Samurai Sword Fighting (tate) Class — Samurai Sword Soul
Samurai Style Weekend Workout
I met Gregory Manley outside the room in Peri Dance Studio where the Samurai Sword Fighting class he would be participating in was about to take place. Greg is an actor who trained in karate from ages 5-15, but this class was a first for him. Nearby were the two sensei, Yoshi Amao (actor/producer) and Bob Kuwayama (actor/artistic director), who in 2003 formed the group Samurai Sword Soul which serves as the performing arm of this class. A group of 12 students filed into the room, most wearing traditional outfits of haori and hakama. This class was a temporary combination of the general and advanced levels, and despite its title five women were also present.
Greg took his place on a long line with the other members, and they began warming up after bowing to Yoshi. They started with stretches to limber up and then practiced various stances before going into actual movements. The Japanese name for this class is “tate”, which means theatrical combat. This class teaches classic tate for samurai fighting scenes, and uses wooden swords. Once the group was warmed up, they finally took the swords in hand.
The long swords seemed somewhat unwieldy, but Greg managed his well and coordinated its movement with his breathing as Yoshi led them through different sword positions. With each downward swing, they loudly chanted “Hai!” which is known as “kiai” or fighting spirit, and between exercises they jumped. After the first break, students had a chance to put their practice into action by lining up in fours and moving across the room simulating an actual sword fighting sequence. Greg displayed fierce concentration and Yoshi applauded Greg’s effort in this exercise with, “He’s working really hard!”
An hour into the class, I had a chance to talk with Greg abut his experience so far. After showing me the huge blister on his right hand that was about to pop, he said, “The stances are similar to karate, but martial arts are about building a vocabulary and there are some words I don’t know yet.” The second half of the class moved into “kata” (moves and motions), and the class divided into beginner and advanced levels. At this time, Greg had a chance to receive individual instruction from Yoshi regarding feet placement and sword positions sequence.
When two hours were up, Greg and the rest of the students reconvened on the long line and bowed again, offering their thanks to the two sensei. Greg was ecstatic about the class. “It was great! I’ve missed this kind of discipline. I appreciate how Yoshi was straightforward with not too much explanation, allowing me to struggle on my own. With kata there’s a real progression so you can feel it from the inside out.”
Bob described Greg as a natural, saying, “He had a great sense of movement and his heart was totally into it. If he ever wanted to perform with us, I think he’d be amazing!” Yoshi offered similar praise, saying, “You can tell Greg’s done karate because his movement is fluid. Besides small points he could later learn, he did an amazing job!” Samurai Sword Soul is always looking for new members, and taking this class is a good place to start. The group performs throughout the year, and their next event will be the Brooklyn Botanical Garden Sakura Matsuri from May 3-4 so make sure to check it out!
Reported by Stacy Smith
1. Students engage in a detailed 20-minute warmup before they even touch their swords.
2. Yoshi showing Greg the “tsuki” or stab position.
Samurai Sword Soul
A tate (theatrical combat) performance group formed by Yoshi Amao and Bob Kuwayama in 2003. They performe in numerous events as well as teach tate. Samurai Sword Fighting class is every Saturday from 4:30-6:30 pm at Peri Dance; fee: $17.
890 Broadway (at 19th St.), 6th floor (temporary location)
New York, NY 10010