After Dancing with the Stars and cooking with Iron Chefs, Mark Dacascos returns to his roots for a dose of Samurai realty. IImagentroduction

He’s an old friend with a new lease on life; a traditional martial artist who’s carved a modern niche for himself; a nice guy who’s defied the odds to finish first.

To some, Mark Dacascos is a chip off one of most famous set of martial arts blocks in history. Having Al Dacascos and Malia Bernal as mentors is a pedigree to be proud of, a past to be envied. To others, he’s reality’s darling, Chairman of a hit show on the Food Network and oh-so-close to two-stepping to the top rung of a show watched by millions.

Through it all, this product of a traditional Chinese martial arts background has remained grounded and grateful for everything that’s come his way—from playing The Crow, which almost killed him, to mind-melding Miyamoto Musashi, which reinvigorated him and led to an even greater appreciation of the arts.

His latest endeavor takes him to Japan, courtesy of the History Channel, where he matches the meaning behind the Book of Five Rings with the master who wrote those words. Mark, who will return to the screen this summer in the 3-D live action martial arts film, The Lost Medallion, admits the more he discovered about Musashi, the more he found a man much deeper than the slice of his sword.

"Here was a man who wore death on his shoulder," he observes. "Yet this guy, who often would just hack bodies to pieces, winds up urging everyone to appreciate life."

Not unlike Musashi, Dacascos meets every adventure with an appreciation for the experience, rather than an apprehension of the unknown. Like Musashi, it’s this warrior mettle that pushes him to seek meaning amid life’s challenges. The Samurai spirit is alive and well in Mark Dacascos.

What attracted you to Samurai?
MARK DACASCOS: Both my parents are martial artists and I first remember opening the Book of Five Rings when I was 12 or 13. Most of it went over my head. But I have been reading it off and on since then and each time it makes a more sense to me and I get a deeper understanding of it. To go inside and study Musashi in his homeland sounded like a fascinating opportunity.

ImageIKF: What surprised you about Musashi?
MD: I didn’t understand to what extent his passion for the arts were. He was interested in dance, cooking, and calligraphy. He was just a full, well-rounded human being and to get to that point he had to go through the darkest period. I mean by that, 60 men he killed in one-on-one duels before he was 30 years old. It’s not because he was forced into it; he sought that way of life. In his evolution, that’s what it took for him. At the end of the book, when he is 60, 61 years old, he is encouraging his students to experience everything, not just martial arts. For myself, life is rough, you take a beating. The great thing about martial arts is the one hour or two hours when you’re working out and training, it’s a better force of life. You take a beating and you strive to do better.

What I question about Musashi, if he would have had a different upbringing would he have been the same Musashi who wrote the Book of Five Rings?
He had a rough early upbringing—his father beat him—and he killed his first person at 13. So sure, life might have been different for him had he had a better upbringing.

IKF: Our older audience knows you as a traditional martial artist. But there’s a younger generation who only identifies you as the Chairman of “Iron Chef America” or Lacey’s  smooth-moving partner on “Dancing with the Stars.” How do you feel about that?
MD: If you would have asked 10 years ago, I would not have suggested this. I would not have answered, “I think I’ll be on a dance show,” or “I think I’ll be on as cooking show.” But I have done them both and I feel very blessed.  “Dancing with the Stars” is one of the top-rated shows on television with an audience of around 20 million people per show. What a wonderful chance as a performer to do something like that. And then to get a chance to work with chefs that are at the top of their game. As an actor to get exposure on that show and learn things, to entertain people—I am very, very lucky and I know that.

IKF: Are you still training?
MD: Even though I have not done as many action movies as I had, I have never stopped training. I come from a traditional martial arts family and it’s my hope I never stop training and I never lose that traditional aspect of it. Meaning the salutation before and after class, the respect, the discipline, the honor—I love that. I try to be a good example in life, a good example to my kids, and that’s what I get from martial arts. It was so nice for me to do a show that had that aspect of it again. I loved doing Samurai. It brought me back to my roots and it inspired me.

IKF: How often do you train?
MD: I adopted my father’s style of wun hop kune do and he has always encouraged me to try new things. Right now I am training in muay Thai. I am to go back to wushu in preparation for this live action 3-D movie. And have been considering taking jiu-jitsu with my 9-year-old son. I am as excited about martial arts now as I was when I was a teenager.

IKF: When you look back on your career, where do you think you will put “Iron Chef” and “Dancing With the Stars.”
MD: If you examine Musashi’s philosophy of being interested and curious, learn everything. I can see the correlation of dancing and cooking with martial arts. Of course, we all have to eat but to make it a higher art. I appreciate the passion and the skill the chefs display. And dancing is similar to martial arts, because it comes from the soul. It’s dialogue “physicalized,” just like the fight scene in a movie. I really, really enjoyed it, but what I learned is that you have to connect it. One of the great things Jiang Hao Chiang once said was, “Movement without spirit is nothing.” What I learned is that when I did a movement with Lacey Schwimmer that while we were technically correct we were not connected as people, and that spirit was missing. You could feel it and we scored very low. Spirit means everything and it’s so similar to dancing and cooking. I can relate because I am a martial artist and I can relate my martial arts to everything.

HISTORY Examines Musashi’s Life

More than 350 years after his death, Miyamoto
Musashi is revered in Japan as a national hero. The ultimate warrior of the Samurai era, his innovative fighting style is still taught and used by martial artists today. Even modern businessmen –the "warriors" of the 21st century—model their cut-throat culture on his philosophies of strategic warfare. Yet by the end of his violent life of combat and killing, Musashi had become a celebrated artist, poet and philosopher.

In SAMURAI, a new two-hour special on HISTORY, martial artist and actor Mark Dacascos journeys to Japan to walk in Musashi's footsteps to satisfy a lifelong fascination with this enigmatic icon of war and beauty.

In his search for the samurai spirit, visited iconic Japanese landmarks associated with Musashi's legendary battles. He learned the secret ancient craft of forging a samurai sword, and rode in a simulated battle wearing genuine centuries-old samurai gear. Mark also met and trained with modern-day masters of the great warrior's renowned two-sword fighting style.
The journey also brought Mark to the place where Musashi spent his final, redemptive years of peaceful reflection as an artist and author.

The son of two martial arts teachers, he has been drawn to Samurai culture since childhood. "They were always
calm and relaxed right before they drew their swords and fought.  When two Samurai faced each other, their composure, their focus, was part of their power.  This, for me as a kid, was the essence of a true Samurai."