World Black Belt Blog
Spotlight: Dr. Jeremy A. Sather
Welcome back to Solara Speaks! I hope everyone has been having a great 2016 so far. For this segment, I interviewed my sensei, Dr. Jeremy Sather, to discuss Shinkendo, philosophy, and living in Japan. Dr. Sather earned his bachelor's degree in Japanese Language and Literature at the University of Montana, and proceeded to earn a PhD in Japanese Medieval War Tales and History from the University of Pennsylvania. His work with Japanese culture and history began with an interest in martial arts at a young age. He began Tae Kwon Do at age fourteen, and furthermore studied Karate and Judo as a teen, and more recently Muay Thai kickboxing. While studying in Montana as a college student, Dr. Sather took two years as an exchange student to study in Japan. There, he studied the art of Iaido, or the art of fast-drawing sword, and Aikido. He then spent two more years in Montana to further his studies before traveling back to Japan to study tameshigiri, or target cutting using the katana. He favored this style because, like kickboxing, its techniques were grounded in real-world effectiveness. This aspect of martial arts convinced him to look into more realistic styles.
While in graduate school at University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Sather discovered the Shinkendo website. After watching the demo reel, he sought out the training, contacting sensei Lou D'Agostino in New York. Dr. Sather trained with sensei D'Agostino for approximately five years. During this time, he was fortunate to have several opportunities to study directly with Obata Toshishiro, the founder, or kaiso, of Shinkendo. Through Obata Sensei, Dr. Sather discovered the roots and meaning of the style. “Shin”, meaning new or real, and “kendo” being the way of the sword, brings about a new style of sword work intended to synthesize the best parts of a variety of sword arts into one comprehensive style. Obata sensei felt that Shinkendo would do very well in the United States because of its lack of ties to traditional Japanese martial arts organizations, as well as its focus on holistic development of sword technique. Bringing Shinkendo to the U.S. provided the opportunity for it to become one of the most open and internationalized styles today. Dr. Sather relates that the philosophy behind Shinkendo is to learn to use the sword in a realistic manner, and to live life in a manner befitting rigorous martial arts practice. He states that to be able to do anything in life, you must be able to practice it at the same speed and way it would be in a fight. In this regard, Shinkendo appealed to Dr. Sather. When practice is rigorous and performed at high speed, the martial artist develops the ability to respond physically and mentally to real-world situations. This furthermore brings a new perspective of clarity and focus to the martial artist's life as a whole, allowing for a better outlook on life as a result of a cleared mind. He feels that many styles stop at the point of refinement, focusing only on the perfection of a technique and maintenance of a tradition, rather than going on to experience what is practical and effective. In fact, it is only once students become adept at these forms that the refinement process begins, eventually allowing the student to make the forms their own and becoming able to rely on their training to respond to situations at high speeds.
Dr. Sather states that he has been intrigued by why people behave violently, and believes that by studying martial arts we can create a better world by experiencing violence in a safe and disciplined environment, and understanding that martial arts makes a platform for students to obtain balance in their life through learning about self-defense and incorporating awareness and meditation in every moment. Or, as Obata sensei says, “life is Shinkendo (jinsei Shinkendo)!” As an art form, students gain cultural and spiritual awareness, and as a defense system, they gain confidence to walk through life, knowing they walk with an air of security. Students are taught never to seek violence, but to avoid it unless no other option exists, thus maintaining harmony with themselves, those around them, and the natural world of which we are all a part. He says, “Restraint, more than anything else, is the mark of a master.”