Martial arts devotee takes stab at an ancient art


By Karen Billing

A martial arts enthusiast is giving new life to ancient forms of Italian martial arts and Japanese samurai art through his Carmel Valley Sword School. From his Carmel Valley home, Brian Stokes instructs students in the Italian Fiore dei Liberi system from 1410 and the Japanese Suio Ryu, which originated in 1590.

“My ultimate goal is to open up a fencing school in Carmel Valley,” said Stokes, who notes that both Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest Academy both have fencing clubs but no venue. “There are a lot of kids who want to fence but they have no place to do it.”

Stokes has been teaching Japanese sword since 1978, a discipline in which he became a sixth-degree black belt. When he found Suio Ryu six years ago, he started all over in the new system.

For the last three years, Stokes has held classes on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings in his Carmel Valley home. He has a studio upstairs with wood floors and walls filled with every kind of sword and dagger imaginable. Stokes, who owns his own financial consulting company, said that school is not a moneymaking scheme. He only charges $60 a month for lessons and that mostly goes to cover insurance.

“I just do this for fun,” Stokes said.

Suio Ryu is one of the few ancient “koryu” or ancient systems of martial arts, practiced today. Founded in the last 1500s, it now follows the method of oral transmission - only instructors who have been taught by the headmaster of the system are allowed to teach it. The current headmaster lives in Japan and Stokes travels to Japan twice a year to study with him. The master has also traveled to America, most recently last year. The Suio Ryu got a bit of notoriety from being featured in the Manga (Japanese comic book), “Lone Wolf and Cub.”

“It’s a fascinating system,” said Stokes. “It’s amazingly different from a lot of the newer sword styles.”

The Italian Fiore system is just as rare and Stokes estimates maybe two other schools in San Diego teach it.

“A lot of people think that knights were just dullards who threw their blades around,” said Stokes. “But it’s every bit as good as all the martial arts coming out of Asia.”

Sunday mornings are Fiore time. A flat-screen TV is mounted on the wall where he shows copied versions of the original Fiore manuscripts. Students can look up to the creator’s vision for the movements, body and sword positions from those that are still effective today.

“I’ve always been into martial arts,” said student Adam Anthony, 25, who notes that a bonus of learning the Fiore system is that it taps into his European heritage.

More than just swordplay, the Fiore teaches hand-to-hand techniques, knife techniques, how to fight with swords in both hands and how to fight on horseback - less practical for inside a residential house.

The hand-to-hand techniques are really self-defense moves, as at that time there was no such thing as police. While it’s unlikely that Enee will stumble upon a sword-wielding assailant, she is fully prepared to defend herself with some of the hand-to hand combat she has been taught through the ancient system.

Stokes is never fully satisfied, always looking to learn more. He plans to travel to Italy in the fall to get his hands on one of the oldest German systems. He can’t quite explain why he is so into the art of these ancient systems, he just is.

“I really love this stuff,” said Stokes. “It’s a true passion of mine.”

Learn more about Carmel Valley Sword School by visiting