Artistic Director & Choreographer
Shoko Tamai is a classically trained ballet dancer who has performed with leading dance companies in various venues around the world. Since she was two years old Shoko has studied various dance styles, including ballet, classical Japanese and Chinese dance, jazz fusion, African, Middle Eastern and Indian dance. Shoko’s period of study with Jamie H.J. Guan, martial arts trainer for the Beijing Opera, initially ignited in her a burning passion for martial arts.
Shoko has studied at the Central School of Ballet (London, UK), The American Academy of Ballet (NYC), The Paris Opera (France), and The Madrid Ballet School (Spain). She has performed with many dance companies, including Dance Theater of Harlem, Tokyo Ballet, and Cirque du Soleil.
She has performed at venues such as London’s Royal Opera House, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Theatre Royal in Glasgow, Lincoln Center, and Jacob’s Pillow, among others. Shoko has competed internationally, receiving the Solo Seal award from the Royal Academy of Dance in London, a Gold Medal in the New York Ballet Competition (American Academy of Ballet) and was a Finalist in The World Ballet Competition.
Shoko was invited to represent Ninja Ballet at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of the 77th International Choreographer’s Festival with Dance Forms Professional in 2019, and was nominated for a New York Innovative Theater Award for Outstanding Choreography for her work in “The Tempest”, directed by Owen Thompson, at the Plaxall Gallery in New York City. Her work has been featured in numerous publications, including BroadwayWorld, Dance Enthusiast magazine, Metro US, and TimeOut New York.
Born into a traditional family of samurai and swordsmanship, Zen grew up with a strong resistance to the sword as a weapon from an early age. At 14, he formed a punk band, devoting himself to music and performance, and achieved his dream of being a professional musician in Tokyo at the age of 21. After enduring hardship and frustration, he became homeless and decided to restart from scratch. He returned to his hometown in Kyushu and became a part-time instructor of a school that fostered troubled youth, and provided mental care through music and dance.
Seeing children who had attempted to self-harm had a profound effect on him, and he became deeply interested in the relationship between the body and the spirit. He resumed his study of Japanese martial arts and swordsmanship, learning ancient concepts beyond the karate and boxing he had already learned. When he returned home to see the sword he had trained with as a child, he realized that his mission was to teach the old ways anew.
Part of the warrior training is to go into the waterfall and into the mountains, alone, connecting body, mind, and spirit through self-discovery in nature. To this end, Zen traveled to the jungle backcountry of Papua New Guinea, to experience true isolation in the most untouched land on earth. He made connection with the local people, who lived together with the crocodiles, and they taught him to live with the instinctive physicality of survival, which he incorporates into his martial arts practice.
Today, he spreads knowledge of ancient martial arts through his dojo in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, and at his private studio in New York City, teaching foreigners from all over the world about ninja and samurai, and reaching thousands of students every year. zenkaras.com