Mar
01

“The Last Swordsman: The Yoshio Sugino Story,” by Tsukasa Matsuzaki


“One day a message arrived informing him that film director Akira Kurosawa would be making a new samurai drama, ‘The Seven Samurai’, and hoped Sugino would instruct the actors.”

Yoshio Sugino (1904-1998)

Yoshio Sugino, swordsman of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, is respected worldwide as one of the elder statesmen in the world of Japanese kobujutsu (classical martial arts). Born in 1904, his life has paralleled much of the development of modern Japan, and during that time he has been fortunate enough to know and study under many of this century’s legendary martial artists.

He has also provided martial arts instruction for many of Japan’s most popular historical movies, including Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, adding dynamism and reality to what had been staid and poorly stylized fight-scene choreography. He has also appeared frequently in the media as a representative of the world of Japanese kobujutsu. In such ways he has contributed much toward introducing the truly wonderful aspects of Japanese martial arts to the public. But despite Sugino’s tremendous service to the budo world, information on him has been limited to fragmented interviews and popular articles that do little toward painting a realistic portrait of the man himself, his origins and his history. In this series I look back on Sugino Sensei’s life and the paths he has taken, along the way presenting some of the thoughts on bujutsu he has developed during his 92 years.

In November 1995 Yoshio Sugino suddenly noticed a queer sensation in his left arm while reading a book at his home in Kawasaki, a feeling that told him something was very wrong. The arm had lost all feeling and his elbow, wrist and fingers had become as lifeless as a doll’s. As if the flesh was no longer his own, he could not put any strength at all into the arm. Staring down at his useless arm, he was shocked to see that the entire length of it, from the upper arm to the back of the hand and even the palm, had turned a deathly shade of white. He knew only too well that his physical condition was not the best. The previous summer he had fallen at his home and struck his head and the doctors had ordered him to forgo his beloved budo training. And now this! “Perhaps it’s the nerves,” he thought. “There must be something wrong with the nerves.”

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