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Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryu and Samurai Martial Culture
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Manufacturer: University of Hawaii Press
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5

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Binding: Paperback
Dewey Decimal Number: 796.815
EAN: 9780824818791
ISBN: 0824818792
Label: University of Hawaii Press
Manufacturer: University of Hawaii Press
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 248
Publication Date: 1997-07-01
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press
Studio: University of Hawaii Press

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Editorial Reviews:

Western scholars and educators are generally far less familiar with the samurai in his original--and, ostensibly, primary--role as warrior and master of arms than in his other functions as landowner, feudal lord, literateur, or philosopher. Yet any attempt to comprehend fully the samurai without considering his military abilities and training (bugei) is futile. Even during the peaceful eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the samurai had long since left the battlefield, he never ceased to see himself as a warrior. Although the samurai as a class were abolished in the nineteenth century, their military skills and values continue to be taught at dozens of schools (ryuha) throughout Japan. The classical bugei practiced today are a living legacy that continues to propagate the beliefs and tools of a warrior class that disappeared more than a century ago. By studying the bugei, historians can recover much about the manner in which samurai acquired their convictions and physical abilities, thereby enriching our knowledge of late medieval and early modern warrior education and affording new insights into samurai culture.

With verve and wit, Karl Friday combines the results of nearly two decades of fieldwork and archival research to examine samurai martial culture from a broad perspective: as a historical phenomenon, as a worldview, and as a system of physical, spiritual, and moral education. Legacies of the Sword is the first attempt by a Westerner scholar trained both in bugei and in Japanese studies and historical methodology to discuss this major and compelling component of Japanese culture. It presents a case study of the Kashima-Shinryu, one of the oldest of the extant samurai training organizations, and was written in close collaboration with its current headmaster, Seki Humitake. The volume illuminates the extraordinary complexity of the bugei and the manner in which various physical, technical, psychological, and philosophical factors merge to produce a coherent art that guides the lives of those who practice it.

Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Outstanding
Comment: This book is simply and utterly outstanding. The academia put into this book is matched only by the author's experience, who actually practices Koryu bujutsu (unlike many, many other authors).

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: A great blend of history and martial arts
Comment: Legacies of the Sword can be a bit of a dry read. But, I blame that more on society than the book. It covers the history of koryu and Japanese sword arts in detail fitting a college textbook. As such, it's a very heavy read, unlike most intellectual "cheeseburgers" that make the best-sellers list. However, the slow, careful academic style used by Dr. Friday is the only way the history part of the book can be approached successfully. So, when reading this book, you have to take your time with it to enjoy it.
Many other reviewers find fault with how Dr. Friday approaches the martial arts side of the book. I think this is only because of how it contradicts the historical side. However, I think that contradiction is only on the surface. Both aspects of the book are dealt with in the same careful fashion. Dr. Friday writes what he knows and has researched, laying the facts out in the same manner. The problem is that the facts about Kashima Shin Ryu are much different than the historical facts. Theories of pressure points and meridians are still used in martial arts today, so Dr. Friday must write them as he knows them. The same with the application of power. From his training with Seki, I'm sure he has experienced how a master has trained to gain great power in a short time from a small motion while a beginner requires a longer time and a larger motion. The principle of motion and stillness are one also starts as fact. Baseball batters often move their bat in small circles above their head. It's easier to make an already moving object move faster than to make a still one move (of course, as a physicist, I must add that that is relative and depends, etc. etc., but it is true in the sense that he is describing). Seki, Dr. Friday's instructor, embraces this pronciple, but moves so minutely that only he can sense it. True or untrue, this is what Dr. Friday had learned during his study of Kashima Shin Ryu, so he must write it down. If you don't believe it, that's fine, but at least he has written it for you to consider. Also, most people who had come in contact with Kunii Zen'ya, Seki Fumitake's predecessor, have the same awe for him. From what I've heard, he was one of the last of the Old Blood, one of the last true samurai, and quite the character.
On a personal note, I study Kashima Shin Ryu, and had the pleasure of training with Dr. Friday, a shihan (model and instructor) of the style for a weekend. On Sunday night at dinner, he told stories of his experiences training with Seki. Some of them were a bit crazy, like Seki trying to hunt bears with a short sword in British Columbia, as well as the story of defeating a bear with a kiai. Stories like this may be a bit false, but they're legend and always hold a bit of truth.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Detailed study of important tradition
Comment: This is the most detailed account of the historical origins, techniques, and philosophies of one of the most important koryu or old martial arts schools that I've seen so far. If you're familiar with Dave Lowry's books this would be a good book to read next, although be advised that it's more technical, and being an academic work the writing style is dryer than Lowry's also. But that's a small price to pay for the great amount of information and detail it contains.

The book focuses mostly on iaido, specifically the kashima-shinryu style, but much of it is relevant to the other sword styles as well. You'll also learn a fair amount about many of the other arts and how they were used on the battlefield, such as the naginata, spear, and bow. For example, I knew that the naginata became a favorite of samurai women, as well as monks, but I didn't know that kyudo or archery was originally a ceremonial and not a battlefield art back in the 8th and 9th centuries, the period during which the foundations of the later samurai-dominated social order were first laid.

In addition to discussing in detail the sword arts and a number of other martial traditions, Friday also gives a good account of Japanese history from the 9th to the mid-19th century, when the samurai order was finally abolished. The lineage of quite few iaido styles and their most important masters and exponents, and their lives and exploits, are also often colorfully discussed in detail, perhaps in more detail than most people will want, but since this is an academic work that pretty much goes with the territory. But I suspect the average reader of this book will have at least some previous knowledge of Japanese history and martial arts, so that shouldn't be a problem. But the book will probably be most useful to those readers with some first-hand experience with iaido who also have a more than a passing interest interest in Japanese martial history and culture.

I note the comments by a previous reviewer that the author's command of the physics is less than impressive, but as he concedes, most writers on the martial arts aren't that good with the physics and often get it wrong. Although this is an academic work, and as he says, should be held to higher standards, I'm more interested in the author's historical expertise, which is his forte, rather than his knowledge of the physics, since I have enough background there to figure that out for myself. Since the author is a professor of Japanese history, I assume he can read Japanese fluently and can therefore consult original sources, which is an important point, and he lists many of these under "primary sources" in the back of the book.

As has also been pointed out, the author is too uncritical in accepting the tales of his master's exploits and many matches and duels in which he says remained undefeated, but again, this is a typical attitude among most martial arts students, no matter how advanced. Worse in my opinion, is that the author seems to subscribe to Chinese medical theories such as the circulation of the Chi and the theory of meridians which have no basis in fact whatsover and are best regarded as pre-scientific and metaphorical depictions of physiological processes rather than truly scientific theories. A better approach would be some discussion of the relevant neurophysiology and biophysics, but that would likely be too technical for a work such as this, although much has been learned in this regard in recent decades (this was my own field of doctoral study) and there have been Nobel Prizes awarded for work in this area. Anyway, I don't expect a history prof, however proficient in his own specialty, to have a "black belt" in physics or neurobiology, so that wasn't really a problem for me, either. The book more than makes up for the above problems with the author's ability to read the original sources in Japanese, its wealth of historical detail, and its in-depth discussion of one of the most important weapons schools of the samurai era. For anyone interested in koryu this is an exhaustively reseached and detailed study that is well worth your time and money.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: interesting but flawed
Comment: In Legacies of the Sword Karl Friday writes that he entered a traditional school of martials arts (or ryuha) and explored it as an anthropologist might explore a culture. In doing so he has produced an interesting work that examines the role of the ryuha during different periods in Japanese history, and the value of studying a traditional martial art for people today. The book will give students of modern cognate arts (karate, judo, aikido, kendo etc.) an appreciation of their art's roots and history, and how they differ from the traditional `bugei' arts that produced them. Issues such as the debate over the superiority of pattern practice and sparring as training tools, and the relationship between fighting with and without weapons are presented in an informative way and in historical context.
The book also has an extensive explanation of the principles of combat as practiced in the Kashima Shinryu (KSR)( the particular ryuha the author studied), and examples of pattern practice that illustrate these principles. The discussion of aiki was particularly valuable, and I believe most aikidoka would find it of interest.

The book is not without serious flaws, however. Very often writers on the martial arts explain the techniques and principles of their arts using the language of physics, and the result is almost uniformly a painful thing to read for anyone with any training in the subject. Sadly, Legacies of the Sword is no exception. The author is unaware that momentum and power are distinct concepts, and doesn't understand what a vector is. The principle of "Motion and Stillness as One" (one of five basic principles in KSR theory) is given a long treatment, where the argument is made that the expert can deliver more power (or momentum!) than his (presumably stationary) untrained opponent because the expert is always moving, even if imperceptibly. However, from the point of view of power delivery as explained in the text, small motion is no better than standing still. Also ignored is the fact that in order to deliver increased power, one would have to be moving along the line of attack before the attack is delivered. However, to appreciate this point, one needs to know that velocity, position, and acceleration are vectors, while `wedges' and `spirals' are not.

In popular discussions of martial arts one is accustomed to these sorts of errors. In fact, they are expected. Legacies of the Sword aims higher than this, as it is presented with the trappings of academic rigor (the author is a tenured member of a respected institution, the book is published by a university press, and is exhaustively footnoted), and so invites judgement according to a different standard. Unfortunately, Dr. Friday fails to meet this standard in an important way. As stated above, for the purpose of this work he attempted to act as an anthropologist, and his time in the ryuha is referred to as `field work' on the book jacket. The problem is that study in one of these very traditional ryuha involves deep personal commitment on the part of the student to the school and its teachers. This would be difficult (maybe impossible) to do without compromising the objectivity one expects from scholarly work done at a modern western university. Dr. Friday is clearly in awe of the current headmaster of the ryuha (Seki Humitake) and his predeccessor (Kunii Zenya), repeating without substantiation (or question) claims of their undefeated records in no holds barred matches with other martial arts practitioners. We learn they won many fights, but we never get the names of who they defeated. Given that the martial arts subculture is rife with people making incredible, but always unsubstantiated claims about the superiority of their arts and abilities, more is needed before such claims can be accepted. It might be noted that there are descriptions of Kunii Zenya's defeat of a Greek orthodox exorcist in a duel of psychic energy, and of Seki Humitake frightening a bear with a `kiate' attack, given without apparent irony.

These problems aside, I believe the book is of value and interest to most martial arts practioners. However, the problem of balancing scholarly objectivity with an insiders understanding of a martial tradition is a very serious one, and is one the author needs to address.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: An amazing text of an amazing culture!
Comment: The writers have done an amazing thing for the students of Kashima-Shinryu, and for those who study Military History and Japanese Martial culture, by collecting the knowledge of those who live this culture today and making it available to the English speaking world.

This book would be a valuable addition to any Japanese Military History collection, Samurai Philosophy collection, or general Military Studies collection. Not to mention collections on martial arts, sword studies, and guys named after days of the week.

Well written! Get this book!

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