With a sword raised high above his head, a young Englishman stares his mother in the eyes and bellows, “Anata o koroshimasu (I will kill you)!” Yet, no one in the room seems surprised.
As he lowers the sword towards his mother’s neck, a samurai springs forth and stops him. “No, no, you must control the sword with your left hand, or you will not cut hard enough to remove her head,” says our instructor, samurai Mr Yagi.
The room breaks out in laughter as we acknowledge the strange sight of 20 modern-day travellers, dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos, learning the art of the samurai at a studio in Osaka.
Samurai and ninja culture are two of the historical aspects of Japanese society that are most revered outside the country, having been popularised in Hollywood films such as Kill Bill. To cater to this growing interest, samurai schools are popping up in cities like Osaka, where tourists can come and train.
Dominating the country’s politics from the 12th to 19th centuries, the samurai were warriors known for their fierce courage, precise swordsmanship and good manners.
Under the guidance of Mr Yagi, we start our class by learning the intricacies of samurai etiquette. Depending on the setting, this ranges from maintaining an impeccable appearance, to keeping a clean sword and wearing your weapon on the correct side of your body. I struggle with all three things.
My standard-issue, black-and-white kimono is stretched to its limits across my Australian body, which is over 197cm tall. As I try to clean my wooden Katana blade by wiping it on my pants, I earn a rebuke from Mr Yagi. He also notes that by wearing my sword on my left, I display aggression. As his guest, I should wear it on my right, which is considered neutral.
I haven’t even begun to wield my blade and, already, I’m a disgraced samurai. But I get a chance to redeem myself when I’m tasked with ambushing a ninja, who happens to be a paunchy middle-aged man.
Using the wide stance and flowing downward slice Mr Yagi has taught me, I do what, in theory, should end the ninja’s life. Yet, somehow, he returns from the dead to complete the class.
Capoeira in Brazil
Learn the dazzling kicks and spins that are the signature of Capoeira – a fusion of martial arts, acrobatics and dance – in the country’s tourist enclaves.
Haka in New Zealand
This ancient Maori war dance, made famous by the All Blacks rugby team, is still intimidating today. Study its moves and facial expressions in Rotorua.
Maasai warrior dance in Kenya
This semi-nomadic tribe is known for its jumping dance, which signifies that a junior warrior has become a man. Give it a try at Maasai Simba Camp.
– TEXT BY RONAN O’CONNELL
PHOTO RONAN O’CONNELL
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.