Sunday, April 15, 2018

Episode LXXXII-Till Podcast Do Us Part

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Intro Music: Theme from Enter the Dragon by Lalo Schifrin

Introduction: Congrats to Jonathan Curbis

  Recorded on: Sunday April 15th, 2018
  iTunes Review


This episode deals with a sensitive subject.  It is not our intention to downplay or make fun of the act of suicide.  We are looking at this as a specific cultural aspect of historical samurai.  Suicide will be mentioned and talked about in this episode.  If this is a sore subject for you the listener, please do not listen to this episode.

Interlude Music: How Will I Laugh Tomorrow by Suicidal Tendencies

Interview: Chris West



Interlude Music: Psycho Suicide by Oysterhead

This Week in Martial Arts: April 13th, 1612-Miyamoto Musashi vs. Sasaki Kojiro
  Episode LXXVII-Swallows Turn Podcast (Musashi Part I)
  Episode LXXVIII-Duel at Ichijoji Podcast (Musashi Part II)
  Episode LXXIX-Duel on Ganryu Podcast (Musashi Part III)

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Outro Music: Voodoo Child-Jimi Hendrix/Guyageun ver. by Luna

Saturday, April 14, 2018

3.5 Ninja Star Review for "Drawing the Samurai Sword" by Darrell Max Craig

In the interest of disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes.

Title: Drawing the Samurai Sword, The Japanese Art of Swordsmanship
Author: Darrell Max Craig, Shihan
Publisher: Tuttle
Format: Softcover
Pages: 223
Price: $15.00

  This is a retitling and republishing of 1981's seminal book IAI-jutsu: Center of the Circle, of which I have an original edition copy.  It is an important book by itself, and was probably the first book on Japanese swordsmanship I ever owned.  I have since added many more, but I still go back to this one for many reference points.  In fact, after studying sword arts for about 4 years, I re-read it, and got a whole new appreciation for both my art, and the book itself.  The newest edition has added some important pieces on test cuttings, several pages of color pictures in the middle, as well as a new introduction by the author.


Drawing the Samurai Sword goes through the basics of everything that you'd need to know, or be exposed to in a the use of Japanese swords.  It starts with the physical sword itself, and gives you an overview, so that anyone can learn the basics of appreciation of the fine artwork that is a Japanese sword.  It includes a chapter on the process of forging a sword, and the proper procedure in examining one.  It continues in dealing with the proper ways to care for and wear the unusual uniform of Japanese swordsmanship.  Basic dojo behavior when dealing with swords is also discussed.  As always, all dojo are different, but it helps to have a basic framework to start with.  The majority of the book is used to discuss and show the art of iaijutsu, which is a specific art of drawing, cutting, and re-sheathing a Japanese sword.  In the middle of that is, as I stated before, a new section dealing with the historical art of test cutting, and how that was accomplished.


There are so many good things to say about this book.  The author's love of swordsmanship shines through the text.  He wants the reader to appreciate the sword as both the instrument of combat that it is, as well as the art piece it paradoxically also is.  There are many intricate drawings, which illustrate many of the nuances of the katana.  Examples include the different hamon patterns present.  The hamon is the wavy line which differentiates the hardened edge of the blade with the softer backbone of the blade.  Each school, and indeed smith, has a specific way they put this onto their blade, which results in a different hamon.

The description and illustration of the kata are well done, and easily followed.  If you had to start on your own, without a qualified instructor, perform these kata as directed wouldn't be the worse place to start.  They give you a lot of the basics to learning the art of iai.  


The only problem I would possibly have with this book is its specificity.  I'm a Japanese sword guy, so this is right up my alley.  However, if you're not, I understand.  It is a restricted subject matter, and will probably not be entirely useful to other


This is one of the more important books in my initial development as a martial artist interested in Japanese swordsmanship.  I still go back to this book for some reference points.  I think if you have any kind of initial interest in any of the Japanese swords systems: kenjutsu, kendo, or iaido, then this should be a book on your shelf.  However, if your not interested, then this may not be the book for you.  Because of the limited range of overall interest to all martial artists, I'm going to give this book 3.5 out of 5 ninja stars.  If I was writing this for any sort of Japanese martial arts group, I would give it 4.5 or 5 Ninja Stars.  The latest edition does add some very nice color photos in the middle, that help by adding to the story of sword presented in this book, and extra bit about sword testing is just cool.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Review of "Jeet Kune Do Basics" and "Kung Fu Basics"

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes 
Title: Jeet Kune Do Basics
Author: David Cheng
Publisher: Tuttle 
Format: Softcover
Pages: 190
Price: $9.99 Cover Price

Title: Kung Fu Basics
Author: Paul Eng
Publisher: Tuttle
Format: Softcover
Pages: 190
Price: $9.99

I'm going to review both of these books together, as I received them both together, and they both follow along similar themes.  One of the hardest things to do is start something new.  Martial arts may be one of the hardest things to start for adults.  Most of us probably haven't been moving around being physically active for a while, and there's someone looking at you, judging you as you "perform."  If you are interested in a martial art, there's a lot to choose from.  So let's say, you're a Bruce Lee fan and have decided to study what he studied.  So you want to study either Jeet Kune Do, the art he created, or Kung Fu, the art he studied first.  Well... what now?  Both of these books answer these questions.


Both of these books have many similarities in content.  They both start out with the history of their art.  Kung Fu, being a more generic term, explains the difference between kung fu, wushu, and then gives the generalized history of Chinese martial arts.  Both also talk about the philosophical basis of Chinese martial arts.  Which is important, as it is a large part of the art.  It then goes into what to expect from a class, including what the art is based on.  One of the more unusual things, is the Kung Fu Basics, at the end goes over what injuries you can expect, and how to deal with minor strains, injuries, and sprains.


These are great books if you are starting either kung fu classes, or enrolling in a Jeet Kune Do academy.  Both provide the basic information about the art.  They both mention the different branches that occur in the arts, but without being "my art is better than your art" type of dialog.  They are also great if you practice another art, and are curious about kung fu, or JKD, and need a place to start your own research.


If you have a basic knowledge of what kung fu, or JKD is, then these may seem a little... well... basic.  But to be fair, they did put that right in the title.


I would easily recommend these to anyone that was starting up their new martial path, and wanted to know what to expect from the kung fu that they signed up for, or even how Jeet Kune Do differs from other martial arts.  If you're already in the class, and have been studying for a while, then these may not be the books for you.  If I taught a kung fu, or JKD class, I might hand these out when any new student joined up.  It gives them a good basic of the art.  That being said, I'm going to give both of these books four out of five Ninja Stars.  I think they're great for what they're for, learning the basics of either kung fu or JKD.  But, beyond learning that, I don't know how useful they are to more advanced students.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

4 Ninja Stars for Martial Arts in the Arts: An Appreciation of Artifacts

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes 

Title: Martial Arts in the Arts, An Appreciation of Artifacts
Compiled by: Michael A. DeMarco, 
Publisher: Via Media Publishing

Publish Date: 2018
Format: Softcover
Price: $15.95 Cover Price

I think most readers would know by now, that I'm an academic at heart.  My degree is in zoology.  So I love that there was an academic journal dedicated to martial arts.  However, by the time I was ready to appreciate the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, it had become defunct.  Overtime, when I can, I'm spending more than they originally cost on eBay to collect old volumes of the JAMA.  That's why I love these compilations.  Not only are they collections of old articles from JAMA, but they are also grouped by subject.  Normally in an issue, they would all be interesting articles, but only 1 or 2 directly dealt with me and my martial art.  With the compilations, I know what article subjects I'm getting


All together the reader gets 14 different articles that talk about and describe some of the physical, and artistic representations of martial arts.  There are articles about museum collections, about the connection between brush paintings and calligraphy to martial arts, and even some on artifacts.  My favorite was the article on Oshigata by Anthony DiCristofano.  Oshigata is a form of detailed sword rubbing to accurately capture all the details of both the hamon and the forging of Japanese swords.


I like the academic approach to martial arts, and martial arts related subjects.  This collection is a good example of how to appreciate other aspects of a culture that originated the martial art.  If you study a Chinese martial art, having some appreciation of Chinese art is probably a good thing.  If nothing else, it may help explain some of the philosophical underpinnings of your martial art.  

The production value of this book is also very high.  There are many great reproductions of art and museum pieces which are accurately portrayed in this book.  Sometimes you can get grainy pictures, to where you cannot tell what the picture is supposed to be.  This book, dealing with art pieces, doesn't do that at all.  


I understand that this may not be everyone's favorite type of martial arts book.  There is very little that is directly tied to martial arts, or the study of it.  However, I feel the book adds value to any martial artist who reads it.  


This collection of articles is sort of... martial arts adjacent.  It looks at other aspects of a culture, by using martial arts as the keyhole through which it peers.  I've always said this is the difference between a martial artist, and someone who practices a martial art.  Do you see martial arts as a holistic experience, or as one segment, one part of your daily life?  If you answered yes to the former, then you should read this book.  It provides excellent examples of how to use martial arts as a gateway drug activity to studying another culture, or at least a different time.   For that reason, I'm going to give this book 4 out 5 Ninja Stars.  I really liked it.  But at the same time, I can understand why people may not think of this as a martial arts book, or at least one that adds to their own understanding.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

5 Ninja Stars for Musashi's Dokkodo by Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes 

Title: Musashi's Dokkodo (The Way of Walking Alone)
Editors: Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder
Publisher: Stickman Publications
Format: Softcover
Pages: 245
Price: $15.95 Cover Price

I just deep a real deep dive into who Musashi was in my podcast, (Martial Thoughts Podcast).  Even though he lived about 500 years ago, his writings still inspire us today.  Most people, if they know of Musashi's writings, know about Go Rin no Sho or as the title is often translated into English, The Book of Five Rings.  However, right before he died in his cave, he actually produced another little writing, which he entitled "Dokkodo."  This was set up as 21 Precepts to live a life of complete dedication to an art, like martial arts, as he did.  It was left for his disciple.  This book goes over these precepts in detail.


Obviously 21 precepts would be a very short book, so what did the writing team of Kane and Wilder do to fill the pages?  Easy.  They looked at each precept, dedicated a chapter to it, and applied that precept to modern life.  To make it even more useful, they gathered the learned opinions of other professionals to look at each precept from a different point of view.  Each precept is therefore, examines from the point of view of a monk, a warrior, a teacher, an insurance executive, and a businessman.  They all give a different view on how and why each of the precepts can apply to life today.


I really liked this format.  It's one thing to give your opinion of a piece of ancient writing, its another to gather together several opinion and place them all in the same book.  It ends up feeling like you are the proverbial fly on the wall listening to a great, well thought out conversation about the various subjects covered by the 21 precepts.  I also like that it wasn't all just a "praise Musashi"-fest, where he can do no wrong because he is Musashi.  There were times that his words were either disagreed with or at the very least, modified to work with today's world.


The only point I could make as a negative would be, if you were looking for a book of Musashi's secret's techniques, or something along those lines, this isn't the book for you.  This is looking at his last written words and applying them, for good or bad into today's world, from several different perspectives.


I enjoyed reading this book for a number of different reasons.  I enjoyed looking at Musashi's crazy words.  His rigorous, aesthetic lifestyle was not what most people would want.  However, through reading the different interpretations, I could see the value of what he was saying.  The true value is getting the different opinions and interpretations.  This helps you, the reader, pull out what you would think valuable.  Overall, I'm going to give this book the rare 5 out of 5 Ninja Stars rating.  I think it does a wonderful job of explaining everything as well as giving different view points.  I think, like Book of Five Rings, his writings can apply to all martial artists, and probably all people.