Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Samurai Mind - in my bookstore now

I had a nice surprise today as I was browsing through the local English language bookstore - it was seeing this on the shelf. If you check the author, you will see that it is my own book, but I had last heard it was due out in March, and hadn't expected to see any copies till the New Year, when I would be getting a few pre-publication copies. I have yet to get any of those, but I did actually buy a copy to send to my brother, who will, I hope, appreciate it. I left the other copy on the shelf in the hope that someone with good taste or ample curiosity would snap it up quickly.

Of course, as I wrote it I am going to recommend it, but for more than just that. As an enthusiast myself, I wrote something I hoped that other enthusiasts would enjoy, and that would add something to their knowledge, and to the field in general. It is a book of translations from 18th-19th century Japanese writers on the inner factors involved in swordsmanship. All of these writers, save one, were masters themselves, and put down some very interesting insights on paper. What is unusual about these works, for readers familiar with Musashi's Gorin no sho or Yagyu Munenori's Heihokadensho, is that they were written for a wider audience than the master's inner circle of top students. This means that they are far easier to access for readers outside that tradition, but give enough of the flavor of these inner aspects for the reader to be able to understand them (to a certain degree) for him/her-self.

My own experience in swordsmanship has given me a personal taste of many analagous or parallel teachings, and I hope that this has enabled me to translate them and keep some precision in the meaning - most other translations of works by swordsmen, for all their other qualities, often fail to make distinctions that are quite important in the original works, and are vital for a proper understanding of the technique or concept the writer is trying to explain, often giving a plausible gloss, but missing the specifics.

Here is a quick rundown of the translated texts:

  The Mysterious Skills of the Old Cat (Neko no Myojutsu) by Issai Chozan: this has been translated several times before, and it's a long story as to why I included it, but it works well in the book as a kind of key to understanding the other works, which are amplifications and more detailed explanations of various facets of the the skills that are introduced in this story. If you are a bit uncertain of what you're going to be reading and whether it will be too deep for you, this will set out the general ideas for you.

  Sword Theory (Kensetsu) & A Treatise on the Sword (Kencho) by Hirayama Shiryu: I don't think Kensetsu has been translated at all into English beyond the first line, the uncompromising:

"My swordsmanship is for killing the enemy"

and although I later discovered that Cleary has translated some selections from Kencho, the complete work has not previously been published in English. I will have to write more about Hirayama when I get the chance - he was a formidable character, and these works present his ideas on swordsmanship very clearly - the second work consisting of annotated quotations from classics to give weight to the theories he presents in Kensetsu.

  Joseishi’s Discussions on the Sword (Joseishi Kendan) by Matsuura Seizan: I have written a little about Seizan before. This is one of several works he wrote on the sword, and is the most general of them. It is written as a series of unconnected notes and musings on different aspects of swordsmanship for the sake of students of the sword, it seems, which build up to give quite a clear picture of his view of the art. He was a retired daimyo, in fact, master of  a cadet branch of the Shingyoto-ryu. Only fragments of this work have been published in English before.

  Ignorance in Swordsmanship (Fushikihen) by Kimura Kyuho: this is another unpublished work (D.T. Suzuki includes fragments in Zen and Japanese Culture, taking the curious course of interpreting a clearly Neo-Confucian work as a Zen text). I found it very interesting - it takes the form of a dialogue between the writer's master and a visitor to the dojo, and how one should practice to attain  'real' swordsmanship. Although the language is philosophical in tone, the aim is the development of practical technique. Kimura was a master of the Unchu-ryu, which was originally based on use of the spear. Interestingly, Hirayama had also studied, and mastered Unchu-ryu, though a different but possibly related one.

I could say a lot more about it - as the author, I know it's not perfect, but I think  it offers some genuine, hard to find insights and will broaden your knowledge about traditional swordsmanship. The publisher is Tuttle, and it should be 'available at all good bookshops' as the saying goes - and hopefully some of the less good as well.

I'm sure it would make a great present, too.


  1. I just put it on my wish list at Amazon.

  2. The Unchu ryu that Kimura studied was not connected to the Unchu ryu that Hirayama studied. Kimura studied Unchu ryu (also called Echizen Unchu ryu) which was a branch tradition of Ito ryu sojutsu. Hirayama studied Unchu ryu kenjutsu which was a branch tradition of Edo Yagyu Shinkage ryu. Just thought you'd like to know.

    -Nathan Wallace of the Kijinkan