The Iaido Journal  Mar 2003EJMAS Tips Jar

Book Review: Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryu and Samurai Martial Culture 
by Karl F. Friday with Seki, Humitake.

Honolulu, University of Hawai'i Press, 1997.
ISBN 0-8248-1879-2, Paperback, US$14.95.
ISBN 0-8248-1847-4, hardcover, US$34.  227 pp.(1)

Reviewed by Raymond Sosnowski.
23 October 1997, 17 March 2001 (revised)


It was rather daunting to review a book written by someone I know and trained with.  Fortunately it was a positive review.  Imagine if it was someone I knew and trained with, and the review was negative (if I keep writing reviews, it is bound to happen eventually).  In any event, the headings included were not in the original review, but are included for clarity.  There is no reference list in the original review because it was not needed; none appears here either.


Anyone engaged in the pursuit of a koryu, bujutsu or (Japanese) kobudo, is acutely aware of the general lack of any sort of written documentation, be it historical, descriptive or instructional texts.  Japanese texts, if they do exist, are generally hard to come by (and then you have to do the translation), and English texts, if they do exist, can come in a wide range of quality; and even some modern budo are not immune -- consider the dearth of English-language kendo or atarashii naginata texts compared to the number of aikido and karate-do texts.  This situation has been made a little less bleak with the publication of Legacies of the Sword by Prof. Karl Friday of the History Department of the University of Georgia (Athens) with Prof. Humitake Seki of the Microbiology Department of the University of Tsukuba (Japan) and the 19th generation shihanke (head-instructor) of Kashima-Shinryu (KSR).


In addition to the aiki-ken (and aiki-jo)(2) as transmitted by Mr. Morihiro Saito, since 1993 I have trained in an unusual style of aiki-ken, which is taught by Mr. Minoru Inaba, the chief Aikido instructor of Shiseikan Dojo at Meiji Jingu (Shrine), Tokyo, and which is derived from KSR (Kashima Shinryu) kenjutsu [transmission is through the late Mr. Masatake Sekiya of Tokyo, and, more recently, Mr. Paul Smith of London, both deshi of Inaba-sensei], which is how I heard about KSR in the first place.  [FYI: Mr. Inaba studied with Mr. Zen'ya Kunii, the previous (18th) soke and shihanke of KSR, for a period of less than one year prior to the latter's death on 17 August 1966 at age 72.]  I have also trained briefly, but intensely, with Prof. Friday at the Guelph School of Japanese Sword Arts in July,1996 (and again in July, 1999), where he presented an introduction to Kashima-Shinryu, and we have kept in touch since May, 1996, via mail, e-mail and phone.  I am familiar with his writings in both the Journal of Asian Martial Arts and Ryubi: The Dragon's Tail, the magazine of Kashima-Shinryu/North America (KSR/NA)), and I have also read his first book Hired Swords: the Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan (1992, Stanford University Press), which is derived from his doctoral dissertation.  In addition, he is also a frequent contributor to Iaido-L.

I, along with a number of other people, have eagerly awaited the publication of this text since it was announced last December (1996) with an expected availability in March (1997); my personal copy, ordered in early March, arrived in early August (1997); the release date slipped twice due to publisher's problems.  Needless to say, expectations were running high on this one (3), and, I am happy to say, they were met (and if they weren't, I certainly would have said so and why).

The genesis of this book is Prof. Friday's initial efforts in 1979 to translate Nihon Budo no Engen: Kashima-Shinryu (literally, “Japanese Budo's Origin/Source/Inception/Beginning: KSR”) written by Seki-sensei and published in Japan in 1976; however, to make it accessible to and understandable by Westerners in English would required a large amount of supplementary material.  Over the intervening years, his overall perspective and efforts evolved to the point where Legacies of the Sword is a cultural case study of the samurai, that is, how one ryuha (style/school and its branches) has been shaped in the course of Japanese history.  One unique aspect of Prof. Friday's work is that he has access to the original documents (or exact copies) while he has progressed in his personal study of KSR  -- he has obtained the highest rank conferred in KSR, menkyo kaiden (4), and the highest title (excluding direct succession), shihan.

The contents of the book consist of:

Chapter 1. Introduction.
Chapter 2. Heritage and Tradition.
Chapter 3. The Philosophy and Science of Combat.
Chapter 4. The Martial Path.
[Five] Appendices.
[End] Notes.

In the Introduction, the shortest of the chapters, the author lays out where he is coming from and where he's going to in the succeeding chapters.  A minor quibble at this point  -- I found the use of both footnotes and endnotes to be distracting [one normally uses one or the other exclusively, but, given the types of supplementary material necessary to help the reader along, I can see why both footnotes and endnotes were used].


The bulk of the book, almost two-thirds, is contained in Chapters 2 through 4.  It is fairly evident in Chapter 2, “Heritage and Tradition,” that Japanese history is Prof. Friday's profession – I found it to be academically rigorous enough without being dry or boring.  Chapter 2 begins in a general sense with a discussion of ryuha and the origins of the bugei (synonym for samurai) including the concept of michi (“way,” synonymous with the Japanese “suffix” -do, as in budo).  He then introduces us to the origin and namesake of KSR, the Kashima Grand Shrine and its martial deity, Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto, followed by the three founders, Matsumoto Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto, Kunii Genpachiro Kagetsugu, and Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Fujiwara no Hidetsuna.

At this point, we learn that KSR is member of the Shinkage Ryu group of ryuha, rather than the Shinto Ryu group (which is a source of confusion, since there is also a Kashima Shinto Ryu, which is considered to be the source of Mr. Morihei Ueshiba's aiki-ken as passed down by Mr. Morihiro Saito).  Another minor quibble at this point – Figure 1, principal teacher-student relationships of KSR, has been compressed down so small to fit on two adjacent pages that it is barely legible.  Finally, we learn of the shihanke (“instructor's house”) and soke (“founder's house”) lines, how they have separated, joined and separated over the lifetime of KSR, and the implications for KSR as an organization.

Chapter 3, “The Philosophy and Science of Combat,” is the heart of this book in my opinion.  Also being a practitioner of T'ai Chi Ch'uan (TCC), and having read many of the English translations of the T'ai Chi Classics which highlight the principles of TCC [every translator also includes his own set of commentaries], I found many similarities between the TCC principles and KSR principles [in fact, the leadership of KSR/NA encourages its students to study the T'ai Chi Classics (5)].  The chapter begins with explorations into the terminology: ryugi (the kabala or “secret” doctrine), shinbu (“divine valor,” “true martial art,” “spiritual martial power,” “sacred martialism” – these translations come from the text) and its relationship to budo and michi, and hoyo-doka (“acceptance and absorption,” the essence of shinbu), which has several levels of omote and ura (6).  The chapter then delves into the framework of the art, that is, the Fivefold Laws and the Eight Divine Coordinations.

The Goko-no-Hojo (“fivefold laws”) read like koans (Zen's illogical brain-teasers) as in “Offense and defense as one;” for anyone who has truly studied T'ai Chi Ch'uan, this principle is a given, but to understand it to the point where it is executed without any conscious effort takes years of training (compare this to the block-punch and block-kick training in karate which can be learned in just a few weeks or months).  “Yin and yang as one” simply describes the T'ai Chi.  In “Origination and Manifestation as one,” we learn the importance of proper timing and the application of techniques in time.  We are introduced to the kamae (postures) in “Stillness and motion as one.”  In “Emptiness and reality as one,” we are introduced to sen-no-sen (an uncountered attack) and sen-sen-no-sen (a countered attack which becomes a counterattack).  [FYI: this usage is different than that of kendo.  In kendo, sen-no-sen is an attack initiated at the same time as an opponent's attack, and sen-sen-no-sen is an attack initiated prior to an opponent's attack.  In kendo, there is also go-no-sen, a counterattack, that is, a (successful) attack launched after an opponent's attack – there is no concept of go-no-sen in KSR.]

Hasshinden (“eight divine coordinations”) indicate the positions of the eight guardian deities, and determine the five basic vectors of spatial motion: ho (perpendicular), choku (direct), kyoku (diagonal), en (spiraling), and ei (wedge or acute angle) – en (spiraling) is ubiquitous in KSR.  The ryugi also enumerates five fundamental combinations of these vectors that define the waza (techniques):

1. Kyoku henjite ho to naru (“A diagonal becomes perpendicular”).
2. Ei henjite en to naru (“A wedge becomes a spiral”).
3. Ei henjite kyoku to naru (“A wedge becomes a diagonal”).
4. Ei henjite choku to naru (“A wedge becomes direct”).
5. Ei choku kyoku choku (“A wedge is direct; a diagonal is direct”).

There are pictorial representations of each pattern taken from the jujutsu curriculum of this ryuha.  All tactics are derived from these five patterns.

Additional concepts covered include mittsu no kirai (three aversions, that is, three conditions of weight distribution to be avoided in stances), te no uchi (literally “palm of the hand”) and kiri otoshi (“cutting down”), sotai no shime (“concentering the body”), ki-ate (“striking with the ki” using kiai), and shikake (initiating techniques).  Near the end of the chapter, we are presented with a very interesting juxtaposition of martial concepts: the maxim of Mr. Gichin Funakoshi (the father of Japanese Karate-do), “Karate ni sente nashi” (“There is no first strike in karate”) with the essence of KSR with respect to combat, “Shinbu ni sente nomi” (“There is only the first strike in shinbu”).

The final chapter, “The Martial Path” is the longest in the book; here we are introduced to the weapons of the ryuha and the introductory set of kenjutsu kata.  The chapter begins with a general discussion of kata [Kata in Japanese bugei or koryu and their modern derivatives almost always implies pattern practice with at least two people] and its liabilities.  The main part of the KSR curriculum consists of kenjutsu (including batto-jutsu, the art/science of quick saber drawing, the ancestor of iaido) and jujutsu kata.  Additional weapons include the naginata (short sword blade on a staff), yari (spear), bo (6-foot staff), jo (4-foot staff), shuriken (throwing darts) and kusari-gama (sickle with weighted chain) [in training in recent years, these last two weapons have been deemphasized].


There are detailed descriptions of kenjutsu training weapons, the bokuto (aka bokken or wooden sword, which is straight, not curved, with a big wooden tsuba or hand guard), and the fukuro shinai (leather-covered, bamboo mock-sword, which has the same shape and dimensions as the KSR bokuto in this case).  These descriptions are preceded by detailed descriptions and accompanying figures of the principal kenjutsu training, the five kata of the kihon-tachi (sword basics) using the KSR bokuto,

1. Kesagiri (cut along the line of the kesa, that is, the line of the lapel of a Buddhist monk's robe), the basic cut,
2. Ashibarai-ukebune (literally “leg-sweep,” which is the attack by uchitachi [“attacking sword”] and “floating boat,” which is a rather poetic way of describing the defense by shidachi [“receiving sword”]),
3. Kiriwari (“cut divider”),
4. Warizuki (“dividing thrust”), and
5. Kurai-tachi (“occupying sword”),

and the principal jujutsu training, reiki no ho, which resembles kokyu-dosa (kokyo-ho in seiza) in aikido, but does not include the throw and pin.

The essence of the KSR waza are contained in these basic, introductory practices; this is somewhat unusual – generally, the essence of a ryuha's waza is introduced bit by bit until one achieves the full essence of the art when one masters the art after many years of diligent study; in KSR, one is introduced immediately to the essence of the art, and further training simply expands on those themes into a myriad of variations.  The chapter continues with an elaboration on texts and written transmission (including 18 instructional verses by Mr. Zen'ya Kunii, the previous soke and shihanke of KSR, with translations by the author), and ends with a discussion of meditation and the integration of body, mind and spirit [these last sections bear occasional rereading].


The Epilogue recaps the use of KSR as an example of martial culture.  We can tease some facts from myth and legend, but, in the end, we are left with the paradox (or, in this case, the martial koan) that the ways of peace and personal development can be achieved by studying and practicing the ancient arts of war.

The first three appendices are devoted to translations of historical texts.  Appendix 1 is a complete translation of the KSR hyoho denki, the oldest extant history of the KSR shihanke lineage (the Jiki Shinkage-Ryu maintains an almost identical document).  Appendix 2 is the Kunii-ke Keizu (“the genealogy of the Kunii House”), complied by Mr. Zen'ya Kunii, the 18th soke and shihanke, which covers the KSR soke lineage along with the 12th through the 18th generations of shihanke [in the 12th through the 18th generations within KSR, the responsibilities of both soke and shihanke have been performed by a single Kunii family member per generation; it was Mr. Zen'ya Kunii who broke with tradition by splitting these responsibilities in modern times – the 19th soke was his wife, Shizu, who was succeeded by their son, Michiyuki, upon her death in December 1992; the 19th shihanke is Prof. Humitake Seki].  Appendix 3 is “KSR and the Origin of Shinbu,” which is the final section of the KSR menkyo kaiden mokuroku (certificate of mastery of KSR) and is a abbreviated history of the shihanke lineage that complements Appendix 1.

The last two appendices are devoted to the KSR Organization.  Appendix 4 is the Constitution of the KSR Federation of Martial Sciences (Japan), and Appendix 5 is the Constitution of the KSR Federation of North America.  Appendix 4 contains a list of the ranks and the associated requirements for those ranks.  These, however, are living documents, subject to amendments; obviously, they are missing the associated revision numbers and dates (it's a minor quibble, but one that should be noted in this litigious world of ours).

The [End]Notes, and the Bibliography of primary and secondary sources are extensive.  Photographs are confined to a short section with 15 plates; several old photographs as well as parts of important scrolls are included (alas, none are in color).


One element that I found missing in this text is kanji (Japanese characters of Chinese origin).  I realize that including kanji adds to the expense of producing the book, but I have seen other texts that include the romanji (Japanese pronunciation in roman letters) with the kanji, arranged by chapter, as an appendix.  Such an arrangement would keep the text in the chapters as they are, while providing that extra block of information in a readily accessible place.

In conclusion, anyone with any connection with KSR should already own this book; anyone with any interest in KSR should own this book; and anyone with any interest in koryu and/or bugei culture should strongly consider adding this text to their personal library.

So, with this book out, many of us are now awaiting the announcement of the availability of the definitive translation of Gorin no Sho by an expert practitioner of kenjutsu and a scholar of Japanese history (7).


(1) Originally published in the Journal Of Japanese Sword Arts #86, 9(11), 24-27, November 1997, and in Ryubi -- The Dragon's Tail, Issue #10, 11-13, Winter 1997/98 (without the original 2nd, 3rd and last paragraphs) [reprinted here with the permission of the publisher].

(2) Aiki-ken and aiki-jo, the wooden saber in the style of the katana and the 50+” wood staff, respectively, are the two main weapons in aikido training.

(3) Koryu (classical styles) marked progression through a series of menkyo, certificates or teaching licenses in the form of scrolls.  Gendai budo (modern martial ways) follow the Kano model of kyu/dan grades.  One can make analogies between the two systems, but they are not equivalent, and the actual meanings are different in the two systems.

(4) Two other reviews, both also favorable, were published by Kim Taylor [JJSA #85, (10), 21-22, Oct. 1997] and Mark Raugas [JJSA #85, 9(10), 22, Oct. 1997] in the issue of JJSA previous to the one that my review appeared in (citation in Note 1).  In addition, Prof. John Donahue reviewed it in a quite favorable light for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts [7(3), 96-97, 1998].

(5) In fact, I wrote “A Review of the T'ai-Chi Classics: Study Material for Internal Principles” for Ryubi - The Dragon's Tail, the Newsletter of Kashima Shinryu/North America [7(2), 9-17, 10 July 1999].  I also have an outline for “A Review of Chinese Internal Martial Arts Texts other than the T'ai-Chi Classics: Study Material for Internal Principles” to be submitted to Ryubi, but I have not had the spare time to get it written yet.

(6) Omote and ura, the front and back, in the context of waza (technique), refers to the basic applications taught to all students, and the advanced, hidden, and/or secret applications taught to advanced/senior/trusted students or disciples.

(7) Gorin no Sho (“A Book of Five Rings/Spheres/Elements”) by Miyamoto Musashi is considered by many to be the book of Japanese swordsmanship.  Prof. Friday (Dept. of History, University of Georgia, Athens, GA) contends that there has yet to be a definitive translation of Musashi's Gorin no Sho (given the now four available translations in English), because none of them have been translated with the kenjutsu-ka (practitioner of Japanese swordsmanship) in mind.  He is one of the few people (two more are mentioned below) to be able to fit that bill, but there is no real incentive for him to tackle this translation – it would be extremely time consuming.  In a post to Iaido-L on 19 August 2000, I said with respect to the Musashi text, “The bottom line is that Gorin no Sho is a Japanese text that most of us know only through an English translation.  None of the translators have been knowledgeable in the ways of the ken/tachi.  What we have, therefore, is of limited use [for the students of kendo in the literal sense of the term for “way of the sword”], but we have to make the best of it because it is all that we have.”  (In the same post, I also quoted twice from my manuscript “Prelude to Translation, or Translation Prior to the Acquisition of Foreign Language Skills, Using Gorin no Sho as an Example.”)  In a follow up post on 22 August, I mention a quote from a private e-mail message that I had written, “In part, I responded to my private informer that ‘Actually, I can think of two people who are better qualified [than those who have translated Gorin no Sho] IMHO [in my humble opinion] -- Prof. Karl Friday, ..., and Mr. Colin Hyakutake of Saga City, Japan.  ...,’” to which I added, “Since then I have come up with a third name, Mr. Toshihiro Obata, the founder of Shinkendo.   I could probably come up with a few more names if I thought hard about it.”  I plan to review the newest offering A Way to Victory: The Annotated Book of Five Rings with translation and commentary by Hidy Ochiai, published by The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY, in 2001; I also plan to get my aforementioned manuscript in shape for publication as well, which may need some serious updating to accommodate this newest translation.

TIJ Mar 2003