Erena Shimoda's Underwater Portraits of Martial Artists

Fightland Blog

By Erena Shimoda

Erena Shimoda is an underwater portrait photographer based in San Francisco. She was born in Tokyo, Japan, and is certified as a scuba Divemaster, using her background in New Media and Fine Art to create unique compositions in different media. She pioneered her underwater healing therapy practice after surviving a traumatic car accident in which she lost her father and severely injured her body. As a part of her healing process, she volunteered at the American Cancer Society, with the Look Good Feel Better program. Seeing cancer survivors marvel at lovely photographs of themselves again made such an impact on Shimoda that she decided to combine her interest in underwater photography with recovery—namely, to help cancer survivors experience the healing effects of being submerged in water and feel beautiful about themselves when they see the resulting portraits. We asked her to share her portraits of three women who practice Brazilian jiu jitsu, and tell us why she decided to photograph martial artists.

I love the beauty of martial art and I wanted to show that with my underwater magic. I have been practicing Muay Thai since I was 19. After 20 years, it was getting too hard on my body and I had to slowdown, so now I'm learning Brazilian jiu jitsu little by little. When I was rolling and practicing some movements on the mat in a 360-degree space, it reminded me of being underwater and it was therapeutic.

I love kicking, punching, rolling and all the intensity but also the artistic and beauty of the sport. The underwater portraits present exactly how I wanted to show.

Ronda Rousey even says the same thing, “People have a very hard time seeing the art of it. It’s called 'martial arts' because that really is what it is. It’s not just brawling and throwing your hands. There’s a sweet science and a beauty to it,” she said. "It’s all about trying to outsmart the other person. It’s not really about being stronger or faster.”

I hope to meet her underwater one day!

See more of the photographer's work on her website.


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