Breaking the ceremonial cask of sake, from left: UCLA Martial Arts program director Paul McCarthy, Sensei Eiko Shepherd, Taishi Judo Club director Rob Oishi, Sawtelle Dojo instructor Kenji Osugi. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

The Sawtelle Judo Dojo held an event Jan. 19 with the hope of establishing an ancient tradition in Southern California.

Kagami-biraki, or “mirror open­ing,” is a martial arts ritual that dates back some 2,000 years. It is said to be of divine origin and is held in celebration of important events such as New Year’s Day, anniversaries or the opening of a new business.

Chase Oishi tosses his older brother, Bryce, during a demonstration of modern self-defense techniques. (Photo by Lori Quon)

In 1884, Jigoro Kano, the found­er of judo, was the first martial arts master to use the ceremony to launch the beginning of the new year.

Every year in January, Kagami-biraki is celebrated at Kodokan, the home of judo. The president of Kodokan is seated at the joseki (the head table) and the seven formal kata (pre‑set, choreographed perfor­mances of techniques) are presented to the joseki.

After the performances, the chil­dren of Kodokan are invited onto the mat to practice with high-ranking judo instructors.

At the end of the program, os­hiruko, sweet red bean porridge with rice cake, is served to the more than 100 participants and guests.

To usher in the year of the horse, Taishi Judo Club and Saw­telle Judo Dojo decided to stage the event with an eye toward it becoming part of Nanka (Southern California Judo Black Belt Asso­ciation) tradition.

The guest of honor was seventh-degree black belt Eiko Shepherd, who took the head seat at the joseki.

“This is a very important cer­emony,” Said Shepherd. “How we start the year makes a difference for the rest of the year.”

Special tribute was paid to the late Keiko Fukuda, the highest- ranking female in the history of judo. She is credited with first bringing Kagami-biraki to the United States, more than four de­cades ago.

“I’m glad Fukuda-sensei brought this ceremony here 43 years ago. This is her legacy, and we need to keep it going forever,” said Shepherd.

Sawtelle instructor Kenji Osugi echoed the desire to establish the event as an annual rite in Southern California, to be held at different host sites.

As students and guests watch, Alan Wilkinson and Einhard Schmidt perform the kime no kata, forms of decision, during the Kagami-Biraki at the Sawtelle Judo Dojo. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)
Left: Tori Oishi demonstrates a hold on Thuy-Linh Turek. Right: Sensei Eiko Shepherd addresses the gathering, paying special tribute to the late Sensei Keiko Fukuda. (Photos by Lori Quon)
Hunter Nagai (standing) runs through the forms of five kata, with his brother, Jordan. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)


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  1. Thank you for everyone who attended our event on January 19th. We would also like to acknowledge Taishi Judo Club’s support and collaboration with Sawtelle Judo Dojo in producing this event. We look forward to having a larger event in the very near future involving the entire Black Belt Association, Nanka Judo Yudanshakai.

    Kagami Biraki videos can be found on our YouTube channel;

    More videos and photos can be found on our Facebook page;