“The Power of Photography,” by Josh Gold

How can we extend the spirit of a martial art
outside our practice environments?


This is the second article in a three part series. The unifying theme of the series is this:

How we can extend the principles, values, and benefits of the martial arts to a broader part of society?

If you’ve not read it, the first article in the series is “The Power of Shodo“.

If you’re reading this fine martial arts publication, you’re probably a martial artist, and likely a very experienced one. You’ve almost certainly had first hand experience with the unique combination of elegant beauty and devastating power that comes from the technique of a great master. You’ve probably been deeply moved and inspired by seeing beginners break through the barriers of ego, complacency, and pain, to blossom as martial artists and human beings.

The world loves martial arts. In any given year, the majority of the top grossing movies contain some form of martial arts. Today’s films contain wonderfully produced action scenes, and a few are able to successfully convey the spirit of the martial arts.

Unfortunately, this is the only type of exposure the vast majority of society has to the martial arts. What remains largely unseen is the real technique, drama, and personal growth that happens inside the local martial arts training halls across the world.

How can we extend the inspiration and wisdom of the arts we practice to a broader segment of society? How can we capture, preserve, and share the essence of an art, or a martial artist, outside of our practice environments?

One technique we can use is photography.

The Art of Peace from Ikazuchi Design on Vimeo.

Many aspects of the great martial artists that lived before the development of photography are forever lost. We have the great privilege of being able to read the Book of Five Rings, but we can never watch a video of Miyamoto Musashi wielding a sword. After the development of moving pictures, we were able to capture breathtaking treasures. Watch Bruce Lee’s “Be Water” interview, or look at a picture of the founder of Aikido at 80 years of age, throwing a man across a room with frightening power, sheathed in the spirit of harmony. Early photographic technology allowed us to preserve and share the essence of these great martial artists. How many millions have been inspired by these great men?

Today, nearly all of us carry an HD video recorder and high-resolution camera in our pockets, as a feature built into our phones. We can buy cinema quality still and video cameras at ridiculously low prices.  The reach of media is now nearly limitless. We can share videos and pictures with millions on a global scale, and do it instantaneously, without cost.

With pervasive access and distribution, how can we best use the power of the image to capture and share the wisdom and inspiration that happens in our training halls today?

Like the martial arts, the way of photography has a foundational set of techniques and principles. When used properly, they can help all of us dramatically improve our pictures and videos. I am personally proficient with none of them, but am eager to learn.

Example of Depth of Field Technique:
Unlike the other sword image in this post, this one uses a shallow depth of field. The Ikazuchi Design logo on the shirt is in clear focus, but other objects gradually lose focus as they radiate away from the center point.

Todd Porter is a martial artist. He and his wife, Diane Cu, are also professional photographers. Their primary specialization is food photography, but their skills transcend that area of focus.

I watched them produce breathtaking videos and images of the martial arts, with no artificial lighting and no post-processing. They created clean, authentic, and beautiful reflections of their subjects.  They are true masters – the camera is their sword.

Todd and Diane have been gracious enough to provide all of us with a basics lesson in martial arts photography. Let’s all take the opportunity to learn from these masters of photography. An art that is so synergistic with the martial arts – one that empowers us to engage and inspire ourselves, our local communities, and our global society.

We will start with one technique, depth of field control, and if interest and support is high, we will roll out additional lessons over time.



Josh Gold

Josh is a devoted student of aikido and co-founder of Ikazuchi Design, a new apparel company dedicated to the spirit of the martial arts. Our focus is to inspire a way of life dedicated to the improvement of mind, body, and spirit, with the goal of building a better humanity.


  1. Keith E. McInnis says:

    Capturing the technique and spirit of Aikido in still and moving images is a delightful challenge. I began ‘wielding’ my camera when I was 7. I’ve had the privilege of teaching photography at the college and university graduate level. I am more an ‘action/photojournalistic’ photographer than one able to set up careful sets with fill-in lighting etc. I found an aptitude for photographing skateboarding in its early days and was able to capture the first photographs of a trick called an ‘ollie’ by its inventor Rodney Mullen (a local friend now widely known for his innovation in the sport…sort of a Shoji Nishio of skateboarding). Rodney presented great technical challenges and I had to have a motor memory level of experience to get the timing of the ‘point of peak action.’ I draw a close connection between the challenges of capturing Rodney’s innovative athletic artistry on film to the challenges of capturing Aikido techniques on ‘film.’

    Rodney’s skating is precise, complex, subtle, exceedingly detailed and fluid–much like Aikido. In the last 2 years I’ve discovered that Aikido photography is more challenging than photographing Rodney! For Aikido, the only ideal shooting position is moving with the technique, knowing what is about to happen and being ready to ‘fire’ in that fraction of a second representing the ‘point of peak interest.’ To get great images of Aikido one must do Aikido. Facial expressions, the point of gaze of the eyes, the difference in orientation and position of 4 limbs/extremities all fall to the camera. The are drawbacks to ‘flattening’ a three dimensional (at least) activity. The relationships between shoulders, hips, feet and hands get lost on the flat plane of the still and video camera. Much of what we do can be immortalized in images but the real preservation and innovations are going to come from small group personal instruction by skilled, experienced teachers. We act in the highest ‘aiki’ way by being very good and teaching very well in whatever way we can. I hope there is a growing need for teachers of Aikido as spreading it one-to-one is an honor. I’m now working on the best video methods to use. I have much less experience in video though I realize it is necessary to have both still and moving images to supplement aikido learning.

    In Aikido, the voice of a treasured Psych professor rings frequently “Our quality of life is directly related to the number and kinds of teachers we are willing to have.” D.Boroto PhD. In Aikido, the learning-teaching spirit of this is expressed artistically every time we step on the mat and ultimately in every interaction we have with the world “off the mat.”

  2. I’m just transitioning to digital after decades of film. If I get serious, I might need a book. At the moment I have a fairly basic digital camera which in a compact package does more than several pounds of 35mm gear. AND it does “movies”!

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