Excerpted from Black Belt 1990-04, Vol. 28, #4, Interview by Jim Coleman
BB: How long had you been training in aikido in Japan before you were introduced to kenjutsu?
SEAGAL: Maybe ten years.
BB: Do you consider ten years an appropriate length of time in aikido before someone should be introduced to kenjutsu?
SEAGAL: I don't really know. I just know that kenjutsu is very, very, very difficult to learn. When I was in Tokyo, there was a particular master who was a Zen priest that I wanted to learn from, but he wasn't accepting any students. I went to this guy for a couple of years, frequently asking him to teach me, and he always said "No." But at one point, he started to teach me. And that was my first experience with kenjutsu. Most of the kenjutsu masters I know are very quiet. They're very secretive in nature. They don't accept students from the outside. They don't talk to anybody.
BB: Why did this Zen priest finally relent and teach you kenjutsu? Was it your persistence?
SEAGAL: Yeah, I think it was probably my showing up on his doorstep five days a week for a long, long time. This particular teacher that I started out with was very careful with me. I've studied with a lot of different teachers where when you stand in front of them with a sword, you're afraid you're going to die; it's a matter of life and death. But this guy was very careful with me. He started me out similar to the way I started out in karate: working on a post doing kata (forms) for years before I ever got to spar. And this guy was similar. He started me out just learning the basic cuts and angles for a long time - real simple stuff. If you really know aikido well, in the advanced stages, you understand all the basics of kenjutsu. There's a lot of cutting with the hands in advanced aikido, and we started out with a basic cut to the front of the face or the top of the head. Now as basic as that sounds, it's a very frightening cut. It takes years to learn, and when you really know it, you can't see it coming. There's never a block and counter in kenjutsu - ever. It's always one move; it's always one cut. In fact, one of the mottos I learned was "one cut, one life." It's not a counterstrike. It's a strike, but a counter within the strike.
BB: Were you able to ask the instructor questions when you were confused with something?
SEAGAL: You don't ask. You don't say "But, why?" In six months or a year, you can ask that question and you might be able to understand it. But at first, you can't even understand it, so you just do what they tell you for the first couple of years.
BB: Is there any kind of advice you would offer a beginning aikido or kenjutsu practitioner?
SEAGAL: Yeah. There's an old saying that basically says rather than spending ten years of arduous training with one teacher, spend ten years to find the right teacher. When you learn something wrong for a long time, it's real hard to unlearn it. You have to find a teacher who knows his basics. And if you look at his students, you'll be able to see that. If you look at (shotokan karate) master (Tsutomu) Ohshima, you might not even know that he knows his basics, because they're gone; you can't see them anymore because he's too advanced. But if you look at his students, you'll see them.
BB: Does this concept apply to aikido as well?
SEAGAL: Yeah, people who are really good in aiki, you won't see anything that they're doing. We wear the hakama (divided skirt) to hide the feet too, so you can't see the feet.
You can find the full interview if you are interested at Google Books.