Koryu.com Book Reviews

Secret History of the Sword

The Secret History of the Sword: Adventures in Ancient Martial Arts.
By J. Christoph Amberger.
Multi-Media Books, 1998.
ISBN 1-892515-04-0. 281 p. paperbd.

The Japanese don't hold a monopoly on fascinating sword history and evolving combat methods. Europe has equally venerable sword traditions, ably revealed and chronicled in J. Christoph Amberger's The Secret History of the Sword: Adventures in Ancient Martial Arts. Evidently, your average Western sports fencer has as little idea of the "true" history of the art as does your average Japanese sports kendoka. Misinformation and myths abound (sound familiar?). In The Secret History of the Sword Amberger does a remarkable job of laying many of these to rest, correcting prevailing misconceptions with numerous primary accounts of sword combat throughout European history from medieval trial by combat to modern German student dueling fraternities.

Amberger uncovers many of the realities of both battle and personal combat with blades--and he knows whereof he speaks: as a member of a German student dueling fraternity he participated in seven Mensuren, armed with a live blade. His story and the others he presents are loaded with useful information; although the book is obviously directed at the Western sword aficianado, there is a great deal of value here for we students of the Japanese sword as well.

The chapter "Men of Iron" (presented here at Koryu.com) covers a topic relevant to all involved in the pursuit and study of combat systems, ancient or modern, Eastern or Western--the fact of fear and its effects on even the most well-trained combatants. In other chapters he discusses the difficulty of reconstructing ancient sword systems; unlike many of the Japanese koryu, there is no direct transmission to draw on. But there are detailed manuals and accounts, and these together with research into the weapons morphology, the culture, and the socio-political climate of the era in which a system existed allow one to make some educated guesses on how the weapons might have been used in various circumstances.

The entire volume is simply fascinating reading; my sole complaint is that for someone not up on the details of Western fencing terminology, it can get a little confusing at first. I found that Part Two cleared up a lot of those details for me, so you might want to consider reading it first, then going back to the beginning. All in all, I recommend this book highly to anyone with an interest in swords!

Diane Skoss

©1999 Diane Skoss. All rights reserved.
A Koryu.com Original.

Classical Japanese Martial Arts
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Classical Japanese Martial Arts