introduce his brand of secret knowledge through the yellow pages.

Next came the Ninja boom featuring the ones that can fly, walk up walls and cling upside down to ceilings with ease. With the introduction of these super Spiderman-like characters, the portrayal of the martial arts completely departed from the realms of Japanese Budo; becoming instead a gymnastic performing art that stretched even the greatest imaginations. Dojos opened that taught secret ninja techniques in the 80’s and performed special ceremonies for students in search of the supernatural. I have heard of dojos that seriously trained students in the art of becoming invisible and practiced regularly the skills of plucking flies out of the air with chopsticks. If I was to name this phenomenon I would have to call it the “brainwashed cult movie martial art syndrome.”

There was a story told by Buddha during the days he walked his path in shuygo (training) while a young man before his enlightment.

Once upon a time, there was an old man who earned his living by carrying people across the river on his back for a penny. It was a common practice in those days before bridges were commonplace. One day a traveler hailed to the old man to carry him across. When the old man agreed, the traveler walked across the river atop the water and jumped on his back. The old man soon shook the traveler off and yelled back at him. “No man walks on water. You are not a man.” With that the traveler changed from his human form back into a monster and slunk away under the waves.

A “monster” of profit-seeking hopped onto the back of Hollywood and Hong Kong in the 70’s in the form of the martial art movie boom that was not shaken off by those that knew there was something intrinsically wrong with the imagery that was being created. Today the Japanese Budomartial arts have paid the price of having ridden this monster down into the depths. What has resulted is the reversal of the Japanese Budo martial arts back to the fighting arts of Bujutsu all over the world. In the far corners of the earth, people have a mistaken and negative image of the martial arts fueled by worldwide exposure to these fantasies of the silver screen. The spirit and pride in Budo has been lost, swallowed by Bujutsu and other primitive forms of human combat such as the modern day manifestations of Pro Wrestling, Ultimate Fighting, Mixed Martial Art competitions and the like. On this path, what will we see next, a return to the Roman Coliseum watching men and animals fighting to the death? It is not so different today than in Roman times, the entertainments in both involve the same lust for blood, power and profit.

Once the transformation is complete, the contestants still wear keiko gis and black belts, but inside there is no heart or spirit of Budo left to find. What exists instead is a new generation of martial artists with training completely divorced from the true principals of Budo.


In early Japan’s history, the Japanese developed the fighting techniques of Bujutsu to make formidable warriors with strong physical and mental skills for war. There was something missing in the early Bujutsu arts and Bujutsu spirit which lacked the capacity for compassion in the pain or suffering of others.  Practicing these techniques made formidable warriors but not artists who practiced Budo. A yearning for higher understanding added religious and philosophical training to the practice of the Japanese warriors resulting in the Japanese Budo arts.

There is a very distinct line that separates the two. Budo is the study of martial arts including higher reflection and compassionate thinking. Bujutsu is the study of martial art techniques used to maim and kill without thought of the suffering of others. It may take a great deal of time, but I feel it is very important to begin again the task of illuminating the differences between these two approaches to the study of the martial arts. Budo evolving once from Bujutsu and once again needs to rise to the forefront of our teaching. This should have been done all along but in my experience with martial art organizations there are a minority of instructors that do so.

Japanese Budo instructors of today may be confident in their physical and technical mastery of theBudo arts but have had a declining impact on the world’s image and practice of the martial arts. Language is one considerable international barrier especially when faced with the effects of the martial art movie industry. Another reason is a lack of conviction and adherence to principle, hopping on with the monster and riding the Hollywood wave of fame and fortune.

A side effect in Japan has been especially apparent in the traditional Japanese Karate society where I have heard instructors blame their dwindling student numbers on Korea who still claim to be the origin for the arts of Kendo, Judo and even Aikido. This historical point on the true origin of these arts has never been academically challenged and settled once and for all. Instead the Japanese martial art communities just complain emptily about Yamamoto Spirit or Samurai Spirit which without clarification compares to a rifle without bullets. Big show without impact or direction.

In international martial art organizations today most of the countries representatives speak English fluently. Many high-ranking Japanese instructors still speak little or no English which gives them less command at an international level. This inability to master the English language speaks to an underlying misdirected pride in all things Japanese; assuming that Japan will always hold command over the martial arts.

Bujutsu martial art groups and dojos have grown like wildfire all over the world, leaving the DO in BUDO behind in the process. Developed nations have sophisticated legal systems that can control violent behavior with the rule of law, but in underdeveloped countries the situation is different. Threads of lawlessness, corruption and resistance to control have begun to weave themselves into the fabric of world wide Bujutsu martial art practice in many countries of the world.  Bujutsu artists earn a reputation of being uneducated, violent  fearful by instigating endeavors like public fighting challenges, violent dojo take-overs, destroying property at national heritage sites by breaking bricks with their hands or even fighting exhibitions against animals. All of these demonstrations I have heard of or seen myself and are a poor representation of the power of the martial arts.

Citizens of other countries with less access to outside world influences yet with serious religious beliefs whether they be Catholic, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, are more sensitive to this kind of violence. They believe that what they see in these public displays of violence and in the movie theaters is true; that all martial arts and martial artists are bad people. With this kind of reputation, bad attracts bad and situations worsen everywhere.

I have personally visited countries plagued by internal conflict and war. I have met fighting Bujutsugroups that did not have much common sense or social morality much less any sense of martial art Budo spirit or philosophy. I have also met Bujutsu martial artists that seemed to have been brainwashed by watching bad martial art movies and had developed cult-like spirits. I always found these encounters to be very unreal, even though to these people, in their circumstances they were very real indeed. I reflected after such encounters that behind every one of the local instructors that were teaching these distorted variations of the martial arts, stood a JapaneseBujutsu instructor who had promoted this kind of teaching; teaching that has spread and evolved into teaching of violence and destruction complete divorced from its origins in Budo.
Returning to the Bujutsu Fighting Gangs of East Timor, on this second visit to East Timor I sought to understand what the reported 29,000 people involved in the martial art gangs believed. I discovered that many of the groups had cult-like beliefs based on shamanistic powers and distinguished themselves with self mutilation. Mostly I learned that these groups did not attack each other, but spent their time either indoctrinating their own members or were involved as mercenaries for right-wing anti-government factions. Both ends of the spectrum seemed to be searching desperately for a sense of identity not only for themselves but an identity to show to the world. Some of their methods and motivations were similar in many ways to youth gangs in the United States. They as well had their own tagging systems of graffiti, hand signals and body tattoos to mark their associated identity and territory.

The capital city of Dili is different than other more remote areas I have visited in the sense that even in a city of widespread poverty, satellite dishes and antennas crowd the skyline. Everything from Yakuza movies to MTV is available to residents and much of the behavior of the Bujutsumartial art gangs was learned and reinvented from what was piped into to their households. The violent behavior emulated by the Bujutsu martial art gangs is not the natural behavior of the East Timor people.

Politics also plays a large role, as the Bujutsu Fighting gangs are led in many cases by the reorganized militia groups disbanded by the UN peacekeeping forces.  What used to be open fighting militias became what today are camouflaged as private “security companies”– Bujutsugangs and religious groups. These phenomena I have seen in other underdeveloped countries as well.

I found it true that East Timor does have Bujutsu fighting gangs that do not base their practice in the concepts of Budo. There are some groups that have adopted techniques from original Indonesian martial arts and there are others that have developed their own style from a variety of different styles and origins. They use their Bujutsu gang activities to make themselves strong and to intimidate other groups, but I still believe there is a lot of potential for positive development in these young people. I do not believe it is fair to label or stereotype all 29,000 of them as “bad.” If we can find the positive in their fighting spirit, it could be used to rebuild their country and change the direction of their future.

It is the responsibility of all of the countries that are currently supporting the new democracy of East Timor to develop the potential in these young people. This is also the way of true martial artBudo.

For officials to label the resistance against the government in East Timor as just a “Martial Art War” I think is questionable and dismissive. There are many reasons for the civil unrest in East Timor and what is most concerning is the potential for manipulation and control of these groups for personal political advantage. Many benefit from maintaining the need for current UN and military assistance.  Those who would exploit these martial art groups for their own political gain are much more dangerous than the Bujutsu gangs themselves.

I met one local leader in another country suffering from internal wars that would solicit the help of local militias from both sides to start fighting each other so that his village would receive government funds and other social aid. For him, this was a common tactic to help take care of his people and was executed fairly routinely without any sense of guilt or shame.

My final conclusion is that East Timor does not really have any “Martial Art War.” The problems in East Timor are no different than other parts of the world struggling with their own economic and political stability. For reasons involving race, religion, struggles for power, social equality or simply revenge, the reasons are the same everywhere. In East Timor, these problems just manifested themselves in an unusual way within the overly overt influences of the Bujutsu martial arts.

The official reports on the martial art wars in East Timor seem a bit like a Hollywood movie themselves. They seem to have been written by foreign observers and officials who had little or no martial art experience, drawing their conclusions based on their own personal biases with no more information than what they might have observed in movie theaters or in low-level Bujutsudojos in their home countries. Some of these reports about the “Martial Art Wars” have also been released by the intelligence community, so possibly these reports are being used as a distraction. Their reports can be found with ease on the internet and in other publications so perhaps they are sending this message to the world to serve another purpose.  Telling the world that there are martial art wars being waged in East Timor has brought aid from the UN and other sources that might not have been so readily available if the area as distressed for other reasons. Blaming all of the internal problems and violence in East Timor I found from my experiences is not truly realistic.


If the definition of a martial art gang or a “Martial Art War” is to use a bow or a stick in combat or practice forms of shamanistic type practice, then internal conflicts all over the world could be said to be “Martial Art Wars.” To stereotype conflicts by labeling them for their methods and not try to understand the underlying causes for problems is missing the point. What if those in conflict were throwing stones at one another? Would you call it a “stone throwing war?” Following this line of thinking there is no Martial Art War in East Timor. As I concluded in Bujutsu Fighting Gangs in East Timor Part I, I believe there are very real problems in East Timor, but these problems are being camouflaged and misrepresented by this catch all title. In East Timor’s case, this title of martial art war is a convenient way to solicit foreign aid and involvement.As long as it is successful in doing so,  the problems will remain. Using the term of martial art wars is a clever ploy by politicians and government officials who use the bad images conjured up by this phrase to their benefit.

This situation does not honor all of the Budoka who sincerely practice the Budo martial arts around the world. This problem in East Timor is a perfect real life example of the resulting consequences of the actions of the martial art instructors that did not do enough to protest the images made by Hollywood and by instructors and dojos who promoted these images looking for profit and not the clarification of the art. It is our fault that the name and teaching of the martial arts has sunk lower than gang warfare in countries all over the world.

On both of my visits to East Timor, I met many martial art leaders and instructors and I never felt in danger or ill at ease. All of the instructors I met were well mannered and showed me sincere respect as a Japanese martial artist. I hope that the young people in East Timor do not fall prey to the manipulation of outsiders. My advice to all of the young martial artists in East Timor is to avoid fighting; it is a waste. Work instead for what is good for you, your families and your country. Take a step back and think carefully before engaging in endless and self destructive distraction. If you continue to fight one another it only gives outside influences more of a chance to control your lives. I wish for peace in East Timor before the day comes when you wake up to find all your country’s resources and your spirit gone. Don’t let your future be taken like the sandalwood that once was so plentiful in East Timor.