Title: Secrets of the Samurai, The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan
Authors: Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook
Published: 2017 (1973 Originally)
Cover Price: $19.95
Take Away: This is the first book to get if you are interested in Japanese martial arts
I first got this book when I was in college (Go Gators!) and starting my martial arts journey. I didn't realize it until later, but I ended up viewing this as another textbook in my studies. Except this was one of the text books I kept. That's how I still view this book, as a college level textbook about Japanese martial arts origins.
ContentOkay first off, there's a lot in this book, its 400 pages long with the index. The book is broken up into three sections. It starts off going over the history and rise of those who would eventually be called the samurai. Of course this only makes sense if you contrast a people against the others in their society so that's part of this part. The next section deals with how and where this martial information was passed on. The second section deals with the external factors that comprise Japanese martial arts. It gives a brief look at the different types of arms, armor, and martial arts systems that supplied the samurai with their skills. The third section deals with the internal aspects of martial arts. This is where things can become a little mystical in a lot of books. However, it presents everything from either simple physical science point of view, or the authors explain some of the more esoteric aspects as concepts. This third section also deals with modern arts of Japan and how strategy and morality form part of the study of Japanese martial arts.
ProsThis books has a lot going for it. Primarily, the vast amount of information presented in the book is staggering. That's why I initially kept this book. I wanted to use it as a reference book. I still often come back to it, to remember some things. Secondly, the pictures in this book would alone make this book worthwhile. The late Mr. Oscar Ratti was the artist for this book, and his illustrations immediately convey the sense of movement inherent in martial arts. Each simple, black and white picture beautifully illustrates a concept or object. It maybe the geek in me, but his weapons pictures bring up memories of old D&D manuals, so maybe I'm putting a little bit of nostalgia onto it.
The only thing I have that would be considered a negative aspect of this book it that it is an overview book. Whole books have been written each of the sub-sections. But again, think of it as a college textbook. A biology book will go over a lot of material, but each section probably has another whole class and book dedicated to it. Same thing. That being said, there is enough information in each section to give you a healthy idea of what that specific art or item entails. Also, because it is a textbook, it does have a bit of a dry flavor to it. There are neither tales of daring and dashing, nor are there lists and pictures of techniques.