In the interest of full disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes.
Title: The Lost Samurai School: Secrets of Mubyoshi Ryu
Author: Antony Cummins with Mieko Koizumi
Publisher: Blue Snake Books
This is the second book of Mr. Cummins' that I've reviewed, the first being Samurai and Ninja, and I've done a podcast interview with him (Episode XX of Martial Thoughts Podcast). Whether in his writing, or in speaking to him, one thing that always comes through with Mr. Cummins is his enthusiasm for the subject. You almost get the kid in the candy store feel from him. This book is no different, there is a definite love and passion for ninja, and translating ninja works. And even though this book is about an art called Mubyoshi ryu, which was a "samurai martial art," there is a lot about what we would consider today to be "ninja techniques."
The book starts off with an overview of the history of a koryu called Mubyoshi ryu, including is origins from Shinjin ryu and the permutations it went through to get to the form that it exists in today. It also includes an introduction to how this information was found, and the difficulties and triumphs of getting this work translated. However, the main portions of this book are the actual translations themselves. These include all the pieces that would make up a martial arts school/style from the time period including, sword techniques, infiltration methods, anti-infiltration techniques, shuriken (throwing star/spike) types and methodology used by school, and the "magic" section.
One of the things I really liked about this book, I already mentioned was the apparent enthusiasm for the subject. The other is the thoroughness of the translation. Many of the historical translations I've read only include one portion of the school's techniques. It might concentrate on the kenjutsu (sword techniques), or just the taijujtsu (body techniques). This book gets a full schools worth of teaching. Everything that was taught in the school, kodachi (short sword), taijutsu, chain and sickle, and even the more mystical methods that are often ignored today are included and translated. There are also lots of pictures demonstrating, or illustrating many of the techniques and strategies. These were fun. They were also mainly perpetrated by the author and his friend Ben. My favorite picture is on page 181. This is in the section for proper seppuku (ritual suicide), kaishakuin (assistant), and head presentation. The bloody head that they are presenting belongs to Mr. Cummings. That's awesome!
The only complaint I have about the book isn't really about the book itself. There is a sort of shotgun approach to the material. As in, here's a bunch of material, and absorb what you can without going in depth of the material. This is probably due to the original scrolls however. I'm assuming the reader of the scrolls were already in the school/system and already knew the techniques, this was just a written record of them. As the book keeps saying, at the end of every section, "the rest is oral tradition."
This book is fun, and gives a legitimate sourcing of what a particular group of samurai were learning from a specific time period. I really enjoyed the read, and techniques presented, even the more mystical aspects of some parts. I think its value lies in seeing into the mindset of the samurai of the time. I don't know if these are typical for the times, but at least it gives a keyhole view to their world. The pictures, which frequent readers know I'm very critical of, are done well, and do a good job of showing the ideas presented. Overall, I'm going to give this book 3.5 out of 5 Ninja stars. It is definitely worth a read, but my rating system is based on how useful it would be for all the martial artists of the world, and unless you're doing a Japanese art, or interested in ninja and samurai, I don't know how useful it would be. That being said, it is a good book, and I will definitely have it on my bookshelf as a reference.