10 Reasons to Teach Your Kids Martial Arts

10 Reasons for Your Kids to Learn Martial Arts

  1. Confidence: When you’re confident you can defend yourself, and don’t come across as an easy target that most bullies look for. Also, if you have accomplished something a little difficult then you have confidence that you can move onto a new level, not just in martial arts but in any area of your life.
  2. Defense: Your kids may not be able to take on any opponent in the world. However, they have learned techniques to help them defend themselves in hostile situations.
  3. Learn How to Take a Punch: This is a difficult concept for a mother to get her head around let alone accept. The best defense in most situations is to run, flee or remove yourself from the situation. If there is some reason you have not left the situation it usually means your opponent has thrown the first punch and is on top of you or has attacked you in some way. If you know what it feels like to take a punch and keep your wits about you, you’re chances of survival are much greater.
  4. Discipline: This is another point that ripples throughout a child’s life. However, to master the different levels of any martial art you’ve got to have physical and mental discipline. Martial arts give children practice using the body and mind in harmony.
  5. Endurance: Martial arts is a sport, you build strength and endurance.
  6. Leadership: Part of becoming a black belt and higher is teaching beginning students. My older son is now teaching younger students and this is part of his training.
  7. Health: We have an epidemic of childhood obesity in this country. Martial Arts is a great way to get moving and burn off calories.
  8. Fight in a Controlled Environment: This one was hard for me as a mother. Of course at first it was cute. My little five year old child sparing with another five year old was nothing more than two clumsy kids trying to hit each other. My oldest son sparing during his black belt test was stomach turning. But my boys have the experience of fighting and they’ve learned it in a controlled environment without getting hurt. (at least hurt too badly)
  9. Situational Awareness: This goes along with confidence and defense but studying martial arts requires that you always be aware of your environment.
  10. Ability to Assess an Opponent: If you can determine that your opponent is weak in an area you can use that to your advantage in any hostile environment. This is an invaluable skill.

A Guide To The Real-Life Figures In Nioh

 Image result for A Guide To The Real-Life Figures In Nioh

Nioh takes a lot of liberty with its historical setting but still maintains a large cast of famous warlords, samurai, explorers and ninja. Every one of them has a story. Here’s a quick primer on what history tells us about these individuals.Works of historical fiction have always fascinated me, and Nioh is set during one of the most interesting periods of all: The Sengoku or “Warring States” era of Japanese history. A small dispute between two clans grew to involve the entire nation, plunging it into war from 1467 to 1615. It created a host of heroes, many of whom are in Nioh. These are some of the most important.

Warning: There’s some spoilers up ahead.


The game’s main protagonist is William. This portrayal is largely fictional but is based on the real life William Adams. Adams is credited as the first Englishman to travel to Japan. In 1600, a single ship from the Dutch East India company arrived in Kyūshū, Japan. Adams was one of the nine surviving crew members.

During his time in the nation, he met with Tokugawa Ieyasu multiple times. Ieyasu was the lord of Edo and future shogun of Japan. Adams became a close confidant to Ieyasu and was eventually declared a samurai. He was forbidden from leaving Japan and given the name Miura Anjin. He spent the rest of his life in Japan, helping to foster trade and organising expeditions into Southeast Asia.

Adams died on 16 May 1620 at the age of 56. It is unclear what the cause of death was. His grave in Hirado faces towards the sea.

Edward Kelley

Kelley is one of the main antagonists in Nioh. In real life, Kelley was an English occultist and alchemist who claimed he could summon and communicate with spirits using a magical mirror. He worked closely with John Dee, famed philosopher and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. While in Dee’s service, he supposedly used a magical red powder to transform metal into gold.

Dee and Kelley worked closely and, under the supposed guidance of angels, shared wives. One day, Kelley mysteriously parted ways with Dee. Years later, he was arrested for killing a man in a duel. He died in prison in 1597 from injuries he sustained during an escape attempt.

Tokugawa Ieyasu

The man who unified Japan and ended the Sengoku period. Originally named Matsudaira Takechiyo, he spent much of his youth as a hostage of the Imagawa Clan. Following his release, he proved an intelligent military mind. He declared independence from the Imagawa and joined with the famed general Oda Nobunaga. He and Nobunaga worked to unify the land and made good progress until Nobunaga was betrayed by a subordinate.

Following this, Ieyasu fought warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi to a standstill and agreed to become his vassal. He served Hideyoshi as his lord pushed to unify Japan, although he did not send forces when Hideyoshi attempted to invade Korea in a disastrous campaign.

After Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu’s surplus of troops made it easy for him to push for leadership in Japan. At the battle of Sekigahara, he defeated his rival Ishida Mitsunari and was declared shogun. He served two years before abdicating the position to his son. He died in 1616.

Ieyasu’s patience was legendary. In a poem about the major figures of the Sengoku period, when asked what he would do if a bird would not sing for him, he merely replied “wait”.

Hattori Hanzo

Hanzo is history’s most famous ninja and is known largely for his time serving Tokugawa Ieyasu. Most famously, when the Tokugawa were forced to retreat after battle with warlord Takeda Shingen, he helped drive the enemy back as part of a dangerous gambit. Ieyasu ordered the gate of the castle they were garrisoned in to remain open. The Takeda believed this was a trap. Ieyasu only had five retainers in the fort but Hanzo and a contingent of ninja attacked the Takeda camp. The resulting confusion forced the Takeda to retreat.

His other most famous act came after Oda Nobunaga was betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide. Hanzo loyally guided the vulnerable Ieyasu into safe territory. History says that Hattori Hanzo died of sickness before Tokugawa Ieyasu unified the nation but some legends maintain he was killed during a naval battle after the ship he was on was lit on fire.

Ishida Mitsunari

Mitsunari was a vassal to the Azai family, which was wiped out by Oda Nobunaga. He found service with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and became a valuable retainer. After Hideyoshi’s death, he took it upon himself to protect Hideyoshi’s son Hideyori. This made him an enemy of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

He led opposition forces at the Battle of Sekigahara. In Nioh, Edward Kelley supports him with a force of yokai to aid in his battle against Ieyasu. He had no such support in real life and decisively lost the battle, barely escaping.

He did not survive long. He was captured by Tokugawa forces and buried up to his neck in sand. Then, for good measure, they sawed his head off. However, one legend maintains that Ieyasu actually spared his life and allowed him to live in hiding until dying of old age.

Shima Sakon

Shima Sakon was a loyal servant of Ishida Mitsunari. During the Battle of Sekigahara, he commanded a large force armed with rifles and cannons. In Nioh, he engages William in a boss fight. It’s a glorious duel. In reality, his fate was less glamorous.

He engaged in a stalling action to protect Mitsunari’s retreat and was never seen again after the battle. Some sources say that he was unceremoniously killed by rifle fire.

Oda Nobunaga

Nobunaga is one of the three great lords of the Sengoku period alongside Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was a brilliant military mind. During the Battle of Okehazama, he defeated a force of 25,000 with only 3000 of his own troops through the use of superior strategies. But he was also a cruel man who murdered women and children and showed little quarter to his enemies.

Together with Ieyasu and Hideyoshi, he nearly unified Japan until a subordinate, Akechi Mitsuhide, betrayed him and attacked while Nobunaga was resting at a temple. In Nioh, Edward Kelley summons his spirit to fight William and he proves to be a noble figure.

Still, his anger is so renowned that unlike Ieyau’s patient answer in regards to what to do if a bird will not sing, Nobunaga’s answer is to immediately kill the bird.


Tenkai was a Buddhist monk of high rank who served as an adviser to a few of the Tokugawa shoguns. By itself this isn’t noteworthy, but some legends maintain that Tenkai was actually Akechi Mitsuhide, who found a new life after betraying Oda Nobunaga.

There’s much speculation about why Mitsuhide betrayed his lord. Most perceive it as a grab for power. However, some say it was the result of a grudge held against Nobunaga after he thew a piece of Mitsuhide’s dinnerware into a pond. A more romantic legend claims that Nobunaga himself told Mitsuhide to kill him should his ambition ever cause him to become too ruthless.

Mitsuhide’s final days are unclear. He held the position of shogun for 13 days before being deposed. History suggests he was killed on the road by a peasant with a bamboo spear. Nioh takes the legends literally, portraying Tenkai as a reformed Mitsuhide.


Historically, Okaji no Kata was one of Ieyasu’s concubines. She supposedly had a very charming wit and one legend even says that she dressed as a man to defend Ieyasu during the Battle of Sekigahara.

In Nioh, Okatsu’s backstory is largely a work of fiction. She is Ieyasu’s daughter, who fled after he killed her brother and tried to marry her to a local lord. She trained as a ninja and forms a friendly relationship with William.

It’s worth noting that Ieyasu did not kill his son. In reality, his wife and son were accused of plotting an assassination attempt on Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga ordered Ieyasu’s wife killed and his son, Matsudaira Nobuyasu, committed seppuku. In Nioh, Tokugawa’s wife has her spirit warped in death and turned into a vicious ogress that William kills in a boss battle.


Yasuke was a samurai of African decent who served Oda Nobunaga. It is unclear what his birth name was or where he exactly came from, though some sources say he was from Mozambique.

He served Nobunaga faithfully and it is said that they enjoyed conversation together quite a bit. When Nobunaga was betrayed, Yasuke fought at the temple of Honnō-ji and later fought for Nobunaga’s son Nobutada. He eventually turned his sword in to Mitsuhide’s forces and was spared from death and sent to a Jesuit missionary. After that? No one really knows what happened to Yasuke.

Saika Magoichi

I saved this sexy devil for last. Magoichi was the leader of the Saika Ikki. They were a group of Ikkō-ikki who opposed the rule of lords. Ikkō-ikki were militant bands comprised of farmers, monks and priests who formed their to fight against daimyo.

The Saika Ikki actually fought against Oda Nobunaga when he attacked the temple of Ishiyama Hongan-ji. Magoichi himself is mostly known for training his soldiers in the use of rifles and arquebuses. In Nioh, he leads an attack on Fushimi Castle as a sort of mercenary. He’s also one of the coolest fights in the game.

There you have it. A breakdown of some of the more interesting individuals in Nioh. There’s a ton more and the game provides a codex that can give you further insight into the characters you meet. Nioh’s setting is quite exciting. Hopefully, this guide helps explain why it was so rife with interesting characters.

6 Infamous Cases of People Committing Seppuku

Typically, a good seppuku performance would consist of the samurai driving a tanto sword into his abdomen and disemboweling himself by slashing the part from left to right. A second man attending him, called the kaishakunin, would then swing a sword down the samurai’s neck and decapitate him. By Edo times (1600-1867), seppuku had become an elaborate ritual performed in front of spectators. Although certainly a painful and violent way to die, many people saw it as an honorable and even romantic act. Incidents of seppuku decreased as Japan modernized in the late 19th century, but as we shall soon see, there are even records of people committing it in the post-WWII era.

6. The Byakkotai


Poster for a recent drama series about the Byakkotai.

For decades, anime and action movies have been casually throwing their teenage protagonists into such dangerous occupations as assassins, ninjas, samurai, vampire hunters, and angst-ridden robot pilots. This idea is awesome on screen, but actually tends to be far more terrifying and confusing in real-life. Case in point: the Byakkotai, a military unit of 305 samurai entirely composed of teenagers.

The Byakkotai, whose name meant “White Tiger Force”, participated in a year-long (1868-1869) civil war in Japan known as the Boshin War. On February 7, 1869, during the Battle of Tonoguchihara, the Byakkotai hid themselves in bushes and shot at approaching government troops. The young samurai underestimated the number of enemy soldiers, and as they tried to withdraw, a squad of them led by 16-year-old Shinoda Gisaburo became separated from the main group. With little time to think, Shinoda and the 19 other separated Byakkotai members retreated from the battlefield and fled to Iimori Hill.

What little safety they might have felt quickly evaporated when they looked down and saw that smoke was coming from their town of Aizuwakamatsu. Panic-stricken, they believed that the town had been destroyed and set on fire, meaning that the castle that held their families and lords must have burned down too. Seeing no reason to live anymore, the 20 young samurai committed seppuku on the spot. Only one of them, Iinuma Sadakichi, would survive.

In a cruel Shyamalian twist of fate, the castle hadn’t actually burned down after all. Only the surrounding town, in fact, had been set on fire. The 19 young samurai perished for nothing.

5. Takijiro Onishi

Takijiro Onishi, (Undated)

Picture of Takijiro Onishi

How does one make amends for helping advocate a military strategy that led to the loss of thousands of young men who took on suicide missions to crash their planes into enemy soldiers? (Pay attention, Al Qaeda.) According to Takijiro Onishi, one of the Japanese military leaders who helped get the kamikaze program off the ground, you disembowel yourself.

Although Onishi originally opposed the kamikaze attacks, he eventually relented and gave the strategy his blessing. Japan sent out its first batch of kamikaze pilots on October 25, 1944 during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. A few days before, Onishi addressed the pilots himself and gave a speech praising their bravery and sacrifice. “Regrettably,” admitted Onishi to what must have been a great shock for the volunteers, “we will not be able to tell you the results.”

Before Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, almost 4,000 kamikaze pilots would lose their lives. After hearing the news, Onishi wrote a suicide note and decided to commit seppuku the next day. In his note, he apologized to the dead kamikaze pilots and their families, offering his own death as atonement. Lastly, to further consolidate his posthumous reputation as a good guy, Onishi urged the young people of Japan not to avenge his death with a nuclear Third World War, but to instead promote peace and rebuild itself.

4. Chujiro Hayashi


Picture of Chujiro Hayashi

Chujiro Hayashi was a disciple of Mikao Usui, the founder of the spiritual therapy known as Reiki. Unlike Usui and most of the world of alternative medicine, Hayashi was a real doctor, and would sometimes perform Reiki on his patients. One of the biggest practitioners in his day, Hayashi is credited with developing modern Reiki and spreading it outside of Japan.

Hayashi started studying Reiki in 1925, a year before Usui’s death. With the hope that Hayashi could develop his quackery with real medical knowledge, Usui requested that his student establish a Reiki clinic. Hayashi obliged and went one step beyond, going on a tour in Hawaii with his daughter for a few months in 1937. Hayashi gave a series of Reiki lectures and demonstrations there, and he returned to Japan in February 1938.

In May 1940, the Japanese government demanded that Hayashi give them information about military targets in Honolulu, presumably because they weren’t planning anything evil. Although Hayashi was once a naval captain, he was now a pacifist, and so refused to talk. The authorities suspected that Hayashi was a spy. They accused him of treason, and afraid that the honor of his family was being threatened, Hayashi committed seppuku in the presence of his wife and students on the 11th.

3. Yukio Mishima


Picture of Yukio Mishima.

The genius behind such classics as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima was arguably post-war Japan’s foremost midget novelist. He was a wildly talented and prolific man, writing 34 novels in two decades, in addition to outshining his contemporaries as an actor, bodybuilder, model, playwright, poet, and radical far-right fanatic.

Due to a misdiagnosis of tuberculosis, Mishima couldn’t serve in World War II. Although upset that Emperor Showa renounced his claim of divinity, Mishima saw the unholy meat-bag as the physical essence of the Japanese nation. In October 1968, Mishima founded the Tatenokai, a private militia of attractively muscular young men who swore to protect the emperor.

On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four of his Tatenokai boy-toys seized a military building and attempted to launch a coup to restore Emperor Showa to his former power. After tying the head of the building up to a chair in his office, Mishima went out to the balcony and gave a speech of the Tatenokai’s demands to a crowd of 1,000 soldiers. Being 25 years too late, however, the soldiers only laughed and ridiculed Mishima. He then returned inside, and in the spirit of his half-assed coup, sloppily commited seppuku. With several slapstick slashes of mild tragicomedy, Mishima’s first kaishakunin repeatedly failed to lop his head off. After a few moments of painful agony, the task was given to another henchman, and Mishima was at last decapitated.

2. Nogi Maresuke


Picture of Nogi Maresuke.

Nogi Maresuke was an army general who served in the Satsuma Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War. The son of a samurai, Maresuke was seen by many as a model of traditional Japanese values like loyalty and self-sacrifice. Even 100 years after his suicide, people pay their respects to what they see as a great patriot.

In one notable incident, after suffering staggering losses in a battle during the Russo-Japanese War, Maresuke asked Emperor Meiji for permission to commit suicide. The emperor refused, telling Maresuke that he wasn’t allowed to die until the emperor himself did. While internet Freudians might easily interpret Maresuke’s devotion to Meiji as some repressed form of intense homo-eroticism, this sort of obedience was only to be expected by any good old-fashioned samurai.

Following the end of the war, Maresuke was granted the title of count and made the head of the prestigious Gakushuin, a school for the children of the Japanese nobility. He also embarked on several philanthropic projects, giving money to hospitals and memorials set up for both the Japanese and the Russians. When Emperor Meiji died in July 1912, Maresuke naturally thought the e̶r̶o̶t̶i̶c̶ honorable thing to do was to kill himself and his wife by seppuku. After the emperor’s funeral, Maresuke slashed his stomach three times and then tossed himself onto his sword for a grand finale. His wife followed him after, although not exactly into the same national veneration.

  1. Oda Nobunaga

Painting of Oda Nobunaga.

Oda Nobunaga was indispensable in putting an end to Japan’s Sengoku period, a chaotic time from 1467 to 1603 in which Japan was plagued with social upheaval and military conflict. Although he wasn’t the one who ultimately united the country, he’s one of the most admired historical figures in Japan, and has even had the distinction of appearing in a critically-acclaimed strategy RPG with global superstar Pikachu.

Sadly, Nobunaga didn’t live to see Japan’s unification in 1603. Before his suicide, he succeeded only in capturing the eastern side of the country. It would be Tokugawa Ieyasu, his old ally, who would be the one to unite Japan and establish a government that would last more than 200 years.

Some two decades before that would happen, Nobunaga was staying at a temple in Kyoto when he was betrayed and ambushed by Akechi Mitsuhide, a general and vassal of his. Realizing that he was surrounded, and practically powerless without his partner Pikachu, Nobunaga committed seppuku. His last words, reported to his page Mori Ranmaru, were said to have been “Don’t let them in.” The page then loyally set the temple on fire. Interestingly, only Ranmaru’s body was recovered. Nobunaga’s body was never found, which suggests that he was either consumed by the flames or faked his death. (Most historians, chiefly the duller sort, say it was the former.)

The elaborate armor of the Yokohagido type – early to mid-Edo period: 17th-18th century

The techniques used by Japanese armorers evolved through the centuries. Made for war, armor protected the samurai who wore it, adorning and honoring those who fought and died in combat.

Many materials were required to produce a Japanese armor that was as beautiful as it was functional. Iron, leather, brocade and precious and semi-precious metals were often used.

Mounted Samurai wearing Tatehagidō Armor with a horse wearing a horned dragon mask Early Edo Period 17th century CE Japan.

View of the upper torso of the Yokohagidō Armor with shakudō cuirass crafted from an alloy of copper and gold depicting a coiled dragon Helmet 14th century CE Armor 18th century CE Japan.

Japanese armour is thought to have evolved from the armour used in ancient China and Korea. Cuirasses and helmets were manufactured in Japan as early as the 4th century.

Tankō, worn by foot soldiers and keikō, worn by horsemen were both pre-samurai types of early Japanese cuirass constructed from iron plates connected together by leather thongs.

Closer view of the torso of the Yokohagidō Armor 18th century CE Japan.

Closer view of the torso of the Yokohagidō Armor 18th century CE Japan.
Closeup of the sleeves and hand guard embellished with gold lacquered plant motifs of the Yokohagidō Armor 18th century CE Japan.

Closeup of the sleeves and hand guard embellished with gold lacquered plant motifs of the Yokohagidō Armor 18th century CE Japan.
Closeup of the shakudō cuirass depicting a coiled dragon of the Yokohagidō Armor 18th century CE Japan.

Closeup of the shakudō cuirass depicting a coiled dragon of the Yokohagidō Armor 18th century CE Japan.
Closeup of the helmet crest of the Yokohagidō Armor with shakudō cuirass crafted from an alloy of copper and gold depicting a coiled dragon Helmet 14th century CE Japan.

Closeup of the helmet crest of the Yokohagidō Armor with shakudō cuirass crafted from an alloy of copper and gold depicting a coiled dragon Helmet 14th century CE Japan.

Japanese armour was generally constructed from many small iron (tetsu) and/or leather (nerigawa) scales (kozane) and/or plates (ita-mono), connected to each other by rivets and macrame cords (odoshi) made from leather and/or braided silk, and/or chain armour (kusari).

Noble families had silk cords made in specific patterns and colors of silk thread. Many of these cords, were constructed of well over 100 strands of silk. Making these special silk cords could take many months of steady work, just to complete enough for one suit of armour.

Closeup of the helmet and face mask of the Yokohagidō Armor with shakudō cuirass crafted from an alloy of copper and gold depicting a coiled dragon Helmet 14th century CE Armor 18th century CE Japan.

Closeup of the helmet and face mask of the Yokohagidō Armor with shakudō cuirass crafted from an alloy of copper and gold depicting a coiled dragon Helmet 14th century CE Armor 18th century CE Japan.
Yokohagidō Armor with shakudō cuirass crafted from an alloy of copper and gold depicting a coiled dragon Helmet 14th century CE Armor 18th century CE Japan.

Yokohagidō Armor with shakudō cuirass crafted from an alloy of copper and gold depicting a coiled dragon Helmet 14th century CE Armor 18th century CE Japan.

These armor plates were usually attached to a cloth or leather backing. Japanese armour was designed to be as lightweight as possible as the samurai had many tasks including riding a horse and archery in addition to swordsmanship.

The armour was usually brightly lacquered to protect against the harsh Japanese climate. Chain armour (kusari) was also used to construct individual armour pieces and full suits of kusari were even used.

Closeup of the knee guard of the Yokohagidō Armor 18th century CE Japan.

Closeup of the knee guard of the Yokohagidō Armor 18th century CE Japan.

Closeup of the shin guards and footwear of the Yokohagidō Armor 18th century CE Japan.

Most samurai armor weighs somewhere between 20 and 45 lbs. Compared to European armor during the Middle Ages, which could weigh on average around 60 lbs., that is incredibly light.

Just as the samurai themselves appreciated these suits of armor, helmets, masks and weapons as fine works of art worthy of display, so too do modern museums and private collectors today.

Karate Ni Sente Nashi-‘There is no first move in Karate’

There is no first move in Karate

Every martial artist, especially those that follow the ways of Karate, in particular, should take this maxim to heart, and remember that it is not about “Can’t attack if my opponent doesn’t attack”, but rather about the expression of intent from your opponent towards you, and from you towards your opponent.

Karate Ni Sente NashiThere is no First Move in Karate.

There is no intention, there is no feeling, no emotion, there is only emptiness, and what comes from it as a result of ill intention towards us.

What is that, you may ask?

Everything that wasn’t there less than a second before. All past memories, emotions, feelings, everything that has been experienced through arduous training, every single one, coming together into a single strike, a single technique, and the battle is over as everything is brought back into the void, and emptiness is, once more, ruler over the Ego.

Film: Kurosawa’s original truly Magnificent

Sooner or later, it seems, everything gets remade, and next week a new film opens that’s based on one of the best-loved Hollywood westerns. Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven stars Denzel Washington as the leader of a band of gunfighters hired by midwestern villagers to rescue them from the clutches of an evil mine owner.Image result for Film: Kurosawa's original truly Magnificent

There are attempts to give the story a contemporary flourish: Denzel’s band includes a Comanche warrior, a Chinese assassin and a Mexican outlaw; their multicultural make-up is a source of humour. Chris Pratt is good value for money in a role played by Steve McQueen, and Washington is of course excellent, but some American critics have compared the film unfavourably to John Sturges’ 1960 version.

The Sturges film, they argue, was packed with star power (Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, James Coburn, McQueen), and had the easy swagger of a classic western, whereas Fuqua’s remake is stagey, and dull. And while the new Seven has been accused of rambling too slowly towards its inevitable climax, the original, we are told, rattled along with the urgency of a thriller. Which is all very well, except for the fact that it wasn’t the original at all.

When I was a child, The Magnificent Seven was shown all the time on television, and had an undeniable charm. But it pales in comparison to the movie on which it was very closely based, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Made in Japan in the early 1950s, Seven Samurai had the same basic story of villagers who hire warriors to protect them from marauding bandits, but was fleshed out with all sorts of social and emotional undercurrents, and told in a truly innovative fashion.

Kurosawa used multiple cameras and points of view to create a riveting new way of photographing action sequences, and made a film so good it was acclaimed all over the world.

But The Seven Samurai was a troubled shoot: Kurosawa’s studio kept closing down production in protest at the rising budget, and when the film was eventually finished, they hacked an hour off it. Despite this butchery, the film’s quality was evident to all who saw it, and the restored director’s cut has regularly appeared on lists of the greatest movies ever made. It’s been hugely influential, and everyone from Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg has cited Seven Samurai as an inspiration.

Akira Kurosawa was 33 when he made it, a jobbing studio director who’d recently embarked on an extraordinary purple patch. Seven Samurai was his first samurai film, a genre with which he’d become synonymous, but Kurosawa’s great action films were inspired as much by American westerns as traditional Japanese cinema.

Born in Tokyo in 1910, Kurosawa was descended from samurai himself, and studied Kendo swordsmanship as keenly as he did art. It was his elder brother Heigo who introduced him to cinema, and encouraged Akira’s evident talent for drawing and painting. In the late 1920s, Heigo worked as a benshi, a narrator who sat beside movie screens explaining what was going on, which meant that Akira got to see hundreds of American and European films for free. But in 1933 Heigo committed suicide, leaving his younger brother devastated and confused.

He abandoned painting, and in 1935 responded to a film studio newspaper ad. PCL, who’d later become the all-conquering Toho Studios, were looking for assistant editors, and encouraged applicants to discuss the failings of Japanese cinema. Kurosawa’s essay went too far, but a director called Kajiro Yamamoto saw great potential in Kurosawa, and persuaded reluctant studio bosses to take him on.

He earned his stripes working under Yamamoto in genre pictures and war films, and his directorial debut was Sanshiro Sugata (1943), a well-received biopic of a judo pioneer. But it was his 1950 film Rashomon which first introduced foreign audiences to his talent. The daring drama, which offered four different and equally persuasive accounts of a rape and murder in a forest, won the Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival. Suddenly, Arika Kurosawa was on the international map.

This meant that Toho’s executives would have to give him what he wanted, and in the autumn of 1952 Kurosawa decided to have a pop at making a samurai film. He’d originally intended dramatising a day in the life of a 16th-century samurai that would end with his ritual suicide, but during a six-week-long brainstorming session at a secluded inn with screenwriters Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni, a better idea emerged.

Their film would tell the stories of six Sengoku-era ronin (or masterless samurai) who are hired to defend the homes of a community of rice farmers who’ve been targeted incessantly by a band of marauding brigands. Kurosawa’s great acting collaborator Toshiro Mifune was originally supposed to play the role of Kyozu, a brilliant but taciturn swordsman, but before shooting began Kurosawa and his writers decided a story about six stiff and sober samurai would risk being a bore. And as Mifune later recalled, they decided “they needed a character that was more off-the-wall”.

That would be Kikuchiyo, a loud and volatile man who poses as a wandering samurai but is really the son of peasants, a brave but troubled soul who’s disgusted by the deference of the villagers and yearns to prove his worth in battle. Mifune was given licence to improvise, and his swaggering comedy helped make Kurosawa’s film feel like something new, an antidote to the po-faced pomposity of most samurai films.

The film itself took a year to shoot – four times longer than the time-frame that had been agreed with Toho. In addition, Kurosawa was unhappy with the studio-bound feeling of early scenes, and insisted on shooting all the sequences set in the peasant village at a large set constructed on a mountainous peninsula west of Tokyo. All of this pushed a tight budget up to almost half a million dollars – not much in Hollywood terms at the time, but a fortune in a country still recovering from the traumas of defeat and occupation.

It was all too much for his Toho bosses, who were juggling Kurosawa’s demands with those of his friend and colleague Ishiro Honda, who was making his monster epic Godzilla at the same time. Several times they shut Seven Samurai down, but the unflappable Kurosawa responded by going fishing, sure that the studio would sooner or later cave in.

They did, and Kurosawa was given all he needed to shoot his magnificent climactic battle sequence, during which the samurai and a ragtag army of villagers repel repeated bandit attacks. He used telephoto lenses and three cameras to intensify the action: one camera was stationary, a second used for quick shots and a third roved about the set, catching unexpected close-ups and details.

Remarkably, he edited all this as he went, and the result was mesmerising, a breathtakingly fluid piece of cinema in which Kurosawa’s camera seemed to roam god-like hither and thither through the rising conflict.

The finished film was a thing of beauty, and was a big hit both at home and abroad. In Japan, it represented a reassertion of indigenous culture and creativity, while abroad eyes were opened to the emergence of a new wave of remarkably talented and original Japanese film-makers.

Kurosawa was not without his critics: at home he was accused of pandering to the west and being too influenced by American directors like John Ford, while in France, the nouvelle vague commentators decided he was insufficiently Japanese.

Both, however, entirely missed the point – Akira Kurosawa was an artist who blended both national and international influences into a fresh and vital new perspective that seemed to chime perfectly with the changed realities of post-war Japan. And over the next decade or so, he and Toshiro Mifune collaborated on a series of masterpieces inspired by everything from traditional Japanese stories to Shakespeare.

Films like Hidden Fortress and Throne of Blood cemented Kurosawa’s reputation as one of the most important voices in 20th-century cinema, and he continued to influence other directors.

When Sergio Leone saw Kurosawa’s 1961 one film Yojimbo, he decided to remake it as a western – and A Fistful of Dollars was born.

If you watch one film

Irish films are a bit like buses: you wait ages for a decent one, then three or four come along at once. In the last month we’ve had the excellent Viva, the outstanding A Date for Mad Mary, and now comes Young Offenders, a salty but warm-hearted comedy from writer and director Peter Foott. Chris Walley and Alex Murphy play Jock and Conor, two Cork city friends who embark on a thoroughly ill-advised criminal endeavour. Jock, who has a screw loose and comes from a bad home, tells Conor about a recent drug seizure off the west Cork coast in which a large amount of cocaine was lost.

Jock’s plan is to cycle down from the city, search the sea for this treasure trove and live high on the proceeds. Though pursued by an obsessive policeman who’s attached a tracking device to their stolen bicycles, the boys do manage to find themselves a hefty bag of cocaine, but getting it home proves problematic. Young Offenders’ charm lies in the winning cross-talk act between Messrs Murphy and Walley, two hugely talented actors who make their characters shine. Hilary Rose is excellent as Conor’s exasperated and perennially grumpy mother, and Foott’s film is genuinely hilarious at times.