Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.


Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Toshishiro Obata and Shinkendo


Toshishiro Obata is a senior Japanese martial artist. A former uchi-deshi of Gozo Shioda of Yoshinkan Aikido, Obata has gone on to found his own style of swordsmanship, Shinkendo. Below is an excerpt of an article that appeared in Black Belt Magazine. The full article may be read here.


Japanese swordsmanship master Toshishiro Obata founded his art of shinkendo in response to the incompleteness he found in other samurai training. Learn how he set out to develop his own art rather than change those already in existence.

If you want to be a swordsman, you have your work cut out for you. For true samurai education, you must learn how to properly handle and maintain a real blade. You must master the basic body-sword mechanics and train safely and effectively in two-person and solo forms. You must study combat strategy, etiquette and the philosophy of the warrior — all elements of the samurai code of bushido.It's a tall order, to be sure. For guidance in this quest for samurai education, which is one of the most popular in the martial arts, Black Belt turned to Toshishiro Obata, a renowned master in samurai training who now heads the International Shinkendo Federation in Los Angeles. Before delving into the essence of samurai education and samurai training according to Toshishiro Obata, some background information will help put things in perspective.

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The Beginning of Toshishiro Obata's Samurai Education

In 1966 Toshishiro Obata left a small town in Gunma prefecture, Japan, and headed for Tokyo to begin a career in the martial arts. He found himself at Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo, the birthplace of aikido, where he became an uchi-deshi, or live-in student, under headmaster Gozo Shioda. Toshishiro Obata stayed there for seven years as a student and instructor, eventually teaching the Tokyo Metropolitan Riot Police course. During that time, his samurai education in Japanese swordsmanship began — specifically, when he observed several demonstrations by Taizaburo Nakamura, headmaster of nakamura-ryu.

Toshishiro Obata left the Yoshinkan in 1973 to pursue swordsmanship full time. He studied and achieved high rank in many other renowned Japanese schools, including ioriken battojutsu, toyama-ryu, yagyu shinkage-ryu, kashima shin-ryu and Ryukyu kobudo. He also joined the Tokyo Wakakoma, Japan's elite group of stuntmen and fight choreographers, and was responsible for the introduction and increasing popularity of aikido on Japanese television and in movies. During this time, he also won seven consecutive All-Japan Target-Cutting Championships.

A Samurai Education System of His Own

Throughout his studies, it became clear to Toshishiro Obata that although each sword school had its own strengths, none of them taught a complete, comprehensive system. In Japan, traditional schools aren't permitted to change or even expand on their original curriculum. Each art is considered a living, breathing historical treasure that must be preserved as faithfully and precisely as possible.

The inheritor of a traditional school is therefore duty-bound to teach techniques, training methods and ideals exactly as he learned them. To change anything would be seen as disrespectful to the art's founder. It was for this reason that Toshishiro Obata, having mastered many of the old schools, came to America in 1980 to start a comprehensive samurai education system known as shinkendo Japanese swordsmanship.

For this samurai education system, Toshishiro Obata chose the name “shinkendo" for a variety of reasons. The word can be translated in several ways, but perhaps the most important one is “way of the real sword." That doesn't just refer to practicing with a real sword; it also means studying real, complete swordsmanship — a vital element in one's overall samurai training.

In shinkendo, the major aspects of swordsmanship are broken down into five areas of study: suburi, goho battoho, tanren kata, tachiuchi and tameshigiri. These separate fields of samurai training are like five interlocking rings, each one relating to and providing context for the components of a student's samurai education. This provides a comprehensive foundation and allows students to view all the techniques from a bigger perspective.

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Samurai Training Methods: The First Ring of Shinkendo

Suburi, the first ring of study in this samurai education system, teaches basic sword and body exercises. These include proper posture, effective movement and balance, and basic sword swinging. These essential elements are the foundation on which the other rings of samurai training are based.

Without an effective stance, you can't generate power and you're easily knocked off-balance. Without knowing the essentials of gripping and swinging the sword, all movements become as meaningless as dance steps.

Suburi drills include assuming basic kamae (ready stances), making simple cuts and practicing hard stops, follow-through swings and transitions from one cut to another.


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