Wednesday, June 13, 2018

3 Ninja Star review for Uchine: Japanese Throwing Arrow

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

Title: Uchine Japanese Throwing Arrow
Author: Fujita Seiko, Sakai Shigeki, Takahashi Shitaro
Translated by: Eric Shahan
Format: Softcover
Pages: 110
Price: $8.99

  I love reading about martial arts.  They are a unique cross-section of culture (including violence), history, and technology.  That being said, there's always going to be some weird pieces of technology that popup for a short time are very useful for their purpose, but ultimately are replaced.  Think of cassette tapes.  If you're too young to get the reference... read a book!  They were very useful, very portable, and ultimately useless once digital music became available.  Martial arts has pieces of their technology like that.  It shows up in weird weapons that are hard to figure out how or why they developed.  Dating myself (and showing my Geek-ness) I first heard about the uchine from a D&D book called "Oriental Adventures" published in 1985 (so excuse the "Oriental" in the title).  It was a supplement for D&D where you could pay samurai instead of knights.  It mentioned a weapon called the Uchi-Ne, and just said it was a short, javelin, but it always stuck in my head.  There was also almost nothing on the weapon.  Until, I found out about this book.


    The reason there isn't much written on uchine, is just that; there isn't much written on them.  What this book does is collect works from previous pieces of materials from other martial arts manuals and writings and assembles them all in one place.  This is also, as far as I can tell, the only work in English on the weapon at all.  It includes the history, development, construction, and use of this unusual weapon.  Many of the articles are from archery manuals dating from before and after the Meiji restoration (1868).  It includes the original illustrations and writing from the scrolls and manuals as well as the English translations done by Mr. Shahan.  


    The uniqueness is the main positive factor for this book.  This is a subject matter that you will not find anywhere else.  I also like that it includes the original illustrations.  In my Indiana Jones fantasies, I always wanted to be able to work on translating some forgotten piece of lore, and this book, has that feel to it.  You feel like this is privileged information made available to you.


  It is a very restrictive subject matter.  I don't think most instructors of Japanese martial arts could even tell you what one is, let alone how it was used.  I don't think even most koryu Japanese instructors would be able to describe what an uchine is.


  Will uchine ever come up in your training?  I can't even imagine how that would occur.  Unless, some old guy pulls out his old copy of Oriental Adventures, and asks specifically about it.  Barring that occurrence, this book will not help you punch, kick, or throw better.  It will not give you insight into the oneness that is supposed to occur during martial arts practice.  What it will do is give you a little bit of insight into a weird little know samurai weapon, which can add to your overall understanding of them and their mindset.  That being said, I'm going to give this book 3 out of 5 Ninja Stars.  Mainly cause except for me and my fascination with weird and unusual weapons, I don't know how many people will enjoy this book.  It's very well done, and very approachable, so hopefully there are some other weird weapons lovers out there like me.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Episode LXXXIII-The Sound of One Hand Podcasting

powered by podcast garden


Intro Music: Theme from Enter the Dragon by Lalo Schifri

Recorded on: Sunday June 10th, 2018

Interlude Music: Peace Sells (But Who's Buying) by Megadth

Interview: Vandon Tricamo
  Neil Ripski
  Interview with Monk Yunrou

Interlude Music: Peace Sells, but Who's Buying by Megadeth

Contact Me!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

4.0 Ninja Star Review of (Henning's Scholarly Works on) Chinese Combative Traditions

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

Title: (Henning's Scholarly Works on) Chinese Combative Traditions
Compiled By: Michael A. DeMarco
Publisher: Via Media Publishing
Format: Softcover
Pages: 142
Price: $21.95 ($9.95 Kindle Edition)

    I've often talked about how I missed out on the Journal of Asian Martial Arts (JAMA).  An actual academic journal of the martial arts of Asia.  The nerd in me weeps that it is now defunct, and that I can no longer contribute to it.  I've gone on a mission  when I have the time and money, to track down the old issues of the Journal.  To help out all of us, Mr. Michael A. DeMarco, the editor of JAMA has compiled articles by subject matter and put them into single books for us.  Chinese Combative Traditions does a take on that theme a little differently.  He compiled works by a single author.  This is the fourth such JAMA compilation that I've read, and I love them all.


  This book collects the articles of Stan Henning's scholarly works into place.  There are 15 different articles that span over a decade worth of time writing for JAMA.  Most are written from an academic perspective on the history of Chinese martial arts.  However, several of the articles are more about the travel Mr. Henning did in China, and about other Chinese "Martial Studies" scholars.


    First off, my nerd side always loves the academic treatment of martial arts.  Anytime an academic takes the subject of martial arts seriously, my mental ears perk up.  Mr. Henning does a good job through his many articles of dissecting many of the stories we tell ourselves as martial artists about the origins of martial arts. He also provides good evidence of  the false dichotomy (External vs. Internal, Northern vs. Southern, et. al.) that we classify Chinese martial arts into, as well as why this division occurred.
    Besides looking at the history, there's also an article written about the future of Chinese Martial Studies, and gives you several gentlemen to look up for continuing research of the subject.
    The collected articles by Mr. Henning are very well written, as I would expect from JAMA, and they are compiled nicely, to where, even though many years separate their origin, they have a natural flow of subject matter and experience.  


    Normally, I take off points for a book that is a little too art specific.  However, in this case, I'm not going to do that very much.  First off, Chinese martial arts isn't a very restrictive subject matter, and encompasses a lot of different arts.  Secondly, I've never studied Chinese martial arts, yet I knew most of the "myths" he was setting to research.  They've worked their way into the historical background of many different martial arts.  Japanese and Korean arts being main ones, which are also the most practiced arts.  I believe Karate, and Taekwondo are the most practiced arts in the world.  Therefore, the main negative I can attribute to this book, is its academic nature.  I love that part of the book, however, some may be turned off by it.


    Overall, I'm definitely going to keep this book as a reference piece for other material I'm writing.  I did enjoy the travelogue articles as I think many others would, and the citation and debunking of certain martial myths is important.  I think most East Asian martial art students (Chinese, Korean, and Japanese arts) can benefit from this book, it may not hold more that curiosity to other arts research.  Therefore, I'm going to give this book four out of five Ninja Stars.  I really enjoyed it, most martial arts practitioners in the world will find it useful, and it is well written an put together.  Some of the articles are a little on the academic side, but hey... it's in the title of the book, so you knew that coming into this.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Review of Samurai Castles by Jennifer Mitchel Hill

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

Title: Samurai Castles
Author: Jennifer Mitchel Hill; Photographs by David Green
Publisher: Tuttle
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 128
Price: $19.99

    I like to think of martial arts as a gateway drug.  If you do any research on the history of any martial art, you will have to delve into the history, politics, and sociology of the country of origin for the martial art.  In order to really, deeply understand the Japanese martial arts, you'll have to look into the samurai.  That leap alone brings in so much art, history, and yes.. architecture.  This book may be on the fringes of what's I consider a martial arts book, but it's definitely martial arts adjacent, and sometimes you need some of the background information to fill in the bigger picture of how, when, and why a martial art was developed.


   This book starts off giving a brief history of the how and why of castles in Japan.  It includes some features common enough to be considered normal.  However, the main part of the book is the 24 castles that the book explains and details.  Each castle gets its own write-up, map, and some really beautiful pictures to accompany the history given.  Mrs. Hill and Mr. Green did an amazing collaboration on this book.


    I've never been a fan of coffee table books, but now I want to get a coffee table, just to put this book on it.  The write ups are brief enough that you can read it in a few minutes, but long enough to give you a good overview of each individual castle.  Besides the gorgeous pictures, one of the things I liked the best was the "Points of Interest" with each castle.  It also gives you a little bit of a travel guide.  The "Make sure you see this" aspect.  In fact, my wife and I started planning our trip to Japan based of this book.  This book made me want to travel to Japan, and experience these places myself.  I can't think of a higher compliment.


    The only con I could give would be the same thing I said in the introduction.  This is a martial arts adjacent book.  If you are looking for a martial arts book, or a history of the samurai book, then this isn't for you.  If you are interested in expanding your cultural understanding of samurai and how they lived in order to deepen you understanding of your martial art, then this is a great book.  Just having it around your house for guests to see should start up conversations... or make you decide on your travel plans.


    I've basically said how much I loved the book.  The pictures alone are worth the price of admission.  It has tremendous pictures that really capture a certain calm aspect that the castles were originally designed to emote.  The write ups are brief, but fulfilling and accurate.  If you wanted to plan a trip around Japan to visit samurai castles, there are a lot of worse places to start.  This book gives you enough to organized your trip around.  The only reason I don't rate this book higher is, as I said, it is not a true martial arts book.  It does help you get into the heads of those who developed the Japanese martial arts, and that should be enough to draw in many readers.  Which means I'm going to give this book 3.5 out of 5 Ninja Stars.  Read it.  Enjoy it.  Or just look at the pictures.