Chanbara 2.0

There’s much more to me than a bloke who likes to write about dark stuff. One of the most defining periods of my life began in 1992 when I began studying the Japanese combat sport of Sports Chanbara (or simply Chanbara – or as the Japanese have a tendency to call it, “Spochan”, much to my dislike).

Basically, Chanbara is a combat sport where you use sophisticated inflatible or padded weapons (sword, knife, spear, staff, etc.) in freestyle fighting. One hit (on any part of the body) and you lose. Strike each other at the same time (a common occurence), you both lose.

Intrigued? Here’s a link to a video of a Japanese class (with some mucking around):

Well, I’ve been in touch with an earnest young guy who lives in Perth and who has trained to instructor level in Japan. He was keen on establishing a club in Perth and I’ve decided to participate as a student. The first class was last Thursday, and even though I’m rather unfit (but working on it), I think I accounted for myself quite well.

It struck me after attending that class that I first trained in Sports Chanbara 18 years ago (exactly half my life ago). I stopped training and teaching (I ran a kids class in Mortdale, Sydney) 12 or 13 years ago when I moved to Perth. That period of intense martial arts training was a huge part of my life, and when I think back on it, I can’t believe it all took place nearly two decades ago! My head has been spinning with the concept. Where did the years go? Plenty happened in those years – teaching at my dojo, competing in the World Championships in Japan, becoming Australian Grand Champion.

In that time, not much has changed, unfortunately (except for the horrid “Spochan” thing, urgh!). Many martial artists on online forums tend to sneer at Chanbara as kind of a nerf martial art. I think this perception comes from the many traditional sword instructors who use Chanbara equipment as a training aid. They don’t take it seriously as a sport, and consequently, no one else does, either.

Which peeves me, because I consider myself one of the few ‘pure’ Chanbara practitioners. When approached with the right attitude, Chanbara is a challenging sport. I mean, come on – it’s freestyle sword fighting! Yes, they’re not real swords and will handle differently, but that’s one of the major points not taken into consideration by instructors. There are many techniques that simply don’t get taught or considered by part-time teachers because they don’t understand the nature of the beast.

Many years ago, I wrote the best part of a book (unpublished) with many Chanbara fighting tips. If the sport ever took off, I’d dredge my notes up and see if it’s worth publishing. If my participating in this new Perth class (in Vic Park, actually) goes well, I’ll consider opening a school in the northern suburbs. We’ll see how that goes.

The saddest part of returning to Chanbara, though, is realising that the organisation that was built up during my active years in Sydney seems to have greatly diminished. When I next return to Sydney, I will look the old dojos up to see if anyone’s still teaching out there.



  1. Brent says:

    Hm, there are only about 150-odd places in Japan, most of them in the Kansai area, which would be why, even after a decade of living in Japan and two decades of learning Japanese, I have never heard of it (as I live up north). I doubt very many Japanese north of the Kansai area have heard of it either. That said, a lot of women are now into learning a form of Chambara play acting. But they don’t use padded equipment, just practice swords and pre-scripted fighting moves. They are called RekiJo (lit. “History Women”) —

  2. Shane Jiraiya Cummings says:

    I don’t normally engage with the martial arts types who trawl this website looking for ammo, but I’m curious – what’s your point, Brent, aside from saying that there are at least a couple of thousand practitioners in Japan (going by your estimation 150 dojos)? What about the Sports Chanbara classes taught in schools? Then there are the dojos in USA, Europe, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, the Middle East, and Oceania.

    I don’t think Chanbara is in danger of dying off anytime soon, and therefore, I don’t see how any of this impacts on me returning to training to polish my skills and regain my fitness.