Saturday, June 17, 2017

4 Ninja Stars for Flawless Deception by Phil Trent

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

Title: Flawless Deception: The Truth Behind the Samurai Schools
Author: Phil Trent
Published: August 30, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Pages: 2749 (screens?)
Cover Price: $9.99

Take Away: Curious about koryu?  Then this book describes them, their training methodology, and challenges their preconceived conceptions.

I've been involved in Japanese martial arts pretty much the entirety of my 20 years in the arts.  Almost none of that has been in the most traditional part of the arts, the koryu.  A koryu is a, theoretically, historically accurate representation of an art that has been preserved through direct passage of information and tradition.  It is something that calls to the romantic in me.  To be training in the same methodology and ways of the actual samurai?  That would be awesome!  However that may not be a entirely accurate truth, as the author, Mr. Trent proposes.


    The book is divided into three main section, which are called Deliberate Deception, Inherent Deception, and Inadvertent Deception.  While going through the entire book, the author uses examples from medieval time, both Japanese Samurai, and European knights, as well as modern, possibly more relate-able  examples.
    The first section deals with why deception was used, as if that needed to be explained) in warfare.  It then goes onto the ways that koryu used deception as part of the theory of warfare and combat, just as every civilization and general has done, and is still doing.  This includes why school would have okudan, or hidden techniques, as well as ways to hide their techniques in written form, kata (physical patterned movements), or by changing the distance or timing of practiced forms.  This is a form of deception within the school.
    The second section deals with the more esoteric forms of training, the psychological/physical manipulations that derive from the religious/philosophical preference of the koryu developer.  These could be Taoist, Buddhist, or Shinto in origin, or some combination there of.  The techniques included could be a simple thing as breathing, or as complex as hara (center) manipulation, both of your self, and your opponent, as well as advanced training that the author calls Spontaneity.  In someways, you could think of these as the internal aspects of these martial arts.
    The third section deals more with our interpretation of koryu from a modern world.  It included a thorough analysis of the effectiveness of the training and techniques used in koryu.  This section, to me, was the most controversial, and honest look at the koryu I've read in a while.


    This is one of the most, honest, critical looks at koryu, their training methods and results that I have seen.  It is openly criticizes the reported effectiveness of koryu in today's world, and indeed even challenges the idea of the "passed down as the Samurai trained" theory espoused by many koryu.  I don't mind that aspect at all.  Either the conclusions can be backed up with evidence and reason, or they cannot.  Mr. Trent does a good job at backing up his claims.
  My favorite part was the middle section (ha pun!) that deals with the hara or center.  It is one of the most in depth examinations of what hara is, and how it is used as an internal training I think I've read.  As an aikidoka, I have experienced hara training, and can honestly say, it is hard to describe the sensation of correct usage of center.  The technique just happens easier, and you have more control in what you're doing.  Again, its hard to describe.


    There are some parts of the book that will draw criticism from any practitioner of a koryu.  The last section of the book for sure will.  This by itself is not a wrong thing to include in this book.  It is just an honest questioning, with logic and reason to back up the questions.  Just thought I should mention that before moving on.
    Okay, one MINOR point I have to say, just because its in my zoological wheelhouse.  The author makes a reference to the hara, being like the "second brain" that sauropods were supposed to have around their hips.  This commonly held incorrect hypothesis has been debunked.  I don't blame the author, as it is a small thing, and is still part of the remembrance in the public consciousness.  There, got that off my chest.  Whew...
    I  have to admit, ebooks are not my favorite.  I don't enjoy the electric format of reading through digital devices.  I'm a bit of a Luddite that way.  It was nothing again with the book, just the format.
    The last thing is as many of the books I've reviewed is "who can benefit from reading this book?"  I think this book has a more limited audience.  It is really intended to be beneficial for those studying Japanese martial arts.  Which of course is fine, but I give my reviews for any martial artists that would want to read the book.


    Overall, I have to say I liked the book, even the challenging portions.  I appreciated the in depth access to the hara in section two, and the writing style made it an easy read.  Even if it was in digital format.  Therefore I'm going to give this book 4 out of 5 Ninja Stars.  I enjoyed the read, it made me think deeper about my own martial arts, and question a lot of the collective wisdom of static martial arts.  I didn't necessarily agree with all the conclusions, but I understand why they were made.  The reason it isn't a higher grade is, as I've stated above, the usefulness to a wide variety of martial artists.  I don't honestly know how useful it would be to someone not practicing Japanese martial arts.  It very well could hold value for them, but I don't see the immediate connection to other arts.  Which again, if fine, it's just that "wide placed value" is part of my ranking system.

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