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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Complete Game-Changer
This is NOT a book on how to position your hands and feet to "do the kata"; there are plenty of those and they don't know WHY. This is a book on WHY we do the moves we do, and how they work.
It starts with the history, the situation, and the players. What were they trying to accomplish? Digging through the historical records (largely covered in the original...
Published on July 3, 2010 by Sensei David

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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, if questionable, look at karate history
In "Shotokan's Secret", Bruce Clayton seeks to understand the environment under which Shotokan's parent art, Shuri-te, originated and developed. He paints a picture of an Okinawa in which every administrator in the royal court was a deadly practitioner of unarmed combat, and brutish Samurai and US Marines were the chief agressors, intent on deposing the puppet king of...
Published on April 1, 2006 by Joseph M Burtner


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Complete Game-Changer, July 3, 2010
This review is from: Shotokan's Secret—Expanded Edition: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate's Fighting Origins (With New Material) (Paperback)
This is NOT a book on how to position your hands and feet to "do the kata"; there are plenty of those and they don't know WHY. This is a book on WHY we do the moves we do, and how they work.
It starts with the history, the situation, and the players. What were they trying to accomplish? Digging through the historical records (largely covered in the original edition). What did they originally come up with? A tremendous amount of Karate "archeology", digging through the kata in old films, other styles, putting it together - you can see the PhD researcher was here. But why that collection of moves?
This is the Game-Changing breakthrough of the Expanded Edition. The Kata are not a random set of vaguely related moves, a dance around the floor practicing general moves. They are a TACTICAL lesson and a drill of moves for a SPECIFIC type of opponent. How to defeat a sword-wielding samurai bureaucrat (Pinan Shodan) or a fully armored samurai warrior (Pinan Yondan) with your empty hands and skill.
In the process, we also realize why Pinan Shodan, a much harder kata, was taught before Pinan Nidan - it was more important to know. Funakoshi's situation was different, so he changed the order with Heian Shodan and Heian Nidan, for teaching reasons rather than tactical reasons. Truly scientific research requires this sort of unexpected findings.
So the world of Shotokan Kata has changed. Kata are our textbook and our workbook, but they are no longer just a catalog of moves. Each is a specific lesson on the moves and methods to defeat a specific enemy. If you don't know the enemy and why we are fighting him in precisely this fashion, you don't know the kata. And "Train harder" is no longer that answer.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Are You Waiting For?, July 21, 2010
This review is from: Shotokan's Secret—Expanded Edition: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate's Fighting Origins (With New Material) (Paperback)
I am a 5th Dan Traditional Taekwondo Instructor here in Australia. In 2003, I started doing research into my system, exploring several hard style systems and doing extensive bunkai analysis of traditional taekwondo patterns. I was simply looking for some clarity to improve my teaching syllabus.

Along the way I have met a handful of instructors and authors who are on the same path as myself. Some are ahead of me, and some who have not as yet caught up to me. These people however all seem to have the perceptiveness of 'old school' training yet an inquisitiveness from just being stubborn about looking for the truth. I like these practitioners - they cut through fads and trends, and set the standard using their own personal benchmarks.

In 2005, I counted myself lucky to have stumbled upon a gem of a book 'Shotokan's Secret' from author Dr Bruce Clayton. Dr Clayton Sensei's book clearly marked him as a person who was even more "stubborn" than me in "looking for the truth." The book apparently started off with an "innocent quest" to find a portrait for one Yasutsune Azato, Shotokan's Founder Gichin Funakoshi's first teacher. From my review of the first edition, I said that after picking up my copy of the book, I "have not been able to stop reading it."

The easy narrative builds a compelling look into the life and times of the founders of modern karate - painting a picture of the risks they faced and the obstacles they had to surmount. No longer are we dealing with ancient mountain dwelling hermits, these were real men, and real lives were at stake. I could not stop turning pages because all of a sudden I had a story in my hands that gave me a very plausible reason for why we do what we do. My style is different from yours for a reason, and this book made it all the more clear.

I count myself doubly lucky then to have initiated an email conversation with Dr Clayton which led to me visiting and training with him when I traveled to the United States in 2006.

In the last few years, our email dialog has continued. I have also continued my practise of traditional taekwondo, which includes taekwondo patterns from the mid 1950s and some old style Okinawan patterns at black belt level. My continued research into making traditional systems applicable for modern day practise continues to give me insights as I practise and train. These are high-level personal thoughts I share with Dr Clayton. In many of his replies, Dr Clayton would cryptically remark "you're going to love the new book."

I had a niggling feeling that the sequel could not be better than the first book. How could it? And how could this guy come up with such high level stuff - which I have slogged to gain after 25+ years, and how would he be able to put it down on paper?

My doubts however have been laid to rest. The expanded edition is literally a treasure trove of information and a martial art masterpiece. Dr Clayton has taken karate, dissected it, organised it, and literally hammered the living s*** out of it. All the unanswered questions you've got for your Japanese or Korean based systems are there. The book in it's current form presents a lens to look at the architect of modern day shotokan karate. If you've heard quibbles that Karate is this, and Karate is that - they're right. Shotokan Karate is a system designed for a specific purpose, and this purpose might not fully be congruent with the yardstick of challenges you use to measure it with. But why don't you pick up the book and find out why. The expanded version contains 130 over pages of pictures which match really amazing applications to the Heian katas. Say goodbye to what you thought you know of your system.

I have made it compulsory for every one of my traditional taekwondo students to purchase a copy of Dr Clayton's book. Can you imagine that? A Taekwondo instructor telling his students to get a Shotokan Karate book! Wait till they read the book and find out the architect of Taekwondo was a Shotokan practitioner himself!

I highly recommend the book if you are serious at all in your martial arts training, or have lost your way, or have too many questions left unanswered.

I have promoted the book at my blog [...] - and am happy to discuss your views there.

Colin Wee
5th Dan Traditional Taekwondo
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, if questionable, look at karate history, April 1, 2006
By 
Joseph M Burtner (Kennesaw, Georgia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
In "Shotokan's Secret", Bruce Clayton seeks to understand the environment under which Shotokan's parent art, Shuri-te, originated and developed. He paints a picture of an Okinawa in which every administrator in the royal court was a deadly practitioner of unarmed combat, and brutish Samurai and US Marines were the chief agressors, intent on deposing the puppet king of the island. The descriptions are quite vivid and, if such circumstances are assumed to be true, might very well explain why Shotokan developed as it did, with the emphasis on long-ranged techniques, deep stances, and virtually no grappling.

The primary problem I have with this book is that the situation that Clayton presents, which is necessary if we are to accept his logic about Shotokan's development, is based largely on supposition. The records of Okinawa during this time period are scarce at best, by the author's admission. What he does is look at modern bodyguard doctrine, and the kata found in Shotokan, and try to find a convenient place for the two to merge. It's as if, in realizing that his round peg won't fit into the square hole of reality, he decides to simply carve his own hole. In addition, he admits that the circumstances that he imagines Shuri-te developed under are impractical for modern self-defense. So, then, it becomes at best a point of historical interest; at worst, it's a vivid imagination at work, trying to justify modern Shotokan's less-than-realistic modern practices.

That said, this book has many points in it that I enjoy. His descriptions of the Tokugawa shogunate and the social order it strictly enforced, coupled with his explainations of honne and tatemae, should be required reading for any student of the Japanese arts. His bunkai, while a little unrealistic at times (when's the last time you wore a jacket and had four people all grab the collar area?), is certainly fun to play with; specifically, his interpretation of Tekki movements as the use of a human shield caught my eye. And lastly... very much lastly... if we assume his suppositions of the Shuri Crucible to be accurate, Shotokan's movements suddenly make much more sense.

To summarize, Clayton basically says, "This is the environment in which Shotokan developed; it's unnecessary to keep it this way, so it's OK to change it to fit our current needs, but of course I've got no evidence about that first part anyway." It's much more interesting to look at it from the point of view of a lesson of Japanese/Okinawan culture as opposed to a solid book on history or even bunkai. It makes for an extremely interesting read, despite some grandious claims (that Matsumura "invented" linear techniques, as if no one threw a straight punch before 1850). Students of culture might find it most useful, as well as anyone looking to justify the deep stances and long techniques of modern Shotokan karate, but the `history' is questionable at best. Read with a discriminating eye.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for anyone interested in martial arts!, April 7, 2005
Though I've not studied Okinawan karate in ten years, (and never Shotokan), I've read this book twice in as many weeks because I could not put it down. I've also recommended it to my taekwondo students and others.

A truly remarkable, scholarly work -- part historical detective novel, part concise taxonomy of various branches of the karate family, part practical self-defense guide (the part about fighting on stairs is something I've never even heard discussed or really thought much about), and part manifesto for a modern revolution in the way martial arts are learned and taught.

Dr. Clayton, who obviously loves this topic, provides us with move by move interpretations ("bunkai", in Japanese) of several karate forms ("kata") and their applications, and makes some brilliant deductions about how and why the forms were changed by various stylists over the last century or so, which secrets were shared and which were not, and what it all means for us today.

Although the book reads like a well-written work of fiction, you can't help but learn a thing or two about topics as far-flung as Asian cultures and languages, history, geography, biomechanics, and the pedagogy of martial arts. Along the way, the author will regale you with legends and stories about the great masters you may or may not have heard (I'd thought I'd heard them all -- not even!)

The bibliography alone is worth the price.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Largely hypothetical and self justifying, January 18, 2006
I saw this book in a used bookstore and decided to glance through it. I later went back and bought it so I could thoroughly examine it. I will say that the book is well written and makes an entertaining read. The author, a second generation student of Hidetaka Nishiyama and a well known (and slightly paranoid) survivalist, posits the theory that Shotokan karate, or more exactly its antecedents, were contrived as a highlevel elite bodyguard technique with extremely rarified boundaries. This supposedly explains the lack of breadth of technique available in shotokan karate today. The only new information put forward by the author is some data on Commodore Perry's expedition to Okinawa in the 1850's. The rest of the research used has been available for some time. The author subtly intimates that the Okinawans, especially Itosu, deliberately withheld the real applications in some sort of political coverup, and frankly also slanders Chotoku Kyan as almost a degenerate with emotional problems. Frankly, the author's entire theory is based on nothing less than wishful thinking and the policy, which has been going on now for almost fifty years, of justifying shotokan's narrow technical level and it's sometimes sadomasochist training regimens, not to mention its organizational arrogance. The parts of the book that deal with bunkai would be relevant to any karate stylist, and the author deserves credit for putting the emphasis back on kata and its bunkai and away from competition (and we all know who started that, don't we?). The author also deserves credit for stating the bald truth concerning the difference between Western and Japanese notions of character and right action, something for which some reviewers have criticized him, but frankly it is about time someone said it. In summary, the book is an entertaining read, as I said earlier, but its conclusions should be taken with a high degree of skepticism, because in my opinion it is another example of stylistic promotion at other's expense.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but flawed, September 2, 2005
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The book starts with a very interesting review of some of the history of karate on Okinawa, and then descends deeply into speculation and fantasy about the reasons why Shotokan karate is a mostly hard, linear style. This might not be so bad, but the rest of the book is based on treating these wild flights of fancy as fact rather than wishful imagination.

For example, the "Required Bunkai List" (p. 175) purportedly derives from the main theme that Matsumura/Itosu evolved their karate to serve in the "Shuri Crucible." The problem with this is that most of the skills listed are useful for everyday personal defence - no "crucible" required.

Similarly, the statement "The Shuri Crucible awakens many new interpretations of kata bunkai" (p. 250) ignores the fact that most (if not all) of the practical bunkai shown exist in other systems and have been taught as answers to typical self-defense scenarios for years - again, no "crucible" required.

Furthermore, the author's apparent lack of knowledge and/or understanding of other (particularly Chinese) martial arts is appalling. Statements like "Shuri-te is much more lethal than chuan fa,..." (p. 59) and "Shuri-te is the most deadly art ever invented." (p. 240) are simply laughable.

If you're looking for practical kata applications, check out books by Rick Clark, Ian Abernethy or Yang Jwing-Ming (his Chin Na books don't show Okinawan kata, but do show their applications).

I really enjoyed the use of the term "dinglehopper" for a kata application that is "pathetically wrong". The history lesson was OK. And the penultimate chapter on "Shuri II" - what martial arts should encompass to be useful to us here in the 21st century - was worth reading and thinking about. Unfortunately, these few good bits are not enough for me to give this book a good recommendation.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comparison of 2004 version versus 2010 version, July 18, 2011
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This review is from: Shotokan's Secret—Expanded Edition: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate's Fighting Origins (With New Material) (Paperback)
I bought the 2004 version of Shotokan's Secret back in 2007 and thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. Dr. Bruce Clayton presented, what I thought, was a compelling case for the meaning of the kata by using historical sources. When I ran across this updated version, I wondered whether or not it would be worthwhile to purchase. Was there really new material, and would that new material be worth purchasing the book again? Or, as is typical of many "new and improved" items, would this just be a marketing attempt to get me to part with my hard earned money for no real improvements at all? The answer is this: the new material makes it worth purchasing the book again.

But do not just take my word for it. You make up your mind for yourself. To help you make that decision, here are some of the differences between the two versions. I cannot list them all, for they are too numerous, but here are some of the more important ones.

Chapter 1 has two new sections. The first is Section 1.6 and is an introduction to the Japanese sword fighter Mushashi who wrote The Book of the Five Rings. This becomes important later in the book. The second piece of additional material in Chapter 1 is Section 1.13 which deals with the Satsuma Rebellion.

Chapter 2 has much new material. The most important material is that Dr. Clayton deals a decisive blow to the three myths of martial arts. What he shows is that while martial arts are ancient, they are also constantly evolving.

Chapter 3 talks about Commodore Perry's arrival in Okinawa. Chapter 4 is nearly the same between the two versions. There is some new material here, but not much. By the time you have reached Chapter 4, you already have 15% more, new material.

If you are thinking by this point in the review that there is not much new here, and it is not worth buying a new copy, then I would have to agree with you. However, from this point onward, everything changes.

Chapter 6 in the 2004 version talks about the Shuri battle Plan. While it is pure fiction, this happens to be my favorite chapter to read. It is just pure fun. Too bad the action lasts on 30 seconds. Too bad that this fictional story does not appear in the 2010 version. Dr. Clayton alludes to what Matsumura might have done, in the 2010 version, but does not describe it in detail. Instead, Chapter 5 and 6 from the 2004 version are combined into Chapter 5 of the 2010 version.

From here on out, I will talk about the 2010 version only, since it is largely new material.

Chapter 6 talks about Bodyguard Bunkai. Dr. Clayton lays out his criteria for recovering what the original kata looked like, before all the recent changes were made. My second favorite is the dinglehopper criteria. My favorite is the Last Move Rule. Simply put, if there is no combative explanation for the last move of a kata, then we can ignore it. "Anyone who has tried to figure out the bunny hop moves at the end of chinte kata will be grateful for this rule." Bingo!

Chapter 7 talks about his research into Heian Nidan. Dr. Clayton believes this is a kata to be used for disarming a Samurai swordsman. Chapter 8 talks about his research into Heian Shodon. Dr. Clayton believes this is a kata to be used for street fighting. In short, it is about increasing the force of your punch by using linear karate. Chapter 9 talks about his research into Heian Sandan. Dr. Clayton believes this is a kata to be used for policing the waterfront, like in a bar where a wanted criminal is hanging out. Your job as the policeman is to go into the bar, beat him and his friends into submission, and exit with the prisoner. Chapter 10 talks about his research into Heian Yondan. Dr. Clayton believes this is a kata to be used for attacking Samurai armor. Chapter 11 talks about his research into Heian Godan. Dr. Clayton believes this is a kata to be used for fighting against sabers and bayonets. Chapter 12 sums everything up with a Lesson's learned.

What is missing from the 2010 version? Pretty much all of Chapter 8 through 12 of the old book. It is true that some parts survive, such as dinglehoppers, but not all of them.

Is it worth buying the new book if you have the old? Yes! The 2010 version has about 50% new material, or about 175 pages.

Is it worth buying the old book if you have the new? Well, given that at the time of this writing the 2004 version of the book is selling for $1, then yes. It is not worth buying the 2004 version if you are paying full price.

In my opinion the 2010 version is superior to the 2004 version. Dr. Clayton has done an excellent job in improving on his original work.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different way to look at the stories of karate, April 25, 2006
For a Goju Ryu practitioner this is a very interesting book - providing an insight into Shotokan Karate, a view of how Shotokan Practitioners see Goju Ryu, and providing a way to look at the analysis of our Kata.

The historical introduction did not tell me a lot that I did not already know about Japan or Okinawa, but it did put it all in a context and structure that made the interrelationships and causes clear, relationships that I had not considered previously.

One other very important concept was introduced - something I had never encountered which means I haven't been paying enough attention to Japanese thinking. The concepts of tatemae and honne - the "official" story vs the "true" story. The concept appears on the side in Bishop's book, but is at the core of Clayton's book. He suggests that what we read and hear is the "cover" story - the polite or the official or the nice side, and that it's considered rude to question the tatemae. He claims to be trying to uncover the honne.

The introductory paragraph on the back cover gives an idea of the marketing angle:

"Shotokan's Secret: Karate was invented by the world's only unaramed bodyguards to protect the world's only unarmed king.... against Americans"

Clayton has used the visit by Commodore Perry to Okinawa, and the kinds of defensive responses that the palace guards would have needed to use in case of conflict, as a framework to explain the reason and rationale behind Shotokan's Kata and Shotokan Karate's development.

For example, Shotokan karate doesn't deal with fighting on uneven ground, because they expected to be fighting at Shurijo, on polished wood floors.

There is no grappling because the aim of Karate was to defend the King from a mass of attackers. Ground work would get you killed. And get your principal killed while you're at it.

There are few chokes or joint locks because the fighter wouldn't have time to get submission, and prisoner's were not the aim of the combat.

Clayton even explains the reasons for kinds of techiques in some of the kata in terms of applying "shock and awe" tactics to an enemy. All out attack, disable as many as possible..... kiai to call out "phase 1 done" .... retreat while doing more damange and disrupting the enemy.... final kiai to signal "clear" and then escape.

I really enjoyed the first half or two thirds of the book. Once fact and research became more of a speculative narrative to explain the kata it dragged a bit. The later section on bunkai in Tekki/Naihanchi was very interesting. The final chapter on developing a "modern" variant didn't work so well for me.

Overall a good book, written in an accessible style. I read the first 180-odd pages non-stop. The bunkai took a bit more effort as I tried to remember the shotokan kata of my youth but they were interesting.

The usual "sanchin will kill you" was a bit disconcerting. And all those long shotokan stances look a bit uncomfortable.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book Tarnished by Bias, May 12, 2006
By 
Although well researched and full of information previously hidden, this book is weakened by a bias for the Shotokan system. For example, the author cites that linear Karate finds its origin in the palace defence system in Okinawa whereas linear Chinese boxing was already evident in the Shaolin temple centuries earlier. The Naha styles are described as a mere form of Chinese boxing not worth of further consideration. Chotoku Kyan is given an unworthy treatment and one wonders if this is because he reverts to a non-linear system. Having said all this, this book is a treasure trove of information, particularly the history of kata and the masters of old.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very refreshing, innovative and thought-provoking book!, October 19, 2004
By 
This book came highly recommended to me and I've thoroughly enjoyed it! I know it's a bit of cliché, but I really could not put it down. It really is a marvellous book on kata bunkai which puts forward some very thought-provoking theories on the development of karate. "Shotokan's Secret" is a truly unique take on kata bunkai that is sure to be enjoyed by all practically minded martial artists. The book is definitely a must read for all those interested in practical karate / bunkai. Superb!

Iain Abernethy 5th Dan - Author of Bunkai-Jutsu: The Practical Application of Karate Kata
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