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Learning the way of the samurai

The two opponents faced off across a wide expanse of hardwood floor. Their eyes locked and their grips tightened on their swords, each wielding nearly a meter of unyielding metal. With steady movements, they approached and simultaneously swung with expert precision. Steel flashed through the air. Both survived , for this was not a battle to the death but rather how they test their mettle in the E ast.

The “E ast” in question is the east side of the Las Vegas Valley, and participants were merely practicing samurai sword in the weekly classes at the Robert E. “Bob” Price Recreation Center, 2050 Bonnie Lane.

“Actually this is the first time we’ve used the steel here,” said instructor Larry Morton. “U sually, we use the bokken, wooden practice swords.”

The six-week class meets from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays at the center. It runs nearly every week, with another six-week session beginning the week after the previous session wraps up.

Morton is a retired San Diego police officer who now works for Clark County. He has been studying sword-based martial arts for more than eight years, originally picking up the sword for therapeutic reasons.

“I had adhesive capsulitis , which is sometimes called frozen shoulder,” Morton said. “The physical therapy and the c ortisone weren’t helping to break up the adhesions, so I started swinging around a wooden sword.”

A dhesive capsulitis is a particularly painful ailment known for it s slow recovery time. Morton picked up a wooden sword and swung it around using techniques he’d learned from swinging a police baton in his academy days.

“Within a month I had mobility back,” Morton said. “I knew there was a martial art behind it, so I found Shimabukuro and his dojo in San Diego.”

Masayuki Shimabukuro goes by the title “Hanshi,” which means “teacher of teachers” or “grand master.” He is the chief instructor of the Jikishin-Kai San Diego Dojo, as well as the president of both Nippon Kobudo Jikishin-K ai USA and International.

Morton studied with Shimabukuro and several other instructors for a few years before he began volunteering his services as an instructor at the recreation center.

Morton’s d aughter Mariah picked up the sword about six months after her father when she was 12. She still trains with him today and is a second-degree black belt in swordsmanship.

“I like that there’s a lot of philosophy that goes with it,” Mariah Morton said. “People think it’s just trying to find a way to hit someone with the sword, but it’s more about practicing the forms and understanding the movements behind them and understanding the thinking behind your opponents’ moves, too.”

Larry Morton also teaches from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays at the Tiger Tae Kwon Do Academy at 6055 E. Lake Mead Blvd. There he teaches an older and more complex sword-based martial art cal led Eishin Ryu.

At the recreation center h e concentrates on Toyama Ryu, a form that originally was developed for more modern m ilitary use.

“In 1925 the Japanese a rmy realized that their officers and non-commissioned officers did not necessarily know how to use their sword in combat,” M orton said. “They formed a committee of traditional sword martial arts, and they came up with a training kata to quickly teach officers and NCOs how to use their swords.”

After World War II, three of the commandants of the military academy created their own variations of the training. It’s one of those forms that Morton teaches at the recreation center.

“I’m a volunteer,” Morton said. “I’m here because I enjoy it.”

Contact Sunrise and Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 380-4532.

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