Samurai kembu（剣舞,Kenbu）is the traditional performing art with a Japanese sword 'katana' and a Japanese fan. The word ‘kembu’ means literally ‘sword dance.’ In feudal times samurais danced with their swords and fans to give themselves courage or to achieve mental concentration.
In the movie "The Last Samurai" you can see the actor performing Kembu on the day before the battle. Usually samurai kembu players perform to a background song and music. Chinese-style poems or Japanese short poems are used for background songs.
Some songs express the bravery against enemies according to samurai beliefs and some songs air out the feelings of leaving ones hometown.
The background and history of Samurai kembu
Though samurai kembu was formed after feudal times, it has a big relationship with old samurai society in feudal times.
1. Training for the martial arts
2. Reading Chinese-style poems
3. Appreciation of Noh play
After the Meiji reconstruction started in 1867, Japan’s government abolished the social and economic privileges of samurai and tried to make the society westernized. Many of the swordplay dojo had to be closed. To promote martial arts, some swordsmen such as Kenichi Sakakibara played swordplay as the show on the street. The show was very popular and was held across Japan. One of the swordplayers, Raifu Hibino, played a sword Demonstration to a background song. It was the start of Samurai Kembu.
As Japan was becoming a military power, the government encouraged samurai kembu across the country. Lots of poems were written to increase national prestige and were used as the background songs of samurai kembu. When WW2 ended, GHQ occupied Japan and prohibited any kinds of martial arts, including samurai kembu. After Japan was returned and became a pacifist nation, samurai Kembu ®estarted as one of the traditional Japanese performing arts.
「Samurai Kembu ® is a registered trademark of SEIGA SAMURAI KEMUBU and SEIGA Kembu School. 」
The traditional art showing the samurai’s spirit and culture
As for the current samurai kembu, it is popular for many people as the traditional art that makes them feel like a samurai. It is not a fighting match, so women, children and elders can also enjoy it. And it’s very enjoyable to perform on stage.
The theme and choreography have also been studied; not just playing in line with the words of the poetry but trying to make spectators sympathize with the background or the intention of the authors, the mind of the characters in the times, and those tastes of the poetry. Also the use of the holding fan has changed. Once it was used just as a substitute for the sword, but now it has a much more important role to express various emotions and to make artistic beauties. There are the works using only a fan without using a sword such as "Pine, Bamboo, and Plum".
There are various styles of Demonstrations; single play, group play, and a creation Demonstration with modern music. Sometimes the long combination plays under a specific subject are performed. They put their ingenuity into directions such as the narration, BGM and stage lighting. Samurai kembu can be said to be a true general theatrical art.