How it All Started

Whenever people hear that I’ve been training in the martial arts for over thirty years one of the very first questions they have is how I got started. What motivated me?

While I wish I had some great story to tell them, my motivation wasn’t that interesting. I didn’t start taking martial arts to learn to defend myself, because I was bullied, or to find enlightenment. I also didn’t start doing martial arts because I was looking for a method of physical fitness; I was already busy playing basketball and soccer on my school’s team.

No, my motivation was based on two simple things; the first, dumb luck, and the second a James Bond movie titled, “You Only Live Twice.”

Title: You Only Live Twice
Date of Release: June 12, 1967 Odeon Leicester Square, London
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Starting: Sean Connery, Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi, Donald Pleasence, Teru Shimada, Tetsuro Tamba, Desmond Llewelyn, and Bernard Lee
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Budget: $9.5 million
Plot: SPECTRE hijacks American and Russian space capsules in a bid to start World War III for their clients, the Red Chinese.
* * *

To be honest, “You Only Live Twice,” not only started my desire to learn Japanese martial arts, it also started my fascination with Japan, Japanese culture, and Japanese history.

The movie, or I should say soundtrack, also had a profound influence on my outlook on life. In the soundtrack there is a passage that states:

“You only live twice,
Or so it seems.
One life for yourself,
And one for your dreams.”

Though I may not have fully understood what that meant when I was 10 years old, I have to some degree lived my life by that philosophy. I guess I’ve been fortunate since even with many setbacks in my life I have been able to fulfill and live many of the dreams and desires I’ve had.

Now I’ll admit, basing an entire life on a movie is a little extreme, and for the life of me I can’t even start to explain why this movie had such a profound impact on me. I’ve thought about that a lot, but there is just no answer. I guess I just have to settle on the belief that was just how things were meant to be. Maybe there is a thing called, “Fate.”

I mean, it wasn’t like I had any interest in Japan prior to seeing this movie. In fact all I really knew about Japan prior to the movie was that it was close to China, Tokyo was its capital, they were the enemy of the US in WW2, and that they had a funny writing system.

The fact is that prior to this movie I was much more interested in Greek/Roman mythology, walking other people’s dogs, bone collecting (I had whole skeletons of cats, dogs, turtles, etc.), Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge comics, soccer, and stamp collecting. (Yes, basically I was a Nerdy Kid!)

Training in the martial arts wasn’t even a thought in my mind when I was ten. I’m sure if you asked anyone who knew me then they would have never pictured me doing martial arts at all.

So why did “You Only Live Twice” have such an effect on me? Watching the movie today, I’m not sure. But I’m no longer watching the movie with the eyes of a ten year old. Today I see how certain plot elements are plain silly, that the movie drags at certain parts, and that even the effects are not very well done. At least not done well compared to today’s visual effects, though I’m sure in 1967 they were considered cutting edge.

However, with all that said, there are the action sequences, and the martial arts. And don’t let me forget, there is also one very beautiful leading female, which I had a crush on for many, many years.

Mie Hama Mie Hama, Sean Connery, and Akiko Wakabayashi

Some movie reviewers have claimed that the martial art sequences, especially the ninjas depicted in the film, were the first mainstream introduction of Japanese martial arts to the west. I won’t argue the merit of this statement, but I can honestly say it was my first introduction.

Prior to this movie all I had seen were a few Chinese kung fu films, none of which were worth mentioning, or made me any more interested in exploring martial art classes.

Watching this movie was the first time I saw sumo wrestlers, judo-ka, kendo, and the art that captured my imagination the most–kenjutsu.

I will never forget watching the swordsman in the movie. His moves were strong and decisive. He fought like a demon, yet there was something graceful and elegant in his movements. I knew in a moment that learning to use a sword in this manner was something I had to know.

Unfortunately, I was ten years old at the time and didn’t have the first clue where to look for someone who could teach me how to use a sword like that. Back in the 70’s there was no Internet, and the martial art listings in the phone book weren’t very extensive. Finding traditional Japanese martial arts in my area is still extremely hard today.

What’s even clearer is that I wouldn’t have even known what to look for. I knew it was Japanese, that it involved a sword, but that was all. Even if I had found a school that taught Japanese martial arts, I wouldn’t have known what the art was called; so I might have ended up taking something totally different.

For almost a year I mimicked the movements I had seen, with all the ardor I could muster. Fortunately, and by sheer dumb luck, a year later I did meet someone who could teach me such an art: the art of swordsmanship, and so much more.

It’s been 34 years since I first saw “You Only Live Twice,” but each time I watch it I still feel the thrill I experienced the first time. I still think Mie Hama is gorgeous. I still mimic the movements, though now, after all these years I’ve been taught to do them correctly.

While I may have started my training due to a movie, I stayed because I had a passion for it. It was something I guess I was meant to do.


One thought on “How it All Started

  1. Pingback: Day One | 8000 Stalks

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