How Martial Arts Have Shaped Shōgun Star Hiroyuki Sanada’s Career

0 Posted by - March 21, 2024 - Film, Martial Artist
Hiroyuki Sanada in Shōgun Source: Disney+

After decades of exceptional supporting roles on both sides of the camera, martial arts movie star Hiroyuki Sanada is finally getting the level of recognition that he deserves. The lifelong actor, Karateka, and Sonny Chiba disciple is both the star and producer of the new 10 episode miniseries Shōgun, which premiered on FX on February 27. 

This is a win for Sanada himself, his dedicated fanbase, and television as a whole. The east-meets-west show about a shipwrecked British sailor who washes up in Japan and finds himself embroiled in a complex relationship with a feudal lord and a mysterious woman samurai could have wound up being awkward, silly, or even offensive in the wrong hands. But Sanada’s presence onscreen, and his dedication to making sure that Japanese culture and martial arts are properly represented in Hollywood productions, helps to make it must-see TV. 

One of the reasons that Sanada is such an effective performer — and such an effective leader on screen — is because of his dedicated martial arts training since childhood. The actor has often credited his background in martial arts like Shorinji Kempo and Kyokushin Karate for helping him develop the skills needed to succeed in the entertainment industry. And that goes for patience, discipline, and leadership skills as well as incredible fight choreography skills. 

Let’s take a look at the influence that martial arts have had on Hiroyuki Sanada’s life and career. 

Is Hiroyuki Sanada trained in martial arts?

Hiroyuki Sanada has an extensive background in Kendo, Shorinji Kempo and Kyokushin Kaikan Karate. He began informally practicing Kendo with his family when in his early childhood and started formally attending a dojo when he was 9. At 11, he also joined Sonny Chiba’s Action Club where he learned how to apply his traditional martial arts training to acting and stunt work. He went on to become one of Chiba’s proteges.

“That’s when I was studying sword fighting in an entertainment-focused way, while keeping up with true kendo. I decided that I wanted to know both — for entertainment and the true way,” Sanada said in a recent article Men’s Journal.

Does Hiroyuki Sanada know how to use a sword?

Sanada has known how to use a sword for most of his life. He began training very early in his childhood and still practices his skills today. “I think I was six years old when I first had a sword in my hand. My father studied kendo, which is a Japanese style of sword fighting. He studied that a long time, and he gave me a wooden sword then when I was a kid. He started by teaching me some basic movements. My brother was two years old and we would fight each other,” he told Men’s Journal

Does Hiroyuki Sanada do his own stunts?

Hiroyuki Sanada has always believed that the physical aspects of acting, including stunts, are an important part of the craft. “When I was a child actor, I saw a lot of movies and all the leading actors did the acting, dancing, and singing by themselves. I thought, That was really a service. I want to do everything by myself. Action is one of my skills. If the script calls for me to do it myself, I do. Until I can’t walk,” he told Esquire last year. And he’s still walking. 

Does Hiroyuki Sanada still do his own stunts?

Now 63 years old, Sanada isn’t doing the same stunts that he did as a child actor or younger man. But he still stays active and gets at least a few moves in. “I still do some stunts,” Sanada told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. “People are surprised I can still do it in my 50s. But that’s why I started training when I was young. I used to watch Hollywood movies, and when I heard that John Wayne and Steve McQueen did a lot of their own stunts I decided I wanted to do that, too. So I learned horse riding, karate and everything. You know it always happens to me: I sign up for a project and they tell me there’s no action, and then about two days before the shoot I find there’s a fight scene.”

While his role in Shōgun hasn’t been as physically demanding as some of his previous efforts, he remains active on and off screen. He even had an epic fight scene with his fellow 60-something martial arts megastar Donnie Yen in last year’s John Wick: Chapter 4

Does martial arts training influence other parts of Hiroyuki Sanada’s work?

Beyond the obvious physical benefits, martial arts training has also helped Sanada to become a more effective team player on set. “Practicing martial arts, it’s good training for both the body and the mental,” he explained to Esquire. “We learn a lot of mental strength and how to be kind to others. It’s so useful in real life, especially on set. Moviemaking is all teamwork.”

Train Like Sanada With Karate and Sword Training Gear From AWMA

If seeing Hiroyuki Sanada continue to kick butt into his 60s inspires you to take up Karate or sword training, here are three pieces of martial arts gear to help you get started: 

ProForce® 10oz. Karate Uniform (Elastic Drawstring) – 55/45 Blend: Every good training journey starts with a uniform. This 10z uniform is lightweight enough for beginners who aren’t used to wearing a gi but durable enough to withstand intense training sessions. Made of 55% cotton and 45% polyester, it’s also easy to care for. $99.95-$139.95 USD.

Ultra Wooden Bokken II: If one of the all-time Japanese and Hollywood martial arts stars can start with a wooden sword, so can you! Beautifully crafted to resemble a real samurai sword, this hardwood sword is great for practicing techniques without the danger of using a sharpened sword. Two-piece hand guard is included. Length options include 22”, 30”, and 40”. They are made with a selected dark wood called Pyrus Betulifolia that has higher density and durability. $15.95-$19.95 USD.

40″ Black w/ Red Dragon Samurai Sword: If you get the hang of the wooden sword, you can begin training with a bladed sword. Like this beautiful sword which features a hand guard with a dragon design. The scabbard includes a red dragon and has been modelled to perfectly fit over the blade. The scabbard is complete with a black woven waist cord that matches the tightly wrapped handle. $39.99 USD.