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.
It’s that time of year again. Time for Martial Arts Santa to make his appearance!
For those of you who remember the previous exploits of Martial Arts Santa, thanks for sticking around the blog for so long! This year he’s going to focus on that wonderful tradition of gift-giving.
As opposed to normal martial arts gifts like a new bo or a copy of “Karate-Do: My Way of Life” (great book btw), M.A.Santa is going to dig a little deeper and try to recommend some resources and items that the martial artist in your life may not have heard of.
Whether you need some fresh ideas for yourself or a loved one, check out these M.A.Santa approved items:
In 1609 the Shimazu Clan of Satsuma, Japan staged a bold takeover of the Ryukyu island chain. Unfortunately, most karate resources briefly mention the event, state that the Shimazu reinforced weapons bans on the island, and move on.
This excellent book delves deeply into the details of the conflict, exploring the military capabilities of both the Japanese and the Okinawans.
Richard Kim is a very well known researcher and practitioner of the classical arts. He had a large impact on the development of western martial arts.
In this book, Kim Sensei tells a series of stories that illustrate the character, skill, and mindset of classical individuals throughout our collective martial past.
Included are stories of Funakoshi, Musashi, Higashionna, Miyagi, and more.
When I first began my sword training, my instructor recommended this book to me. It was a real game changer! The author, Dave Lowry, is a highly respected researcher and storyteller in the realm of Koryu arts.
In this book, he explains the unlikely circumstances of how he met a true Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Master and became a disciple of the art.
If you’re in the first few years of karate training, or would just like to establish a better understanding of history, “Okinawa: Island of Karate” might be a good choice for you.
This DVD, presented by George Alexander Sensei, provides a quality walkthrough of karate and kobudo history. Also featured are unique video clips from old masters, and a trip through Okinawa’s Budokan Museum.
It’s quite likely that this is my favorite martial arts documentary of all time.
“Budo, the Art of Killing” was filmed in the late 70s and features high level experts in a multitude of Japanese and Okinawan arts.
The thing that makes this documentary special is that it touches upon the heart of each art and doesn’t get caught up in gimmickry.
Bill Hayes Sensei tells an amazing story in his book “My Journey with the Grandmaster”.
This book provides discussion of concept, mindset, and spirit, mixed with personal experiences of the author on Okinawa.
These are all top shelf resources and I hope you’ve seen something here that you’ve never seen before.
Happy gift giving!
I’m pleased to present this interview with John Donohue, a karateka and kendoka who possesses a strong reputation as a martial arts author.
With over 30 years of training experience, Mr. Donohue has combined his martial arts with his academic life. As a result, he has created multiple high quality written works in both the fiction and non-fiction formats. He is most well known for the Connor Burke series, starting with the popular novel Sensei, and branching out into Deshi, Tengu, and most recently Kage.
Mr. Donohue is also an associate editor for the prestigious Journal of Asian Martial Arts. The following is a Q&A regarding his training experiences and literary success.
MA: How did you first get started in the martial arts some 30 years ago? What was your earliest experience?
JD: I was an adolescent in the 70’s at the time that the martial arts were really getting some popular exposure—Bruce Lee, the Kung-fu TV series. I was someone who had always been interested in other cultures (an interest that stuck with me—years later, I got a doctorate in anthropology). I was also fascinated by the Asian approach to traditional martial arts that integrated philosophical concepts along with physical technique.
My first exposure to actual training started with getting my hands on some popular “how-to” manuals for kung-fu, the Bruce Tegner stuff, and trying it out. I quickly realized that there was more to this than met the eye.
MA: Could you provide a brief outline of the styles you’ve studied over the course of your training, and under whom you studied?
JD: In college, I started taking karate classes that were offered either as intramurals or for PE credit. At Stony Brook University, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Shotokan Karatedo by Mori Masataka. He was a tremendously skilled sensei and I studied with him for a number of years. After graduating from college, I studied judo with Shiina Kiyoshi. As a graduate student, I conducted research on the martial tradition had an opportunity to be exposed to kendo with Kataoka Noboru and aikido with Hagihara Edi. Later on I continued studying karatedo with Liu Hong-guang, who also exposed me to some taiji. Finally, I studied kendo with Kimura Hiroaki.
I’ve been very privileged to study with some fine sensei.
MA: Who do you consider your biggest influences in the arts (your primary instructors)?
JD: Mori Sensei, since he opened my eyes to the power and beauty of traditional budo and Kimura Sensei, who set me on the path of kendo.
MA: Could you tell us a bit about their background and whom they studied with?
JD: Mori Mastaka studied at Takushoku University, joined the karate club there and eventually became team captain. He joined the JKA in 1955. He became Chief Instructor of the Karate Association of Hawaii (KAH) in 1963. In 1968 he relocated to New York and became the North Atlantic regional chief instructor of the JKA. His dojo is located in New York City.
Kimura Sensei showed interest in martial arts at a very young age (his father was the kendo coach at the local high school). He studied kendo and then began studying Shorinji Kempo in college. He moved to the United States when he was 22 and continued to study and train, but also recognized that there was strong interest in the martial arts in the United States. He has been teaching kempo for more than thirty years and was instrumental in introducing kendo training to Western New York.
MA: You’re an associate editor with the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. When did that happen in context with your personal writing career? Was it before or after you became a published author?
JD: I was fortunate to meet Mike DeMarco, the publisher of JAMA at the very early stages of the Journal’s development, sometime in the early 90’s. At that point I had published a version of my doctoral dissertation (The Forge of the Spiri—1991) as well as a few scholarly articles on the subject of the martial arts. Mike, along with a handful of other interested scholars, encouraged me to pursue more research and writing on the topic. It wasn’t until about ten years later that I started to write martial arts fiction—my first novel, Sensei, was published in 2003.
MA: The Journal of Asian Martial Arts is considered one of only a few highly reputable publications for traditional martial arts. Could you talk about the mission of the magazine and how you contribute?
JD: JAMA is devoted to providing high-quality scholarly and technical articles on the martial arts. Its mission is to take writing about the martial arts as seriously as we do training in them. It tries to bridge theoretical, academic, and technical perspectives on the martial arts and provide readers with well-written, accurate, and engaging material.
MA: Over the years you’ve developed a successful academic career as well as writing career. Has it sometimes been difficult to find time for training?
JD: It has. I think that the demands of family and career mean that there are times when training needs to be put on the back burner. It never goes away completely (and the desire and interest is always there) but the reality of it is that I am not a professional martial artist. I am a committed martial artist and I value the lessons that training has given me. When I can’t train regularly I miss it. But I’m also clear-headed enough to know that first things need to come first.
MA: Since Sensei you have written Deshi, Tengu, and now Kage. Has the story unfolded more and more naturally in your mind, or has it been difficult to improve upon yourself?
JD: Since I’ve invested considerable time and energy into making Burke’s world a fictional reality, I don’t have much difficulty generating possible story lines. I have about seven burkebooks outlined in my head. But one of the real challenges of writing a series about a set group of characters is that you have to make them change. This sometimes can be upsetting to readers, since they like things the way they are. Familiar characters that always act the same are in some ways comforting and are also probably related to the fact that we’ve been programmed to expect this from watching too much TV.
That said, I’ve tried to make the story of Burke and Yamashita and the others unfold with a little realism—Burke needs to grow, Yamashita is ageing. Yet at the same time I try to hold on to the essence of the characters and their settings.
The real challenge for me is in the technical sense of writing. I try to get better at it. The craft of writing is really important to me—I try to write clearly and to engage the reader and not fall into some of the more hideous mistakes that are often too abundant in popular fiction.
MA: Tell us a bit about the new book Kage. What elements of adventure and martial arts can readers look forward to?
JD: The new book finds the protagonist unwittingly getting involved with the shadowy world of cross-border smugglers in Arizona. The action takes place in the American Southwest as well as in the New York area and involves competing smuggling gangs, shadowy operatives from the Border Patrol and Federal government, as well as sinister hit men of various types. Connor Burke has to use all the skill developed in years studying under the master warrior Yamashita to come out whole.
MA: What are your plans for future books, and do you have an idea for how long the Connor Burke saga will last?
JD: As I mentioned, I’ve got at least seven burkebooks in mind, although I’ll probably keep writing them for as long as readers are interested. I’m also developing some new series, one involving an ex-Army Ranger named Oso Moreno—a hit man with a conscience who studies Daito-ryu aikijutsu—and another series that focuses on paranormal aspects of Asian culture with a heroine named Sharon Kao whose love interest is a top-notch judoka. Lots of action, lots of martial arts. I hope people like them.
MA: Thanks a lot for your participation and we look forward to more of your work!