I think Groucho Marx was the one who said it: "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." This column is a short list of the books on the different martial arts and related subjects that have helped me in my own studies, and that I would like to recommend to you. Several are very well known, maybe even classics. Some may be obscure to people who haven't read much about martial culture or military history. A few may even be a little far afield of the "usual" list of likely suspects in a martial arts rag and are examples of my personal taste. Still, I can honestly say that I think these books have been useful, thought-provoking, and good friends. Dunno if they'll give you all the answers you ever wanted, but I'll bet they will help you ask a few of the right questions.
To begin, there is The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu. The version I prefer is the one translated by Samuel B. Griffith, if for no other reason than that he was a career USMC officer who fought in World War II and afterward. Later, he continued his studies and this book is a publication of his dissertation for a Ph.D. at Oxford University. The edition by Thomas Cleary (from Shambhala) is good enough, but he appears to be merely a scholar. In my opinion, he doesn't have the kind of experience or necessary expertise to really understand the subject.
It wouldn't hurt to compare Sun Tzu with two of the Western authorities on warfare and strategy: Jomini, also titled The Art of War, and Clausewitz, On War. There are many editions of these works, both of which have served as a sort of "bible" for generations of professional military officers in the West.
On martial arts in general, Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts, written by Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith is one of the first encyclopedic books on Asian martial culture. A bit out of date in some respects, it is still, in my mind, the best over-all introduction to Asian martial culture. Available in a paperbound edition from Kodansha International. Draeger also wrote three books, all from Weatherhill, on the Japanese martial arts and ways. They are titled Classical Bujutsu, Classical Budo, and Modern Bujutsu and Budo. These have long served as the standard books on the subject and are important sources. Buy them!
Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, is a collection of essays about the historical, psychological, and technical aspects of the classical martial arts. All of these essays were written by foreigners who have lived and trained in Japan for an extended period of time. The book was edited by Diane Skoss and published by Koryu Books. The plans are for it to be the first of a series of somewhere between three and five companion volumes.
The three books by Draeger, the one co-authored by Draeger and Smith, and the essay collection edited by Skoss, should be required background reading for anybody studying a Japanese or Okinawan martial discipline. Indeed, they would serve well for every serious student of any of the Asian martial arts.
Regarding the individual Japanese and Okinawan martial arts in their own right, there are a number of books that should be on everyone's shelves. I suppose listing them alphabetically, by art, is the most efficient way to do this.
Starting with aikido, there are several excellent technical volumes. The Bieri/Mabuchi translation of Budo Training in Aikido, by Morihei Ueshiba, Minato Research Co. (long extremely expensive and difficult to obtain, now generally available in a trade paperback edition), and Aikido, by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, published by Japan Publications (again, Larry Bieri was the translator) are books that will serve very well. Actually, they're the best books of technique available. Kodansha International has a fairly recent publication, Budo: Teachings of the Founder of Aikido, which is a collection of prewar technical photographs and writings by Morihei Ueshiba, translated by John Stevens. It makes a good companion to Budo Training in Aikido. Another book I can highly recommend is Gaku Homma's Children and the Martial Arts, a North Atlantic publication. Although it is focused on children and aikido, I think that it would be good for teachers of any martial art, regardless of their students' ages.
An interesting collection of Ueshiba's thought, Essence of Aikido: The Spiritual Teachings of Morihei Ueshiba, should also be included on your reading list. John Stevens translated this book, too, and Kodansha International published it. Usually, I think Stevens is way out there in the bozone with his absolute worship of "Morihei's Martial Mastery," but he did a good job with these two books.
For historical aspects of the art several works published by Aiki News are good: Aikido Masters: Prewar Students of Morihei Ueshiba, and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, a book on the Daito-ryu and its history, both edited by Stanley Pranin. To get a good overview of the art, The Aiki News Encyclopedia of Aikido is, of course, essential.
Iaido has become more and more widely practiced outside of Japan and there seems to have been a sudden increase in books on the subject. All things considered, I think G. Warner's and D.F. Draeger's book, Japanese Swordsmanship: Technique & Practice, is still the best around, although I have a few quibbles with it. It's published by Weatherhill. Another book that is of interest is Toshihiro Obata's Naked Blade, from Dragon Books. It covers Toyama-ryu battojutsu.
There have been some other books on Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu and Mugai-ryu that I've seen, but I have not found them to be very good in terms of either the content or overall design. Several other books are out, one from England on Seitei Iaido, the other an American volume about a made-up "combination" of two well-known classical schools, the Itto and Katori Shinto-ryu. The latter volume is of quite a dubious character (it is really little more than a very poor demonstration of Seitei Iaido). They are of no value whatever, so be sure not to waste your money on them.
Jodo is next. There's not a great deal available in English, unfortunately. Jodo: the Way of the Stick, written by Pascal Krieger and published by the Association helvétique de Jodo (Swiss Jodo Association), is bilingual, French and English, and the best thing available outside of Japanese. Other than that, an article I wrote, titled "Shindo Muso-ryu Jodo: An Emic Description," printed in Hoplos several years ago, is about it. A couple of articles have been translated from the Japanese into English, but are not generally available.
Then there's the book written by Masaaki Hatsumi (he of so-called ninjutsu fame) and Quintin Chambers. It's an excellent work on tanjojutsu, based on techniques of the Kukishin-ryu, and titled Stick Fighting: Techniques of Self-Defense, from Kodansha International. There are several other books on jo (both koryu and aiki-related styles), but I can't honestly recommend any of them for technique or presentation.
Judo. Boy, lots of good stuff there. First and foremost are Jigoro Kano's Kodokan Judo, from Kodansha International, and Judo Formal Techniques: A Complete Guide to Kodokan Randori No Kata, by Tadao Otaki and D.F. Draeger. This is a Tuttle book. At the risk of preaching, let me praise these two books to the skies. STUDY them!! The Judo Formal Techniques text, together with Budo Training in Aikido, is especially good, whether you study judo, aikido, or karatedo, as a primer for jujutsu-like, unarmed training. It's not perfect (the writing is a bit heavy in places) but there is so much material to help you analyze your technique and improve your training methods that you will be busy exploring and learning for many years.
Other good judo books include Kazuzo Kudo's two works from Japan Publications, Dynamic Judo: Throwing Techniques and Grappling Techniques, are excellent. They contain really good explanations and photographs, plus some interesting historical facts. From Kodansha International, Best Judo, by Isao Inokuma and Nobuyuki Sato, and Isao Okano's two volume set, Vital Judo (throwing and grappling techniques are presented separately), from Japan Publications, are extremely good presentations and explanations of technique.
Although they are out of print and probably very difficult to come by, the books that Donn Draeger co-authored with Tadao Otaki and Isao Inokuma, Judo for Young Men and Weight Training for Championship Judo, are excellent. They are well worth the trouble you take trying to locate them and will serve as basic guides to establishing a training program in any martial art. Kodansha International, Ltd. published both of these volumes.
Finally, Ippon Books, a publishing firm located in England, has also published a very extensive series of books on judo techniques, training methods and terminology. All of the books they have put out that I have seen are absolutely first-rate.
Why place such emphasis on judo? To meet what I think is a major deficiency in most people's training in the other major martial arts (especially aikido, karatedo and kendo): the lack of strong grappling and throwing in a realistic freestyle situation. Recently, the Gracie family has become very well known for their excellent technique and success in meeting all sorts of opponents. In view of the insights and skills one can gain from this sort of training, it seems logical to me to explore this kind of thing, either as an adjunct to one's regular practice or as a form of special research. Does this mean that one is being "disloyal" to one's original art? Nope. Many, perhaps most, Japanese judo, karatedo, aikido, and kendo instructors who teach professionally have done such outside training at one time or another. Some continue to do so. And what's good enough for them...
Jujutsu. Maybe there are some good English-language books on jujutsu. If so, I'm not aware of them.
Karatedo. So many books, some of them very good indeed, some a bit less well done. I think Tsutomu Oshima's translation of Gichin Funakoshi's Karate-do Kyohan (Kodansha International), Shoshin Nagamine's The Essence of Okinawan Karate-do (Tuttle), Morio Higaonna's Traditional Karatedo, v. 1-4 (Minato Research Co.), and Masatoshi Nakayama's Karate Kata and Best Karate series (both from Kodansha International), especially the books on fundamentals and kata in the latter series, are well worth the time and money. There are some problems with the translation, design and lay-out of the Higaonna books, but the contents cannot be faulted. Also worth looking are a couple of books published by Ohara Publications: Okinawan Goju-ryu, by Seikichi Toguchi, and Pat McCarthy's Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate. They contain some interesting material.
Mark Bishop's Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques, from A & C Black, is an examination of the history and organization of different styles of Okinawan karatedo. It seems quite authoritative in some respects (the author spent a good many years living and training in Okinawa), but I've also heard from several well-informed sources that it is a long way from being error-free. His new book, Zen Kobudo, about weapons arts and training in Okinawa, is not nearly so well done. It's from Tuttle.
I've saved a most interesting karate book for last. After more than five years of publishing it by himself, Pat McCarthy has finally been able to get Tuttle to produce his translation of Bible of Karate: The Bubishi. This must be the third or fourth edition. The writing has been tightened up a lot, there is a detailed section on the historical development of Okinawa te and karatedo in Okinawa and their technical relationships to their various Chinese antecedents that is very interesting (pop! go some misconceptions), the medical and herbal sections have been both revised and expanded, and the technical section has been improved with good illustrations. Worth having if you are a devotee of the chop-socky arts.
Readers will have no doubt noticed that all of the books I mentioned above are about kata, training methods and history, not about kumite or sport competition. This is not to say that there are no books on kumite that are good. It is more because I don't view karatedo as a competitive sport and have little or no interest in books that deal with the art in such terms. It's my belief that developing jiyu kumite as a competitive event has fundamentally altered the nature of karatedo, from the martial art it once was to a sport, and that this has not been a change for the better.
Kendo is perhaps the oldest of the modern Japanese martial disciplines (at least in Japan). Unfortunately, there are few books on the art in English. Kendo: The Definitive Guide, by Hiroshi Ozawa, deals nicely with Japanese swordsmanship, with chapters on fundamentals, appropriate stretching exercises, basic and applied techniques, the Nihon Kendo Kata, training methods and issues one encounters in one's practice. It also contains an up-to-date translation of the International Kendo Federation's rules for competition (current as of April 1995), a directory of kendo organizations all over the world, and a fine glossary. A recent publication of Kodansha International, it is a part of the Kodansha series on martial arts and a very high quality publication that is fully in keeping with the other volumes in the series. I think it is quite well written and illustrated. The translation from the Japanese, by Angela Turznyski, is excellent.
This Is Kendo: The Art of Japanese Fencing, from Tuttle, is one of the best books still available. It contains information on fundamentals, basic and applied techniques and a number of training methods, and was written by several senior exponents of the art, Dr. Junzo Sasamori (now deceased) and Dr. Gordon Warner. Looking at a Far Mountain: A Study of Kendo Kata, by Paul Budden, is the one of the best things in English (which is not to say it's terribly good) on the basic forms of modern Japanese swordsmanship that I've found. It's a reasonably good presentation of the techniques and there are some interesting appendices. Published by Ward Lock.
There is one other kendo book that is worth having if you can obtain it. Fundamental Kendo, from Japan Publications, is a collaborative effort by the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei (All-Japan Kendo Federation). If you are able to find a used copy in a bookstore (it's long out of print) and it is in decent shape, buy it. It is simply the best, in my opinion. Sato Nariaki, a top-flight kendo exponent and the instructor at Tsukuba University, is one of the models, so you can guess at the quality involved. It's just a terrific book. With an up-dated translation and lay-out, it'd be unequaled.
There a few other books on kendo and kendo kata that I've seen, but I can't recommend them, mainly due to the level of technique displayed and the kind of information presented. The authors don't know much yet and shouldn't write anything until they've got a better idea of what they're doing. Say in about twenty-five or thirty more years.
Kenjutsu is problematic. Basically, nothing is available in English that's worth spending the money on if you're looking for technical stuff. The Sword and the Mind and Book of Five Rings are translations of texts on the strategy and techniques of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu and Niten Ichi-ryu (Miyamoto Musashi's school), but there are some serious problems with both works' translations. They are worth reading, but please don't place a great deal of faith in the technical explanations. I've been training in Yagyu Shinkage-ryu and attending Yagyu Sensei's lectures on the various materials and documents pertaining to Yagyu Shinkage-ryu since 1978 or so, and he's covered all of the material in the former book in detail. Hiroaki Sato, the translator, is not wrong, exactly, but he doesn't study Yagyu Shinkage-ryu and he's missed some very important details.
Victor Harris should be commended for his attempt to provide a translation of the work by Musashi. It is very unfortunate, though, that he fails so completely. There are an awful lot of egregious mistakes in the introductory sections alone and his interpretation of the actual text of Gorin no sho (the title in Japanese) is not so good. Both of these books are from The Overlook Press. If you absolutely must have a book about the art of kenjutsu, Sato's is the better of the two. [Note: Hidy Ochiai's new A Way to Victory: The Annotated Book of Five Rings has much more to commend it. See our review; for practicing swordsmen, Wilson's translation of The Book of Five Rings, is most useful. There's also a Wilson translation of the Heiho Kadensho that can be recommended.]
Minato Research has also published several books on both the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu and Katori Shinto-ryu. I don't think they are worth the money. The Katori Shinto-ryu books at least have qualified people demonstrating the techniques, but so what? As reference material, maybe they have some value. Assuming that you're actually training in the art, perhaps you'll understand what's in the three books of the set, but it's very doubtful. With regard to the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu books: no way! Save your money. (I'm not carping just because the author is the teacher of a different group from the one to which I belong. It's that the technique is terrible. Do you want to study bad posture or bad mechanics? Think about it.)
Kyudo. Clearly and simply, Kyudo: The Essence & Practice of Japanese Archery, by Hideharu Onuma, with Dan and Jackie DeProspero, is THE definitive text. It's perhaps the very best martial arts book I've seen and I'm not even very interested in kyudo. It is well written, well designed, with superb photographs and diagrams. All books should be this good. It's another book in the Kodansha International list. A companion volume, titled Illuminated Spirit: Conversations with a Kyudo Master, by the DeProsperos, is a more in-depth look at Onuma Hideharu sensei's outlook on training in budo and how the way it relates to one's life. It is just as well done as the first book, on technique, and is also from Kodansha International.
Another book on kyudo, The Secret of the Target, by Jackson S. Morisawa, has some very nice illustrations and diagrams, but is much too heavily influenced by Zen for my taste. Kyudo is kyudo, Zen is Zen, so why mix the two? I find this kind of emphasis on spirituality in martial arts to be over-precious, annoying and of rather dubious value. In any event, this book is from Routledge.
Noogie-noogie, as a friend of mine calls it, otherwise known as "ultra-long whacka sticks" (i.e., naginata) is, sadly, very much neglected in any language but Japanese. Ellis Amdur has written a couple of excellent historical pieces on the art and the weapon in some recent issues of the Journal of Asian Martial Arts and Furyu, both of which you ought to be reading regularly. Other than that, the U.S. Naginata Federation has a translation of a basic text titled Irusto (Illustrated) Naginata which is very well done. It will provide you with a good introduction to the modern art of atarashii naginata. There's nothing available on naginatajutsu as far as I know.
[On a personal note, I'd like to go on record saying that I can only hope there never will be much available in English on the technical curriculum of any of the classical Japanese and Okinawan arts or systems. The widespread availability of all manner of videotapes and printed material misleads many people into thinking that they can learn something like the classical arts in this sort of casual or off-hand manner, instead of receiving direct instruction from a qualified teacher. That's a VERY big mistake. You want to study koryu? Come to Japan!]
Ninjutsu? Maybe it's time for a reality check. Otherwise, you might check out Ninja: The True Story of Japan's Secret Warrior Cult, by Stephen Turnbull, published by Firebird Books. Well, the title alone has a few problems. True story? Secret Warrior Cult? No, I don't think so. But this is about the best I've seen other than Draeger's little book, Ninjutsu: The Art of Invisibility. I know this work has been published by several companies, most recently by Yen Books, a division of Tuttle.
[An aside is in order: recently, I've taken a considerable amount of heat for my rather dismissive attitude toward ninpo, or ninjutsu, ever since this article was first published. Well enough, but I want to make this clear: I don't think ninjutsu is a "bad" art, nor do I think people who study it are "bad" people. I am less than fully impressed with the ninjacompoops, as I call them, for a number of reasons. First of all, as one aspect of the martial arts, the equivalent, more or less, of military intelligence, it is certainly a legitimate area of study. The problem is, except for a handful of koryu, where it's a part of a larger comprehensive curriculum, ninjutsu just doesn't exist anymore. Certainly not as an independent ryu-ha. What is commonly taught as ninjutsu, in Japan and elsewhere, is nothing more than a rather disparate collection of unarmed and weapons arts. This, according to the people with whom I've spoken (people who are either professors of martial studies at Tsukuba University, the International Budo University, and Chukyo University, or headmasters and senior exponents in the classical martial arts), is something that's not very clearly understood by the general public. That's not to say these arts are not technically valid or that they don't have historical provenance. What they aren't, however, is the art of ninjutsu per se. One could saddle a cow, but I doubt it would serve you well if you rode it in a steeplechase. Same thing here.
Secondly, when I used the term "sub-human" in a previous version of this article in referring to people doing ninjutsu, I did so in light of the historical Japanese attitude toward the group of people who comprised the "ninja." The word used to refer them was hinin (outcast or criminal, with a strong implication of "sub-human"). The ninja were not viewed as esoteric Robin Hoods who righted the wrongs of the rich and protected the poor. They were viewed as little more than opportunistic scum who couldn't be trusted as far as you could throw them. The common opinion ("the only good ninja is a dead ninja") was a bit strong for our modern sensibilities, maybe, but that was the way bushi felt about it. I don't think modern exponents are sub-human. Silly, perhaps. Sub-human, no.
What I object to is the huge amount of misinformation and the misconceptions pushed by people in the popular media. Some of this is merely over-romanticism, but some of it is pure and simple hucksterism, intended to increase sales. Maybe it can't be helped. But all of the outright distortion that I have seen and heard is bothersome.]
I mentioned above that kendo is probably the senior martial art in Japan, but I neglected to mention sumo. This is because sumo occupies a special place in Japanese culture. It's now considered a (very popular) spectator sport, but we should keep in mind that it's probably the most powerful of the close combat systems when push comes to shove, to coin a phrase. There are a number of good books on sumo, all dealing with its history and character as a popular sport. My favorite titles are Sumo: A Pocket Guide, revised by David Shapiro (Tuttle), and Sumo: A Fan's Guide, by Mark Schilling (The Japan Times), both of which are well-written and illustrated. The authors are among the very most knowledgeable foreigners writing about sumo.
Sumo Watching, from Yohan Publications, is also good, and a bit tongue in cheek. Sumo: From Rite to Sport, by P.L. Cuyler (Weatherhill) is rather dated now, and there has been some criticism of the contents, but it might be worth a look. Last, but by no means least, is Grand Sumo. The author, Lora Sharnoff, is another of the old hands at sumo watching and knows her stuff. This book is another one of Weatherhill's publications.
Okay, now comes the non-technical and non-traditional stuff. Fun time--I get to be Pontificus Rex.
First, there is Marc "Animal" MacYoung, published by Paladin Press. Remember those names, people, go to the store, buy his books, and you "won't need no steenking Musashi." When I was a student the buzzword used to be "relevant." Now, I guess it's "accessible." MacYoung has been there, seen this, done that, and he knows his stuff. He uses the "f" word a lot and doesn't get all dewy-eyed, like some people, about the mystical wonder of the martial arts. He tells it like is, so if you've got any tender sensibilities, be forewarned. BUT! His books are what you really need to know. And the best thing is he's funny. I particularly recommend Cheap Shots, Ambushes, & Other Lessons: A Down & Dirty Book on Streetfighting & Survival; Fists, Wits, & a Wicked Right: Surviving on the Wild Side of the Street; Floor Fighting: Stompings, Maimings, & Other Things to Avoid when a Fight Goes to the Floor (do I hear the Gracies applauding here?); Pool Cues, Beer Bottles, & Baseball Bats: Animal's Guide to Improvised Weapons for Self-Defense & Survival; Safe in the City: A Streetwise Guide to Avoid Being Robbed, Raped, Ripped off, or Run Over and Violence, Blunders, & Fractured Jaws. You get the idea. Animal's stuff is not particularly "nice," but he speaks with a lot of authority. His books are from Paladin Press.
Another "must read" piece is Jeff Cooper's essay, "Mental Conditioning for Combat." I read it in a collection of his writings called Fireworks, published by The Janus Press. One other book I can recommend highly is The Ace Factor, by Mike Spink. It's a very effective and interesting discussion of situational awareness in the milieu of air combat. What we budo bunnies call zanshin.
Gundo. Gunjutsu? Guns are not really very P.C. these days, I know, but they are something that must be considered. First of all, Armed & Female: Twelve Million American Women Own Guns, Should You?, by Paxton Quigley. Ladies, buy this book! Gentlemen, if you have a lady you care for, buy this book and give it to them (you should read it, too). This is a detailed discussion of the subject. Quigley does not advocate that people should, or should not, arm themselves without carefully considering the alternatives and implications. She knows what she is talking about and says it well. Her arguments are most cogent, particularly so because she used to hold an opinion precisely the opposite to the one presented in this book and tells why she changed her mind. From St. Martin's Paperbacks.
On the technical side of firearms, there's a lot out there that is quite good. I've only begun reading up on it. So far, I've been impressed with some of Jeff Cooper's writing. One I have already mentioned is Fireworks. Some of his To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth, from Paladin Press, is worth your time. Massad F. Ayoob, a well-known authority, has written and published In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection I found it very informative. Another good book is Handguns and Self-Defense: Life Without Fear, by Mike Dalton and Mickey Fowler, published by ISI Publications. These guys know their subject but aren't rabid about it. Take a look at what they have to say.
Last, we have the philosophical stuff. My prejudices must be showing, because there's not much woo-woo stuff listed here.
W.S. Wilson has translated two very important works from the classical literature which have been published by Kodansha International. Unfettered Mind has as its main essay, "The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom," which is how Wilson glosses Fudochi Shimmyoroku. Also included are several other texts important to the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu, "The Sword of Taia" (Taiaki) and "The Clear Sound of Jewels" (Reiroshu). The Shinkage-ryu had great influence on Japanese swordsmanship and strategy during the Edo period and, in turn, affected the later development of other martial arts. I like Wilson's work better than the translations by Suzuki or Sato. Another Wilson translation is called Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. This was originally written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo and is a classic of bushi thought. Frankly, it is not one of my favorite works (it has been cited as a source of some of the World War II antics of the Japanese Army as well as the right wing idiocies of Yukio Mishima and others of his ilk), but I think Wilson has done a good job with the translation.
Charles Tuttle has reprinted a 1941 translation done by A.L. Sadler of the Budo Shoshinshu of Daidoji Yuzan and titled it The Code of the Samurai. It is a collection of precepts for members of the warrior class and, like Hagakure, helped form much of the thought of the bushi of the Edo period. It is a much more agreeable text than Hagakure, to my way of thinking, and well worth reading. Another book deserving study is The Way of the Sword: The Tengu Geijutsuron of Chozan Shissai. It was originally translated into German by Reinhard Kammer and then into English by Betty J. Fitzgerald. The copy I have is from Arkana. [Now available as The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts, translated by Wilson.]
Finally, Trevor Leggett's Zen and the Ways is a discussion of how Zen has influenced the Japanese austere disciplines, providing them with a sound philosophical and spiritual base. I guess I like this book because Leggett, like Griffith, knows whereof he speaks. He's more than just a scholar and Zen dude: he's an excellent judoka, a master at shogi (Japanese chess), and a fine scholar of Japanese language and literature.
Well, folks, there you have `em. My hits of the month. It's by no means a complete list of all the "good stuff," but it ought to serve as a point of departure. If I've missed a book or an article you think is of special value, let me know about it. Enjoy.