Soft eyes peer patiently through the metal bars of his mask, detecting subtle movements; movements of anticipation that will betray the opponent. The conversation builds not with words but through breathing, heartbeat, distance and thoughts. A calm mind will control the center. The sword will defeat the opponent. 80 years of practice prove that youth and speed will never overcome age and experience. This is kendo.


An ode to cultural legacy told in three parts, Cultural Samurai is a video documentary that exhibits Japanese fencing (kendo) through its artistic, historical and future significance. Three masters, living and teaching in California, reveal their insights gained from training, surviving internment camps and returning to the West Coast. They present kendo as a philosophical road for others. While the documentary focuses on these gentlemen's paths in life, it is not just an historical one. Through discipline, practice and patience they have prepared themselves for conflict resolution and an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. It reveals their transcendence to spiritual wholeness.

The project examines three men who enrich the cultural traditions in California and the US while holding on to their Japanese ancestry. These traditions face tough opposition as large real-estate companies are buying up the last three Japan Towns in the US, giving little space for arts like kendo to flourish in their element. By recording the words and actions of these men, Cultural Samurai documents the stories of our elders, yet at the same time, demonstrates an active, elderly community that is sharing its heritage through the art of the sword.

We are currently in the first phase of production.


Maki Miyahara Sensei, born into a kendo family, has over 70 years of experience practicing and teaching his art. His father helped introduce kendo to America. Miyahara Sensei has reached hachidan, hanshi (8th degree black belt, master teacher). Ranks beyond this are unrealistically attainable. Being the first American instructor to reach this rank he is considered the highest ranking sensei in the United States. He was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 1971. He still practices with his students.

Yoshinari Miyata Sensei began training in kendo at Kagoshima, Japan when he was seven years old. After the war, he moved to the United States and continued training in kendo. In 1953 he helped establish the Oakland Kendo Dojo where he instructs voluntarily. He played a role in forming the Northern California Kendo Federation (NCKF) and received the coveted the title of Hanshi given only to persons at the highest level of kendo.

Yoshinori Takao Sensei (also known as Grandpa) was born in the US and moved to Japan at age 8 for schooling. As a young kendoist, he was enlisted by the Japanese army to teach the use of the bayonets to its soldiers. After his return to the US in 1958, he furthered the development of Kendo and, in 1988, served as a head judge for the World Kendo Tournament. He expresses and integrates the kendo tradition and Japanese aesthetic in his artistic endeavors with stained glass and pottery. Takao Sensei also operates three Japanese restaurants located in the San Francisco Bay Area.


While still a traditional video documentary, Cultural Samurai will be divided into three segments that will leverage the online/mobile distribution platform. Each segment will run approximately 20 minutes in length and will be presented separately but can be watched as a whole. The three focal points will be on the art of kendo, personal history and future significance of their spiritual approach.

Cultural Samurai relies on the three main protagonists to tell their experience. They are the narrators of their lives. The piece focuses on personal character: humble, devout, caring. Seeing these masters teach in present day demonstrates the devotion they have to preserving tradition. In addition to video footage, the use of Japanese scrolls and texts come alive through CG animation to accompany the life lessons examined through the study of the sword. They give a poetic, and distinctly Japanese essence to the visual end of the stories these men tell.

The documentary introduces these characters as vanguards of tradition and culture. They are men who have dedicated their lives to the teaching of a philosophy considered a "moving Zen". Their stories convey the evolution from its feudal origins to its disciplined search for self and compassion.

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