Saturday, May 13, 2017

4.5 Ninja Star Review for Secrets of the Samurai

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes.
Title: Secrets of the Samurai, The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan
Authors: Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook
Publisher: Tuttle
Published: 2017 (1973 Originally)
Format: Softcover
Pages: 399
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.


    Okay 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.


   This 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.


    This is Japanese Martial Arts 101 text book.  I know, I keep saying that, but that's what this book is.  If I taught an aikido class at a University (yes, please) I'd use this book as required reading.  Now, as much praise, as I can heap on this book, it is written is a little bit of a dry style, and I think its main use is for those studying, or interested in Japanese martial arts.  That's why I'm going to give this book 4.5 out of 5 Ninja Stars.  If you are studying a Chinese martial art, this may not be as helpful for you.  Sure, many of the concepts from the external and internal sections will be familiar, and could be useful, but the book wasn't written for you.  If you want to read up on Samurai and their impact on Japanese martial arts (which I do), or are interested in the history of Japanese martial arts (which I am), this book is THE place to start.

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