“Inner Bushido – Strength Without Conflict”, by Sean Hannon, is an inspection of the code of ethics and morals used by the Samurai and how it relates to our needs in modern society. The author asks the important question: do modern martial artists who claim to follow Bushido really hold true to the old values, and are those values even worth preserving?
Before beginning this review I need to say that the author, Sean Hannon, is a friend and martial arts co-conspirator of mine. As such, I can’t truly do this review with the normal objectivity that I bring to products. That being said, I will still honestly layout what the book entails and who might find it interesting.
What’s the Book About?
Most martial artists have heard of Bushido and may have even read books about it. They know that Bushido involves a lot of Confucian ideals such as loyalty, honor, integrity, etc. But beyond that most people fill in the gaps with what they THINK Bushido is, or what Samurai movies and various instructors/writers have had to say about it. This, as a result, has led to a large cultural nebula of misunderstanding regarding what Bushido was, how it was utilized, and what it means in the present-day.
Author Sean Hannon breaks down the most core precepts of Bushido and puts them on trial, determining whether or not they are relevant in their ancient Japan context or if they are in desperate need of updated thinking. Hannon frames his work around the 7 core tenants of Bushido as described by Nitobe Inazo in his pivotal work “Bushido: The Soul of Japan”, which are as follows:
* Gi – Rectitude
* Yuu – Courage
* Jin – Benevolence
* Rei – Politeness
* Makoto – Truthfulness
* Meiyo – Honor
* Chuugi – Loyalty
Each of these values seems fairly straight-forward on the surface but upon inspection become full of gray areas. Historically the use of each was smattered with abuse and the Samurai rarely lived up to the ideals we all attribute to them. Hannon explores this abuse and creates an honest discussion about how we can still use the optimal version of each quality while avoiding some of the pitfalls that come along with them (ie: what’s the difference between honor and ego?).
Who Should Get This Book?
The author comes from an Aikido and Iaido background. As such, he aims this book directly at other martial artists. He touches upon aspects such as business but really focuses on how the day-to-day life of a martial artist (both inside and outside of the dojo) can be enhanced by an understanding of Bushido. Anyone who trains “old style” martial arts (which is to say “lifestyle” martial arts, not just “sports”) would benefit from reading this analysis even if they believe they have a firm hold on Bushido concepts.
Anyone who actively discusses Bushido or considers it a real part of their life should consider this book a “must”. Hannon’s approachable writing style is matched by his ability to ask questions that the reader may not have considered. A martial artist’s pursuit must always include avoiding taking negative or ego-based paths. This book helps illuminate possible mindset traps.
What Are the Book’s Weaknesses?
This book is not a historical study. The author relies heavily on the work of Nitobe and fills in the gaps with a few other prominent thinkers. If the reader is expecting an in-depth exploration of the history of Bushido, its main players, as well as its development over time they will not be receiving that in this book. Instead, “Inner Bushido” skips right to assessing the qualities of Bushido we tend to value and how they can be used/abused in modern time. This is a philosophical and application based work but not a historical study.
Where Do You Buy It?
“Inner Bushido” is available on Amazon as well as other online retailers. It is set at a reasonable price given its length (127 pages). If you think this book might be right for you or as a gift for another martial artist, use the link below:
I recently had a chance to explore a new release by Tuttle Publishing entitled “Samurai Revolution: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen Through the Eyes of the Shogun’s Last Samurai“. That’s a lot of title, and the book contains a lot of information. In fact, this book combines storytelling, character development, and real historical data in a unique way to bring the reader into the world of Pre-Meiji Japan. It explores the people and places pivotal in the development of modern Japan and takes us through the painful process of de-isolation.
Author Romulus Hillsborough spent over 15 years living in Japan. While there he immersed himself in the culture, language, and history of the country. He was particularly intrigued by the Samurai and the way Japan’s centuries-old fighting culture clung to life and relevancy even as the country moved in a modern direction. “Samurai Revolution” is one of Hillsborough’s most ambitious works and it shows in the texture and thoughtfulness of the story.
What Is Samurai Revolution?
When people think of the Meiji Restoration and the “death” of the Samurai they most often think of the Tom Cruise picture entitled “The Last Samurai”. That movie did in fact take place around the same time period as this book, however an ample amount of creative license was taken with the storytelling. “Samurai Revolution”, on the other hand, is steeped in both historical data and first hand accounts from the important players who were alive during those times.
This book explores a wide and sorted cast of characters but focuses mostly on a samurai named Katsu Kaishu. Katsu was a low level Samurai but rose to prominence due to his strong strategic mind, naval acumen, and scandalous opinion that Japan should open itself to the Western World in order to rise above it.
The book is broken up into two primary sections. The first covers the era leading up to the Meiji Restoration. It examines in great detail the bickering factions that constantly lobbied for power and tried to enforce their own beliefs on the nation. It also describes the characters involved in the major power plays between the clans, including each individual’s strengths, weaknesses, scandals, and missteps.
The second part of the book focuses on the great unrest of the country as it joined the rest of the world, including culture clashes and violent resistance by “the old guard”.
Is This Book Worth Reading?
The slow death of the Samurai class may seem like well trodden ground. After all, we have books, movies, comics, etc all focusing on that time period. Despite that, I think “Samurai Revolution” stands out as a valuable work on the subject. Most movies or books tend to take one of two approaches: fanciful aggrandizement of the Samurai class or raw historical data with no personality at all. “Samurai Revolution” has managed to find a middle ground. The author has collected an unprecedented amount of first hand accounts regarding the time period and the players surrounding the revolution. As such, the story told contains both memorable personalities AND useful history, making it a valuable read for the romanticist and researcher alike.
My personal background straddles Okinawan and Japanese arts. I also have a penchant for historical writing. My opinion, both as a writer and researcher, is that this book is a welcome addition to my library. This behind-closed-doors approach to the Meiji Restoration fills in many gaps in our understanding of how Japan became modernized and why “Old Japan” resisted the change so fiercely.
Does the Book Have Any Weaknesses?
There is only one real weakness that I encountered, and it may be more my own fault than the book’s. I’m naturally bad at remembering names and “Samurai Revolution” contains many names. In fact, the interplay between the characters is important and it can really halt reading progress having to go back and try to remember who was who, and how they related to other important figures of the time. A more attuned eye may not struggle as much as I did, but I did feel it took away from my experience and immersion at certain points.
The breadth of important names and figures reminded somewhat of the fantasy hit “Game of Thrones”. Anyone who has seen the show or read the books knows it’s all about the intricacies of interaction as each faction vies for power and control. Pre-Meiji-Japan is not terribly different. In fact, I think “Samurai Revolution” could have benefited from maps and lineage charts updated periodically throughout the book. It would have been intriguing seeing the geography of events and watching factional borders change as power shifted hands.
Where Can the Book Be Purchased?
This book is published through Tuttle, one of the most well established creators of martial arts texts. As such, it is pretty easy and affordable to get your hands on a copy. Click the image or link below to learn more about the book or purchase a copy for yourself:
Karate 1.0 is an extensive exploration into the history of Ryukyuan culture and fighting traditions. Author Andreas Quast guides the reader through a wide array of historical documentation and evidence describing the likely environment in which the precursors of karate developed. To date, Karate 1.0 is the most complete examination of early Okinawan fighting culture I have seen and is a milestone in research depth.
What’s In Karate 1.0?
Individuals looking for brief snippets of martial philosophy or pictorial diagrams of kata should not come hunting here. Karate 1.0 leaves trodden ground behind and instead digs deeply into the earliest periods of Okinawan development. Starting with foggy eras like “The Shell Mound Period” and moving into tumultuous times like the “The Meiji Restoration”, author Quast describes archeological finds as well as documented history of how Okinawan people lived, fought, and died.
This book is separated by general time periods where great advancements or cultural changes occurred. Quast, an able researcher, utilizes multiple sources (not just oral storytelling) to draw likely conclusions about the behavior of the native Okinawans and the technologies they had at their disposal.
Despite the name, Karate 1.0 really covers both karate and kobudo with equal fervor. The armed and unarmed combative methods of the Okinawans are closely related to each other and were both affected by the internal and external influences that shaped the country. Quast explores the internal military action and politics of the Ryukyus as well as the external influence of China, Japan, Europe, and more.
Karate 1.0, weighing in at over 500 pages, spares no expense in detail and is a gift to individuals unsatisfied by the normal routine of storytelling and myth sharing.
From the Author
This one minute video was created by the author. It quickly describes what the reader gets out of the book and why it was created:
Readers can also get a free preview of the book here. The preview is quite sizable at over 50 pages, so you’ll get a good sense of writing style and content before ever having to purchase the book.
Who is This Book For?
I think it’s important to note that this book is best suited for individuals that are further along in their research process. Students looking for an introductory text to the history of karate might be better served elsewhere (consider The Essence of Okinawan Karatedo or Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques). That being said, individuals that are already on a research journey may find that this text fills in gaps that have otherwise proven frustrating.
Final Critiques for Karate 1.0
The author Andreas Quast is thorough in his work, methodical and logical. It shows in his writing style. Quast doesn’t spend time on flourish and banter. Some readers will find this direct approach completely appropriate for the topic while others may find it more dry than they are accustomed to. Personal taste will dictate the amount of enjoyment you get while reading, but the value of the content really can’t be debated.
One thing I personally like about this work is that it relies on multiple sources of evidence before aiming at a conclusion. It does not seem as if the author started with a desired conclusion and simply found evidence to support it (a flaw in research methodology that many previous works have fallen into). Furthermore, Quast takes on a lot of topics that are generally considered fact but are based mostly on stories handed down and altered by generations of opportunistic storytellers.
I would have loved to see more images associated with the content. This could mean illustrated examples of weapons, clothing, and especially maps. At times I had to refer back to other resources in order to understand where exactly events were taking place. It would have been convenient if the author included that in the book. Certainly, with over 500 pages of information, he may have been mindful of trimming length where needed, but I believe if you’re going for 500 you might as well keep going and add in everything.
The only real stumbling block I could see deterring a committed karateka from purchasing this book is the price tag. Coming in at $75 some people simply don’t have those kinds of funds to drop on research material. That being said, I think you get every penny’s worth if you do purchase it.