The Iaido Journal  Nov 2002EJMAS Tips Jar

Book Review: Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery
by G. Cameron Hurst III.  Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998.

ISBN: 0-300-04967-6,
hardcover, US$30.00.  234 pp.(1)

Reviewed by Raymond Sosnowski.
3 March 1999, 29 April 2001 (revised)


Books contain two basic elements: their contents and their associated perspectives, that is, the points of view that is behind those contents.  The point of view of this book and the agenda behind it struck a highly dissonant chord with me when I first read it.  That sharply negative reaction prompted me to include a separate editorial section, Personal Observations, after I had written the other sections of this review.  I admit that I came down very hard on the book because of its biased portrayal of Japanese swordsmanship and archery through its seemingly selective presentation of supporting material.  The author repeatedly commits “sins of omission” in order to forward his thesis – the so-called “natural” evolution of bujutsu (martial arts/sciences) into budo (martial ways) into martial “sports,” which gives us the present day manifestations of Kendo and Kyudo.  In the three years since I wrote this review, I still find this author’s arguments flawed, and the supporting evidence unrepresentative of these two schools of budo.


When a title like this comes along, I typically sit down to read it with mixed emotions –
anticipation and dread: anticipation because good books of this type are still few and far between (although there is always the hope that this one will be a new gem), and dread because it is very easy for any text to come up far short of the mark.  This text inspired both emotions in me.  It has been my experience that it is very hard to review a good book, but very easy to review one that is not so good.  The good news is that this was an easy review for me to write; the bad news for the author in this case is that this was an easy review to write.

The contents of the book consist of:

1. Martial Arts and Japanese Culture.
[PART I. Swordsmanship.]
2. The Early Tradition.
3. From Self-Protection to Self-Perfection in the Early and Mid Tokugawa.
4. The Sporting Element in the Late Tokugawa.
[PART II. Archery.]
5. The Way of the Bow and Arrow.
6. The Quest for Records in the Tokugawa.
7. Swordsmanship and Archery: The Modern Transformation.
8. The Martial and Other Japanese Arts.

The Table of Contents, like the title, also gives one the hope of great things to come, but it too is deceiving.  Just as I believe in truth in advertising, I also believe in truth in book titles; if this book were titled something like A Brief History of Martially-Inspired Combat Sports Originating in Japan: Modern Kendo and Sports Kyudo, devoting about a hundred pages to each, then I would have very little to write about.  However, here “swordsmanship” is used as a euphemism for modern Kendo and “archery” for the competitive-style Kyudo of the ANKF (All Nippon Kyudo Federation).  With the BBB (Better Business Bureau), that would be called “bait and switch.”  Similarly in the Table of Contents, the “swordsmanship” means one thing on Part I, and quite another thing in III, and “archery” means one thing in Part II while something completely different in III.  That is the long and the short of it; so, if you don’t need the details, you’re done – go do something useful: keiko (practice).  If you’re still around, things are about to heat up ... a lot.


Prof. Hurst spends the Introduction batting around the idea of “sports;” he further tries on the term “martial sports” for things like Judo, Karate and Kendo.  This is an attempt to provide a neat set of categories in a realm that defies such simple categories; suffice it to say that these and other budo (“martial ways”) have a competitive element to them, but don’t say or imply that sports is their raison d’etre.  In this, Prof. Hurst is over-simplifying.  Budo has no Western analogue, and defies categorization along the neat lines that we are used to.

At the end of the Introduction, he states,

“What I am presenting here is a history of Japan’s armed martial arts - archery and swordsmanship - that have a significant sporting tradition.  I omit other armed martial arts, such as the use of the spear, naginata (halberd), and other weapons, that have not developed sufficiently in that direction or whose practice is confined mainly to Japan.  Because combat sports evolved only very slowly in Japan, I shall deal with both their history as martial arts and their subsequent development as sports (p. 6).”

First of all, if you did not read the Introduction or did not read it closely, you would have missed this “little” detail.  Second, how can you ignore Atarashii Naginata?  It surely does not have the number of practitioners that Kendo has, but it is international, practiced in Japan, the US and other foreign countries (France and Brazil come to mind), and there are international championship tournaments every four years.  I am not sure what kind of bias this represents, but someone did not do his homework.  Similarly, Naginata for women and the educational system is not present in the Chapter 7, while there is a subsection on Kendo and the Educational System (pp. 161-165).

Early in Chapter 1, Prof. Hurst makes the statement,

“The late Donn Draeger’s discussion of martial arts terminology is widely accepted by Western practitioners of martial arts (p. 8).”

I would like to know on what grounds was such an assertion made.  I believe that most martial artists are probably ignorant of the late Draeger-sensei’s trilogy (Draeger, 1973a, 1973b, 1974).  In my experience, it seems that most martial artists are ignorant of the history of their own style; of those who aren’t, there are some (I don’t know how many) who take issue with his definitions.  So, the author’s sweeping generalization is an unfounded assumption with no basis in reality as far as I can tell.

The late Draeger-s. attempted to force-fit categories in his studies of the various martial styles; this is in conflict with the Japanese notion of classifying each style on a “case-by-case” basis.  Although he was a pioneer (we all should be eternally grateful for his efforts) and certainly a product of his times, he was a mortal like the rest of us, and did not get absolutely everything correct.  For the opinions of a well-known martial artist, author and pioneer in his own right, who knew Donn Draeger, read Robert Smith’s (1999) Martial Musings.

Consider the following examples with respect to categorization.  Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo is recognized as a form of bujutsu.  Naginata-do, a term which the author uses, is an archaic term that has not been used since WWII (as told to me by my Naginata instructor, the highest ranked practitioner outside of Japan, who lives in California), and that term referred to the koryu or classical/old styles of Naginata such as Tendo Ryu Naginata-jutsu.  Some forms of jujutsu such as Hakkoryu and “Small Circle” style are clearly gendai budo (modern martial ways). Here we have seen three exceptions to that oversimplified “-jutsu” and “-do” categorization.  In reality, the Japanese do not have a standard naming convention for the ryuha (styles/schools and their associated branches) – it’s just a “name;” the term “kendo” (literally, “way of the ‘sword’”) first appeared in the mid-17th century for a practice that bears very little resemblance to modern Kendo; even the pre-WWII Kendo was significantly different from its modern (post-WWII) counterpart because the former allowed practices such as tachi-dori (disarming) and grappling.

While the Draeger trilogy is a good “zero-th order approximation” [READ: basic foundation] for categorization, they do present a great over-simplification.  While this trilogy is a good foundation, this trio of books is also over a quarter-century old, and I think that we (who care about such things) have become sophisticated enough to handle the nuances of bujutsu (martial arts/sciences) and budo (martial ways).  Prof. Hurst reiterates this over-simplified categorization near the end of Chapter 3 (p. 78).

In the middle of the Chapter 2, Prof. Hurst writes,

“We cannot say that such an emphasis on self-perfection through practice of a combat skill was completely lacking earlier, but it does not find expression in texts until the sixteenth century (p. 40).”

First of all, it may have been assumed, or common knowledge, or an aspect that every bugeisha (another term for samurai) was expected to discover, and therefore, was unwritten.  We know that in many of the old practices, kuden (oral transmissions) figure prominently in the teaching traditions; furthermore, without the kuden and okuden (great/major oral transmissions), any of the existing written records would be misleading or unintelligible.  Secondly, it most likely was present in earlier times, and not very likely to spring into existence de novo; undoubtedly there was an oral tradition well before the written tradition.  Furthermore, the oldest written traditions of the various ryuha only date back as far as the sixteenth century (so you are not likely to find anything earlier with any detail)!

To begin the Epilogue, Prof. Hurst makes the statement,

"Both swordsmanship and archery developed from military skills into modern sports (p. 197)."

Now, if I said “Japanese swordsmanship” to most of the senior martial artists I know, they would say “Iaido and Kendo.”  Kendo is Japanese “fencing” and a major facet of Japanese swordsmanship; some people do just Iaido, others just Kendo, and still others do both.  The above statement is quite misleading; it would be correct to say, “Both modern Kendo and ANKF-style Kyudo developed from military skills into practices with a significant sports component.”  The author’s slant in this case is much too steep for my sensibilities.

In spite of this over-emphasis of the competition aspect of ANKF-style Kyudo, there is a spiritual/meditative/internal side that also exists; for example, see DeProspero and DeProspero (1996), Onuma (1993), or Stein (1988).  Again, Prof. Hurst has highly over-simplified the situation by making Kyudo just a mere sport.

The author has also conveniently side-stepped the existence of Kendo [no] Kata (see Budden, 1992), that element from kenjutsu which is still used by the ZNKR (Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei, or “All Japan Kendo Federation”) for promotions, as well as the reiho (etiquette) for kata practice, jigeiko (practice sparring) and shiai (tournament competition).  (The only Western sport that I can think of with a formal etiquette is Western-style fencing; is that just coincidence?)  If you want to talk about budo, particularly modern forms, it is not proper in my estimation to selectively amputate and ignore those aspects that do not fit your agenda, because that does a tremendous disservice to the intended audience in my opinion.

The author has conveniently ignored the curricula of the various ryuha, focusing exclusively on the competitive, sparring aspect as sport.  A significant part of the various branches of Itto Ryu is kenjutsu kata.  Ona-ha Itto Ryu, the source of the aforementioned Kendo [no] Kata, is known to have a batto-/iai-jutsu (quick sword-drawing) element, and I suspect the same is true of the other branches too.  Jikishin Kage Ryu emphasized both kenjutsu and naginata-jutsu kata.  The batto-jutsu element of Shindo Munen Ryu is still with us as iai kata.  The author would have us believe that all these ryuha had was fencing; it’s extremely misleading.

The author has also failed to take into account that any type of two-person sparring can be used for self-perfection, as a reality check that one’s understanding of the art is sound, especially in the face of a non-cooperative partner; your “opponent” is not your “enemy,” but your teacher, highlighting those areas that you need to improve.  For example, there are many karate-ka who have never entered a tournament, but enjoy sparring; then there is that “other” aspect of tournament competition, kata or forms competition – I have done both as both competitor and judge/referee.   Show me a “sport” that uses this approach.  These days the only important thing in any “sport” is winning, and the thing to avoid at all costs is losing.  The idea of teaching “good sportsmanship” in various levels of sports is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

What is behind this agenda of pushing this monolithic notion of sports?  Sports in the Orient and sports in the West are two different animals; just compare baseball in North America with baseball in Japan (outwardly, it’s the same game, but there is just no comparison given the differences in how they are played).  I would go so far as to say that many Western sports are at least covertly “mean-spirited;” look at the brawls in baseball, basketball and football – it seems to have been institutionalized in professional hockey.  And the author wants us to believe that modern Kendo and competitive Kyudo should be included in a class with these other sports?  I really don’t think so.

In summary, my major complaint is not so much what the author states (although I have highlighted points that I believe are misleading), but in what goes unspoken through selective use of prose.  I see it as being highly misleading.


In Chapter 3 (p. 40), the author states that Miyamoto Musashi called his style of swordsmanship, Emmei Ryu, Nito-ichi Ryu and then Niten-ichi Ryu.  Other sources I have checked list the two earlier arts as Musashi Ryu and Enmyo /Enmei Ryu (enmei meaning “clear circle”).  I have not come across the term “Nito-ichi Ryu” although I have heard Niten-ichi Ryu casually referred to as Nito Ryu (this term is also used describe Kendo with a long and a short shinai, Kendo’s mock-swords made of quartered bamboo, but those practitioners are a very small minority; Itto Kendo, which is the orthodox style, uses just a long shinai).

Early in Chapter 4 (p. 84), the author spends a paragraph describing a shinai; would it have been so difficult to include a diagram or a photograph?

In Chapter 7, (p.168), although the author correctly translates the Kendo kiai “men” as “face,” that is misleading – “men” is short for “shomen” and “sokumen,” and it actually refers to a strike to the “head,” either to the forehead or side of the head (above the temple), respectively.  Also in Chapter 7 (p. 171), he has a rather long paragraph on the kyu/dan ranking system for ANKF Kyudo, correctly noting that it originated with Judo; my question is why this was not included earlier in the book in the chapter with the discussion of Kendo, which also uses kyu/dan system of ranking.  Furthermore, with respect to the distances of the targets in Kyudo (p. 173), he mistakenly transforms 28 meters into 31 feet (it’s really 91.9 feet, because 1 meter is 3.281 feet) and 60 meters into 66 feet (it’s really 196.9 feet); actually 28 meters is about 31 yards, and 60 meters is about 66 yards. So, somewhere along the way, somebody apparently substituted the wrong units.

The koryu and (Japanese) kobudo, collectively, bujutsu, get a get a nodding mention in Chapter 8; this is quite out of place.  They should have been discussed prior to Chapter 7, possibly in the middle histories in Chapters 3, 4 and 6 where they would have been relevant.  Chapter 8 seems like an afterthought; it seems to me that it could have been made into an appendix.  In any case, it is the wrong place to bury this information.


There are still several aspects of this book that are worth noting.  I found the early histories to be a good read, and the middle histories are too, provided that you realize they are being skewed towards the competitive aspects.  The kyujutsu/kyudo history is the most comprehensive that I have seen in English.  Finally, the author has rightfully pointed out the over-emphasis of Zen in the Japanese martial arts (pp. 175-176); yes, it’s present, but it is only one of a myriad of influential factors in bujutsu and budo.


Writing articles is hard; writing books is orders of magnitude (factors of 10) harder.  It is not an easy task to denounce the product of such tremendous labor.  In my opinion, however, the author has squandered what should have been a great opportunity, producing instead a misleading text of very limited focus.  Because of this, I cannot recommend it to a general readership without reservation; however, I can recommend it to a knowledgeable readership if the interest is in the history of modern Kendo and competitive-style Kyudo.

The author has produced a text that is over-compartmentalized, over-simplified, and uneven; there is too much information that is simply missing.  Prof. Hurst has tried to create a package that is just too neat.  He has, in fact, cut some new, but limited, ground by being too absorbed in moving his thesis/agenda forward – it reminds me of that adage about “the forest” and “the trees.”  For some unexplained reason, the author has some difficulty with the idea of budo that have a competitive component associated with them.  He has drawn his line and then plotted only those data points that are associated with that line; however, a good analyst plots all the data points first, and then sees what type of curve, which might possibly be a line, best fits the data.


I would like to include the following editorial comments as my “personal observations” rather that part of the review proper because, although they are inspired by my reading of this text, they cover a broader area outside of the scope of this text.

Prof. Hurst is not on record as a practitioner of any armed martial art or way.  When we consider Draeger (1973a, 1973b, 1974), we see breadth, depth and insight that come from participation.  When we consider Friday (1997), which I also reviewed (Sosnowski, 1997, 1997/98), we also see the depth and insight that comes from participation.  Add to this list Budden (1992), DeProspero and DeProspero (1996), Skoss (1997, 1999), and Stein (1988) to name but a few.  Unfortunately Prof. Hurst’s efforts remind me of the outsider, who is peaking through the knothole in the fence with a highly restricted view of the potentially panoramic vista.

Prof. Hurst is on record as being an empty-hand practitioner, Shotokan Karate and WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) Taekwondo (you know, that Olympic “sport”).  My distain for WTF TKD is well known – over the years it has unfortunately degenerated into a game of “kick-tag;” it’s no martial art nor way.  And you don’t have to take just my word for it; the late TKD grandmaster, Sang Kyu Shim, a former editor of Tae Kwon Do Times magazine, said the same thing in an editorial over 15 years ago – he said it should be called “Tae Kwon” because there is no “Do” (“way”) in WTF TKD.  It has been my personal experience that no amount of empty-hand training can prepare you for the armed martial arts.  I did ITF (International Tae Kwon Do Federation) TKD for 16 years before I began my present practices of Kendo, Iaido, Jodo, Naginata, and (non-competitive, meditation) Kyudo.  Furthermore, I am on record on IAIDO-L for keeping Kendo out of the Olympics in any form including the Korean version of Kumdo, which is virtually identical to Kendo.

Finally, WTF TKD, in order to justify its existence, has perpetuated the myth that there exists a “natural” evolutionary progression from  “art” (aka “-jutsu”) to “way” (aka “-do”) to sport (2).  Not surprising, Mr. Herb Perez, a 1992 USA Olympic gold-medal winner in WTF TKD, makes this very argument in a two-part article in Black Belt magazine (Perez, 1998a, b).  Maybe it is just coincidence, but it certainly is uncanny that Prof. Hurst’s development runs along these very lines.  The logic is simple, linear, ..., and wrong.  Evolution is not a neat linear progression; it’s more like a branching bush – just read any of the wonderful essays on evolution by Prof. Stephan J. Gould (1977, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1989, 1991, 1995), a chaired professor at Harvard University and curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.  If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, then your branch gets pruned, that is, sometimes the “fittest” do not survive if they are caught in the wrong circumstances.  It is my opinion that we are sophisticated enough to go beyond this over-simplistic linear-model; if we can do it for natural history, then we can certainly do it for the development of budo too.


Budden, Paul
1992  Looking at a Far Mountain: A Study of Kendo Kata, Ward Lock, London.  128 pp.  [reprinted in 2000 by The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY]

DeProspero, Dan, and DeProspero, Jackie
1996. Illuminated Spirit: Conversations with a Kyudo Master, Kodansha International, Tokyo.  144 pp.

Draeger, Donn F.
1973a The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, Volume I: Classical Bujutsu, Weatherhill, New York.  111 pp.

1973b. The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, Volume II: Classical Budo, Weatherhill, New York.  127 pp.

1974 The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, Volume III: Modern Bujutsu & Budo, Weatherhill, New York.  190 pp.

Friday, Karl F. with Seki, Humitake
1997 Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryu and Samurai Martial Culture, University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 229 pp.

Gould, Stephan Jay
1977 Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, W. W. Norton & Co., New York.
285 pp.

1980 The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History, W. W. Norton & Co., New York.  343 pp.

1981 The Mismeasure of Man, W. W. Norton & Co., New York.  352 pp.

1983 Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History.  W. W. Norton & Co., New York.  413 pp.

1985 The Flamingo’s Smile: Reflections in Natural History.  W. W. Norton & Co., New York.  476 pp.

1989 Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of Harmony.  W. W. Norton & Co., New York.  347 pp.

1991 Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History, W. W. Norton & Co., New York.  540 pp.

1995 Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History.  Harmony Books, New York.      480 pp.

Onuma, Hideharu, with DeProspero, Dan, and DeProspero, Jackie
1993 Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery, Kodansha International, Tokyo.  160 pp.

Perez, Herb
1998a “Tradition vs. Sport: Will the Real Taekwondo Please Stand? Part One,” Black Belt, 36(2), 32-37, February.

1998b “Tradition vs. Sport: Will the Real Taekwondo Please Stand? Part Two,” Black Belt, 36(3), 64-67 & 70-71, March.

Skoss, Diane (ed.)
1997 Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, Koryu Books, Berkeley Heights, NJ.  192 pp.

1999 Sword & Spirit: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, Volume 2, Koryu Books, Berkeley Heights, NJ.  190 pp.

Smith, Robert W.
1999 Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century, Via Media, Erie, PA     390 pp.

Sosnowski, Raymond
1997 “Book Review: Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryu and Samurai Martial Culture by Karl F. Friday with Seki, Humitake,” Journal of Japanese Sword Arts #86, 9(11), 24-27, November; submitted to EJMAS (Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences, with small additions.

1997/98 “Book Review: Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryu and Samurai Martial
Culture by Karl F. Friday with Seki, Humitake,” Ryubi – The Dragon’s Tail, the Newsletter of Kashima Shinryu/North America, Issue #10, 11-13, Winter.

Stein, Hans Joachim
1988 Kyudo: The Art of Zen Archery, translated from the original German text by Frauke and Tim Nevill, Element Books, Dorset, England.  181 pp.


(1) Originally published in the Journal Of Japanese Sword Arts #101, 11(4), 9-14, April 1999, and the associated issue of The Iaido Newsletter #101.

(2) What bothers me even more about Prof. Hurst’s selling of this myth is that he has not included the significance of the Allied occupation of Japan after WW-II, and its effect on the reemergence of budo.  The element of sport was added to many budo simply to make their practice more palatable to the occupying forces.  There was, in fact, no natural evolution.  I wonder whether Prof. Hurst’s glossing over this highly significant event was a “sin of omission” or a “sin of commission.”  If it is a “sin of omission,” then it seems to me that his attention to historical detail is somewhat questionable; however, if this is a “sin of commission,” then it means that he is deliberately ignoring the facts in order to advance his own thesis.  Unfortunately, in either case, there is a real problem in the presentation as I see it. 

TIJ Nov 2002