Sugino Yoshio (December 12, 1904-June 13, 1998) was one of—if not the—most accomplished, widely and deeply trained martial artists of the 20th century. A top student of kenjutsu, judo, aikido and numerous classical weapons, he was also one of the most beloved and respected budo masters in Japan. Yet his story is barely known in the West. He quickly became a judo champion, opening a dojo with Master Kano Jigoro’s approval at the age of only 22, undoubtedly one of the youngest people Kano ever sanctioned to teach on his own. At Kano’s suggestion, Sugino took up studying one of the few remaining classical jujutsu styles, eventually reaching kyoshi level. At about the same time, and also at Kano’s recommendation, he began training in Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, one of the few surviving truly ancient styles of hyogo (the arts of war), which included a huge curriculum of weapons, unarmed combat, military strategy and other subjects. Not yet content that he had plumbed the depths of Japanese budo, at the age of 27, he enrolled as a student of Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of Aikido and a well-known and widely respected martial artist. For the next 60 years, Sugino was a fixture on the Japanese martial arts stage, teaching in a number of locations, training uchi deshi (live-in pupils), and often being called on to demonstrate his art at major national venues. He may best be remembered, however, for having choreographed the weaponry fighting scenes for several of the classic movie collaborations between Director Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune, including the famous duel against seven opponents in the 1956 movie, The Seven Samurai. Sugino lived during a unique time, at the tail-end of the old, traditional, and secretive era of martial arts and the beginning of a new, modern, popularized era. Somehow, through the nature of his personality, his dedication, and his skill, he was able to straddle these two eras and help bring the old koryu into modern times. Such an era will never come again; no one else will have the opportunity he and a handful of other martial artists had to span these epochs. Nor are we likely again soon to see the combination of skill, dedication, versatility, and personality represented by Hanshi Sugino Yoshio (1904-1998).
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