The Samurai Artist – Interview with Tetsuro Shimaguchi


Tetsuro Shimaguchi was born in Saitama Prefecture, Japan, and graduated from Nihon University College of Arts. After acquiring several years of experience in theatre activities, he founded a Samurai Sword Performance group called “Kengishu KAMUI”, of which he is the leader. Shimaguchi defines himself as a “Samurai Artist” and pursues a style in which beauty of form, performing and martial arts are expertly blended

by SIMONE CHIERCHINI

Tetsuro Shimaguchi is not an ordinary character, nor is he the classic martial arts master that we normally discover together on the columns of Aikido Italia Network: Shimaguchi is different and his work transcends Budo and the performing arts to contribute something new: a wonderful aesthetic experience with moral content.

His journey starts from the prefecture of Saitama, north of Tokyo and leads him to planetary fame, thanks to his participation in Kill Bill – Vol.1 by Quentin Tarantino, where he takes care of the choreography of some scenes of armed combat and plays in a secondary role. In the meantime, he makes good use of his experiences in the world of Kabuki Theatre and combines them with a passionate approach to the world of Samurai and martial arts, creating “Kengishu KAMUI” a company of performing Samurai.

Thanks to the success of Kill Bill – Vol.1, Shimaguchi and his company travel the world and use the aesthetic values inherent to the practice of the sword to convey the cultural message of the Samurai world. From here to the creation of a new discipline, “Kengido”, the step is short. In Kengido, stage fencing and the search for the beauty of form in an aesthetic sense are combined, in order to reinterpret the “Way of the Samurai” in a new and attractive approach for contemporary culture. Tetsuro Shimaguchi is a 21st century Japanese and as such is aware of the power inherent to the visual when a message is being spread: according to him, the message of Kengido is to tell the story of the timeless value of Japanese culture to the whole world.

Copyright “Kengishu KAMUI”

CHIERCHINI
Can we ask you, sensei, where does your interest in Budo come from?

SHIMAGUCHI
It certainly derives from my desire to improve myself, to make my life rewarding. I think taking a Budo path helps me achieve this.

CHIERCHINI
From which classical Budo schools do your technical skills originate?

SHIMAGUCHI
I initially studied stage swordplay as a theatrical technique in relation to Samurai performances. After that, I learned classical Japanese performing arts, Kabuki and traditional dance, and I practised Karate (Miura Dojo Global Budo Karate). I currently study and practice Shinkage-ryu Heiho at the Marobashi Kai school, which teaches real sword fighting.

CHIERCHINI
In your opinion, what are the roles of the sword and swordsman in our contemporary society?

SHIMAGUCHI
The role of the sword and swordsman is not to take life, but to contribute to the harmonious development of our society by improving individual communication skills. This is done by learning how best to use the appropriate distance, timing and attitudes during sword training.

CHIERCHINI
We understand that you have followed formal training on the classical forms of the Kabuki Theatre. Could you explain what drove you towards the scenic arts?

SHIMAGUCHI
I formally studied Kabuki Theatre because in Japan the performance in Kabuki is developed through very hard training. That type of training is able to touch people’s hearts and provide energy. Performing arts are a great form of expression and, just like Budo, they can help those who practice them to follow a path of personal improvement.

Copyright “Kengishu KAMUI”

CHIERCHINI
Where did you get the inspiration to combine your talents in Budo and Kabuki and start your career as a choreographer and fight scene performer?

SHIMAGUCHI
As I said before, Budo and the performing arts have many more aspects in common than commonly thought. Joining them happened spontaneously. My main motivation came from my passion for achieving a better and fulfilling life.

CHIERCHINI
Tell us about KAMUI, your theater company. Did you ever imagine you would take KAMUI shows around the world?

SHIMAGUCHI
Kengishu KAMUI is the only “Samurai Artist” in Japan to communicate the culture and spirituality of Japan to the world through Samurai-themed in theatrical and video performances. We held shows in many countries and have appeared in numerous short films. We are planning to organize even more shows around the world and are doing our best to accomplish this goal, based on the experience of our past performances, including those we did even before we started as Kamui.

Tetsuro Shimaguchi con Quentin Tarantino sul set di Kill Bill – Vol.1 (Copyright “Kengishu KAMUI”)

CHIERCHINI
You had the incredible opportunity to work with Quentin Tarantino and some famous Hollywood icons in Kill Bill – Vol. 1. How was it to act and choreograph the swordplay scenes for such a huge film? Could you give us some details about this fantastic experience?

SHIMAGUCHI
I wish to express my deep gratitude to Quentin Tarantino, Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Samuel Leroy Jackson and other staff members for accepting me as a professional artist and for treating me with respect when I was nobody. It was a huge challenge for me and my career. I also found it very stimulating to work as a foreigner in a foreign country in contact with different cultures. Director and actors have dedicated their time to me, so that we can get to know each other, not only during the shooting but also when we had free time. I did my best as a Japanese performer and they worked respectfully until the end of the filming. Obviously, it was a once in a lifetime experience. These first-rate professionals then inspired me to perform around the world. The movie “Kill Bill” was my first step in the world.

CHIERCHINI
The idea of communication seems to pervade all your fields of interest. Why is communicating so important to you, sensei?

SHIMAGUCHI
This is because I believe that communication is essential for a person to live a satisfying and better life. Good communication makes not only oneself happy but also everyone involved. It helps to live a full life, in which one is responsible for oneself and is honestly committed to others. I love meeting new people and sharing life with them.

CHIERCHINI
Sensei, you define yourself as a Samurai Artist. Samurai are commonly seen as a class of warriors and are not usually associated with the world of the arts. Could you explain how you realized that these two worlds had a common meaning?

SHIMAGUCHI
As I explained earlier, I have a different opinion on this. In my view, a Samurai is not a warrior, but a man of culture. They took care of protecting their country, their people and their family at risk of their lives. They strove to improve their combat arts skills and lived with dignity as individuals. Throughout their life, Samurai refined “martial arts” and “arts” to show how they could live beautifully; as a result, they have left a vast cultural world behind. I love not only Samurai skills but also the “spirituality” and  “aesthetics” they have left behind. As a Samurai artist, I keep polishing myself even in the present era, and I would like to soulfully express the Samurai spirit to the world.

Copyright “Kengishu KAMUI”

CHIERCHINI
“Kengido” is her new concept, in which she combines the world of the sword and that of aesthetics. What is Kengido?

SHIMAGUCHI
“Kengido” is a Samurai method through which it is possible to learn both martial arts and performing arts through training designed to become a Samurai artist. The purpose of this method is to enrich life: given that it is a combat performance, one must engage in relationships with others in a more focused way than usual. Kengido allows you to improve your fighting techniques and communication skills. This method helps to express the Samurai’s “mind” through the practitioner’s “techniques” and “body”, accentuating the beauty inherent in every human being.

CHIERCHINI
Should Kengido be included in the arts of Budo? Do you see yourself as a martial artist?

SHIMAGUCHI
Kengido is a new method, so I don’t think it’s still recognized as a martial art. Since it is a combination of “martial arts” and “performing arts”, I consider myself a martial artist and also a performing artist.

CHIERCHINI
What are the benefits of Kengido training?

SHIMAGUCHI
While you have fun training, you acquire grace and improve on a personal level. Those who practice it become kinder to others and take a wider perspective towards the world around them. Training never stops guiding the student as a human being.

CHIERCHINI
The Budo world is traditionally conservative and always looks suspiciously at any new interpretation of the old martial material. Did you encounter criticism when you started Kengido? Is innovation a particularly strong point of Japanese Budo?

SHIMAGUCHI
In the beginning, both in martial arts and in the performing arts I think we have been seen as different and for this we have been criticized. However, leaders in a variety of fields showed us respect for accepting the challenge of starting something new with our techniques and the way we express them as artists, so I never doubted what we were doing. It was on that occasion that I realized that only the leaders of the various fields are the ones who show understanding towards the difficulties encountered in creating something new and the harshness associated with maintaining one’s efforts.

Copyright “Kengishu KAMUI”

CHIERCHINI
Shimaguchi sensei, what are your hopes as a teacher and ambassador of Kengido in the world?

SHIMAGUCHI
Although Kengido is a new method, I would like many to know and experience it, regardless of age, gender, nationality or religion. My idea is to further develop this Samurai method that started in the modern era, and to pass it on to subsequent generations as part of Japanese culture, just like traditional martial and performing arts.

We thank Shimaguchi sensei for taking the time to answer our questions and wish him every success with his initiatives.

Official Website: http://samurai-kamui.com/?lang=en

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©2020
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