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.
YMAA recently provided me with a review copy of their two DVD set entitled “Shaolin Long Fist Advanced Kung Fu”, presented by Nicholas Yang. The review copy does not require a positive review…just honest impressions.
Here’s the interesting thing about this particular review – I am not an advanced Kung Fu practitioner. In fact, I’m not a beginner Kung Fu practitioner. That’s why I decided to take a different approach than usual. I’ll be assessing the basic value of the DVDs (production quality, amount of information, cost value, etc), then I’ll be handing it off to a friend of mine, Gary Choi, who is indeed a long time Kung Fu practitioner. He will provide more detailed analysis on the quality of the content.
With that being said, let’s jump right in!
Overview of Shaolin Long Fist Advanced Kung Fu
The first and most important question when dealing with a product like this is…what do you get out of it? As two separate DVD sets, this product provides a wide breadth of information designed to give insight to advanced practitioners. Some of the drills and methods included in the DVDs are as follows:
Part 1 (2 DVD Set)
* History of San Lu Pao
* Basic Training of San Lu Pao (stepping, kicking, hand forms, training routines)
* San Lu Pao Form Sequence (sectional, slow speed, high speed, applications)
* History of Taizu Changquan
* Basic Training of Taizu Changquan (stepping, kicking, hand forms, training routines)
* Taizu Changquan Form Sequence (sectional, slow speed, high speed, applications)
Part 2 (2 DVD Set)
* History of Si Lu Cha Quan
* Basic Training of Si Lu Cha Quan (stepping, kicking, hand forms, training routines)
* Si Lu Cha Quan Form Sequence (sectional, slow speed, high speed, applications)
* History of Si Lu Ben Za
* Basic Training of Si Lu Ben Za (stepping, kicking, hand forms, training routines)
* Si Lu Ben Za Form Sequence (sectional, slow speed, high speed, applications)
DVD Quality Analysis
As I mentioned earlier, I am not qualified to comment on the content of these DVDs. However, I have seen quite a few training resources in my day so I can do a comparative quality analysis of it’s production.
First of all, YMAA simply does not skimp on content. I have paid upwards of $30-40 for DVDs which contain little more than an hour of footage. These DVD sets, while in that same price range, provide 8 hours of content. Eight hours is a lot. If you are a details-oriented person, you will not be disappointed by the depth of investigation provided in this resource.
As for quality of production, I have to say that I did not find myself distracted at all from the material at hand. That’s a notable achievement as low budget symptoms have hampered many resources in the past (and still today). The camera work was well done, the training environment was stark but appropriately so, and the instructors seemed prepared with their material.
The primary instructor, Nicholas Yang, is the son of well-known Kung Fu practitioner and author Yang Jwing-Ming. From an outsiders perspective, Nicholas Yang’s execution of technique seemed very well done (but we’ll dive more into that in a bit). As an instructor, I would describe him as the informative type. He did not seem overly concerned about joke telling, entertainment, or things of that nature. He stuck to the material and described it quite competently. Some people prefer this straight-up presentation style while others enjoy a highly charismatic speaker. That’s simple matter of taste.
Let’s move on to the main course – the content analysis.
DVD Content Analysis
This portion of the review is provided by Gary Choi who carries on his family Kung Fu style near Denver, CO.
Intro and History
The video starts off very fast paced and goes straight into explanations and a brief history lesson on the form that they are doing. This is very much appreciated but I would have to say that the speed they talk at is very fast and at times almost overwhelming in terms of on how much info they are throwing at you. The history lesson is spoken in English but all the text is in Chinese and it’s a bit confusing if you don’t understand Chinese.
The beginning techniques the DVD shows us is the simple steps. It’s still very fast paced but at the same time shows good instruction. Nicholas Yang provides a very good explanation on taking care of the body and how to use it in a practical sense and where to build from. The stepping is very much designed for intermediate and advanced practitioners mainly due to the speed and integration of different stepping and foot techniques. There are also a lot of references to past teachings, but very little on what the actual practice consisted of.
The adjoined partner drill is very good in both showing and explaining on what and how it can work, though there are some areas where he could use either better angles for the camera or explanation. The stepping drills are also based very much in sparring and fighting verse traditional form and how to merge different hand techniques. As the video goes on it becomes more and more complex in both technique and in actual speed.
There is very little review and takes again a very fast pace teaching. All the kicks are used in conjunction with the previous steps used. Throughout the kicking portion basic safety is not addressed, assuming that you will already know what to do. An example of this would be on how to jump or on how to shift the hips during the actual kick.
Yang shows excellent motion and goes at a much slower pace for people to see. I would say that he doesn’t give a good explanation on how to use the power or body but rather on how it should look. This is still very much for advanced or intermediate students due to complexity and speed. You would also need much prior knowledge of other DVDs or training to understand some of the terminology and concepts. If you do understand or have that experience from the DVDs it provides a very good level of progression.
His explanation on the form is very good, clear and concise. It shows a very good use of everything that was covered earlier on throughout the DVD. It shows different people doing the same form to show how it operates and also ranges in different speeds.
As the instructions go on Yang begins to show the way the form is used for attack and defense and the purpose of the movements. From how to use combination of punches and kicks to different joint locks and throws, he even shows the ways it can be used as defense against weapons and different attacks.
Overall the DVDs are very good but they draw heavily on previous knowledge of the system. They are very fast paced but they do show good examples and drills of the different techniques and how they can be used in conjunction with each other. This particular style is a very northern based kung fu so many of the theories they explain and show are based for more mobile style of fighting. The applications they use are very much based on traditional ideas and theories that are from form. Nicholas Yang does an amazing job of bridging the content over to practical fighting application.
Acquiring the DVDs
If you think these DVDs may benefit your training, you can acquire them via the following links:
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