The martial arts world has lost another luminary. Shimabukuro Masayuki, most well known for his strong leadership in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Swordsmanship, lost his battle for health and passed away in the month of September, 2012.
Shimabukuro Sensei will be missed by many. He was an influential instructor who produced many fine martial artists. He also affected a multitude of lives through his high quality books and DVDs. His martial arts experience was diverse and impressive yet he always held himself with an air of kindness and respect.
Shimabukuro Sensei's senior student, Carl Long, wrote this about Sensei's passing:
Dear friends and fellow martial artists,
It is with much regret that I extend to you all the tragic news of the passing of our honorable teacher Masayuki Shimabukuro, Hanshi. He was the 21st-generation master of the Masaoka line of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido and a founding member of the North American Japan Masters Association. Our mentor and teacher transitioned from his life here with us on September 7, 2012, following a prolonged battle for his good health. The news of his passing will have a profound effect throughout the budo world, but even more so in the world of his family members and friends.
The immediate family will conduct services with appropriate ceremony for a man of such inspiration and humility. On behalf of the Shimabukuro family and JKI/KNBK members around the world, we would like to express our gratitude to our budo colleagues who sent their condolences. We know how much our teacher has touched our lives, and we understand the impact he has had on all those who were in his life.
Mr. Shimabukuro’s eyes were always the brightest when he was in the company of his budo family and colleagues. Our hearts will carry on his spirit for as long as we maintain his sincerity within our lives. He touched us all.
May each of us find peace and solace in his words and teachings. I wish you each a quiet moment of reflection and communion with your memories of a great man and all that he has bequeathed to you during his exceptional lifetime.
With bowed head and heavy heart,
Kokusai Nippon Budo Kai/JKI
Shimabukuro Sensei's Martial Arts Experience
Miura Takeyuki Hidefusa was perhaps the biggest influence in Shimabukuro Sensei's martial arts life, but there were others who helped along the way. Shimabukuro achieved high rank and influence not just in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu but in Shito Ryu Karate and Shindo Muso Ryu Jojutsu as well, not to mention his high proficiency in kobudo and Judo.
Watch this short video highlighting some of Shimabukuro Sensei's journey (video developed during Black Belt Magazines's 2006 Weapons Instructor of the year award):
In His Own Words
We are fortunate in that Shimabakuro Sensei recorded many of his lessons in book and DVD format. As such, we have a lasting record of his methods and skill. Furthermore, he made a conscientious effort to help his senior students grow, many of whom continue to pass on his teachings all around the world.
The following is a brief interview with Shimabukuro Sensei wherein he explains some of his theories on kenjutsu training. He also provides insight into why he decided to dedicate his life to Muira Sensei's iaido:
Our Best Wishes to Students, Family, and Friends
To the family and friends of Shimabukuro Sensei we offer our sincerest condolensces. To Sensei's senior students we offer our support and encouragement in continuing the old ways of Budo. Losing an honorable figurehead is never easy, but the goal of the arts is to carry on and so it will.
As a final note, please watch Shimabukuro Sensei perform his forms with the precision, clarity, and grace he was well known for:
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The bo is one of the most popular and widely utilized kobudo implements. It's length and dynamics have made it a mainstay on the tournament circuit. However, using the bo for combative purposes is a unique challenge and much of the flair used in forms gets abandoned in a hurry.
Odo Seikichi Sensei with Dennis Branchaud
There's a reason almost every ancient culture developed a polearm style weapon: it's simple and effective. The long range allows the user to stay at a relatively safe distance while impacting the opponent. The dual wooden ends allow for devastating combinations of blows, blocks, and sweeps.
Of course, as with any weapon, the inherent strengths of the bo provide gaps for weakness. At close range the bo becomes unwieldy and loses it's primary arc of power. The lack of a cutting edge, while allowing for lighter weight, also reduces the ability to cut through clothing, armor, and flesh.
One of the real "secrets" to learning how to use the bo effectively (ie maximizing strength while minimizing weakness) is to find balance in mobility.
Depending on who you watch the bo can be a very linear and poky weapon or a sweeping, twirling, arcing weapon. Too much of either is a bad thing and provides the opponent with obvious "suki", or gaps in mindset and posture.
Let's look closer at the two imbalanced extremes of bo usage.
The bo can be a dazzling, elegant instrument of artistic expression. It can spin so fast that the eye can no longer trace the ends. Some mythology states that the bo could be spun so fast that it could block arrows. In a static environment with careful planning….that might be true. But in a combative environment such excess motion and dependence on fine motor skills would tire the user and put them at risk.
Wasted motion is an indulgance that bo combatants can't afford. Extreme spinning of the bo or transitioning from end to end may feel productive, but in actuality it provides a large series of gaps for skilled opponents to capitalize on.
Think about it this way: when sparring, bouncing lightly on your toes makes you feel lighter and more mobile. However, it also allows a skilled opponent to gauge your timing and maneuverability. You might not automatically lose because of it, but you certainly don't give yourself an advantage.
Excessive bo spinning and manipulating is the same way. When spinning, the hands are committed to a certain pattern. The pace and pattern of that movement can act as a predictable cue. While it's true that some spinning can leave the opponent guessing as to where an attack might come from, there are far more drawbacks than gains when relying too much upon it.
In my experience, bo "spinners" tend to spin just until the action gap gets close. They then regrasp the bo and assume a more predictable posture. The moment in between spinning and regaining posture is a highly exploitable gap. Even if they don't conclude the spinning, the rhythm of the spin is easily disturbed, and thus once again provides an opening.
The opposite of wasted motion is just as dangerous. Static immobility manifests in styles that are overly dependent on linear movement. In these situations bo thrusting and strikes are often accompanied by long stances with emphasis on power in each strike. The problem with this method is that the inherent liveliness of the bo, that unpredictable nature, is lost.
Taking advantage of the bo's full length and dual edges requires smooth, consistent action without a lot of starting and stopping. Striking with the front end, stepping, and then striking with the back end is far too lengthy a process when it comes to weapons combat. Furthermore, keeping the bo in an immovable posture is a great way to get a piece of it cut off against an edged weapon or struck out of your grasping front hand.
Static users often need to shorten their stance and lighten their grip. Too frequently these individuals clamp onto the weapon the way they might grasp the safety bar on a roller coaster, holding on for dear life. The bo should be held firmly but gently. Sword practitioners will be familiar with this advice.
Striking a Balance
The methods described above probably seem diametrically opposite, leaving little room for actual success with the weapon. In truth, a little bit of both when used in the right context can maximize effectiveness.
A few fundamental factors need to be in place at all times:
- The feet should be available, light, and naturally spaced to enhance mobility. This means avoiding deep, static stances except during moments of hard impact when the whole body is transmitting force, but then quickly returning to natural stance.
- Awareness of centerline control should be maintained no matter which posture the bo is in.
- Distance should be maintained as much as possible to stay within the ideal striking range of the bo while minimizing the opponent's effective striking range.
By using proper fundamentals the bo can strike, retract, swing, retract, extend, pull back, all in a continuous arc while the feet make slight distance adjustments. In a moment's notice the bo can snap into a centerline posture and create linear techniques to overwhelm an unsuspecting opponent, and at will revert back into fluid strikes from unpredictable angles.
The great thing about working with the bo in a combative manner is that frivolous and unwieldy techniques will be quickly revealed as dangerously ineffective.
I recommend finding someone who is skilled with a shinai and allowing him/her to strike at you with speed and freedom. You'll quickly learn the sensation of failure as fancy tactics turn into desperate backpeddling while bamboo whips passed your head.
Should you waste too much motion you'll rarely find yourself in prime position to capitalize on openings. Should you be too static you'll find your bo quickly knocked off centerline and your distance encroached upon.
Aim for smooth, consistent balance and your opponents will start to wonder if perhaps they should study the bo as well!
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Most of the time I like to keep my posts practical and useful, but sometimes you have to swing for the fences and ask the big questions. There aren't too many bigger than this:
Who are the most substantial influencers in the martial arts universe; the movers and shakers that, without them, the martial landscape would be much different today?
The big disclaimer for this video is that it is a highly subjective topic. There is no possible way my list could be considered definitive. In fact, in a few years I might even disagree with myself! Nevertheless, it is a fun experiment trying to appreciate the real roots of our collective martial culture.
Is your brain churning already in regards to whom you might include on "The Top Ten Most Influential Martial Artists of ALL TIME"? Well, let's find out if you and I agree or disagree. To the list!
If the video doesn't pop up when you click it, just visit the youtube page here.
I really hope you enjoyed watching this little romp through history and present day development. If you feel that your style or system was excluded unfairly I do apologize – there were so many to consider and so few slots available. If it makes you feel any better, I didn't even include the founder of my own style. So I at least ATTEMPTED some objectivity.
When you stop for a moment and really consider the lasting impact of individuals like this it makes you appreciate the complexity of martial development. Without the efforts of just a handful of special people what we know and accept today as martial arts could be completely different.
Consider now the seriousness of your training and your value in preserving martial culture for generations to come. Who might bloggers include on a list like this 100 years from now when they sit down to write on their futuristic brain-implant-computers? Will you be on their list? :-).
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