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You can win against yourself


Grand masters of sword teach a more humane kind of life

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Grand master samurai swordsman Sekiguchi Komei demontrates a move to pupil Sonoko Beers as her husband, Chad Beers, observes in the background.You would not want to cross swords with Sekiguchi Komei.

He is the 21st grand master of the Musojikiden Eishen Ryu iaijutsu style of swordsmanship, and to watch him demonstrate his incomparable grace, quickness and art with the sword is so awesome it almost takes you into another dimension.

You might have another reaction, too: fear. Watching someone so skillful with a weapon, understandably, might cause some quaking in your knees.

However, this is the last thing Komei wants. He is not casting for the latest martial arts movie. He wants to change his students’ lives by practicing a martial art that goes back 450 years. The commitment required is extremely demanding. The benefits are life changing.

“The main purpose of this is to make you a better person,” Komei said through a translator. “Doing this discipline is a lifetime accomplishment.”

Komei brought his martial art and philosophy to Lake Oswego during the first week of April, and he had some help from a friend — Nobuku Shimizu, a grand master in another style of swordsmanship, Ryoen Ryu naginatajutsu. For four days, six hours a day, the two grand masters demonstrated and taught the two styles of swordsmanship, and, more important, the kind of thinking that goes along with it.

This was just what Chad and Sonoko Beers of Lake Oswego were hoping for when they arranged for the appearance of the grand masters here. They are students of Komei, and their lives have benefited greatly from his teachings. Now, like any good disciple, they want to spread his teachings.

Born in Japan, Sonoko Beers became acquainted with Komei by being his translator on one of his many tours of the United States.

“It was my hope to introduce the wonder of iaijutsu to the people of Lake Oswego city,” she said. “Practicing iaijutsu has allowed me to navigate a tough life. It gives me tremendous calm and confidence. This art has lifted me, made me tougher mentally and physically. It requires a great deal of mental strength to control oneself, and iaijutsu provides that strength.”

Where Sonoko Beers led, her husband, Chad, soon followed, intensely training with her in both the United States and Japan.

“This has tied our household to Japan in a significant way,” he said. “It is such an interesting combination of the physical and mental. It’s really more like dance than martial arts.”

One more thing: “You can only learn this by physically being in the room with the master. Anything else used is a secondary reference. It can be financially and time consuming, and it’s not sexy or popular. Doing this won’t gain you a summer home. You’re more likely to lose it. But you’ve got to love it.”

The man who changed the Beers’ lives has been practicing this martial art for 40 years. He is the 21st grand master of Musojikiden Eishen Ryu, with the lineage going back to the 16th century. Komei’s patience and discipline seem timeless, and this is difficult for an outside observer to understand.

“The object is to learn how to not damage the other person,” he said. “You repress strong emotions and press them down. It takes a lot of discipline, self-control and patience. You learn to not draw the sword until the last minute when we know we have to do it, when it’s our last option. As you practice you get really strong. And your mind gets tough, too.

“There are no points, no win or lose. You have nothing to hide — nothing but pride. What we say is truth. You prove it by what you accomplish with your life.”

“Practicing iaijutsu has helped me rediscover my core, who and what I am,” Sonoko Beers said. “By eliminating the distractions of my life and allowing me to focus on the few things that matter, iaijutsu focuses me.”

Although Nobuko Shimizu is the grand master of a different sword discipline, she epitomizes the qualities that students of iaijutsu seek to achieve. To see her out on the gym floor of Palisades Elementary School, her fierce focus and skill are powerfully impressive. But talking to her is impressive in a totally different way, even if you do not speak a single word of Japanese. You enter a world of gentleness.

“I started my own style eight years ago,” said Shimizu, who has also practiced her discipline for 40 years. “Doing this is not about money and not about status. It is about health and happiness and having fulfillment.”

Philosophy is another discipline in which Shimizu must be accorded grand master status.

“Today, people don’t just appreciate things,” she said. “They don’t have the humbleness to take something as special. By teaching in so many countries, this martial art becomes a language, no matter what language you speak or what your background is. You become one family with all going in the same direction.

“This is not about weapons. It’s about culture. It takes a mindset of pureness, and it’s really rewarding. I hope to meet people trying to accomplish the same thing as I am. Meeting people like Chad and Sonoko is very wonderful.”

Chad and Sonoko Beers now want Lake Oswego to become a place where such great rewards can be achieved.

“We’ll see if this takes in Lake Oswego,” Chad Beers said. “This is our first public event ever. We’ll just see how it goes. Next year our goal is to have twice as many people show up.

“Lake Oswego is a nice town with many facets. Maybe we’ll be a new facet.”

For more about iaijutsu, visit komeijuku.org.