25 Years of Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu Iaijutsu at UC San Diego
“Do you want to learn Iai?” This question, asked by one Karate master to another, started what would become the University of California San Diego’s longstanding Iaido program. The two men were Shimabukuro Masayuki Sensei and Alfonso Gomez Sensei, it was the early 1990s, and they met every Saturday to practice with a group of dedicated Karateka on the UCSD campus in La Jolla, California. At the time, Shimabukuro Sensei had been living in the United States for almost 15 years, and everyone in the Southern California Budo community knew and respected him for not only being an accomplished Shito-ryu Karate-do master, but also an expert in Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu Iaijutsu, Shindo Muso-ryu Jojutsu, and Shorinji Kempo. So Gomez Sensei didn’t have to think twice when he answered: “That would be nice! Right after Karate class?”
So every Saturday, after four hours of strenuous Karate practice, a handful of committed budoka would put in some more hours to learn how to handle a sword, and Shimabukuro Sensei was excited about the group’s enthusiasm. “We were learning fast, and everyone had a lot of fun, so after two or three months I asked Shima Sensei if he wanted me to make this an official class,” remembers Gomez Sensei. About a dozen participants, half of them college students, signed up for what would become UCSD’s first Iaido Recreation Class.
Shimabukuro Sensei taught the class for about two years, while establishing his own dojo in San Diego at the same time. In the following years, several Sensei who practiced at the San Diego Jikishin-Kai Hombu Dojo, taught the UCSD Iaido class under the supervision of Shimabukuro Sensei, among them were Keisuke “Jimmy” Juge Sensei and Erik Tracy Sensei. Tracy Sensei’s wife worked at UCSD in 1993, when she discovered the Iaido class in the course catalog. He had recently came into possession of an authentic samurai sword from his uncle, and decided to enroll in the class to learn about Japanese swordsmanship. This was the first time Tracy Sensei met Shimabukuro Sensei. Five years after this life-changing experience, following Juge Sensei’s departure to Chicago to attend graduate school and receive his PhD in physics, Tracy took over the teaching duties for the UCSD Iaido class in 1998.
It was also in the mid-90s at a seminar at UC San Diego, when Carl Long Sensei met Shimabukuro Sensei for the first time. Long Sensei would call his wife before returning home, telling her: “I found my teacher.”
The first UCSD Fall Gasshuku, held over Labor Day weekend in 1996, organized through the Jikishin-Kai Hombu Dojo, attracted participants from all over the country, becoming established as an annual event over subsequent years.
For the Millennial Fall Gasshuku, UCSD had the privilege to host a very special guest: Miura Takeyuki Hidefusa Hanshi, 20th Generation Soshihan of Seito Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu Iai-Heiho, had graciously accepted Shimabukuro Sensei’s invitation to visit and teach in San Diego.
Among the lucky participants who had the opportunity to learn from Miura Sensei was a young UCSD student, Scott Chang, who started attending Iaido classes in the winter quarter of 1997. Chang Sensei, after assisting Erik Tracy Sensei for several years, took over instructor duties for the UCSD Iaido class in 2002. Every Saturday, after two hours of Iaido practice, he had a few minutes to quickly change into his Kendo uniform and bogu, so he could assist John K. Yamamoto Sensei with UCSD’s Kendo class for another two hours of intense training.
In 2010, the UCSD Iaido Club was established as an official sports club within the Recreation program. Registered clubs have access to several UCSD resources, can form a team and attend collegiate championships, hold fundraisers on campus, and have a website under the University’s umbrella. From the very beginning, keeping the club up and running was a challenge, since all the officers and members have to be undergraduate students at UCSD.
In 2013, a year after the passing of Shimabukuro Hanshi, the club organized the first Shimabukuro Memorial Budo Festival with the help of the Hombu Dojo instructors, including Kako Lee Sensei and Bob Morris Sensei.
In the following years, the Recreation classes continued to attract new students, whereas the UCSD Iaido club struggled to continue or renew their status as a registered organization. Because of academic duties, changing interests, or simply graduation, UCSD students usually only stay with the club for a short time, making it necessary for the instructors to not only teach their classes, but to organize continuity and recruit students to become club officers.
Without the support of Alfonso Gomez Sensei, Shihan and UCSD Karate head instructor, neither the club, nor the Recreation classes, nor the seminars hosted at UCSD would have been possible. His unwavering commitment to Shimabukuro Hanshi’s legacy, as well as his unique ability to find creative and bold solutions for dealing with the UCSD bureaucracy, were cornerstones of the program from the start.
When Kako Lee Renshi took over the UCSD Iaido program in 2016, she was well aware of all the challenges and opportunities this assignment would bring. As Lee Renshi started studying Iaido under Shimabukuro Hanshi in 1993, she had been around from the very beginning of the UCSD program and has been a senpai to some of the sensei who, later on, taught the class before her.
In September 2017, the newly revived UCSD Iaido Club had the honor to host the traditional fall Gasshuku with Carl Long Hanshi, chairman and Soshihan of the Kokusai Nippon Budo Kai (KNBK). For the vast majority of the UCSD Iaido group, their first time helping with the event was also their first time participating in it.
Reflecting on the more than 25 years of Iaido at the University of California San Diego, Lee Sensei says: “Almost three decades ago, Shimabukuro Sensei planted a seed. It grew into a tree that is exposed to the seasons. But as long as we nurture it, it will continue to bear fruit.”
It must be springtime for UCSD Iaido, to stay with Lee Sensei’s metaphor: more than two dozen participants are enrolled in the present class, a third of them meeting every Saturday morning before class to study Jojutsu. It’s a diverse group of people, ranging in age from 18 to 72, from countries all over the world, including Venezuela, China, Russia, Mexico, Vietnam, Syria, Thailand, and Germany. None of us had the honor to learn from Shimabukuro Hanshi in person, yet we’re all aware of and thankful for the privilege to carry on his legacy, and his presence is felt through the inspiring dedication of our teachers.
UCSD Iaido Instructors:
Masayuki Shimabukuro Hanshi 1991-1993
Keisuke “Jimmy” Juge Sensei 1993-1998
Erik Tracy Renshi 1998-2002
Scott Chang Renshi 2002-2016
Kako Lee Renshi 2016-Present
(by Patrick Schultheis, from Kagami, Spring/Summer 2018 edition)