- Toshishiro Obata
Toshishiro Obata was born in 1948 in Gunma prefecture, Japan, and is the founder of the International Shinkendo Federation.
He has studied under Shioda Gozo in the Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo and has studied the sword arts of Nakamura Ryu, Ioriken Battojutsu, Toyama Ryu, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, Kashima Shin ryu, Ryukyu Kobudo, etc. He is famous in Japan as a tameshigiri champion for several years in a row and being an authorized shitoka (sword tester).
He moved to America in 1980 to start teaching and develop his own sword art based on his extensive experience. In 1991, the International Shinkendo federation was officially established. The federation has grown far beyond 60 dojo internationally and continues to expand. Toshishiro Obata, as the founder of the school, is referred to as Obata Kaiso by his students, and continues to travel across the globe to hold seminars for his students around the world.
The Obata family originally descended from the Heike clan's stream. Of samurai family lineage, Obata Toshishiro is a direct descendant of Obata Masamori, who served as a general and strategist (one of the famous 24 strategists) for the Takeda family during the civil war, Sengoku era. Obata Masamori would become the lord of Kaizu Jo (castle) in Shin Shu (Nagano) province. Obata Masamori's son, Obata Kagenori (1570-1644), became a page and companion to Japan’s second Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada. During this time in Kagenori's youth, he would study Kenjutsu and general scholarship with Tokugawa Hidetada. Later, during the Osaka winter campaign, Obata Kagenori was directed by the Tokugawa family to infiltrate and join the Toyotomi camps for the purpose of gathering intelligence. Before the Summer campaign began, Obata Kagenori returned to the side of the Tokugawa family and later completed the famous "Takeda-ryu Koyo Gunkan-sho" book. This work was the foundation of the "Heiho Okugi-sho", a secret book of strategy. During his lifetime, Obata Kagenori became known as the father of "Koshu-ryu Gungaku", also referred to as "Takeda-ryu".
He tells stories of his wild youth, running through the mountains at night, sharpening his senses. He tells of his grandmother, who would take hot coals from the cooking fire and toss them at his feet. He says (only half-joking) this was the beginning of his superb footwork and body training. Anything he could do with his right hand, he taught himself to do with his left hand just as well. Even at an early age he understood the importance of rigorous self-training, and perhaps saw into the future of his Nitoken Two-Sword system.
Beginnings in Martial Arts
In 1966 the 18 year old Obata left his small rural hometown, and headed for Tokyo to begin a career in Martial Arts. He soon found himself at Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo, the birthplace of Aikido, where he became Uchi-deshi, live-in student, under headmaster Shioda Gozo. Obata stayed at Yoshinkan for seven years as a student and instructor, eventually teaching the Tokyo Metropolitan Riot Police course. It was during this time that Obata was introduced to Japanese swordsmanship, when he observed several demonstrations by Nakamura Taizoboru, headmaster of Nakamura Ryu. Obata Sensei left Yoshinkan in 1973 to pursue swordsmanship full-time. He studied and achieved high ranking in many famous Japanese schools, including Nakamura Ryu, Ioriken Battojutsu, Toyama Ryu, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, Kashima Shin ryu, Ryukyu Kobudo, and others. He also joined the Tokyo Wakakoma, Japan’s elite group of stuntmen and fight choreographers, and was responsible for the introduction and increasing popularity of Aikido into Japanese TV and films in that period. During this time Obata Sensei also won seven consecutive All-Japan target-cutting championships.
In all of his studies it became clear to Obata that although each school had its particular strengths, none of them taught a complete, comprehensive sword system. The traditional schools in Japan are not allowed to change or expand upon their original curriculum. They are considered to be living, breathing historical treasures and must be preserved as faithfully and precisely as possible. The inheritor of a traditional school is therefore duty-bound to teach techniques, training methods, and ideals exactly as he learned them. To change or add anything would be seen as terribly disrespectful to the original founder of the school. It was for this reason that Obata Sensei at age 32, having mastered many of the old schools in Japan, came to America in 1980 to start a new, comprehensive system of study: Shinkendo Japanese Swordsmanship.
Obata spent 10 years refining his art before unveiling it to the world officially in 1991. He met with immediate success, and the International Shinkendo Federation was established a short 3 years later. As the creator of an entirely new system of sword study, he assumed the title of Kaiso (Founder), and started teaching seminars and opening branches all across the world. At the present time, there are over 70 branches of the ISF worldwide.
In 2004 a new aspect of Shinkendo training was formalized – the study of Nitoken, or Two-Sword training. This rare aspect of Japanese swordsmanship is seldom taught, and when asked how he learned it, Kaiso grins and says “Mountain Tengu showed me.”
Obata Kaiso has published several books, most notably “Shinkendo, Japanese Swordsmanship” – the core textbook of his art, and “Tameshigiri”, dedicated to the safe and effective practice of target cutting within the study of Shinkendo. Kaiso is still working on several more books, including a treatise on the philosophy of Shinkendo, deeper studies into each aspect of swordsmanship, and a historical view of Toyama Ryu.
Obata Kaiso is truly a living legend within the martial arts community. He has established a legacy that will last well into the future, enriching the lives of everyone who encounters it, and hopefully bettering humanity as a whole. We, his students and living trust, are deeply humbled to be part of such a grand vision.
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