I recently attended a training seminar with two very well respected, highly skilled kenjutsu practitioners. Despite a taxing travel schedule they were both very giving with their instruction and I certainly took away a few things to think about.
The primary instructor of the seminar was Kishimoto Chihiro, Iaido Hachidan (8th degree black belt) and former Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Iaido Committee Chairman. He was joined and assisted by Kato Shozo, AUSKF Vice President of Education and Kendo Hachidan as well as Iaido Nanadan (7th degree black belt).
For a quick introduction to each instructor, view the short videos below:
|Kishimoto Chihiro Sensei||Kato Shozo Sensei|
The seminar itself was broken up into two major parts. The first consisted of Kishimoto Sensei sharing some of his philosophy on training as well as exploring connections between iaido and kendo. The second part involved Seitei Waza demonstration, instruction, and correction.
Kishimoto Sensei imparted many ideas of interest, one of which caught my attention in particular which I would like to share today. He described the three levels of visualization one can achieve during iaido training.
Exploring the Three Levels of Visualization
Visualization is extremely important in iaido. After all, the art consists of drawing and cutting in thin air (or at worst against rolled up tatami). Unlike kendo there is no fierce opponent screaming and leaping at you. It is up to the practitioner’s imagination to create an opponent upon which to execute technique. This may sound easy, but while striving for technical competence in iaido even getting started with visualization can be a daunting task. Kishimoto Sensei expressed visualization progression in the following manner*:
- Visualization Level 1 – A Weak Opponent Easily Defeated
- Visualization Level 2 – A Well Matched Opponent of Equal Skill
- Visualization Level 3 – A Stronger Opponent with Superior Technique
All practitioners start at level 1 when beginning training. I should say, once the iaidoka learns how not to fall down and hurt themselves, they then begin at level 1. A level 1 ‘opponent’ barely exists in the mind of the practitioner and only performs simple maneuvers. The imaginary antagonist will fail to preempt even the most sloppy and slow of draws. He/she will succumb to any wobbly strike and will be thoroughly blocked during any and all counter attack attempts. A level 1 opponent only attacks when our block is ready and moves conveniently into range for all strikes to land flush.
Once the basics of iaido waza are executed competently (which can take a long time) the practitioner is free to think more clearly about their opponent and their own body movement. It is at this time that ‘reality’ starts to kick in. The practitioner can begin to understand why their instructor has been making so many subtle corrections. Excessive movement can give away intention (just like in the video above with Kishimoto Sensei). Poor body posture can lead to weak cuts that wouldn’t slice through clothing let alone bone. Improper foot movement can leave the opponent out of optimal range. At level 2, the practitioner can instill concepts that they now understand into the opponent, and thus can make personal adjustments with educated intent. At this level an iaidoka will know when mistakes and flaws would have resulted in dueling failure.
Many years are spent exploring level 2, trying to execute waza with exacting precision and understanding. The ultimate goal is to arrive at level 3 wherein the iaidoka can create an imaginary opponent of superior strength. At level 3 the practitioner needs ultimate composure and zanshin. Full fighting spirit is required to even sit in the presence of such a powerful opponent. The enemy is faster, more skillful, and more patient. Only a perfect performance will result in victory, and the death of the enemy will be palpable.
Visualization Levels Applied Elsewhere
Kishimoto Sensei’s explanation of visualization levels stuck with me because I had heard similar ideas before. One question Bill Hayes of Shobayashi Ryu Karate likes to ask is: “what is the worst part about kata?” The answer he provides is simple: “we always win”.
Even the most raw beginner will survive their kata practice, landing every punch and blocking every counter attack. Of course, Hayes Sensei goes on to explain that the real value of kata training is when you can feel the intent from your imaginary opponent and can execute technique with the same intensity and focus as if you were in a life and death struggle.
I am always excited and intrigued when high level concepts appear in multiple places. I find it encouraging that no matter what particular martial route you or I find ourselves on, there are masterful teachers discovering and sharing as much as they can.
As a final note, from personal experience and teaching, try not to obsess or rank your visualization abilities. The mere act of patting yourself on the back, or judging yourself harshly, will only distract from the task at hand and slow down your progress. Besides, if you declare yourself a level 3 practitioner, what motivation will you have to continue refining and challenging yourself?
This is one of those little martial paradoxes – learn it, then forget, then contemplate it, then forget it, repeat…
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:
Very few martial artists have had more cultural impact than Bob Anderson…especially considering most people have never heard of him.
When you reflect on the best sword fighting scenes in cinema history, you might cite some of the following movies:
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
- Mask of Zorro
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
- The Princess Bride
- Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
- The Three Musketeers
Imagine one man with the depth of knowledge and passion for excellence needed to bring combat to life on all of those movies. Bob Anderson was the man behind the swords.
Image Courtesy of ScienceFiction.com
Life and Times
“Born in Gosport, Hampshire, Anderson followed his father into the Royal Marines in his early 20s. In September 1942, he was one of the survivors when HMS Coventry was badly damaged in the eastern Mediterranean by German dive-bombers. After the second world war, Anderson, who had taken up fencing at a very young age, taught the sport as an instructor for the services. He won competitions with all four weapons – foil, sabre, épée and bayonet – and represented Britain at the Olympics in Helsinki in 1952. It was while waiting to compete there that he was asked to go to Pinewood Studios to work with Flynn on The Master of Ballantrae. ” – The Guardian
Bob Anderson was a man who managed to turn his expertise into a fruitful career. After working with Errol Flynn, Anderson’s star rose as he moved from movie to movie. He became known as a tough perfectionist working behind the scenes, but his effort repeatedly showed on film. Anderson even made appearances as he doubled for various actors.
Years of Olympic experience and stage presence made Anderson the elite sword coach in Hollywood all throughout his life.
Here’s more on Anderson as a coach and swordsman:
The Birth of the Lightsaber Duel
Although lightsabers played an important role in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, they truly came alive in the duels of the second two movies in the original trilogy. The lightsaber appeared to be a unique mixture of fencing sword crossed with medieval broadsword. The results were stunning and game changing.
The individual under the mask of Darth Vader, David Prowse, was allegedly not up to the task of bringing the duels to life. It was Anderson who stepped in, at the age of 60, and fought Mark Hamill on screen.
The portrayal of sword work in movies has never been the same.
A Lasting Career
Despite his advanced age, Anderson continued to be active on movie sets, demanding excellence from actors such as Viggo Mortensen of Lord of the Rings. In fact, he was working on the upcoming movie The Hobbit, which is set to be released toward the end of 2012.
Sadly, he won’t be able to finish that particular project, but there is no doubt his mark will be left on the movie when it hits the silver screen.
The Lives of Many
The amount of lives Anderson has touched can hardly be overstated. The Princess Bride is my personal favorite movie. I recall growing up with it and every time I watched the sword duel between Wesley and Inigo I was stunned into silent study. The intrigue, banter, and athletics were perfectly executed. The moves were so fluid and astounding that I couldn’t imagine two better swordsmen in the whole world.
It’s satisfying to know that the man behind the choreography was indeed one of the best, and will always be remembered for his lasting efforts.