I’m very pleased to present a new partner to IkigaiWay – “Swords of the East”!
From time to time I get the opportunity to meet owners and operators of martial arts related businesses. If the business provides a high quality and relevant service that I think would benefit my readers I discuss the possibility of a partnership with them. This is one of those occasions. “Swords of the East” is one of the most popular and expansive weapons retailers on the web. Their stock is so extensive that it would take multiple visits just to see everything they have to offer.
Let me tell you about why I welcome them as part of my site and why I think they are worth checking out.
What “Swords of the East” Has to Offer
It’s tough for me to encapsulate all the different kinds of swords SOTE has available, but here are a few of the most important and most interesting branches of the site:
|Katana – The backbone of SOTE is katana, no doubt about it. The designs and styles vary widely, and the list of different makers is extensive (Paul Chen, Rittersteel, Ryumon Swords, Ten Ryu, etc etc). The quality ranges from inexpensive display pieces to high end, high carbon works of art.|
|Iaito Training Swords – Most iaido students begin their training with Iaito (unsharpened swords) rather than Shinken (sharpened swords). Iaito are specifically designed to handle repeated drawing/sheathing as well as avoid common rusting problems associated with high carbon blades.|
|Full Armor Sets – To me personally this is the most exciting offering on the site. These full Japanese armor sets are absolutely beautiful. These are not cheap replicas – they are functional, wearable, and displayable. Browse these. you won’t be disappointed.|
|Medieval, Historical, and Fantasy Swords – If you’re a collector of creative blades these offerings are for you. The styles vary widely from military, to historical, to movie prop. Many of the blades are functional while some are purely for adornment of walls.|
There’s a lot more but I thought those specific branches might interest you. While many other websites offer swords and weapons, no other resource contains the breadth of product available here. Sword enthusiasts of all budgets will find something appealing to them, from $50 show pieces to $2000 shinken.
Special Discount Code for IkigaiWay Readers
SOTE would like to extend a special offer to all readers. After you’ve selected your products enter the coupon code “OFF10NOW” (no quotations) during the checkout process for 10% off your total order.
Once again, welcome to “Swords of the East”!
I was recently at an Iaido seminar working Seitei waza. The instructor, Iwakabe Hideki Sensei, was demonstrating one form in particular known as Sanpogiri.
(For reference, here is Noboru Ogura Sensei demonstrating the form):
After discussion of technical details and multiple demonstrations it was our turn to try. We performed as a group, and then individually. When it was my turn I got up, moved through the waza as best I could, and then waited. Iwakabe Sensei shuffled up to me, smirked, and said:
“Good, but next time don’t walk like an old Japanese man.”
You see, after decades of training Iwakabe Sensei has developed a subtle gait to his walk, taking careful steps so as not to find himself off-balance or tweak any pre-existing injuries. These adjustments over the years were born of necessity and a desire to continue training despite the natural effects of both age and hard exercise.
I was watching Iwakabe Sensei as closely as possible, and while I was focusing on the technique I was inadvertently absorbing everything else. In order to make myself perform like him, somewhere my mind and body decided I needed to walk like him too. This was in no way an actual conscious decision. It was astute of Iwakabe Sensei to catch me on that and correct me ASAP before it became a habit of muscle memory.
The Natural Evolution of Kojin Kata
We often think of kata as these unchanging obelisks of technique, handed down throughout the centuries. Of course, we all do our best to live up to that lofty standard of “unchanging-ness” but never truly achieve it (nor, as it turns out, would we want to).
As a person grows in their understanding of a form it naturally takes on subtleties that the performer may or may not realize they are imbuing into the performance. These nuances can come from mindset, understanding, visualization, and favored ways of moving the body. Another way nuance develops is through age. The combination of mental growth as well as physical aging turns into something known as “kojin kata“, roughly translated as an “old man’s form”.
It sounds slightly derogatory, but kojin kata is far from it. As a martial artist grows they are better able to understand their own abilities (and eventually limitations). The end result is economy of movement and clarity of purpose. Unlike sports competition, classical “do” (“the way”) martial arts are designed to enhance a person’s life, increase longevity, and give a sense of purpose.
For example, this performance by Higa Yuchoku Sensei occured just a year before his passing. You can tell the limitations he has but also his strength of spirit:
Higa Yuchoku is forced to perform his version of Passai in a way that suits his understanding and capabilities. It would NOT be suitable for a young practitioner in their 20s or 30s to move in such a way. This was the point Iwakabe Sensei was trying to get across to me. At my age, I need to move in a way that is either natural for my body type or constructive for body development.
Naturalness vs Body Development
One of the biggest lessons to be learned in traditional martial arts is how to be natural vs how to develop body conditioning. Every style emphasizes both things to a different extent. For example, Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Seitei Waza emphasizes a lot of body development in terms of flexibility, strength, and balance. The stances used in these forms are long and deep, the movements big and smooth. Old (koryu) styles like Muso Shinden Ryu or Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu tend to have a more combative focus and thus the stances are higher, natural, and mobile. The cutting and sheathing motions tend to be sharp and quick.
In karatedo, the mix of naturalness vs body development is just as pronounced. Some styles like Shotokan feature many deep stances and large movements ideal for body development. Old Okinawan styles like Matsumura Seito feature body movement that is higher and smaller for combative engagement. This comparison can be done with almost any style, and most styles have elements of both to different degrees.
Back to Kojin…
Connecting all this back to the original point of kojin kata – it’s important to look down the road when practicing your style. Take note of how your instructor trained and how it eventually affected his/her body. Heed their advice in terms of things to do and NOT to do. Most of all, don’t be overly focused on mimicking individuals who teach you at the expense of what they are trying to tell you. Also, remember that arts inevitably grow over time. The only way this becomes detrimental is if those teaching and passing the art along don’t fully understand what they are doing and how it is changing while in their care.
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.