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.
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.