Steven Seagal. The best or worst thing ever to happen to Aikido?


From Wikipedia….

“Steven Seagal (born April 10, 1951 in Lansing, Michigan) is an American action movie actor, producer, and occasional writer and director. A 7th-dan Black Belt in aikido, Seagal began his adult life as an aikido instructor in Japan, before moving to the Los Angeles area, where after becoming noticed by entertainment executives, made his film debut in 1988.
Since this time, Seagal has become one of the world’s best-known action stars, and his movies have gone on to earn over $600 million worldwide.
[1] Seagal has used his fame as an action star to cross over to other industries, as he is also a recording artist, and the founder of Steven Seagal Enterprises. In addition to his professional achievements, he is also known as an environmentalist, animal rights activist, and is even recognized as a reincarnated Buddhist Lama. Segal has served as a volunteer deputy sheriff in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana (according to CNN correspondant Anderson Cooper during an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien on Friday, May 26, 2006).”

OK. There’s a lot there to take in. To casually say that someone is an action movie star AND a re-incarnated Bhuddist Lama is not something I personally can just pass by without further investigation….

I could blab on for ages about what I personally think about Sensei Seagal and it would be a mixed review. One one hand, he obviously knows his aiki, and is a great big strong man to boot, and realistically many of the people practising aikido today would not have even been aware of our beautiful art if it wasn’t for his movies. But my problem comes when you start hearing stuff about re-incarnation, hurting stuntmen and talking to dogs. I realise that ALL famous people generate legends, that is the nature of fame, but he never seems keen to play down any of the less credible stuff. Having never met the man, I guess i don’t really have a right to say much else.

Here is pretty much all there is to know about Steven Seagal (courtesy Wikipedia again – ta!) so you can make up your own minds. Can’t wait to hear what everyone else’s take is on this?


Youth
In his youth, Seagal relocated to Fullerton, California and began studying the martial arts under the direction of renowned shito-ryu karate master Fumio Demura and aikido under Rod Kobayashi, the President of the Western States Aikido Federation. This was the beginning of his life-long focus on Asian phenomena, with a particular emphasis on Japan. In his late teens, Seagal became part of Demura’s Karate Demonstration Team and performed daily demonstrations in the former Japanese Village and Deer Park, in Southern Californina. In 1974 he was promoted by Kobayashi Sensei to Shodan in Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido.
As far as other information from his early years, he graduated from Buena Park High School in Buena Park, California, and held one of his first jobs at a Burger King. Some sources say that he attended college at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, as well as Fullerton College in Fullerton. This information contradicts other sources, which say Seagal left America for Japan at the age of 17 to study aikido. Whatever actually happened remains unclear, due to Seagal’s secrecy on the matter.

Aikido in Japan

Seagal developed his aikido career in Japan in the mid 1970s
It is confirmed that Seagal moved to Japan around the time of his marriage, and changed affiliation from Koichi Tohei’s Ki Society and Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido to the Hombu Aikikai. Seagal did factually battle the yakuza (Japanese mafia) over the rights to the Tenshin Dojo, which his wife’s father lost in a gambling game. [citation needed] Older students such as Jimmy Berkley and Nick Scoggins have verified Seagal’s encounters with mafiosi who would come to the dojo looking to intimidate him. The debt eventually went away, and Seagal was eventually promoted to go-dan (5th degree). He was the dojo-cho (chief instructor) of the dojo until he left in 1982, after spending about 10 years in Japan.
Seagal initially returned to Taos, New Mexico with senior student and later stuntman Craig Dunn. He opened a dojo, but was gone much of the time, pursuing his film career and other ventures. Dunn stayed in New Mexico and is there to this day, still running the dojo. Seagal returned to Japan, and came back to the U.S. with senior student Haruo Matsuoka in 1983. The two opened an Aikido dojo. This school was initially located in Burbank, California, but later moved to the city of West Hollywood. Seagal left Matsuoka in charge of the dojo, which he ran until the two parted ways in 1997.

Film career

Beginnings
Seagal’s first venture into the film industry occurred when he was hired as the stunt co-ordinator for the 1982 film The Challenge, starring Toshiro Mifune and Scott Glenn.
Inspired by his inclusion in the film, Seagal returned to the United States more than a decade after he left, in order to pursue a career in the film industry. Following The Challenge, he worked as a stunt co-ordinator for the 1983 James Bond film, Never Say Never Again.
Seagal’s acting career took off when, by chance, Michael Ovitz, the then president of one of the most powerful talent agencies in Hollywood, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), came to Seagal’s Aikido Studio in Burbank, California and became his student. Ovitz, who was very supportive of Seagal’s acting ambitions, personally financed a screen test for Seagal around 1987. Warner Brothers Pictures, who was looking to capitalize on the profitability of action stars at the time, were impressed by what they saw and signed him to a 4-picture contract.
From there, Seagal began work on his first film, Above the Law (also known as Nico in Europe), with director Andrew Davis. In it, Seagal played Nico, a vice squad cop in Chicago who becomes suspicious when suspects in a drug raid are set free and Nico is ordered not to pursue the suspects. The film, which heavily relied on Seagal’s martial arts fight sequences was a hit, and he quickly became a favorite among action fans. The film’s tone is best displayed by Nico’s quote:
“No-one is above the law but me as no-one is that tall! Kevin Laird has messed with the wrong Nico Toscani, and picked a fight with the wrong Nico Toscani – he can’t win!” [2]

1990s: the Action Hero years
Following the success of Above the Law, Seagal made three more pictures (Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, and Out for Justice) that were modest box office hits, but finally found mainstream success in 1992, with the release of Under Siege. The film, which reunited Seagal with Andrew Davis, was a blockbuster in America and abroad, and ultimately confirmed Seagal’s place among action stars.
Riding high on the success Under Siege brought him, Seagal next made his directorial debut with On Deadly Ground (1994), playing an oil rig explosives expert who tries to single-handedly save Alaska from an evil oil corporation, run by Michael Caine. Seagal used this movie to stress the issues of pollution, environmental destruction, and corporate collusion. Some (including Utne Reader) found it to be an entertaining fantasy of eco-terrorism; [citation needed] a few saw it as tragically misunderstood comic genius; most, however, were unmoved – it was a failure with audiences and financially hurt his career.
He tried to recover with a sequel to Under Siege titled Under Siege 2: Dark Territory in 1995, and a cop drama (The Glimmer Man) in 1996, but both fell short of expectations. Following his first supporting role in the Kurt Russell film Executive Decision (in which Seagal was incorrectly billed in pre-release marketing as a starring role), he tried once again to make an environmentally-conscious film with 1997’s Fire Down Below, this time playing an EPA agent fighting industrialists dumping toxic waste in the Kentucky hills region. While movie fans had mixed reviews, it was once again a failure commercially.

Retreat to video
The next year, he would make The Patriot, another environmental thriller which was his first direct-to-video release in the United States (though it was released theatrically in most of the world). Seagal produced this film with his own money, and the film was shot on-location on and near his farm in Montana.
After taking a couple years off to produce The Prince of Central Park, a more gentle film, Seagal’s career had something of a resurgence in March, 2001 with the release of Exit Wounds. Although the film had few martial arts fight scenes to which Seagal fans were accustomed, it represented a surprise commercial success. This renewed success however, was short-lived, as his next two projects, Ticker co-starring Tom Sizemore and filmed in San Francisco, and Half Past Dead, starring rap star Ja Rule, failed with audiences at the box office.
Seagal’s career has since gone into decline. As of December 2005, every film he has made since 2003 has been released direct-to-video in North America, with only limited theatrical releases in the rest of the world. These movies are routinely criticized by both fans and detractors alike as being of poor overall quality, and will often question whether or not he really has his heart into making movies anymore. Although he has not seen much success in this period, he did star in a US Mountain Dew commercial in 2003/2004 in which he parodied his tough-guy persona, and was well-received.
Seagal has produced many of the movies that he stars in, and has also participated in writing and directing. Seagal’s roles do not fit the standard action hero archetype; instead, Seagal’s characters are usually “born perfect,” displaying no limitations, character flaws, or character development (as is typically included in the story arc for most action heroes). Instead, Seagal’s characters are often associated with attributes given to action movie antagonists or villains, such as clandestine government associations (Under Siege), great wealth and high-level corporate ties (On Deadly Ground), high-level biochemical research skill (The Patriot), etc. Seagal’s characters always hold all the cards, and cannot be beaten or even slowed down.
This invincible, perfectly controlled protagonist is often hard for audiences to relate to, and may be partially to blame for his lack of success in recent years. While his acting performance in Above The Law gained praise from the likes of Roger Ebert, [3] Seagal has repeatedly faced criticism from both actors and fans who accuse him of playing “the same character” in many of his movies, as well as displaying a lack of emotional range. In fact, some people refer to embracing typecasting as “Seagalism.”

Seagal in the film community
Although its merit as an academic subject is a topic for debate, there is such a thing as Seagalogy. It’s first known origins seem to have come around 2002, by internet film columnist Vern. Vern, who has said himself his goal was to “study each one of these movies closer than any sane person would, come out the other end alive and then present my findings”, has also said on updates on his site that he has been working on putting Seagalogy into book form “for about 3 years now” (site update 11/7/5). [citation needed] Some have brushed it off as a joke, while others do believe that it may happen, as Vern has stated on several occasions he is a fan of Seagal and has reviewed his movies shortly after their release dates.
Seagalogy does not have many known participants, although a joke site, titled seagalology.com, appeared in late 2005. This site, which is updated sparsely, contains primarily derogatory comments on Seagal. The site’s author has even gone as far as stating in his disclaimer that it is a “joke site” and that whatever is written on it should be “taken in jest”. [4]

Stuntman abuse controversy
Seagal reportedly has been rough on stuntmen. During the filming of Exit Wounds, he injured a number of stuntmen, as well as his costar, DMX. He also would reportedly “kick guys in the nuts” to see if they were wearing cups”. Steven Quadros, a fight trainer, has stated that he knows men who have needed surgery after being injured by Seagal. [5]
Seagal has also been the target of widespread allegations, centering on a reputed loss during a challenge match with stuntman and Judo master Gene LeBell. Although no confirmation of these events from Seagal or LeBell has yet surfaced, the story is still subject of much speculations on the Internet. [6] [7]

Allegations of Sexual Harrassment
Throughout the nineties, Seagal was accused of sexual harassment by employees and prospective actresses. Ned Zeman in Vanity Fair quotes an actress who described Seagal’s new spin on the casting-couch lure. [citation needed] According to the woman, Seagal had asked her to take off her top and groped her breasts in order to show her where her spiritual “meridian points” were located.

Seagal’s character feminizing a corrupt cop (from Fire Down Below, 1997.
Actress Jenny McCarthy was one of Seagal’s casting couch victims. “They were casting Playmates for Under Siege 2,” she recalled. “I was the last audition, dressed frumpy and plain, the way I usually go, and I walk into his office and it’s only Steven. His office has a huge shag carpet – shag, I’ll repeat that, shag – and a huge screaming casting couch. Casting, casting, casting, casting couch. And he says, ‘Listen, I can’t tell what your body looks like with what you’re wearing, so why don’t you stand up and take off your dress?’”
“I started crying, and I said, ‘My video’s for sale for $14.99, go buy it if you want to see.’ And I ran out to my car, and he grabbed my arm and followed me and said, ‘Don’t ever tell this to anybody.’ I was like, ‘Dude, you are gonna regret this one day.” [8]
In addition to improper conduct with females off-screen, Seagal is notable for widespread use of a penetrative, homophobic style of intimidation on-screen. Fire Down Below, On Deadly Ground, and other films feature Seagal’s comparison of his law enforcement and investigative methods with male-on-male sexual assault. [citation needed]

Music
In addition to acting and aikido, Seagal also plays the guitar, and his songs have been featured in several of his movies (such as Fire Down Below and Ticker). In 2005, he released his first album, Songs from the Crystal Cave, which has a mix of pop, world, and blues music. It also features duets with Tony Rebel, Lt. Stichie, Lady Saw, and Stevie Wonder. One of his album tracks, “Girl It’s Alright,” was released as a single in parts of the world and has been made into a music video. The soundtrack to Seagal’s 2005 film Into the Sun features several songs from the album.
In 2006, Seagal is set to release a second album, titled Mojo Priest, which will be released in April. In addition, in a move not seen with Songs from the Crystal Cave, Seagal has an extensive U.S. and international tour scheduled.

Residence
Seagal maintains a ranch in Colorado and a home in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles.

Family
Steven Seagal was born to a Jewish father Stephen (a high school math teacher), and Irish Catholic mother Patricia (an emergency room technician). As an adult, Steven has had a rich and varied family life, including many marriages, children and foster children.

Marriages
Miyako Fujitani (19751986) (divorced) 2 children
Adrienne La Russa (19841984) (annulled)
Kelly LeBrock (September 5, 19871996) (divorced) 3 children
Seagal has gained some notoriety for being a bigamist. When he left his first wife Miyako Fujitani to go back to America (reportedly, Steven’s last words to her were,”You are crazy; I want a divorce”), [citation needed] he married former Days of Our Lives actress Adrienne La Russa, despite his divorce to Fujitani not yet being finalized. During his marriage to La Russa he met actress/model Kelly LeBrock, with whom he began a relationship and who eventually became pregnant with his child. When news of this came about, Seagal’s marriage to La Russa was annulled, and he then married LeBrock in September 1987. Their marriage lasted until 1994, when LeBrock filed divorce papers citing “irreconciable differences”. This can be more or less attributed to the affair Seagal had with Arrissa Wolf, who was hired to be a nanny to Seagal and Lebrock’s children. Although he still has a relationship with Wolf, they have never announced intentions to get married.

Children
Seagal has six children from three of the four relationships he’s been involved in. With Fujitani, he had a son, Kentaro Seagal (a.k.a. “Justice Seagal” b. 1976), and a daughter, Ayako Fujitani (b. December 5, 1979). His three children with LeBrock included two daughters Annaliza (b. 1987) and Arrissa (b. 1993), as well as a son, Dominic (b. 1990). Seagal and Wolf have one daughter, Savannah (b. 1996).
In addition to siring biological children, Seagal’s real-life martial arts skill and status as a high-ranked Tibetan Buddhist have also placed him in the role of godfather to a Tibetan child, Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo. Rinzinwangmo, or “Renji,” is the only child of the 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet. Renji studied in the United States for a brief period, and her family relied on Seagal for her safekeeping. [9]

Pets
Seagal has adopted many animals from shelters (see also Mystical dog incident, below). These family members include the cats “Sylvester” and “Gap,” and the dogs “Gruff,” “Cole” and “Chaos”. [10]

Seagal’s other identities
Seagal has been honored by additional names which recognize his other talents. He has been proclaimed Chungdrag Dorje and Takeshigemichi in separate ceremonies. These two titles were sometimes thought to represent separate people, as they were so divergent. However, it is confirmed that Shigemichi and Dorje are one and the same, in spite of their diametric opposition. In keeping with Seagal’s consistent asiaphilia, both of these aliases are of Asian origin. Additionally, fans have also given him the title Lord Steven, and the nickname Steagal.

Chungdrag Dorje
Seagal is a practicing Tibetan Buddhist. In 1997, one of his teachers, Penor Rinpoche, gave him this name as he proclaimed him a tulku, a reincarnation of a Tibetan lama, the Treasure Revealer of Palyul Monastery. [11] Chungdrag Dorje deals in the realm of quiet, reflective spirituality, in sharp contrast to the violent blend of aikido and terror advocated by Seagal in his film work. This recognition as a reincarnation has raised mirth and surprise or even dismay among other Buddhists [12] with his authenticity as a holy man regularly ridiculed. Bona fide Buddhists can indeed not recognize a real Buddhist title, with respect attached to it, being thus undermined. [citation needed]

Takeshigemichi
Shihan Takeshigemichi [13] is Seagal’s title as a teacher of aikido; the term means “Pathway to Prosperity.” Through his acting career, Seagal introduced aikido to a new, younger audience with his films in the 1990s.
Under the title Master Take Shigemichi, he was reputedly the first foreigner ever to own and operate an Aikido dojo in Japan, specifically the Aikido Tenshin Dojo in the city of Osaka. [citation needed]
Takeshigemichi’s aikido style (i.e. Takeshigemichido) blends a variety of techniques from other traditions. Groin attacks, jailhouse taunts, gunfire, and pressure point assaults are seamlessly integrated into a traditional framework of wristlocks and seiza walking. [citation needed]

Animal rights work
Seagal has been an outspoken opponent of animal cruelty. This is consistent with his views on reincarnation and spirituality, as well as his environmentalist views (as showcased in On Deadly Ground). Seagal is also a vegetarian.
Steven has described his activism method as “shaming companies into changing.” He has worked with PETA to discourage the fur trade, and has written to the Prime Minister of India to seek increased legal protection for cows. Seagal worked effectively towards saving dogs destined to drown in Taiwan; he singlehandedly pressured the Premier of Taiwan to sign legislation limiting animal cruelty. [14] He also prevented the export of baby elephants from South Africa to Japan. For these and other efforts, Seagal was awarded a PETA Humanitarian Award in 1999. [15]
This activism has not diminished in recent years. In 2003, Seagal wrote an open letter to the leadership of Thailand, urging them to enact law to prevent the torture of baby elephants. [16]

Mystical dog incident
In Seagal’s early aikido years in Japan, a dog approached him. Seagal described feeling as if he had known this white dog forever. After keeping the dog for a few days, the dog (by barking) warned Seagal that his dojo was on fire. Seagal quickly summoned help to put out the conflagration. Seagal never saw the dog again. [17]

Advertisements

2 Responses to Steven Seagal. The best or worst thing ever to happen to Aikido?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ok, I see that no one has commented on this yet, so let me be the first one. I recently began Aikido, and I am coming from a Jiu Jitsu and Ronin Kan background. Steven Seagal is certainly a troublesome figure, with both positive but mostly negative traits. Although he has introduced Aikido to a new generation of practitioners, he also (as mentioned in the above passage) kicks “guy’s in the nuts” on his movie sets, and sexually harasses women. From what I gather this is not the way of Aikido, nor (for a more general statement) the way of Budo. I have little respect for the man.

  2. Anonymous says:

    the bit about the yakuza was a lie. Also, his first wife had saved her own money to get him set up in LA and he was supposed to send for her and the kids once he was settled.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: