|Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences: Reviews|
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The Fighting Arts: Their Evolution from Secret Societies to Modern Times
Dueling with O-sensei: Grappling with the Myth of the Warrior Sage
Old School: Essays on Japanese Martial Traditions
Secrets of the Ninja: Their Training, Tools, and Techniques
Classical Chokes: The Supreme Empty Hand Self-defense System
Martial Arts: The Christian Way
Kyudo, The Way of the Bow
Motobu Choki: Karate, My Art
Tsuyoshi Chitose, Kempo Karate-do: Universal Art of Self-defense, an illustrated Guide.
Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia
Black Martial Arts (Volume I) Combat Games of Northern Nigeria
Black Martial Arts (Volume II) Combat Games of the African Indian Ocean (Madagascar, Reunion, Comores)
A Neutral Corner: Boxing Essays
Xing Yi Nei Gong: Xing Yi Health Maintenance and Internal Strength Development
Shotokan Karate, A Precise History
Donald Dinnie: The First Sporting Superstar
"It Had To Be Tough": The fascinating story of the origins of the Commandos and their special training in World War II
Karate-do Tanpenshu: Funakoshi Gichin Short Stories
Angry White Pyjamas: A Scrawny Oxford Poet Takes Lessons from the Tokyo Riot Police
Muay Thai: Thai-Boxing: Sport and Self-Defence
The Modern Bodyguard: The Manual of Close Protection Training
Ease of Restraint: An Aid to Law Enforcement Officers
The Compete Idiot's Guide to Karate
Secret Weapons of Jujutsu
The History of Jon Bluming
History and Traditions of Okinawan Karate
Mugen Dachi Tatami
Iaito that Cut
Review by Jason Couch. Copyright © EJMAS 2003. All rights reserved.
Attractive and classy-looking, Fighting Arts is a trade paperback
with a photograph of a Chinese warrior statue on a dark background. In
other words, from the outside, it looks like what you would expect a serious
book on the martial arts to look like. On the inside, things are less rosy.
Although there are numerous titled subchapters, there are only two chapters,
and editing is mediocre. (When you see "Turnbull p.?" and dynamo
instead of daimyo, you know someone dropped the ball.) The publisher,
YMAA Publication Center, needs to get better editing into the lineup if
they plan on fielding works other than instructionals.
I thought the title The Fighting Arts: Their Evolution from Secret Societies to Modern Times was misleading. It, along with the cover, first evokes thoughts of Triads and Boxers, and then perhaps Quilombos, Maroons, early European guilds, Ninja, and other secret/closed groups associated with esoteric martial activities. Sorry, but secret societies aren’t really addressed. Instead, the focus is on the change from the martial practices of the "classical warrior," both Eastern and Western, to today’s modern martial arts.
Specifically, the stated goals are to "explor[e] ancient classical fighting arts and the cultural influences that helped to shape them," and then to "focu[s] on the assimilation of these ‘ancient arts’ into modern western societies." It’s an ambitious undertaking and this 116 page book winds up a cursory sampling rather than the intended sweeping examination.
The classical warrior, the foundation for much of Rosenbaum’s argument, is defined once, in an endnote. The definition given here is that the term is used generically "to describe pre-twentieth century martial artists or those like the Kamikaze pilots who embraced a similar mindset in the twentieth century." Such a broad definition can’t help but lead to over-generalizations and it does so in this book. For example, Rosenbaum uses the homogeneous constructs of the "Japanese samurai" and the "European knight" to support his arguments for a classical warrior archetype. Meanwhile, he not only ignores the inter-cultural differences between the two, but also the intra-cultural differences within each group. A similar problem is Rosenbaum’s reliance on budo/bujutsu and combative/civilian distinctions; two concepts that fit some cultures better than others.
Examples are not completely limited to the European knight and Japanese samurai, as the author does include brief mentions of various world cultures in making his points. This not only reflects a current online trend, but it presages the future of martial arts publication: the side-by-side examination of eastern and western martial culture.
Rosenbaum’s choice of topics is quite good and the table of contents
demonstrates that he gave real thought to the areas to be covered. Except
for the terrorism chapter, which feels like it was tacked on following
9/11, the chapters flow logically to support his argument:
Chapter 1: The Early Development of Martial Arts
Chapter 2: Our Modern Culture and Martial Arts
2-1 The Introduction and Evolution of Classical Martial Arts in America
2-3 Cultural Influences on Transplanted Systems
2-4 Segmentation of Modern-Day Fighting Arts
2-5 Modern Myths and Legends
2-7 The Role Played by the Warrior and their Fighting Art in Modern Society
2-10 Spiritual Dimensions of the Contemporary Practitioner
2-11 Terrorism: Primal Rage in the Modern World
The real problem with the book, and this hearkens back to the broad scope, is that the analysis is generally deficient. Superficial, really, as in any particular topic historical examples may be given to demonstrate the topic issue, but Rosenbaum rarely goes any further. His chosen examples may support his thesis, but without accompanying analysis, they fail to convince the reader of any universal application.
The history given is mediocre, slaying some myths while resuscitating others. Rosenbaum cites his sources, which is welcome, but he often strays from his better sources (think Anglo, Draeger, Amberger, Skoss, Friday) to more general (and consequently less reliable) sources such as encyclopedias. He also cites Yang Jwing Ming heavily (the Y in YMAA), whom I’m sure is a large influence on the author. However, I viewed most of the Yang references with suspicion after reading a footnote citing Yang’s Ancient Chinese Weapons for the proposition that some Chinese fighting sabers weighed up to 90 pounds.
Nonetheless, it is easier to criticize than to create, and there is probably enough here to interest a broad readership. Longtime Journal of Asian Martial Arts readers probably won’t find much new, but this is an easily accessible (although often one-sided) introduction to some of the more important concepts that have been raised, such as the budo/bujutsu and military/civilian distinctions, and the classification system Rosenbaum styles "segmentation" (classifying styles based on their primary techniques- striking, grappling, joint-locking, or weapons). Since he is both a military man and a longtime martial practitioner, Rosenbaum’s view on the differences between civilian and military arts may offer particular insight to those interested in the topic.
At a list price under $15, and a delivered price even less through discount online booksellers, it is hard not to recommend this book for some purpose. [EN1] Indeed, I think this book would be ideal for a book discussion in your favorite martial arts forum, as the brevity of the sub-chapters lends itself to easily digestible chunks ripe for discussion. Readers will often find themselves disagreeing with Rosenbaum (which is often more fun anyway), so it should generate plenty of comments. If nothing else, the excellent sub-chapter headings will guide a discussion that could lead to deeper analysis than that reached in the book itself.
EN1. With today’s online market battles, it pays to check comparison web sites such as www.bestbookbuys.com and www.addall.com, two sites that query a list of online booksellers and give their respective prices, shipping included. On the day of writing, www.buy.com offered the best deal and would deliver this title to my door (in the USA) for a total of $10.04.
Order from: http://www.ellisamdur.com
Review by Tom Militello. Copyright © EJMAS 2003. All rights reserved.
In 1969, after 86 amazing years on this earth, a kindly looking grandfather passed away in his homeland of Japan. Morihei Ueshiba, better known to aikidoka as O-sensei, had a life that most would say was extraordinary, and some would say reflected triangular devotion to Budo, love, and peace.
This entertaining collection of essays examines Ueshiba’s legacy. It’s a collection of writing on various themes and subjects, which, while frequently thought-provoking and interesting, consistently concentrates on this almost oxymoronic combination of Budo, love, and peace. Considering the depth of angst Mr. Amdur unveils over this conflict, the book would have more aptly been titled: "Dealing with O-sensei, Grappling with the Myth of the Warrior Sage."
Nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than in the visual messages placed on the front and rear covers of this really wonderful read. The front cover features the benign photo of the kindly grandfather (O-sensei, in his later years) whose face and demeanor practically shout out, peace and love. Then, diagonally opposite of it, is a photo of the author, several feet off the ground, in the midst of a technique. This theme is even more ardently depicted on the rear cover, where an obviously peaceful author holds a young girl, both of whom beam with happy and peaceful smiles. Diagonally opposite is O-sensei, performing a controlling joint technique on uke. The photo clearly comes from his pre-war Aiki Budo phase, when Budo was an almost purely martial way, with very little glimmer of the message of universal love readily apparent.
The essays continue this pattern, taking us through both the modern world and the samurai era, with tales and examples abounding from both sources. Thus, we are taken to worlds where violence is tempered by re-direction and acceptance of the elderly Budo master’s message of universal love.
Essay topics include Hapkido, Aiki-jujutsu, Atemi, the Lure of Violence, Manhood, Life as a Movie, and other diverse subjects, which combined, force us to think about the dichotomy of O-sensei’s message and legacy. My favorite essay was "The Knights of the Mouldy Rope." This particular essay describes the author’s relationship with Terry Dobson, a former direct student of Ueshiba. Dobson lived a life that ran the gamut between rough times, violence, "the medium is the message," and the art of universal love. The author shares his interesting encounters with Dobson, and the interaction can be seen as a living example of the dichotomous message of O-sensei. I strongly recommend this volume of essays, for its theme, topic selection, and if for nothing else, this essay alone!
Old School: Essays on Japanese Martial Traditions by Ellis Amdur. Seattle, Washington: Edgework, 2002. 275 pages. Trade paper. US $20.
Order from www.ellisamdur.com
Review by Tom Militello
This collection of essays injects new life and understanding into the meaning of the title phrase "Old School." Old School is the rough English translation for the Japanese term koryu, which is part of the lexicon of the Japanese martial traditions. Mr. Amdur writes with the passion and understanding that can only come from a writer thoroughly absorbed by his subject. Upon reading the essays, many of which have been published previously in martial art journals such as Journal of Asian Martial Arts and Furyu, one comes away with a sense of what Old School really is, and the wonder with which it has ensnared its author.
Accompanying this collection are drawings and sketches, along with selected photographs, which depict the weapons and techniques used in old school Japanese martial traditions. Photographs of past and present luminaries in these traditions supplement the text.
The essence of Mr. Amdur’s writing is found on the first page of the book’s foreword: "…It is the particular combination of a study of hand-to-hand combat using weapons that are almost archetypal in nature; sword, spear, dagger, and glaive, combined with the hard morality of men-at-arms ~ men who are willing to sacrifice everything for that which they value or love." This statement, found in the foreword, is immediately followed by an illustrating anecdote hammering home the sentiment behind it. In short, it sets the reader up for what to expect in the collection of essays that follow.
The essays are grouped into three categories, Koryu, Japanese Weapons, and History and Tradition, followed by a brief bibliography of English and Japanese language sources.
In the Koryu section, essays describe separate traditions in the koryu way, each one illustrating its own Old School. These are the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu; Maniwa Nen-ryu; and Higo Ko-ryu.
The avowed purpose of these ryu range from a warfare-based combat system to a system for protection. Mr. Amdur states that these Old School martial traditions were preserved through a combination of determination, chance locations in obscure locales, and strong foundations in Japanese martial culture. In other words, they are remnants filtered amidst the intrusions of modern culture.
In these essays, the author mixes historical truth, folklore, and contemporary interviews in a way that brings the body of the ryu to life. This is most evident in the story of Higo Ko-ryu, which is the tale of a ryu, already outdated by the 16th century, that is kept alive today by a relentless senior citizen headmistress who has to cope both with keeping her style extant, and yet apart from fashionable competitive styles.
In the Japanese Weapons section, Mr. Amdur explores the implements used in the Old Schools. We are introduced in these essays, each in its turn, to the Naginata (a pole weapon), Chigiriki (flail), and Kusarigama (chain and sickle).
A short essay on Japanese weaponry precedes the first essay on the Naginata. Its placement serves a primer for those unversed in the subject of ancient weapons used in Japanese martial traditions.
The Naginata essay presents the origins, variations, and components of this weapon in a crisp and flowing manner. Line drawings and photographs that reveal the clean and graceful lines of the weapon supplement the text. In the process, the roots that the Naginata shares with the finely wrought beauty of the sword blade become readily apparent, while its development and evolution are explained for those unfamiliar with the weapon. The essay ends with the decline of this particular weapon on the battlefield and its subsequent association with women.
In Japanese martial traditions, the Chigiriki is viewed almost as an anomaly, but Mr. Amdur takes us through its description, origins, variations, and purpose as a minor weapon. Again, photos and line drawings accompany the text illustrating and enhancing the author’s depiction of this weapon
The author begins the essay on the Kusarigama by debunking a popular myth concerning its use and then delves into its origins, development, and evolution. The essay, which the author states is not an exhaustive description of the various variations on a theme of the chain and sickle, nevertheless discusses some of the variations of the Kusarigama used and adopted by different ryu. Portions of kata and technique details are clearly and artistically rendered in line drawings accompanying the text.
This collection of writing closes with History and Tradition. This section contains three essays: Women Warriors of Japan, Origins of Araki-ryu, and Keppan, Blood Vows in the Martial Tradition. The essay on Women Warriors of Japan presents a concise portrait of women warriors from their early history, through the Warring States period to the Edo era, and then into the modern world. This last section features and illuminates many stirring and dedicated women leading these Old Schools.
The Origins of Araki-ryu explores the shadow world where myth and reality mix, where legend and tales of misfortunate and betrayal alternate with legacies of heroism, as here are found the beginnings (and the embodiment) of Old School. The foundations of the ryu lie, both, in the half-hidden biography of its founder, and the culture of the times in which it developed. The ryu’s story continues with its evolution into what it was destined to later become. However, moving through time, it still maintains a hold on the morals and ethos of that earlier epoch.
In Keppan, the author hammers home the lesson of what makes the study of a koryu different from a hobby. Specifically, "To be a member of a ryu is to hold the tradition as one of the most important entities in one’s life, something, in fact, to which one gives one’s life in service." Thus, the Keppan is the vow that defines student and ryu, and summarizes the essence of both the blood vow and the Old School.
Mr. Amdur writes well on a subject he knows intimately and loves. I heartily endorse Mr. Amdur’s writing skills and highly recommend this fascinating collection of essays.
Secrets of the Ninja: Their Training, Tools, and Techniques, edited by Jennifer Cahill and Michie Itoh. Tokyo: DH Publishing, 2003. 8-1/2" x 11-3/4", 96 pages, 300 full-color illustrations. ISBN: 0-9723124-1-2. US $30.00.
Review by Richard Ray.
Whenever I hear of a new "Ninja" book, I must admit I am skeptical. After all, the two men alive today who lay claim to an authentic Ninja/Ninjutsu lineage make very little noise about Ninja, which are spies and assassins. Instead, they stress the art of Ninpo, which is a complete art of self-protection.
Nonetheless, when asked to review a book entitled Secrets of the Ninja, I tried to hold off any preconceived notions. I wanted to give it an honest read first, thinking, maybe, just maybe, we might have a quality book on our hands here. I am sorry to report that my initial fears were justified: Secrets of the Ninja is another one of "those" books that practioners of authentic Ninpo have seen too many of already.
In fairness, I have seen worse, and this one did have some redeeming aspects to it. The best aspect of Secrets of the Ninja are its hundreds of professional photographs, many of which feature the beautiful background of rural Japan. Unfortunately, they also feature the stereotypical "Hollywood" anime Ninja image. That’s right, all photos are of people dressed in full Sho Kosugi style "Ninja garb," including mask.
With 300 photographs, a 96-page book has little room for text. In this case, this may be a good thing. The technical advisor for the book is Hiromitsu Kuroi, who claims to be a student of the "21st Bando of the Koka sect," Jinichi Kawakami, who himself is said to be known as the "last Ninja." Hmm.
Technically, the photographs show taijutsu that looks like some generic Japanese martial arts done in a Ninja suit. Any trained practitioner looking at the photographs will find flaws, including some that would likely prove fatal in real encounters.
Of course, all the secret exotic Ninja weapons were in tow. Again, the errors abound.
Bottom line? This is not Ninpo as I know it after 22 years of study. But, if you’re a 13-year-old boy or a Hollywood movie producer, this may be just the book for you.
Review by Jason Couch. Copyright © EJMAS 2002. All rights reserved.
The Mechanics of a Choke
Approach Techniques to Chokes
Starvation of Oxygen and Starvation of Blood
Bone Breaking Chokes
A martial art instructional book or video serves more than one master. The publisher’s demands aside, it must provide detailed basics for the beginner while also interesting the experienced practitioner. [EN1]
For the neophyte, this book provides a good discussion of the difference between "chokes" and "strangles," as they are commonly called, or, as the author better describes, "oxygen chokes" and "blood chokes." Also noteworthy is the author’s observation that some chokes involve a combination of the obstruction of both blood and oxygen. [EN2] However, the author fails to recognize the significance of the difference between the two types of chokes. A large portion of Classical Chokes is devoted to oxygen chokes, many being of the "pin" variety, e.g., pushing the antagonist against a wall and barring her throat with your forearm. The problem is that this approach conflicts with the theme of the book captured in its subtitle: "The Supreme Empty Hand Self-defense System."
What’s the problem, you ask? First, the oxygen choke is nearly useless in a defensive situation (as opposed to a situation in which you are the aggressor). Second, it also has the liability of being dangerous. The effective time from application of a choke to unconsciousness is measured in seconds for a blood choke and minutes for an oxygen choke. [EN3] This is unsatisfactory for defense, especially in situations involving multiple attackers.
In addition to being slow, an oxygen choke is also extremely painful, which causes the choked person to make a frenzied attempt to escape. This causes the person applying the choke to apply even more force across the throat in order to subdue the now panicked and struggling antagonist, which consequently leads to injury. It is well documented in the law enforcement community that the use of the oxygen choke has led to serious injury and death. [EN4]
I mention this because probably half of the chokes shown in this book are of the oxygen variety, which, as noted above, are both dangerous and ill suited to self-defense. I find this choice of technique odd, because the author says that he has instructed law enforcement officers, and therefore should be familiar with their safety concerns and departmental regulations.
In the same vein, so to speak, are three particular chapters. One is a chapter on "strike chokes" which focuses on striking the neck and throat. Brachial stuns to the carotid artery may be effective and relatively safe, but "chops to the throat may cause damage to the larynx, followed by suffocation." [EN5] Another chapter is titled "bone breaking chokes," and illustrates techniques for breaking the antagonist’s neck. Enough said. The third questionable chapter is the knife section, where the author advocates placing the opponent in a rear naked choke, and then using a knife to sever the carotid artery or throat. Personally, I find all three of these approaches problematic in a general instructional, not to mention out of place in a book on chokes that repeatedly references beginners. Using the techniques in those three chapters may leave you physically unharmed following a confrontation, but the physical and mental burdens you will bear in the ensuing years spent in the criminal justice system will be heavy. The concept of self-defense is too important to limit it to mere physical techniques. [EN6]
The experienced practitioner looks for different things in an instructional than a beginner. The first is polishing details of known techniques. The second is learning new techniques or at least new variations on already familiar techniques. The third is possible counters to the demonstrated techniques. For this, clear photos are necessary.
Here, Classical Chokes is fine. For example, the first technique demonstrated is the rear naked choke, or "Chinese Stranglehold" as the author calls it, which, incidentally, is the first time I’ve heard that term used by anyone but an Olympic diving commentator. The basics are given: Place left arm around throat and grab right biceps, push down on back of head while barring the throat to choke. The photos are clear and well done, although a short sleeve shirt rather than a martial art jacket may have shown actual points of contact and other details more clearly. That is a minor quibble, however, as the photos are generally good.
A larger quibble, however, is that while the above example shows nothing wrong, it also shows nothing that takes advantage of the author’s years of experience. Why not show the little things that make the concepts clearer, such as showing the technique without a partner to display the starting and finishing positions to see the actual choking motions? [EN7] Similarly, why not include the little details that make a choke more effective, such as extending the blade of the wrist into the carotid or throat? [EN8] After all, one goal of any instructional should be to use the author’s expertise to provide small details that maximize the efficient execution of the techniques demonstrated.
For advanced practitioners, another value of an instructional manual is in the variety of techniques offered. Classical Chokes does a good job of illustrating both blood and oxygen chokes, and here, the additional weapon chokes, strike chokes, bone-breaking chokes, and leg chokes display the author’s broad range of experience. Nonetheless, some basic chokes one would expect to see are not present. In addition, the book shows no chokes making use of the clothing. I understand the emphasis on non-jacketed chokes for self-defense, but the inclusion of a couple basic collar and lapel chokes would have made more sense than the inclusion of the sai or knife chokes.
Another basic choke conspicuous by its absence is the guillotine choke, which should be a staple of a choke-based self-defense system. Counters to the chokes demonstrated are also absent, and entries and set-ups to chokes are rare.
Finally, and perhaps most seriously, control is never stressed. This is critical, because a choke becomes much more effective if you first off-balance or position an opponent to eliminate her leverage base. Thus, some chokes shown in the photos would be relatively easy for even a non-grappler to escape if control is lacking. The leg chokes are an example. However, to be fair, the last of the three leg chokes shown is excellent, as it displays dominant positioning and correct technique leading to an effective choke. [EN9]
To conclude, I believe that Classical Chokes presents an excellent concept, namely introducing chokes as an important part of a stand-up self-defense system. Furthermore, until now, no books presented just chokes (particularly jacket-less chokes) from a primarily standing position. Unfortunately, I believe that the execution of the book is flawed by the author’s over-reliance on oxygen chokes. Consequently, I would recommend adapting the methods found in your favorite judo text or the references mentioned below before I would recommend Classical Chokes.
Other Choke References
Jay, Wally. (1989). Small-Circle Jujitsu. Santa Clarita, CA: Ohara Publications, Inc.
Kashiwazaki, Katsuhiko. (1992). Shimewaza. London: Fighting Films Ltd.
Rutten, Bas. (2001). Bas Rutten’s Big Book of Combat: Volume 2. San Clemente, CA: Master Fighter.
Thompson, Geoff. (1996). Chokes and Strangles. West Sussex: Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
[EN1] Of course, a problem with the entire how-to genre is that the beginner in the martial arts should seek to learn the basics from an instructor rather than the very limited instruction a book can offer.
[EN2] For a discussion of blood, air, and combination chokes in judo, see Hadakajime--Air or Blood Choke?
[EN3] In two studies by the Kodokan, one discussed here, it was found that a blood choke took approximately 10 seconds to cause unconsciousness, whereas an oxygen choke (hadaka-jime, see EN2) not only was too painful for the volunteers to endure long enough to reach unconsciousness, but it had only minor effects on oxygen saturation and respiration. Gunther points out that in almost any choke involving tracheal compression, the person probably goes out first from the incidental arterial and venous compression anyway.
[EN4] Both Reay and Eisele, Death From Law Enforcement Neckholds, American Journal of Forensic Pathology, 3:3 (1982) and Koiwai, Deaths Allegedly Caused by the Use of "Choke Holds" (Shimewaza) note that damage to the throat structure was a common characteristic in most fatal cases examined. Reay and Eisele specifically recommend the carotid sleeper over the trachea choke, and both articles emphasize that proper training is crucial. Wendy Gunther, in On Chokes, also recommends the carotid choke over the trachea choke, because of the possibility that in the latter "the airway gets damaged, and it can swell up and choke off air flow minutes to hours later."
[EN5] Lysek, Zachary. Deaths Involving Asphyxiation. Northampton County Coroner, Northampton County, PA.
[EN6] Legal and moral ramifications must be considered in your personal approach to self-defense. After the U.S. Court of Appeals decision to allow publisher Paladin Press to be held liable for civil damages in Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Inc., 128 F.3d 233 (4th Cir. 1997), I’m almost surprised that techniques like these still make it into print.
[EN7] This is the approach recently taken by Bas Rutten in the choking section of his expensive but voluminous set,Big Books of Combat: Volume 2. It effectively shows where and how to apply pressure. Focused on mixed martial arts, the chokes are mainly shown on the ground.
[EN8] Wally Jay shows this detail clearly in his Small-Circle Jujitsu. It is an example of his small-circle principle in action; one hand acts as a fulcrum for the other to lever the crook of the wrist into the neck. Small-Circle Jujitsu offers a decent chapter on standing chokes, including some entries. Text descriptions are good, but the photos do not always offer a close-up.
[EN9] Geoff Thompson’s Chokes and Strangles is a decent resource for more of the same types of leg chokes and includes some of the "dirty" techniques useful for self-defense. It approaches the subject strictly from the perspective of ground fighting, however. The out-of-print judo classic Shimewaza by Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki is an excellent resource on leg techniques and other chokes, but, as would be expected, it is aimed at the sport grappling audience.
The author accurately points out that it is the influence of the instructor
rather than a particular style of martial arts that impacts the spiritual
aspect of training. She provides a number of good Biblical arguments in
favor of participation in Christian martial arts, and the appendixes have
material that would benefit any instructor. Thus, this book would be an
excellent tool for instructors seeking to launch a martial arts ministry
activity in a church, or adding a more spiritual dimension to their training.
It would also be useful for parents and church youth leaders trying to
evaluate the martial arts as an activity.
Martial Arts: The Christian Way represents a departure from the common reaction from Evangelical Christians concerning participation in martial arts. Sadly, misinformed clergy and laity often mistakenly lump the martial arts together with eastern mysticism, occult practices, and wanton violence. In fact, most martial arts practiced in the West are largely devoid of any spiritual education or occult practices, and generally discourage rather than encourage anti-social behavior.
This book strongly supports participation in the martial arts, provided the actions of the instructor follow the tenets established in the Biblical Doctrine section of the text. This chapter includes recitations of nearly 40 Bible verses in support of the author’s doctrinal positions. The author also points out important aspects of martial art pedagogy that, coupled with Evangelical outreach activities, provide the church with highly effective methods of educating youth. While this chapter strongly states the author’s position, unfortunately, it also reads somewhat awkwardly.
The chapters pertaining to the history and styles of martial arts provide a reasonable introduction for readers having no previous knowledge of the martial arts. This section is not for specialists. Remember that people have published books on topics covered here in a single paragraph. Moreover, there is so much legend and woefully inadequate documentation in martial arts history that accuracy is itself a subjective term. Nonetheless, considering the target audience, the author has done a satisfactory job of providing generally accurate and unbiased descriptions of commonly found styles.
Throughout the book, the author communicates the benefits of participation in Christian martial arts by blending personal anecdotes with social, physical, scientific, and behavioral aspects. This material provides a good foundation for arguing in favor of participation in martial arts activity. In particular, this material would be of benefit for stating the case in favor of a martial arts outreach to a church board.
At the end of the book are a series of contributions from Christian instructors. This was the best part of the book. Admittedly, several of the submissions are from instructors that the reviewer knows, but taken together, they represent a variety of martial arts styles, denominations, and outreach functions. In addition, their experience spans the spectrum from programs that target inner-city youth, to participation in national organizations, to accounts by innovators of Christian martial arts. These appendixes provide great insight as to the methods that these instructors use in their programs and give the reader a variety of ideas to ponder. This material is very valuable to an instructor seeking more tools in conducting classes in a Christian environment.
The book concludes by providing a listing of some Christian martial art schools and organizations, and their contact information.
Order from Agapy Publishing, http://www.agapy.com.
Review by Earl Hartman.
Hoff’s book is the first book in English to specifically present kyudo of the Heki Ryu Insai ha. As such, it constitutes a valuable addition to the literature. The book is comprehensive and will appeal primarily to people already practicing kyudo. Chapters on the technical aspects of Heki Ryu kyudo will benefit people who train in that style, and Hoff makes many excellent points regarding the instruction of beginners and the true relationship between spirit and technique.
Unfortunately, Hoff’s writing style is somewhat dry and pedantic. This may be because the book started out as a teaching guide for kyudo in Germany, rather than as an introductory book for lay persons. Moreover, his history is sometimes wrong and his lineage charts are confusing. Finally, he should have better introduced or annotated the concluding lecture by Inagaki Sensei, because as it stands, it is almost incomprehensible to the general reader.
If one is interested specifically in Heki Ryu kyudo (a popular style in Germany and Japan, but rare elsewhere), then this book is worth acquiring. Nonetheless, general readers would be happier reading Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery by Onuma Hideharu with Dan and Jackie DeProspero (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993), which is still the best single book on kyudo available in English. Those readers primarily interested in so-called "Zen archery" or "spiritual kyudo" should continue buying Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery.
Overall, in spite of a few problems, Hoff is generally successful in
explaining kyudo, which in the West is too often surrounded by obscurantist
nonsense. However, as Hoff shows, when properly taught and understood,
is neither esoteric nor impractical, no matter what some poorly informed
commentators and misguided "Zen archery" and "spiritual kyudo" writers
may say. Instead, it is both an invigorating physical and mental discipline
and an effective form of traditional archery that has the power to enrich
the lives of those who practice it honestly and diligently. Hoff is to
be commended for making a valuable contribution to the de-mystification
of this wonderful art.
When most people think of kyudo, their first thought is of Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery. This book is to Herrigel’s as Dr. Jekyll is to Mr. Hyde.
At the outset, one should note that Hoff’s book does not describe the standardized kyudo taught by the All Nippon Kyudo Federation (ANKF), which oversees most kyudo activity in Japan and abroad. Instead, it is primarily concerned with the style of kyudo practiced by the Insai ha (branch) of the Heki Ryu (school) of kyudo as taught by his teacher, the late Inagaki Genshiro. The standardized kyudo taught by the ANKF and the kyudo of the Heki Ryu Insai-ha are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, almost all members of the Heki Ryu Insai ha are members in good standing of the ANKF and participate in its events. Nonetheless, the reader should bear in mind that these two styles of kyudo are not precisely the same.
Hoff begins his book with a historical overview of the development of kyudo. This chapter provides a good deal of useful information, but it also has a number of problems. For example, the author:
Once this first chapter is done, things start looking up. The following chapters on the kyudojo (practice hall), practice dress, and equipment (bows, strings, shooting gloves, arrows, and quivers) are well organized, workmanlike, and useful. The section on bow evaluation is particularly important for practicing archers. In addition, these chapters provide interesting details regarding traditional types of equipment and their manufacture.
For practicing archers, the heart of the book is found in Chapters 10 through 13, respectively titled "Basic Technique of the Heki School," "Aiming and Target Shooting," "Teaching Beginners," and "Correcting Common Mistakes." People not familiar with kyudo or interested only in a general introduction will probably find these chapters dry and of little interest. However, for those practicing and teaching Heki Ryu kyudo, they form the core of the book.
Hoff does a creditable job of explaining technique, and he makes several excellent points about instructing beginners. "Correcting Common Mistakes" is the most ambitious attempt to explain certain common mistakes, their effect on the shot, and how to correct them, that has ever appeared in English. In particular, Hoff correctly identifies the mental and psychological origins of some common technical mistakes. This is a valuable contribution to the understanding and elucidation of the true spiritual nature of kyudo, and how the spiritual condition of the archer can be seen through the execution of technique. This is a vitally important thing to understand, and something that "spiritual kyudo" authors, such as Herrigel, usually neglect.
My only quibble with this part of the book is that in Chapter 10, "Basic Technique of the Heki School," Hoff identifies the sequence of actions required for loosing an arrow as the hassetsu, which literally means "eight sections/divisions". This refers to the sequence of eight steps involved in setting up and executing a shot. The ANKF uses this term to describe the eight steps in its method. However, Hoff identifies eleven steps in the Heki Ryu method, not eight. This probably results from a lack of familiarity with the Japanese language. While it is a minor problem, faulty romanization of Japanese words occurs throughout the book.
Hoff stumbles again in Chapter 15, "Examination Forms," where he explains the rules for ANKF rank tests. The formal etiquette and movements of ANKF kyudo and the Heki Ryu Insai ha are different, and Hoff illustrates his explanation of the ANKF movements with a series of photographs. Unfortunately, the photographs contain a number of obvious mistakes. The subsection, "Examination Qualifications for Kyudo Kyu Degrees," also contains misinformation. For example, Hoff states that the test for 5th kyu is done at the makiwara (a practice target made of wrapped straw that is shot at from a distance of about 6 feet). However, no ANKF tests are ever done at the makiwara. For 4th kyu, Hoff says that the candidate must (among other things) demonstrate his ability to repair arrow fletchings and bow grips. Archers are expected to be able to do simple everyday repairs on their own equipment but these things are never included in any tests. I am puzzled as to where Hoff got this information. Perhaps these are requirements instituted by the German federation, or perhaps this sort of testing is done in his branch of the Heki school. It is not done in the ANKF, however. (For a list of the ANKF promotion requirements current in 2001, see http://www.netwiz.net/~eclay/translat/ankftest.htm. For instance, at 3rd kyu, one is merely "judged able to both perform the basic movements of shooting and handle the equipment to a certain degree, showing that he or she is training under systematic instruction.")
A Note Regarding Inagaki Sensei’s Lecture
Since Hoff did not introduce Inagaki Sensei’s lecture, I will.
One of the central beliefs in the Heki Ryu Insai ha is that one can only truly understand the Way of kyudo (the shado) through first understanding (and mastering) the technique of kyudo (the shajutsu). Although this sounds like common sense, many Westerners mistakenly believe instead that kyudo is a kind of Zen meditation where practical skill is meaningless. This misunderstanding is entirely the result of Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery, which has long been the most influential book about kyudo in English. In his book, Herrigel presents his teacher, Awa Kenzo, as teaching that the technique and the spirit of kyudo are two separate things and that technique is of little or no importance compared to the spirit. This is totally contrary to the philosophy of the Heki Ryu Insai ha. Thus, to me, it appears obvious that "The Mind Born of Archery" is directed at Western audiences influenced by Zen in the Art of Archery, and is intended to rebut Herrigel’s (and by extension, Awa’s) assertions. In a way, it is a polemic intended as an antidote to what might be called "Herrigelitis".
Read the lecture with these thoughts in mind, and it makes considerable
sense. However, without this background, it is simply confusing.
For Further Reading
Yamada, Shoji. "The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 28:1-2, 2001, available in PDF format at http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs/jjrs.htm (go to "Index of Volumes").
Review by Joseph R. Svinth
The early twentieth century karate teacher Choki Motobu is in the process of being rediscovered. For example, in 1986, Fighting Arts International published an article by Graham Noble that was updated and republished by EJMAS in 2000. Even more recently, Tom Ross published a two-part article about Motobu at Fightingarts.com, and Charles Goodin established an archive at http://www.seinenkai.com that includes articles written or translated by Goodin, Kenji Maruyama, Joe Swift, and others.
This book brings together much of this disparate material, and crowns it with a translation of Motobu’s 1932 text, Watashi no Karate-jutsu (My Art of Karate). Also included are many vintage photos, to include a series from Motobu’s 1926 text, Okinawa Kenpo Karate Jutsu.
Tsuyoshi Chitose, Kempo Karate-do: Universal Art of Self-defense, an illustrated Guide. Translated by Christopher Johnson. (Toronto: Shindokan International, 2000). Hard cover; ISBN 0-9687791-0-7. 137 pages, many photos and line drawings. Includes index. US $30 plus postage. Order from http://www.shindokanbooks.com.
Review by Joseph R. Svinth
This book was first published in Japan in 1957. Its many pictures and line drawings illustrate basic techniques and 2-man drills, and the text includes lineage charts, lists of kata within the Chito Ryu karate system, and various essays by Chitose. The translator has left the flavor of the 1950s in the text, and so one learns that the then popular professional wrestler Rikidozan "uses the so-called ‘Karate Chop’ quite often, but in Karate the shuto, as it is known, is not merely a matter of chopping down. Just as the opponent is hit, the shuto is twisted (page 62)." Equally interesting are the reasons the author gives for studying karate – "In order to re-build the New Japan, we must first ensure that we are in good health. Initially a way to protect ourselves, Karate-do is the most complete form of physical exercise (page 87)." Additionally, karate is useful for training the bodies and minds of youth, thereby reducing the problem of juvenile delinquency. The essence of karate-do is therefore found "in the development of individuals (page 89)."
Highly recommended if you do Chito Ryu karate, and useful for anyone interested in gaining insight into how (and for what purposes) karate was taught in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s.
Reviewed by Joseph R. Svinth
Since I was a contributor to this book, I’m not its most objective reviewer. Therefore if another reader wishes to chime in, let me know and we’ll add your comments. That caveat aside, Martial Arts of the World is, in my opinion, the first martial arts text to surpass Draeger and Smith's 35-year-old Asian Fighting Arts in content, depth, scope, and insight.
In general, mainstream East Asian and European martial arts, philosophies, and combative sports got good to excellent coverage. Contributors included Ellis Amdur, William Bodiford, Dakin Burdick, John Clements, Karl Friday, Stanley Henning, G. Cameron Hurst, Joe Long, Bruce Sims, Kim Taylor, and myself. Therefore, stylistically, think of it as a combination of Journal of Asian Martial Arts, HACA, Koryu.com, and EJMAS, and you won't be far off the mark. My favorite essay was the one by William Bodiford that described the influence of religion and philosophy on the Japanese martial arts, but I thought that the section on women’s martial arts also turned out well. (Note: I’m prejudiced in favor of the latter section, having contributed to it.) Meanwhile, for those of you who find Kronos a bit daunting in scope, note that there is also an abbreviated version of that chronology at the end of the book.
A theme of the book is that much martial art history is invented tradition rather than what actually happened. While a needed and useful corrective, this may have resulted in an excessively rational presentation. There is, for example, little on the role played by astrology, alchemy, or shamanism. Also, the printer reversed some of the photos and as is typical in anthologies, some areas got better coverage than did others. In this case, North Indian and Islamic martial arts got short shrift, and Native American and Micronesian martial arts got less attention than that. However, in fairness, these scotomas reflect the state of late 20th century English-language martial arts scholarship rather than intentional bias on the part of the authors or editors.
The price is definitely steep, but not unreasonable for a hardback intended primarily for sale to libraries. Ideally ABC-CLIO can be convinced to release a reasonably priced paperback version in the near future for the home market, but in the meantime, this is definitely a book that I recommend to libraries, martial art schools, and serious researchers.
Black Martial Arts (Volume II) Combat Games of the African Indian Ocean (Madagascar, Reunion, Comores) by Edward L. Powe (Madison, WI: Dan Aiki Publications, 2001). 283 pages, 231 photos and line drawings. No ISBN. $30 (B&W photos), plus tax and shipping.
Order from Dan Aiki Publications, 530 W. Johnson, #202, Madison, WI 53706. Color copies also available; ask for details.
Review by Joseph Svinth.
These are not how-to books, but rather sociological treatises. The writing style can be a bit dry (Powe has a Ph.D. in African languages, and sometimes the text reads like a dissertation), but the information contained in the text rewards the effort.
Volume I introduces the reader to the boxing, wrestling, and stick games of Northern Nigeria. Most of the activities described are Hausa, but Fulani variants are mentioned as well. Volume II travels east to explore the martial traditions of Madagascar, the Comoros, and Reunion. (The author says he has not discovered African-descended martial arts in Mauritius, the Seychelles, or the Maldives.) Text and photos focus on Mrengé/Morengy and wrestling, but attention is also paid to cognate activities such as bull wrestling and cliff diving.
In both books, key documents and examples of fighting songs are translated in the text. Chapters or appendixes also provide background on the islands and their peoples.
Review by Lawrence Carroll.
There was a time when cosmopolitan, sophisticated New Yorker magazine published some of the best boxing writing ever written. The author, A.J. Liebling, wrote for The New Yorker from 1935 until his death in 1963, and this book is a collection of fifteen essays first published in the New Yorker between 1955 and 1963. Some of Liebling’s earlier boxing work has been published under the title "The Sweet Science".
Many of the essays in this collection chronicle people and events that have since passed into boxing lore: One essay introduces the reader to champion heavyweight Floyd Patterson as a rising prospect. Three more chapters tell the story of Patterson’s encounters with Swedish fighter Ingmar Johanssen. Patterson unexpectedly lost his title in the first bout, just as unexpectedly regained it in the second, and held on to it in a hard-fought third bout in which Johanssen dropped him twice in the first round before Patterson put him down for good in the sixth. Later, Liebling tells how easily Sonny Liston took the title away from Patterson in one round, and kept it away from him in an equally one-sided rematch. He even recounts a bout by promising beginner Cassius Clay, a fast, unorthodox boxer with a penchant for bombast and poetry.
However, not every chapter is about the storied and the famous. Liebling loved the entire boxing subculture and wrote about it all. He wrote pieces about boxing cards in obscure venues in London and Tunis, a loving description of New York’s preeminent boxing gym (formally called "Stillman’s", but dubbed by Liebling "the University of Eighth Avenue"), and descriptions of fighters and fights that few heard of at the time and no one now remembers.
Famous or not, Liebling breathes life into it all. He was a wordsmith of great, even inspiring, skill which was never more apparent than when he was writing about a subject that genuinely interested him, to include food, horseracing and, to our good fortune, boxing. The combination led him to produce some amazing comparisons, for instance when he mentions that when knocked out by Patterson, Johanssen went down "like a double portion of Swedish pancakes with lingonberries and sour cream." He was also a man of broad education and interests, and was able to use the breadth of his knowledge to come at his subject from odd angles that kept him from lapsing into cliché. Patterson’s surprise defeat by Johanssen is told as a cautionary tale of the importance of guarding against permitting one’s expectations to color our powers of observation citing as authority the fourteenth century Tunisian historian and philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun.
His dedication to the truth prevented him from romanticizing the sport as well. While some fighters are intelligent and introspective, many others are simply dumb, and still others are brutal. Managers courageously speak in the first person of their willingness to fight anyone, until the moment comes to step in the ring and they prudently permit their fighters to do the actual work. Promoters and other businessmen have been taking the lion’s share of the rewards from time immemorial.
The Neutral Corner of the title is the name of the bar near Stillman’s Gym where the regulars went to drink and talk. One of the many peculiar things Liebling noted from his time there was that all boxing participants were unanimous in their opinion that the sport used to be better. For ex-boxers things were better back when they were fighting, and boxing writers liked it better back before they got bored with their jobs. You only need to talk to any boxing aficionado today to see that this observation, circa 1955, still holds true.
All told, this compilation has much to recommend it, and little or no reason to stay away. If you are interested in the sport of boxing, you will like this book. If you are interested in appreciating excellent writing, you will like this book. If you are interested in books at all, you will like this book. Read it.
Review by Lawrence Carroll.
This book is Antonio Bustillo’s story of his training in various styles of karate over the past thirty years. His training began in 1971 at the age of thirteen in a YMCA Shotokan class run by Koji Sugimoto. Over the years he trained with a number of notable instructors including Ken Ogawa from Goju-Ryu, Toyotaro Miazaki from Shotokan, and Ryobu-Kai instructor Kiyoshi Yamazaki, before winding up in the Kyokushin-offshoot Enshin style taught by Joko Ninomiya.
From the beginning, the emphasis in Bustillo’s training has been rigorous, with an aggressive physical conditioning component and extensive sparring. Karate was a fairly obscure activity in 1971 and the training, even for someone as young as he, was a far cry from the child-friendly martial arts classes offered today. But Bustillo was looking for training for fighting, and that’s exactly the training he received. Because of moves and other circumstances, Bustillo tells how he trained with different instructors and, at times, without the benefit of an instructor.
Bustillo relates how his early competition success won him a position on the AAU All-American karate team. Later he joined the Miami police force and he tells how his constant training came into play in his time at the police academy and later how it was of use in some extremely violent encounters, both on duty and off.
Always looking to challenge himself, the book culminates with Bustillo’s training for, and competing in, the 1992 Sabaki Challenge, an annual bareknuckle-fighting event promoted by Joko Ninomiya in Denver, Colorado.
Stylistically, this is a somewhat uneven book and the text has more than its fair share of typographical errors. Because it is self-published, Bustillo most likely didn’t have the editorial guidance that even the most skilled authors require. Bustillo also adds unnecessary and distracting asides or takes his story on irrelevant tangents. However, in this case, it is somewhat less of a problem than it otherwise might be. The reason is that the natural audience for this book is karate enthusiasts and, somewhat naturally, the parts that are well written and engaging are those that deal with what Bustillo clearly loves: his karate training. This is the activity that interests him, and when it is the subject he tells the story simply and without embellishment, which makes for compelling reading.
This book is recommended for any karate enthusiast who wonders how to adapt his training to real fighting encounters. Bustillo’s advice: train realistically, keep in shape, and keep it simple.
Reviewed by Brian Kennedy.
"If one practices martial forms without also training for power, in the end one will have achieved nothing." That well-known Chinese martial arts maxim is the guiding focus of this English language book compiled by Dan Miller and Tim Cartmell, one of the few quality books available in English on xing-yi quan. While there are a number of passable books available in English that present the Five Elements Fist, the Twelve Animals or Five Linked Elements, Xing Yi Nei Gong is the only book to place the focus where it belongs: on the foundation. Most xing-yi instructors will acknowledge that the focus of training, at least during the early period, should be on san ti (standing post) and strength training. And that is the focus of Xing Yi Nei Gong.
It is ironic that many of the early xing-yi books authored by such major figures as Sun Lu Tang, Hwang Bo Nien , Jiang Rong-qiao or Xie Dien are quite straightforward in their discussion of xing-yi forms they are somewhat less straightforward on the discussion of how to actually build "xing-yi strength." They seem liberal with the forms while being conservative with the strength-building methods.
Xing Yi Nei Gong does an excellent job of discussing the xing-yi strength building methods of Master Wang Ji Wu (1891-1991). Wang, a native of Shanxi Province, taught and practiced the Dai style of xing-yi . His teacher was Wang Fu Yuan who in turn was a student of Liu Qi Lan. Liu Qi Lan’s teacher was the famous Li Neng Ran.
The book Xing Yi Nei Gong can best be described as a joint effort between Tim Cartmell, Dan Miller, and two of Master Wang Ji Wu’s most senior students, namely Wang Jin Yu and Zhang Bao Yang. Cartmell and Miller are prominent and respected American authors who have published a number of books on Chinese internal martial arts.
The book is divided into six chapters and is profusely illustrated. The first chapter gives a very complete discussion of Wang Ji Wu and his lineage going all the way back to Ji Ji Ke at the end of the Ming Dynasty. This chapter includes a number of historical photographs, several of which have never appeared before in an English-language xing-yi text. The second chapter contains translations of the Liu He Xin Yi Quan Written Transmissions. These are various short texts that have been hand-copied and passed from generation to generation of xing-yi practitioners going back to Dai Long Bang in 1750. This chapter provides accurate translations of the core writings, poems, and training advice of the early masters in this lineage.
Chapter 3 is devoted to xing-yi standing practice. The basic concepts, postures, and mental images from the xing-yi classics are discussed in detail. This chapter features a very clear and complete discussion of how to practice san ti shi and is illustrated with photos of both Master Wong Ji Wu and his senior student Zhang Bao Yang. The accompanying text discusses in detail the separate parts of the san ti shi. This discussion of san ti shi is an invaluable contribution to the English language literature on xing-yi. (As noted above, most senior practitioners say that a solid san ti shi is the key to xing-yi excellence. Master Wang approach is interesting in that his version places the body’s weight equally distributed between the two feet. This differs from other approaches that place a majority of the body weight, 60 to 70%, on the back leg.
Chapters 4 and 5 discuss sixteen body strengthening and health maintenance exercises. These exercises are described in detail and are shown in clear, easy-to-follow photographs of Wang Ju Wu’s senior student Zhang Bao Yang plus historic photographs of Wang performing the same set.
Chapter 6 details the Xing Yi 5 Element Spear power training set. This set provides an excellent advanced power building method.
During my 25 years of interest in xing-yi, I have seen most of the commonly available English language material, and consider Xing Yi Nei Gong to be clearly superior to anything else available in English on the fundamentals or foundations of xing-yi. The excellence of this volume is a result of several factors:
Review by Tom Militello.
Author Harry Cook is well known for his exacting research, and make no mistake, this well-written tome cements Mr. Cook’s reputation as a solid researcher and an avid investigator of the truth.
This handsome, slightly oversize volume has raised gold embossment of the title in kanji characters on the cover, and an English translation on the side binding. The book opens with a black and white photo of Gichen Funakoshi, and is followed by a foreword by Morio Higaonna and a preface by Graham Noble. The author makes every effort to acknowledge all those who have assisted, in any way, in this publication, including: John Cheetham, Emil Farkas, Morio Higaonna, Graham Noble, Terry O’Neill, David Palumbo, Joseph Svinth, Aidan Trimble, and Paul Wind, among others.
Structurally, it is organized into eight chapters, and is followed by four appendices and an index. The first half of the book follows the development of karate from Okinawa, and its introduction and development in militaristic pre-WWII Japan. The extent of the Shorin Ryu influence on what Gichin Funakoshi developed into his version of "Chinese hands," as karate was once known, is also examined in this half of Mr. Cook’s work. The second half examines the development of JKA, Shotokai, and other versions of Funakoshi Sensei’s legacy, and their respective differences, politics and spread throughout the world.
The book is most fascinating in its exploration of the Okinawan roots of karate and its Chinese antecedents, and expresses the absorption of the art by the Japanese right wing before and during the Greater Eastern War. The surviving followers of Shoto’s way after the war, and their subsequent transition from warriors to formulators, defenders and ambassadors of the Empty Hand art are treated extensively.
The origins, use, and change of kata and the adoption of free sparring in varying degrees by the different organizations is a theme of the book, as it helps establish the differences between the JKA and Shotokai version.
Most of the research appears to have been done in English, but some translations were also used. Nonetheless, Mr. Cook quotes many distinguished karateka and primary sources, and relies on extensive use of the exact quotes. While this is exemplary and well intentioned, it was, for me, one of the few ‘turnoffs’ in the book. Sometimes we need Mr. Cook to provide his view and interpretation of what those he interviewed meant, as the exact phrasings uttered often beg for such historical analysis. However, if this "flaw" is the worst to be had in the book, then it is analogous to a fine layer of dust lying barely visible on the patina of custom paint on a newly restored classic British motorcar: it distracts the perfectionist, yet does not diminish the fine lines of the classic beneath.
In summation, the term ‘precise’ in the title adequately sums up Mr. Cook’s work in this exquisite historical volume. His ability to present a precise, organized history of Gichin Funakoshi’s fighting art is a delight to read and makes the development of Shotokan Karate easy to follow, even for this practitioner of Chi Do Kwan Korean karate.
Order from David Webster, Strength Games ’90, 43 West Road, Irvine KA12 8RE, UK. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Review by Joseph Svinth.
Donald Dinnie was a Scottish all-round athlete of the late nineteenth century. According to this book, he won 2,000 hammer throwing contests, over 2,000 wrestling matches, 200 weightlifting contests, and about 500 running and hurdle events. He also made a good living at all this, earning at least £25,000 in his career, a sum that would be worth about US $2.5 million today. And to this day his image continues to endorse commercial products in Scotland.
Documentation for claims includes newspaper clippings, family albums, and a series of articles that Dinnie wrote for Health and Strength in 1912. The overall tone is worshipful, which is not surprising when you note that Gordon Dinnie is a relative and Webster is a leading Scottish strength writer. The photograph selection, book production quality, and editing are outstanding. So, if you are interested in Scottish athletics, the Highland Games (a forerunner of the modern Olympics), or nineteenth century wrestling or weight competitions, this book is recommended.
Available through Amazon.co.uk. Autographed copies may be requested from the author, James Dunning, 20 Riverside Gardens, Romsey, Hampshire, S051 8HN, UK.
Review by Joseph Svinth.
Author James Dunning joined the British Army in 1939 and became a founding member of No 4 Commando in 1940. After participating in raids into Norway and France, he became a Commando instructor in Scotland. After the war, he remained in the Army, serving in Palestine, Korea, Cyprus, and Suez. Upon retirement, he became a schoolmaster. He also served as president of the Commando association.
The book describes the creation of the Commando units; their billets and organization: members’ initial training; water and small boat training; weapon training; the training centers at Lochailort and Achnacarry; special operational training to prepare soldiers for participation in the raids on St. Nazaire and Dieppe; training for operations in Burma; training for operations in mountains; and training for parachute operations. (No. 2 Commando, formed in 1940, was Britain’s first parachute regiment. Since nobody knew what they were doing and equipment and aircraft egress systems were totally inadequate, during the first couple months of operation, the death rate was about 1 per 100 jumps, plus another 10 per 100 subsequently declared medically unfit due to injuries sustained. Improved parachutes and aircraft egress methods quickly dropped this level of injury, but it is hardly surprising that during 1940, dozens of men were dropped from No. 2 Commando for refusing to jump from perfectly good airplanes.)
Structurally, there is not a great deal in this book that will tell you how to blow up bridges or stick knives into kidneys. On the other hand, there is much here to help one plan training. Its themes are that officers and NCOs do not bully, but instead lead by example; that training, no matter how dangerous, must be done with a sense of humor; that improvisation must be taught because combat is not a canned scenario; and that simpler is always better.
For readers of EJMAS, descriptions of the hand-to-hand training programs
should be of considerable interest. For example, from reading the text
you learn that unarmed combat was considered part of Physical Training
rather than a separate subject. To elaborate on this a bit, on page 102
Dunning notes that the recruit training program that the Commandos implemented
from 1943 to 1945 generally followed this outline:
|Weapon Training, incl. Foreign Arms||19%|
|Fieldcraft, Movement and Tactics||13%|
|Firing of Weapons/Grenades/Field Firing||11%|
|Physical Training including Ropework and Unarmed Combat||10%|
|Mines and Demolitions||4%|
|Set-piece Exercises (inc. Opposed Landing)||3%|
|Medical Lectures and First Aid||3%|
The unarmed combat training consisted of seven blocks of instruction taught by three primary instructors, one of whom was a professional wrestler and another of whom was a judo black belt. Trainees went through these blocks of instruction as units, and preparation for training consisted mostly of troops removing their headgear and webbing.
As described by Dunning, the principal elements of the unarmed combat course, details of which appear in Fairbairn’s book All-in Fighting, were:
At the end of the course, trainees engaged in "milling," which was boxing without stop for a minute straight. Emphasis was solely on offense, with no points given for defense. "The idea and aim of this game," says Dunning (page 124), "was forthright and simple enough, just one word – ‘attack.’" Serious injuries were few, however. Partly this was because trainees were supremely fit. Partly it was because trainees were true volunteers, and so rarely reported minor injuries. And partly it was that by this stage in their training, trainees were imbued with the Commando philosophy of "Me and My Pal." As a result, they had learned to make attacks fast and furious while not doing anything that was likely to cause serious injury.
One part of the Commando training course that "came as a surprise – and a shock to many" was the organizational emphasis on spit-and-polish while in garrison. Also worth noting is the fitness levels expected of trainees. For example, in the first week, trainees were expected to march five miles in fifty minutes while wearing full kit. Meanwhile, prior to graduation, trainees were expected to cover fifteen miles in 170 minutes, then complete an assault course. Faster times were of course desirable. Trainees also swam in the ocean and "yomped," or moved cross-country through the mountains, during 36-hour exercises. Snipers and ambushes were incorporated into these yomps, thus providing trainees with a degree of tactical realism.
"Me and my pal." "It’s all in the mind, get on with it." "Keep it simple." These are the lessons of this book. It’s recommended.
Karate-do Tanpenshu: Funakoshi Gichin Short Stories. Compiled and translated by Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy. Brisbane, Australia: International Ryukyu Karate Research Society, 2001. Wire-ring binding, 143 pages. B&W photos and calligraphy, some by Funakoshi.
Review by Joseph R. Svinth.
This book consists of articles by and about Gichin Funakoshi. Specifically, chapters include:
From the standpoint of content, if you have been collecting material for years, then probably you have seen most of what is here. But if you haven’t, well, at worst this book provides readers with easy access to lots of previously hard-to-get articles. In this regard, Graham Noble’s articles are particularly interesting, as they describe how during WWII Shotokan karate teachers including Shigeru Egami taught karate’s secret techniques (basically punches to the face and kicks to the testicles and shins) to Japanese spies and commandos. Readers interested in learning more about these Japanese wartime training programs, in which students were told that they were modern-day ninja, are also advised to read Louis Allen, "The Nakano School," Japan Society Proceedings, 10, 1985, 9-15.
Regarding the Bubishi, author McCarthy notes that the translation is not from his previously published Bubishi, but from the versions that Funakoshi himself published during the 1920s and 1930s. "That’s the point I’d wanted to emphasize," says McCarthy. "Many Shotokan stylists believe that Shotokan and Funakoshi have no connection to the Bubishi whatsoever!"
An important exception to the rule of previous publication is the Sasaki article, which to my knowledge appears in translation for the first time in this book. The way the article was written has made me wonder if the idea of introducing karate to Japan didn’t have something to do with the public furor over the million-dollar gates during the fight between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier in July 1921. Karate as a uniquely Japanese form of boxing, as it were. Kind of a full circle, if this is true.
The photos show Funakoshi and his peers in a variety of poses. Taken from books published in 1922, 1925, and 1935, they show Funakoshi demonstrating pressure point strikes and grappling applications.
Overall, I’d say this book represents a worthwhile addition to the library.
To order, send name, address, credit card (VISA/MC) details (name as on card, card type, number, and expiration date) to International Ryukyu Karate Research Society, PO Box 420, Virginia 4014, Australia, or by e-mail, email@example.com. No checks accepted. Cost is US $29.95 for International Ryukyu Karate Research Society members and $39.95 for non-members. Price includes shipping by airmail, which if memory serves runs about US $6, so the price isn’t as steep as it sounds. And, as you’re ordering direct from the author, inscriptions and such are easily requested.
Review by Lawrence Carroll.
"Angry White Pyjamas" is the true story of the year Robert Twigger spent training in the Yoshinkan Aikido instructor’s course alongside Japanese police officers who were candidates for the Kidotei, the elite Riot Police Squad.
Twigger was an Oxford educated writer and a recipient of a prestigious poetry prize who drifted through a number of dead-end jobs before a desire to escape, a favorable job environment, and an attachment to the historical swordsman and poet Tesshu drew him to Japan. There he scraped by with teaching jobs and by sharing a small apartment with his two roommates, Chris and Fat Frank.
After watching a traffic incident erupt into violence, Twigger realized
he had no idea what to do if the same happened to him. At the same time,
Twigger and his roommates faced the realization that they were in their
thirties, in terrible physical shape, and only going downhill. They decided
to get fit with martial arts training and settled on the Yoshinkan dojo,
which prides itself on the severity of its training in hard-style aikido.
The first time Twigger saw aikido in action, the dojo’s top instructor
effortlessly throwing multiple attackers, he was enthralled:
Suddenly I saw aikido as offering an arcane knowledge of the body’s weak points. It was a living alchemy; immense, complex, a whole structure of thought and action I never knew existed. Just punching and kicking looked crude by comparison.
The Riot Police, or Kidotei, are the elite of the Japanese police force and perform state security and SWAT-type duty in addition to riot control. In order to join the Riot Police, a Japanese police officer is required to spend one year in full-time training in a traditional martial art. The Yoshinkan Riot Police course is designed to train those officers. The course is also open to civilians.
Trainees, called senshusei, were required to be in the dojo six days a week for eight hours a day. They trained in three sessions for a total of five hours a day. Before training, they were required to clean the dojo, locker rooms, and bathrooms. For the duration of the course, they were the lowest group in the dojo. Regardless of prior experience or rank, they were required to wear white belts and re-test for dan rank nine months into the course.
The heart of the book is the hellish year Twigger, his fellow civilian senshusei, and the Japanese police officers spent in the course. The course is brutal. Classes include marathon breakfall sessions, slamming forearms until they become raw, and in one notably painful case sitting in seiza, kneeling meditation position, for an hour. During the training sessions, senshusei are driven nonstop. Injuries are common.
So who would willingly submit to such a regimen? The motivation of the
police officers is obvious. The training is their ticket to promotion,
and they treat it as a thing to be endured. Twigger and the other foreigners
are altogether more romantic. As a group they tend to see the training
as a trial and connection to an idealized past, and completion of the course
as personal validation. This causes the foreigners (both trainees and foreign
instructors) to have a hard-core attitude, disdainful of the slack the
police officers cut themselves:
The foreign senshusei were more at sea than were the cops. At least the cops knew what budo meant. Literally, budo means "the way of war," but it has connotations far beyond this. It connotes a way of life involving sacrifice, honour and pain. The cops knew about budo and rejected it. Even Kancho had said, "Modern aikido is more physical exercise than budo." But the foreigners hankered after the old ways, the pain and the honor. They wanted bona fide budo or nothing.
It’s in observing this obsession with the modern martial-arts culture of budo where this book’s greatest strength lies, and Twigger is well suited to the task. In addition to the natural orientation toward observation possessed by all writers, he has the added advantage of being a relative newcomer to the martial-arts culture when he enters the course. To him, things that a hardcore practitioner might not notice out of over-familiarity still stand out in sharp relief. Twigger’s novice status does cause him to repeat some inaccuracies, including the old stories about black belts symbolizing the accumulation of dirt and sweat, and that advanced martial artists are required to register their hands with the police.
But by and large his observations are remarkably clear-eyed. As an example, he gives biographical information on Gozo Shioda, the founder of Yoshinkan aikido, without the exaggeration and hyperbole that often inflates the lives of prominent martial artists into something approaching hagiography. He tells us of Shioda’s early testing of his training by picking street fights, and thus learning to fight realistically (a broken bottle features prominently in one encounter). He mentions Shioda’s involvement in strikebreaking in the postwar years, which translated into lucrative corporate sponsorship for his dojo, Shioda’s widely presumed alcoholism, and the isolation that he felt toward the end of his life. As an aside, Shioda’s fighting advice is unusual for an aikidoka: "Seventy percent of fighting is atemi (striking)."
But nowhere is Twigger’s clarity better put to use than his observations about the instructors. Twigger begins his training, as many do, in awe of his instructors’ skill. The hero worship quickly fades with the rigors of the course, as the senshusei are subjected to their whims, and Twigger realizes, and illustrates, that it is perfectly possible to be both a first-rate martial artist and a "grumpy prejudiced bastard." Some of the brutality is the product of the budo mentality of the instructors, or the product of a rigorous training regime designed to build the necessary spirit in the Riot Police. But there are also events that show the instructors’ darker side. Some of the instructors are noted for injuring students, and an excess of ego causes unnecessary injuries during public demonstrations.
Because of the brutality of the training, Twigger has his bleak moments, and writes about them with unsparing, unflattering honesty. Gozo Shioda died midway through Twigger’s course. At the time, Twigger was exhausted, injured, and thinking of quitting. Twigger freely admits that his major emotion on hearing the news was a sense of relief and celebration. Due to the funeral, training was suspended for a week.
In spite of all this, Twigger does gut out the year, gets his shodan, and receives an instructor’s license in Yoshinkan aikido. He does give the impression that the course was a valuable experience, and in completing it he came to terms with the feelings of inadequacy that propelled him to participate in the first place.
The book isn’t solely about aikido, however. Throughout, Twigger provides funny and revealing stories about working, living and, most amusingly, dating as a foreigner in Japan. He writes in an engagingly self-deprecating manner and never tries to present himself as anything other than a clumsy guy who sought improvement through a year of hard training, and only improved somewhat as a result.
Special mention should be made of the creativity that went into the cover art of the book. The image is a doctored photo of two empty dogi (practice uniforms) in martial posture, locked in combat. It's affecting, funny, and somehow seems to sum up the underlying theme of the book that martial arts are an important subject of study, best not taken seriously.
This book is highly recommended.
Christoph Delp, Muay Thai: Thai-Boxing: Sport and Self-Defence (Germany: Sportverlag Delp, first amended and English edition, 1999). Hardbound, 88 pages, 134 photos, DM 27.80/EUR 14.21. (About US $13.) ISBN: 3-933961-01-7. Order from http://www.amazon.de or direct from the publisher at http://www.thaisport.de.
Review by Joseph Svinth.
Christoph Delp trained in muay Thai in Thailand with Master Decha, who has trained fighters in Thailand, Japan, Australia, and Greece.
The book contains some general background to Thai boxing, but is mostly how-to. Layout is logical, the photos are clear, and the English translation is competent. The how-to advice is sound, too. For example, "The [front] kick can be delivered with the front or rear leg. The front leg is the preferred instrument at the beginning of the fight, aimed at disturbing the opponent’s timing. The rear foot will be used for kicks against an opponent on the attack… Usually the raised shoulder protects the chin and the arms are held high and tight." And lo! The preferred target for a front kick is the genital area, and the preferred method is to catch the opponent coming in, thus making him do most of the work.
In defense, "it is better to deliver the first punch or to lean back, rather than to block, as a block will always have a certain effect. However, sometimes it is not possible to avoid an elbow hit… In this case the block must be used. To deter knee attacks, kneeing with the opposite knee is recommended, as are straight punches to the opponent’s face (competition) or body (training). As for the round kick, "Provided you are convinced that your shinbone is harder than that of the opponent, a hard block can be made. Otherwise one should slightly pull back during blocking. The hands remain up in front of the face and will not be taken down, even for blocking."
Jumping techniques are called "spectacular techniques." "To be able to land hits good timing is of the essence," says the author, adding that one’s own protection must not be neglected in the process. Spinning back kicks are in the category of "spectacular techniques," and are used only when a hard round kick has been missed due, for example, to the backward movement of the opponent.
In training, the author recommends starting on air, then moving to a punching bag. "In the beginning it is better not to use a hard filling (fabrics or chips of wood) as the shinbone requires long training for hardening." Once the basics are mastered, then the student advances to training one-on-one with an instructor who carries two pads on his arms and wears a padded belt around his waist. The student then practices combinations on the instructor. After the student has gotten good at that, he advances to free sparring with the padded instructor, with the goal being to keep all hits on the pads. "Advanced students can train the sparring with an opponent. To this end it is important that the sparring partners are fair and do not attempt knocking each other out. Generally it can be said for sparring that the training with a stronger partner results in better improvements."
For a training regimen, the author recommends the following daily regimen. In the morning, the athlete fartleks (runs at different paces) for 3-6 km, then does exercises with fist dumbbells, shadow boxing, punch bag drills, pad training, and muscle-building exercises. This process takes about 1.5 hours during routine training, and about 2 hours while preparing for a fight. In the afternoon, the athlete skips rope for 15-20 minutes then does shadow boxing, punch bag, pad training, light sparring (three times a week), clinch drills emphasizing knee attacks, technique training, and more muscle-building exercises. The recommended exercises include sit-ups, push-ups, "V-system" (abdominal crunches performed while a partner hits the athlete’s abdomen with a pad), and neck and jaw strengthening exercises. The afternoon training takes about 2 hours during routine training and about 3 hours when preparing for a fight. The author considers this regimen to represent a sensible long-term program: "Frequently no progress can be made if the training is exclusively restricted to hard exercises."
All in all, this is a good book that provides a useful replacement for the out-of-print Kick Boxing: Muay Thai, The Art of Siamese Un-armed Combat by Hardy Stockman (Burbank, CA: Ohara Publications, 1976).
By Neil Hawkins
Over the past ten years there has been a burgeoning interest in the field of Close Personal Protection, commonly known as Bodyguarding. This interest has spawned a stack of books and documentaries, but unfortunately there is still much misunderstanding about what is actually involved in close protection work. In fact a lot of the confusion comes from the media: sometimes the job has been glamorised, while other times bodyguards are portrayed as little more than mobile bouncers.
This book, however, goes a long way toward setting the record straight.
Author Peter Consterdine is well known in the martial arts community and is highly ranked in karate. He has run executive protection operations in such diverse locations as Moscow, Beirut, Madrid, Kazakhstan, London, St. Petersburg, Algeria, and the Far East, and was the subject of a 1994 British television documentary. His experience is vast, and if anyone could write a manual on the principles and skills required by today's bodyguard, Consterdine is he.
The Modern Bodyguard deals with all areas of personal protection, starting with why bodyguards are needed, assessing the risks, selecting a team, and so on. The text is absolutely full of practical and common sense advice, and includes drills and exercises that would benefit anyone in the industry or act as a dose of reality to people who are thinking about becoming involved.
Despite the glamour shown on television, the reality is that personal protection is a dangerous occupation; there have been dozens of bodyguards killed in the line of duty in the last few years alone. This is a job in which any lapse in either training or concentration on the job can lead to someone paying dearly.
A huge part of any protection job is the preparation phase. During this phase, you assess risks and plan accordingly. Scheduling, route selection, backup plans, and support all play key roles in the success of the job and the survival of the principal. This book describes what is necessary to accomplish the task. I certainly don't advocate that you use the book as a sole source of information; personal instruction is essential. You cannot learn physical skills from a book, but you can expand on your knowledge and improve your understanding.
The book has over three hundred pages filled with hundreds of photos and diagrams that illustrate the points made, and enough anecdotes to keep the casual reader interested. There are discussions on self-defence, fitness, first aid, weapon handling, and the specialist areas of bomb awareness and communications. The information provided is practical and to the point. There are no extraneous details: Everything that is in this book you will need to know.
The degree of protection required depends entirely on the risk assessment, and a banker in Bogota, Colombia might require more than twenty personnel split into teams. This number is far from excessive, however, as someone such as the President of the United States would have hundreds of Secret Service agents and even more police and soldiers.
On the other hand a low-level pop star might find a single bodyguard sufficient. The protection is mostly psychological and in many situations this is probably enough. However situations change, problems escalate, and I would not like to rely on a single individual, as no one person has the full range of skills required to give adequate protection. Furthermore, even bodyguards need sleep. Therefore a minimum team is two, and better, three, guards.
Overall, I consider the skills provided in this book the minimum required of a fully trained professional bodyguard. You will not always need the degree of protection described in the book, but as the Boy Scouts say "Be Prepared." So if you are wondering whether to hire a bodyguard, would like to become a bodyguard, or are already a bodyguard but interested in improving your skills, this is definitely a book for your library.
I recommend it.
Review by Joseph R. Svinth, October 2000
Although he was graded 2-dan in Kodokan judo, the famous hand-to-hand combat pioneer W.E. Fairbairn actually trained in Shinnoshin-do jujutsu. And this book describes Shinnoshin-do jujutsu as taught in Britain by L. Martin from 1949 to the early 1990s.
As indicated by the number of photographs, this is a how-to manual rather than a history, and as such it should be of considerable interest to people who want to learn more about Fairbairn's methods.
Cost: £18 in UK; £20 for other countries. Checks or money orders payable in British funds only; no credit cards accepted.
Ease of Restraint – An Aid to Law Enforcement Officers, by L. Martin (United Kingdom: Self Published, 1992). No ISBN. 80 pages.
To order, contact Peter Robins at Peter@robins011.freeserve.co.uk; for information about the style, see http://www.ghca.org/index1.html
Review by Neil Hawkins
Usually when you buy a book from a major retailer it has gone through a long process of refinement. The author has presented the information, the editor has modified it in a way that he thinks that makes it easier to read, and layout specialists have put in pictures, margins, and fonts so that the book is pleasing to the eye. After all this, the marketing department designs a cover and summary that grabs the attention and makes you just want to read it.
Sometimes this refinement is used to cover up poor data. Other times, owing to the publishers' misunderstanding of the content, the packaging detracts from what would otherwise be a fine book. Many of today's books are not designed to be read: instead they are designed to be looked at and we as consumers have been enticed to buy things that have little value.
This book, however, has not gone through any of that process. Instead the author published it himself and so the data is exactly the way he wanted it portrayed. Just as a dull rock can be cut open to reveal a seam of gold, this book contains excellent information hidden beneath a plain exterior. Please don't be put off by the look, take the time to read the text and study the pictures. As the old adage says, "Don't judge a book by its cover."
The book has huge potential, as technically it is far superior to the majority of the self-defence books on the market. The author has extensive experience in jujutsu, studying the traditional style of Shin-no-Shindo Ryu, a style that originated as a police system in Osaka, Japan during the 1500s and was the first art practiced by W.E. Fairbairn of Shanghai Municipal Police and World War II combatives fame. Following World War II, the author adapted these traditional techniques into an effective modern close combat system, and his experience is obvious in the selection of techniques shown in the book.
The techniques are pure jujutsu and eminently practical, the situations are realistic, and the defences can be quickly learnt by almost anyone. However, I can only say this because I have been practicing jujutsu myself for many years.
Unfortunately, I don't think a beginner can just pick up the book, practice the techniques shown a time or two, and then use them in the field against resisting subjects.
Obviously this isn't the fault of the author. Still, there is a separate sheet shipped with the book that describes a way of learning the book's techniques using visualisation. In it, the author states: "Remember that these original techniques were 'born in the mind', by visualisation of the situations requiring their use, of a man who had no book to help him." Whilst this is undoubtedly true, it should be remembered that the Yamamoto Tabizayemon, the man who developed Shin-no-Shindo Ryu without a book to help him, was already a master of Yoshin Ryu jujutsu. Thus he is not a representative sample. Therefore I personally would never advocate learning physical skills from books; there are a million subtle points that can only be picked up by training with a competent instructor.
Aside from that, my main issue with Ease of Restraint is that there are too many photos and not enough descriptions. The defences seem to run together; often it is hard to see where one finishes and the next starts. Don't be put off, however, as the content is good, and the book would make an excellent companion to physical instruction. Said instructor preferably would be someone associated with either Shin-no-Shindo Ryu or the Martin – Fairbairn School of Jujutsu, but any competent teacher should recognise most of the techniques and be able to teach them. Alternatively someone who already has some jujutsu training could pick up the techniques with only a little trial and error.
The only negative comment I have regarding the techniques shown is that I personally don't like the firearms disarming techniques. I know that many people in many different styles and arts teach these techniques, or ones very similar, but to me they are too dangerous. I have always been taught (and teach) that the weapon MUST be touching the body before you try to disengage. To get into this position you probably must use guile and deception, but get there you must. The author does state that you should be as close as possible, at most 24 inches distance. To me that's too much; perhaps if it was really a life and death, last resort, try or die situation then yes, you would do it. This is a small complaint really, as the techniques demonstrated will work if the weapon is touching you, in exactly the manner described, so I'm picking at straws.
In the introduction, the author explains that he wrote the book for police officers, as he believed that practical self-defence was missing from their training. It's unfortunate that the British police didn't pick it up, because this is exactly the type of training law enforcement professionals should be getting. If you have or have had access to good jujutsu instruction then this book will certainly provide a good guide to the types of things you should know, especially if you are in law enforcement or the security industry.
I recommend it.
Randall G. Hassell and Edmond Otis, The Compete Idiot's Guide to Karate (New York: Alpha Books, 2000), 339 pages, illustrated, index. ISBN: 0-02-863832-8.
Reviewed by Joseph R. Svinth, October 2000
This book is part of a series called The Complete Idiot's Guide to… and it provides readers with a well-written introduction to Shotokan karate. The structure is logical, the illustrations helpful, and the text light-hearted.
Cost: US $18.95. Available through Barnes & Noble and Chapters.
Buy this book at Barnes & Noble
By Neil Hawkins
With Secret Weapons of Jujutsu author Don Cunningham has accomplished two significant things. First, he’s found a martial arts subject that hasn’t been written to death, and secondly he’s produced a book that is both informative and readable. It’s obvious that the author has spent considerable time researching the subject and the illustrations (from his private collection as well as historical photos and prints) cover the subject matter well. The text is very easy to read and is full of interesting facts, many of which were new to me.
The majority of the book is an overview of the history and development of the weapons discussed. There are many photos and in most cases you get a clear idea of how the weapon was used, as well as examples of different types of the weapon. It starts by discussing the evolution of fighting arts in Japan and offers a brief introduction to the history and traditions of Japan. Some of the history relayed is the popular version of events and may differ from some other accounts. The author is certainly not the first to give these versions and specialist readers would recognise them from far weightier tomes than this, so it’s not a major flaw.
In subsequent chapters the author introduces the various concealable weapons that formed the samurai’s arsenal, and describes why they were used rather than the more famous samurai weapons such as the katana (sword) or yari (spear). Some of these, many readers will be familiar with, but some may be new and the discussions of their development and use are informative. Another chapter deals with the structure of the police forces during the Tokugawa era, a subject rarely mentioned in other books I’ve read. The police were the ones who primarily used the weapons described, and an understanding of why they needed them is useful when evaluating the techniques described later in the book.
There were times that the author left me wanting more. For example he barely touches on the chained weapons, and the variety of concealed blades such as shuriken are totally absent. These last, although most commonly associated with the ninja, were a definite part of the samurai’s secret weapons and I was surprised that they were not mentioned.
The book finishes with a number of techniques from the various styles that specialised in Tetsushaku-Jutsu (use of the tessen and jutte). I would never encourage anyone to learn techniques from a book, and this book doesn’t presume to teach. But it does provide a number of examples of techniques that can be used with these weapons. I have little or no knowledge of the styles that they are taken from, although some are similar to techniques I have been taught. Even with detailed descriptions it is hard to judge flow from photos, so without seeing techniques live you can’t comment on the effectiveness of the techniques. Therefore I would suggest that you treat them as illustrations rather than instructions.
On the whole this book provides a good introduction to the subject and presents sufficient information for all but the most serious practitioners. I especially like the use of the kanji for the various weapons and schools of fighting. Although meaningless to people that can’t read them, they are attractive on the page, and for those a little more knowledgeable, they provide a good reference when researching in Japanese texts or seeking the origins of the names. The glossary is useful, but I missed a bibliography, as I would have liked to read up on some of the subjects in more detail.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the book; the text flows well and is easy to read. The author has used photos and illustrations well throughout the book. It is hard to fault without going to extremes and aside from the points I’ve already mentioned I’m impressed with both the style and content.
If you're looking for an in-depth study of these weapons this book is
not for you, but as an introduction or as general information I would definitely
The History of Jon Bluming: From Street Punk to Tenth Dan. By Jon Bluming. (Amsterdam: Self-published, 2000) Paper, 21 cm. x 30 cm., 160 pages, 149 pages of text (about half in Dutch); 11 pages of sponsors' advertisements, 418 B&W photos. No ISBN.
Order from EJMAS Unique Books.
Review by Chris LeBlanc
Jon Bluming's name should be only slightly less recognizable in the Western Budo world than that of Donn Draeger or Robert W. Smith. It was in Smith's Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods that I first learned of Bluming, and when I began to learn more about Donn Draeger's time in Japan, "The Beast from Amsterdam" popped up again. Here is a man who saw harrowing real life combat in Korea, then struggled on world class judo mats and in the roughest karate dojo in Japan.
This book has a great deal of value for those interested in Kyokushin karate, judo, shootfighting/mixed martial arts (RINGS), and the international (especially European) development and splintering of these arts (including Daido Juku, Ashihara, etc.). There is also koryu practice (Shindo Muso-ryu Jo and Iai) alongside Donn Draeger. The text is replete with excellent and historically valuable photographs of Bluming's life and training, including candid shots of Donn Draeger (a man who hit the weights hard!) and other famous budoka.
And there is a lot of "inside" information here, especially regarding the Kyokushin Kai Kan, Mas Oyama, the 100-man Kumite and the politics, racist and not, within the system before and since Oyama's death. Bluming pulls no punches, and is not charitable at all to some of his fellow Kyokushin karateka, even his own former students who have crossed him.
Nor does he hesitate to criticize Oyama's failings, and the famous "Bull Killing" incident and Oyama's fighting claims are dismissed in blunt terms. But at the same time Bluming is open and honest about his own mistakes and missteps in his relationship with this great teacher of his, and his tears of regret at not patching up rifts before Oyama passed are displayed for the reader to see. Bluming obviously loved his teacher very much, and this comes through in his writing.
Bluming's experiences in the judo world are also well detailed. He has some choice comments regarding the Kodokan, Korean judo, Donn Draeger, fellow Dutchman Anton Geesink, and US judoka such as Hayward Nishioka. Again, Bluming does not suffer those whom he thinks are fools gladly, and does not seem to give a damn whether anyone else shares his opinion.
I got the feeling that if I traveled to Holland, sat down and cracked a beer with the man and let him talk, this is what would come from his mouth. I watched his segment in the recent film Martial Arts: The Real Story and when I read this, I could almost hear him talking.
The book is NOT for the faint of heart. Bluming is not by any means politically correct, and ethnic slurs pepper his language throughout. There are salty insults, double entendres and scatological references as well. Considering that he was wounded more than once in combat by the Chinese during the Korean conflict, and is a product of a different generation, coming from a WWII street level existence to making a living in the casinos of Amsterdam, this is perhaps understandable. He is a sort of the antithesis of Robert W. Smith, if you will.
The editing (?) is nightmarish. The first 90-some pages are in Dutch, with the remainder a translation of the Dutch text into English, and the whole is replete with spelling errors and unexplained acronyms, to include an unfortunate one chosen for Kyokushin Kai Kan -- KKK. The book totally lacks paragraphs, and when not broken up by the excellent photos, the text seems to go on and on. The font used for the text is very small, so you will have to squint to read it to avoid missing the gems of information or Bluming's lively turns of phrase. Finally, the photographs in the Dutch section are not repeated in the English. Instead all the photos are in chronological order, with bilingual translation. This means that when you read the English and the text says "see photo" you usually have to do some digging somewhere else in the book, as the photos you see on the page you are reading come from a different time in Bluming's life altogether.
Nevertheless, anyone interested in Kyokushin karate, Kodokan judo, Donn Draeger, the early development of free fighting/mixed martial arts, or budo training in Japan after WWII should get this book. Struggling through is more than worth the price.
Review by Mark Feigenbaum
Although the tiny typeface used in this book is hard on the eyes, the story told makes most people's lives seem trivial. Indeed, author Jon Bluming has had such a full life that I do not think that he is boasting in the least when he concludes the same himself.
Some will not like what Bluming says, and still more will not like how he says it. His style is boisterous and crude, and the text contains some of the longest unparagraphed sentences ever written. But putting aside the glaring faults in grammar, translation, and editing, this book has hundreds of great photographs and was written the way that I always thought an autobiography should be written, with no quarter given or asked, and no reason given for disbelieving. Nothing is held back, from Bluming's childhood during World War II, watching as Jewish children, some of whom were his friends, were taken away by the SS, to his days of glory in the Korean conflict and budo. His discussions of martial arts politics are harsh, but honest, and serve as a warning of the pitfalls that await the unwary.
The decision to own this book is a no-brainer -- buy it. It is raw, real, and even more fun to read the second time around.
History and Traditions of Okinawan
Karate by HOKAMA Tetsuhiro, translated and edited by Cezar
BORKOWSKI. (Hamilton, Ontario: Masters Publication, 1998.) Paper, 17 cm. x 24.5 cm., 152 pages. Cost: $16.95.
By Joseph R. Svinth
Copyright © 2000 Joseph R. Svinth. All rights reserved.
History and Traditions of Okinawan Karate includes a wonderful collection of historical photographs. Excluding 69 photos showing Goju-ryu seisan kata and kakie (push-hand) drills and another 41 photos comparing movements from Okinawan women's dances with various combative techniques, the book still provides the reader with more than 100 historical photos -- some of which I hadn't seen before -- several dozen calligraphic entries, and four line drawings. In addition, there are seven color photos on the cover.
According to biographical information provided in the book, the author began learning karate fundamentals from his grandfather in 1952. Since then he has continued to teach and train in karate, and has even opened a museum of karate-do at Nishihara, Okinawa. The more interesting photos apparently come from this collection.
Unfortunately, the text is not as excellent as the graphics. Names are transliterated inconsistently and on page 88 one learns that a prewar Okinawan high school was established in 1980. Worse, the text is full of gaps that could have been corrected by spending some time in a research library. Finally, the style and organization suggests that the text was originally designed to be used by high school students preparing for standardized promotion exams rather than serious researchers.
Structurally, the book is divided into chapters called "Origins of Martial Arts," "Martial Art Pioneers," "The Evolution of Modern Martial Arts," and "Training Guides." There is no glossary, recommended reading list, or index.
The book's ancient history is weak. For example, in "Part One, Origins
of Martial Arts," HOKAMA writes that the roots of the martial arts lie
with Bodhidharma. No matter what you believe about Bodhidharma's existence,
by the time he reportedly flourished the Egyptian wrestling friezes at
Beni Hassan were already 2,000 years old. So perhaps it would be more accurate
to say that the legendary roots of Shaolin boxing lie with Bodhidharma,
and that a thousand years later Southern Shaolin boxing influenced the
development of the Okinawan combatives known as karate and te (or ti, to
use the Ryukyuan pronunciation). Yet even that would be an incorrect (or
at least incomplete) attribution, as it fails to acknowledge that the Okinawans
were waging ritual combats at least a thousand years before Bodhidharma's brand of esoteric Buddhism gained a foothold on their island.
Along the way, the author gets sidetracked into discussing kappo or resuscitation techniques. As an introductory first aid course provides more useful medical information, one presumes that this was simply for antiquarian purposes. After that he returns to recounting folklore.
In "Part Two, Martial Arts Pioneers," HOKAMA provides brief biographical sketches of a dozen well-known teachers. As this list is far too short, readers are therefore advised to admire his book's many wonderful photographs and then return to their dog-eared copies of Mark BISHOP'S Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles, and Secret Techniques (London: A. & C. Black, 1989) and HIGAONNA Morio's The History of Okinawan Karate: Okinawan Goju-Ryu (Westlake Village, CA: Dragon Books, 1995). That said, the transcript of a 1958 panel discussion appearing on pages 50-53 is excellent.
In "Part Three, The Evolution of Modern Karate," HOKAMA is to be commended for acknowledging that FUNAKOSHI Gichin's research was inconsistent and that his findings were sometimes incorrect. Still, rather than devoting half a page to tables describing FUNAKOSHI'S somewhat eccentric methods of classifying kata, HOKAMA would have done readers a greater service by instead addressing some of the errors FUNAKOSHI made in his books.
But don't get me wrong; "Part Three" is by far HOKAMA'S best chapter. Indeed, when describing things he's personally seen, his only major error (and in this he is hardly alone) appears to be writing on page 94 that the Americans banned all martial activities in Japan following World War II. This simply is not true. Following the August 1945 cease-fire the Japanese Ministry of Education decided to return Japanese public schools to the way they had been before the war. So by the time General MACARTHUR landed in Tokyo grenade throwing and knife fighting had already been dropped from public school curricula. Still, that had no effect on combative sports such as judo, sumo, and boxing, nor on classical martial arts taught in private dojo. Admittedly in March 1947 the Far Eastern Commission recommended that kendo should be eliminated from the Japanese public schools, but by then the US Government was far more afraid of Communists than militarists. Therefore the "ban," such as it was, apparently owes more to a combination of misunderstandings, political agendas, and historians' error than literal fact. As for karate's evading whatever restrictions and limitations there were, remember that between 1945 and 1972 Okinawa was under direct American control. Therefore the Ministry of Education held no sway there. And as the US government never viewed karate as anything but a regional variation of boxing, it never saw any reason to restrict its practice.
In the final third of the book, the author and the editor provide various training guides. These begin with a section on kappo, or resuscitation techniques. The written descriptions are vague while the photos of Wally JAY don't match the text. Personally, I question the inclusion of Wally JAY in a book titled History and Traditions of Okinawan Karate. It is not that I have anything against JAY or his methods, only that his methods owe more to Danzan-ryu jujutsu than to traditional Okinawan karate.
This is followed by a discussion of the "seven life-threatening vital points." These have been bowdlerized to keep small children from hurting themselves. An example is: "Head. The most important part of the body. Techniques directed at this area are potentially lethal and should be considered carefully. Attacking the top of the head can result in unconsciousness or death." A more adult introduction to the subject of combat hitting is therefore the US Army's Field Manual 21-150, Combatives (Dec. 30, 1992).
After that comes the obligatory set of photos showing the author doing kata. In this case, the kata shown is a Goju-ryu seisan. From an instructional standpoint, I'd say stick to HIGAONNA Morio's 4-volume Traditional Karatedo: Okinawa Goju Ryu (Tokyo: Minato Research/Japan Publications, 1985-1990) and its accompanying videotapes.
Next Cezar BORKOWSKI and his students appear in a variety of poses. They begin with half a page of text and six pages of photos describing kakie, or Goju-ryu push-hands. Although the text says that their kakie is similar to taiji push-hands, I fail to see how. In taiji, says the T’ai Chi Ch’uan Ching ("Classic of Grand Ultimate Boxing"; the translation used here is by Benjamin P.J. LO and his students Martin INN, Robert AMACKER, and Susan FOE):
The feet, legs and waist
must act together simultaneously,
so that while stepping forward or back
the timing and position are correct.
If the timing and position are not correct,
the body becomes disordered,
and the defect must be sought
in the legs and the waist.
In these photos, however, the attacker is never centered, the defender's hands grasp rather than slide, and both attacker and defender are shown exerting muscular tension ala Charles ATLAS. Thus my belief that the kakie shown has nothing in common with proper taiji push-hands.
The book concludes with a series of photos "illustrating the relationship between native combative techniques -- Ti and Okinawan folkdance." This section was interesting mostly because BORKOWSKI'S bunkai (analysis of techniques) was logical and well presented. (With, of course, the proviso that he failed, as most instructors do, to show how the attacker escapes from the proper application of these techniques. Which is particularly surprising inasmuch as the rotational movements taught in various elementary kata reduce the effectiveness of the wristlocks shown on pages 142-143.) As social history, however, this section fails abysmally. The reason is not that dance, theatre, and religious ritual cannot influence practical combatives, or vice-versa. Instead it is that the text fails to show causality rather than coincidence, or explain why Okinawan aristocrats would have wanted to learn fighting skills from courtesans rather than Shaolin boxers or Jigen-ryu swordsmen.
To summarize, History and Traditions of Okinawan Karate provides readers with an exceptional assortment of historical photos. Unfortunately its text proved disappointing in comparison. Still, given its reasonable purchase price the book's virtues outweigh its weaknesses, and people interested in karate history are therefore encouraged to give it consideration on their shelf.
Furyu: The Budo Journal of Classical Japanese Martial Arts and Culture
Journal of Asian Martial Arts
Koryu.com: The Classical Martial Arts Resource
Journal of Japanese Sword Arts
By Guy Power
Copyright © 2000 Guy Power. All rights reserved.
I used to get the tatami-omote I use for test-cutting through a friend in Japan. The tatami-omote were good and inexpensive (free); however, they were used and the tatamiya-san was happy for my friend to come around to collect his garbage! But they arrived dirty, and musty, smelly, moldy, and always took my breath away when I opened the package. Once I even found "dani" (mites) crawling around --- Eewwwwww!
Then my friend went to England, leaving me madly looking for inexpensive material to cut. I ended up buying beach mats from wherever I could find them. Then I discovered Mugen Dachi, which sells brand new, unused, fresh, clean, green tatami-omote. So new in fact, that the ends have not been trimmed to fit the tatami; the ends are little "bushy" when rolled up and you may require an extra 1/4" (6 mm) of spike to firmly seat their makiwara.
So on July 22, 2000 I conducted a test to compare commercially available
beach mats and Mugen Dachi (www.tameshigiri.com)
tatami coverings. This report is the findings of my test.
Mugen Dachi Tatami-omote
The Mugen Dachi mats are made of new double-ply construction. They are purpose-made by a Japanese company for the tatami trade and are used as the top cover on Japanese tatami floor mats. These tatami-omote - as they are called in Japanese - measure approximately 6' x 3' (70" x 35", 178 cm x 89 cm) and are 4" (10 cm) in diameter when rolled and fully soaked. After draining, they are heavy and stiff. Throughout this report I will refer to Mugen Dachi's product as "tatami-omote."
Retailer: Mugen Dachi
These Chinese-made mats are sold as beach mats and have thin colored cloth borders with two tie-down straps sewn along the perimeter of the short sides. These beach mats are of a flat single-ply construction and are very thin compared to the robustness of the fibers used in the Mugen Dachi tatami-omote. One mat rolled up measures about 1.5" (3.8 cm) in diameter when soaked for eight hours, and is very flexible. Three mats rolled together measure about 4.25" (10.8 cm) after soaking; however, they are still flexible and pliable compared to tatami-omote. Throughout this report I will refer to this product as a "beach mat."
Retailer: Various shops in San Francisco's Chinatown; Pier 1 Imports;
I prepared both products identically one day prior to the test. After folding the mats in thirds and tightly rolling them, I affixed each makiwara with five rubber bands. To obtain like-sized targets, I had to use three beach mats per makiwara; however, I needed to use only one piece of the Mugen Dachi tatami-omote per makiwara. Both brands of makiwara were mixed together and simultaneously soaked for a period of 10-12 hours. After six hours elapsed, I rotated the mat mixture to ensure each makiwara had equal time in water. (Makiwara float, even when waterlogged, and especially when piled upon each other in a stack; rotation alleviates the problem of the top makiwara being semi-moist or dry.)
Three hours prior to the test I removed all makiwara and stood each
one vertically, allowing excess water to drain. When the test session began,
both brands of makiwara were heavier and "meatier" than in the dry state.
However, the beach mats were noticeably lighter in weight and more flexible
compared to the tatami-omote.
I prepared five makiwara of each type and used a vertical-post tameshigiri stand with a 5" (120 cm) wooden spike to transfix the makiwara. The cuts were executed using a Nosyuiaido "steel iaito." Air temperature was 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius); winds were easterly at 5 knots (just joking - I was inside the dojo). I executed between four to six cuts on each makiwara, using left and right kesagiri (downward diagonal cut), gyaku kesagiri (upward diagonal cut), and suihei giri (horizontal cut).
The three-piece beach mat makiwara provides a soft target and I found that I needed less strength and blade velocity to cut through the beach mat makiwara. The mats are very forgiving if you slap-strike them with your blade, but the makiwara bend slightly at the base during the cut, especially with suihei giri.
The single-mat Mugen Dachi makiwara are heavy, stiff, and "meaty," definitely requiring proper blade angle-of-attack, velocity, and strength. When you hit this target, you get the substantial feel and sound ("ssssszzzip") that are lacking in the beach mats. The tatami-omote are green and also have that "smell of Japan." I did not experience makiwara-bend as I had with the beach mats; these were nice and firm. If I didn't cut suihei giri well, I obtained a solid "thwack" with a resultant scoop in the makiwara. It did not bend at the base.
Cutting a two-mat Mugen Dachi makiwara is a real test of one's skill.
Although I often cut two-mat targets, I did not include those metrics because
a two-mat makiwara becomes a test of the sword and the swordsman rather
than the target material. However, it was fun - the gyaku-kesagiri was
The beach mats are good for beginners, but the Mugen Dachi mats are better for experienced practitioners and can be cut in half for use by beginners. Therefore they are my recommendation for cutting. And, while initially the Chinese beach mats seemed cheaper than Mugen Dachi's tatami-omote, cost per makiwara is essentially the same:
US $3.50 each
1 mat per roll = $3.50 per makiwara
Beach mats --
US $1.25 each
3 mats per roll = $3.75 per makiwara
David Wilson of Mugen Dachi says the company always has tatami-omote available and that you can buy any quantity, no minimum. However, you can combine orders with other people to get a price break if you would like. Price breaks currently occur at 320 pieces and 620 pieces per order.
Beating BOB (July 2000)
Review by Joseph R. Svinth
Century Martial Arts (http://www.centuryma.com) sells what it calls a "Body Opponent Bag" (BOB); the acronym stands for a water-filled striking bag made to resemble the limbless torso of an adult male of European heritage. Although a smaller "child-sized" BOB is available, other races and genders are not.
In general, people seem to enjoy striking BOB more than striking traditional bags or makiwara. So, as the training value is similar, martial art schools with fixed sites should consider buying BOB. That said, BOB is better at taking full-power punches than taking full-power kicks, and when knocked over, leaks. Also, only schools with fixed sites should use BOB, as when full, a BOB weighs about 275 pounds (125 kg). Furthermore, before siting BOB be sure that your floor is capable of supporting the load, and that accidental breakage or leakage will not cause catastrophic damage to anything. (While the bag is guaranteed for life, incidental damages are not covered under the warrantee.)
BOB wholesales for around US $199 and lists for $299. Prices found on the Internet during July 2000 ranged from a high of $334.95 (plus another $35 shipping and handling!) to a low of $229, shipping included. Therefore shopping around is advised.
By Guy Power
Iaito: Practice Training Swords
Rick Polland, CEO of Cutting Edge Technology, Inc., is marketing a new product: an iaito (sword for iai). So, what’s new about that? Everything.
Most of Dragon Times’ readers recognize the term "iaito" to mean a poorly produced replica Japanese sword. The vision comes to mind of a plastic handle, loosely wrapped with cheap fabric tape; a zinc-aluminum alloy blade, chrome finished with an etched temper line; poorly cast fittings made of pot metal; and a painted scabbard with a cord retaining knob that always breaks off. Overall poor quality, poor balance, and lacking any aesthetics.
Strictly speaking, what I’ve just described is called a "kazari-to"
in Japanese. A Kazari-to is a decoration sword; they are not made,
nor should they be used, for martial arts training. Our readers with
a deeper background in Japanese sword arts know that differing grades of
iaito can be purchased, anywhere from a low of $400 to a high of $1,500,
depending on the quality of detail, and depending on the manufacturer.
However, just because an iaito is made in Japan does not mean it is a quality
piece. I’ve seen veritable junk sold in some martial arts stores
in Tokyo and Yokohama for over $400. So, what is one to do?
Enter: Rick Polland
Besides being a skilled martial artist in Kashima Shindo Ryu jodo, and Shinden Muso Ryu iaido, Rick Polland sells iaito. Not just any iaito, he sells IAITO. Rick is the sole US agent for Nosyuiaido, Ltd. (Japan), a company internationally known for the quality of its iaito. Nosyuiaido is located in Seki City (the center of sword manufacturer in ancient Japan), Gifu Prefecture, close to Osaka. Company president Mr. Igarashi, a second generation handle wrapping master, has a passion for maintaining quality in his company’s product line. Therefore, he utilizes his handle wrap (tsukamaki) apprentices to do the handle wrapping of all Nosyuiaido training swords. Likewise, scabbards and handles are specially hand made from hinoki (a magnolia) by local masters; masters who are normally contracted by sword smiths to "clothe" their masterpieces after the final polishing. No routers, no mechanical forming; just plain, good old-fashioned traditional hand work. And the lacquer is real urushi, a Japanese lacquer produced from a plant of the poison ivy family. The end result is a training sword made with the same care and attention lavished onto the real swords these craftsmen also produce.
But this article is not about zinc-alloy iaito -- although Nosyuiaido’s are the best I’ve seen. Rather, I am informing our readership of a new product being offered in the United States: an iaito that cuts makiwara, bamboo, and flesh (albeit an unexpected "target of opportunity").
I was extremely skeptical, to say the least, when Rick told me he was going to market an iaito that cuts. Two of my students own Nosyuiaido iaito made with zinc alloy. I was so impressed with their look and feel, I bought one (remember my mentioning $1,500?). Placing the order was a pleasant experience because I was able to select the blade length, furniture, handle length, wrap color and type of material (faux buckskin—you do not know what you are missing), menuki placement, and even specified a two-tone lacquer job for the scabbard. The "blade" is broad and handsome, with a grove and a well executed false temper line. The edge is sharpened so that one does not become complacent using an iaito. However, it will not cut through traditional cutting targets.
Thus my initial skepticism to Rick’s "iaito that cuts."
When the cardboard sarcophagus entombing the "iaito that cuts" arrived, I noted it was shipped directly from Nosyuiaido in Japan; meaning no additional time lost by first going to Rick’s address on the East Coast. An important consideration to those of us who live on the "Left Coast."
My first unofficial blade test (after rescuing the sword from its smothering, protective bubble wrap and 200 miles of cellophane tape) was the paper-slice. Holding a dry sheet of 8x11 rag computer paper -- normal stationery stock -- in my left hand by one corner, I sliced pieces of paper quite freely and easily. A few cuts exceeded 9 inches with a slight curvature, others were 4" or so. A couple of slices stopped cutting at about 6", then tore the paper – perhaps because of the way I held the paper.
Next, I performed the "shave" test on the paper edge. Although I was not able to get 1/32" paper curls, I was definitely able to shave the paper. It sounds trivial, but if a sword will not cut paper, it usually will not cut other items well.
Unfortunately, my wife was unwilling to let me use her silk scarf for
to the "floating silk test." You know – you saw it in the Crusader
movie in which Richard Lionheart (Richard Coeur de Leon) slices through
a Saracen’s mace handle to show the strength of his sword. After
Richard’s display Saladin quips, "That shows the strength of your arm,
not the keeness of your blade." Saladin then drops a silk scarf through
the air which floats down across the edge of his upturned sword – and the
silk scarf splits in half. Well…..you had to be there.
But seriously, I was thinking, "This is an iaito? Iaito are not supposed to cut." My next test was to place a magnet on the blade…it stuck! The blade turned out to be ferrous metal, not a zinc alloy. "This iaito has more to it than meets the eye," I thought to myself.
The blade has a rough tameshigiri polish; however, turning it to reflect light, I could see the gentle rolling undulations of the yakiba. A genuine yakiba, such as this, is the sign of differential tempering in which portions of the blade anneal quicker than the rest of the sword. Differential tempering produces areas of soft steel -- the side and back, and hard steel --the edge. I could also distinguish that all lines along the mune (back), and the shinogi (the ridge lines along the flat of the blade), were sharp, crisp, and evenly balanced. This sword was polished by hand, not by machine.
The balance of the sword is slightly blade heavy, 7 inches forward of the tsuba; however, the sword is not unwieldly at all. The tsuka and kodogu are well put together and fit the hand well. My only suggestions are that the menuki should be reversed so they fit in the palm of the hand, creating a "palm swell," and two mekugi, retaining pins, should be used -- preferably a bamboo peg near the tsuba and metal pin near the kashira (pommel). The two mekugi are for safety; the reversed menuki for comfort.
Before the test, Rick informed me that this particular iaito is a prototype
and it did not receive full "aitori" during the tempering process.
The market product will have a complete aitori. I conducted the test
to see how well it would stand up to hard targets in its current condition.
If the blade fails at this point Rick Polland and Nosyuiaido will have
to return to the drawing board.
Well, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. The targets used were ¼" ~ 1" diameter bamboo; 1" ~ 2" diameter bamboo; leftover bamboo branches bundled together into a 2" diameter roll; 4" diameter makiwara (moist tatami mat coverings, similar to what we call beach mats ; and ½" diameter oliander branches.
1. ¼" Bamboo. The sword cut through effortlessly. I cut this branch about four times, each cut taking a progressively larger diameter section of bamboo. During this phase the blade edge chipped. The monouchi had small serrations in a section about ½" long. I made further cuts, but did not cut the larger 1"~2" bamboo for fear of seriously damaging the blade. All in all, the sword cut well. Overall damaged area was located in the monouchi with three patches of serrations (one area was about 1.5" long).
2. Bamboo wara. I decided to use the auxilliary bamboo branches to see how the sword would stand up to different sized branches as a bundle. To my surprise, it cut through almost effortlessly.
3. Makiwara. Makiwara was prepared using tatami-omote folded in thirds, then tightly rolled. The wara were soaked overnight and allowed to drip-dry one hour prior to test. The sword cut through effortlessly when using a two-handed diagonal cut; however, when using a single-handed diagonal cut, I was only able to cut about 4/5 of the way through – probably due to the relative lightness of the sword compared to what I normally use. Rising diagonal cuts were smooth, as were horizontal cuts.
4. Oliander branches. I cut the ½" branch with no trouble. We had more trouble binding four branches together and propping them up then I had cutting them. The second cut, through three branches was very smooth; the third cut went through the support branch as well, for a total of a four-branche bundle.
5. Different sword for comparrison. Another student brought his recently sharpened Japanese Army sword (gunto) which had been given a tameshigiri polish by a local Californian (not certified). Previous attempts to cut did not leave a favorable impression. On this occasion my student attempted to cut a 3" diameter beach mat prepared like the tatami omote, but his cut stopped about ¼ of the way through. I tried his sword and cut about ½ way through. Using the "iaito that cuts," I cut the target effortlessly in twain.
Nosyuiaido’s "iaito that cuts" is a superb sword for cutting soft materials.
The prototype blade chipped in 1/16" or 1/32" segments over a 2.5" section
of serrations which gives the appearance of a hack-saw or jeweller’s saw
blade. A couple of chips were about 1/8".
I do not recommend anyone to cut bamboo until the "aitori" process is refined.
Rick’s most recent letter tells me that the blade I tested was water quenched at too low a temperature. The blades offered are now quenched at a different temperature, making the blade edge more chip resistant. This is also one of the key points to being able to make a successful blade. The aitori was refined and the blades on the final product are considerably more chip resistant and the mune is just slightly softer.
However, I will inform you in the future when my recommendation not to cut bamboo changes.
The prototype sword is a joy to handle, but a devil for me to "noto"
because of its 30" length. I recommend that the blade retain the
same amount of steel, but shorten its overall length to about 27~28 inches;
this will give the blade more mass (and perhaps allow me to cut single-handedly??).
The koshirae (furniture) is well put together and the kodogu (fittings)
are nice—I really, really like the Higo fittings.
Post Test Update
Nosyuiaido currently offers their "top of the line iaito" with a tameshigiri polish so that surface scratches from cutting will not be blatantly noticible; late, they will offer a live blade iaito with a higher quality polish suited for iaido.
Blades for tameshigiri will have two mekugi. Blades for iai will have one mekugi. Nosyuiaido’s mekugi are all hardened bamboo. Gyakute menuki (reversed menuki placement) will be available as a special order item.
Both blades are in the $2000 ~$2500 range. Rick markets these
live blades as "top of the line iaito" for a reason: the blades are forged
in China. Therefore, they cannot honestly be classified as "Nippon-to"
(Sword of Japan), samurai sword, or "shinsaku-to." Although "shinsaku-to"
literally means "newly made sword," the term implies a newly made Japanese
sword forged by a Japanese smith. Rick feels that to classify this
product other than "top of the line iaito" would be false advertising.
Other companies sell swords produced entirely in China. Not only
is the blade forged in China, but the scabbard, handle, wrapping, fitting
-- everything -- is made by Chinese craftsmen. Some are better than
others; and some swords made by the same craftsmen are reported to differ
in quality. The average handle length offered by one company is 15"
long; about half the length of the entire blade, or 1/3 the overall length!
Nosyuiaido swords are forged by a Chinese smith and shipped to Japan for
polishing and outfitting. Nosyuiaido’s finished quality comforms
to what I personally know to be the "Japanese standard," definitely outshining
these other products.
Item. Iaito (practice sword).
Composition. steel/iron (ferrous metal)
Overall length. 40"
Blade length. 30"
Nakago length. 8"
Grip. 9"; wrapped in black tsukamaki.
Fuchi and kashira: Higo style stone grade (K-12 in the on-line catalogue).
Tsuba: Sukashi; round, lotus leaf design (T-31).
Voice: 001 (U.S.) 410-544-3611 Fax: 001(U.S.) 410-647-1409
Post: CET, Inc. P.O. Box 232, Severna Park, MD 21146, USA
Web site: http://nosyuiaido.com
Tameshigiri Test, Part II Nosyuiaido’s "Steel Iaito Which Cut"
Many of you read my article in which I wax wonderously over Nosyuiaido's steel iaito performance. My only concern then was that the blade chipped when cutting fresh green bamboo. On 13 February 2000 I conducted a follow-on test using the new-improved "tameshigiri-yo" blade. This new blade is a tad thicker with a little more niku, and the edge is not as hard -- it cuts beautifully.
On 15 January I tested it on makiwara and it cut well. Now, for the bamboo test.
This bamboo is from the same source where I "obtained" my targets for testing the original prototype "iaito." I don't know the species of bamboo, but it grows in Northern California, reaching a height of about 20 feet and maxes out at around 1.25 inches in diameter at the base; sections are roughly 6 inches between joints. At the 10 foot level, the diameter is about 3/4" diameter and the sections are roughly 10 inches between joints. The outer skin is semi-brittle.
Length: 2.4 shaku (28.5")
Weight: 2.66 pounds
POB: 7" forward of tsuba.
Width at ...
Between shinogi/edge: 0.290"
Measurements at Monouchi:
Between shinogi/edge: 0.151"
This sword cuts extremely well and I now recommend it for cutting bamboo.
The green bamboo cut ranged from 1.128" (28.6mm) to less than 0.65"
(17mm). Although green, it showed brittleness on its outer skin. When the
bamboo was cut, much of the outer wall perimeter below the cut showed splintering
(however, the cut was clean and smooth). I'd like to try this on 2" and
I began the test using the smaller diameter bamboo -- if it chipped here, it would give me
valuable feedback. I arranged the smaller diameter bamboo stalk along a 45 degree angle.
1. My first cut was a vertical cut on bamboo of about 0.25" in diameter. If you cut vertically on a 45o target, the cut will be about 30-45o. The cut was clean, no damage to the blade.
2. My second cut was a horizontal cut on a 45o target, slightly larger in diameter than the first cut. This cut will also produce a 30-45o cut on the bamboo. The cut was clean, no damage to the blade.
3. Next, I cut a 2" bundle of auxilliary bamboo branches tied together. Left kesagiri, right kesagiri. The cuts were clean and no damage to the blade.
4. Fourth target was a verticle bamboo pole measuring 0.65" (17mm) in diameter with 0.09" (2.5mm) walls. Multiple kesagiri cuts (clean) with no blade damage.
5. Fifth target was a vertical pole about 1.14" (30mm) in diameter. Left and right kesagiri. The cuts were clean and no damage to the blade.
6. Still on the fifth target, I let my beginner student with no tameshigiri experience cut. He had a bad hasuji (blade angle-of-attack) and hit the bamboo at a 70o angle. The bamboo was cut about 1/3 of the way. The result of this improper angle caused the student to put excess weight on the blade, so much in fact that the cut bamboo was mashed-back at the entry cut. The blade bent about 5o left, and there was slight turning at the edge (about 1/128"). I bent the sword back to true (well, enough so that it fits the saya without any drag -- close enough without using straightening sticks -- which I don't have). The turning at the edge can be easily repaired at home. I do not consider this a flaw in craftsmanship, but include the results because it happened during the test.
7. Still on the fifth target. I cut the same bamboo, below where my
student hit it. This was
1.144" (30mm) in diameter and had an inner wall of 0.248 (6mm). I was surprised because this was a joint -- and it cut cleanly through the thickest part of the bamboo. I always steer away from the joint because it is much denser and harder to cut. The cut was clean, and no damage to the blade.
8. My last target was 1.128" (28.6mm) diameter with 0.248" (6mm) walls. The cut was clean and no damage to the blade.
The sword I tested handled well and cut cleanly with no damage to the blade, except for the time my student hit an a wrong angle.
After informing Rick of the above results, he tells me that this blade
is still evolving. He just received a new shipment of "steel shinken" with
the same specs, but having a bit better polish and much better balance.
On the tameshigiri-yo [cutting use] this is due to a more refined (but
not thinner) mune. This is accomplished on the iai-yo [kata use]
with a wider and sometimes deeper hi that rises towards the monouchi ever
Review by Joseph R. Svinth
Cost: Standard edition $59.95.
Cost: Special edition, $89.95 (This signed and numbered edition includes a certificate of authenticity. Only 200 copies will be produced.)
Order through: http://www.kansha-productions.com.
This is the first of a planned series of videos produced by the United States Headquarters of Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai. It is in VHS format and is about 38 minutes long. It includes biographical information about Ryukyu Kobudo founder Taira, film of Taira performing kata, and film of seniors demonstrating kata during commemorations of Taira's death.
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