Cutting edge art

Kevin Cecil

Sword fighting has been a sport, an art and a defense technique in Japan for thousands of years. But only 450 years ago, a man invented a special technique for drawing a sword and cutting in one movement. Swordmasters began teaching the technique, Iaijutsu, in specialized schools, each school with its own closely guarded moves. In old-time Japan, the school you belonged to was your ultimate secret. Warriors would only learn others’ hidden techniques moments before they died. This style of swordplay has only been taught in the United States since about 1992. Kevin Cecil is the guy to go to in the Reno, Sparks and Carson City vicinity, if you want to learn this ancient art. Cecil instructs in the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaijutsu school of teaching during his evening classes at the YMCA at 850 Baring Blvd. Call 685-9622.

How does a person become a Japanese sword fighter?

When I was 10, I started taking kung fu thanks to David Carradine. I was a victim of the ninja fad in the ‘80s. But it wore off on me like everybody else. Then I really got into Japanese culture. I started learning more about it and reading everything I could get my hands on. I’ve been doing sword [fighting] since 1989, but I’ve only been doing this school since ‘99.

What do people with this skill do?

There are competitions. There is a whole division of our art dedicated to what we do. There are cutting competitions and there can be team competitions. One time I saw my instructor, Masayuki Shimabukuro, and another gentlemen do coordinated [routines] back to back. It was amazing and beautiful. It is very important to give credit to my own instructor. I learned this art from sensei [Shimabukuro]. I’d just be a guy with a sword if it wasn’t for this guy. He guides me. He helps me be better, which helps my own students be better.

If I wanted to learn swords, what would you start me off doing?

The basics are called kihon, which means fundamentals. I would teach you to hold a sword, the basics of a proper swing and how to stand. I would also teach you reiho, the respect and etiquette that you have for yourself, your fellow students and your master.

So, are you a samurai?

Sensei Shimabukuro would say, yes, I am a samurai. But, I don’t think we can ever be samurai. Samurai were a hereditary and social level. My family was a ranching family from Oregon, therefore I could never be samurai. Also, the emperor in Japan outlawed samurais in 1876, so there cannot be samurais by royal decree. But I do believe we can study them and try to personify their standards, ideals and courage.

Is it ever just you and a sword?

In a way it’s always just you and a sword. They are all extensions of us. It’s your companion, your buddy. It is very intimate. We don’t fight each other; we fight ourselves. I have to turn inward to discover the parts of myself that need improvement. I have to defeat those things and my sword is there to help me do it.