Japanese swordsman Toshishiro Obata is more than a cut above the average martial arts master: He’s respected on an international level.
He learned from the greats in his field. He formed his own system of traditional techniques and mastered the skillful use of a real sword. He has appeared in feature-length films and created his own samurai martial arts videotapes and books.
He’s also appearing in Tupelo this weekend.
A martial arts studio in Tupelo, the Kaze Yama Bujutsu Association, is hosting Obata for Super Samurai Weekend II, May 3 through May 5. Kaze Yama is one of nine schools worldwide authorized to teach Obata’s methods.
Lonnie W. Oaks, the head martial arts instructor at Kaze Yama, said, “Having him here is a big deal. Three years ago, it wouldn’t be possible.”
Obata is most renowned for his swordsmanship, which is virtually a lost art. He now lives in Los Angeles and maintains his own exclusive dojo, or martial arts school. Oaks studied with Obata for two years to earn Obata’s authorization for the Kaze Yama Bujutsu Association.
Oaks struggled for words to explain how deeply he respects Obata as his sensei, or teacher. He believes that Obata’s skill with the blade translates into the man’s direct, no-nonsense, ethical approach to life.
“He’s a very pure, honest person,” Oaks said. “… What he does is, he’s an aikido and a swordsman.”
Oaks makes the annual investment of bringing Obata to Tupelo as a gift for himself, his students and the public.
“I have always tried to train with the best teachers in the world,” Oaks said. He pointed to framed certificates in his office, showing that he has trained with Chuck Norris’ instructor, as well as the world-wide head of hapkido. Oaks believes studying with Obata improves his own teaching abilities. “I want to give my students the best I can give them. For someone who wants to give the art of the Japanese sword some serious study and it’s a deep subject he is the best in the world.”
The weekend’s big attraction is hands-on training sessions with Obata. Super Samurai Weekend II features four three-hour workshop sessions in Baldwyn, a Saturday night buffet dinner at the BelAir Center in Tupelo and a 2 p.m. Saturday public demonstration of martial arts at the Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo. The mall event includes test cutting with a real sword and the demonstration of other techniques from three martial arts (shorin-ryu karate-do, aikido and shinkendo).
The buffet dinner also includes a lecture by Paul Couch of Birmingham, one of Obata’s senior students in the area, who is a samurai historian himself. Couch will display authentic Japanese swords, some over 400 years old.
Oaks is excited about the upcoming training sessions as a learning experience for the area’s martial arts students. He has trained one-on-one out on the mat with Obata himself. “There’s not a lot of people like him willing to give that much. … He is the most giving instructor I’ve ever had, by far.”