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The Earthsea Quartet (Puffin Books)
The Earthsea Quartet (Puffin Books)
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Edition: Paperback
33 used & new from $10.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Majestic Simplicity, January 1, 2013
Whenever I find myself longing for a bit of peace and quiet, I find myself drawn back to Le Guin's writing.

There is something magically deep about her writing style - one gets the impression that because it is simple to read it must be simple to write. As a writer myself, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

Le Guin essentially weaves Taoist thought within a standard fantasy storyline of wizards, magic and strange lands. The way that she does so, though, belies the incredible spiritual depth to her stories. She has the uncanny sense of placing her wizards, magic and secret spells within the humanity of her characters. Or is it the other way around...

I cannot recommend Le Guin's Earthsea works enough.

The Art of Life and Death: Lessons in Budo From a Ninja Master
The Art of Life and Death: Lessons in Budo From a Ninja Master
by Danny Fletcher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.40
52 used & new from $8.98

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Little Different, October 25, 2012
This book is ostensibly about the martial arts but it comes across as being unlike any martial arts book out there. Reading it makes one wonder why other martial arts books are written the way they are.

Instead of techniques, Asian cultural norms, and exotic vocabulary, the book explores the emotional and psychological cost of learning, in their words, 'real budo'.

There is a lot of poetry in this book, all of interspersed throughout the main passages, some of it quite poignant. The book is also filled with little aphorisms and drawings. Japanese prints also feature but one gets the feeling that their inclusion was probably a decision by the publishers to give the book more of an 'exotic' feel to it.

The main feature, if it could be said, are the quotes of the author's teacher. Literally everything that has been written revolves directly around these quotes. Interpersed throughout, they give a kind of authority to the writing.

All in all, an interesting read.

The Ninja: Ancient Shadow Warriors of Japan (The Secret History of Ninjutsu)
The Ninja: Ancient Shadow Warriors of Japan (The Secret History of Ninjutsu)
by Kacem Zoughari
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.30
62 used & new from $14.41

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Missed Opportunity, February 13, 2012
There is an appendix in this book on the history of the changing vocabulary used to describe what we now call 'ninja'. The vocabulary listed is organised according to the major periods of Japanese history. There is also another appendix with a chronological list of events in Japanese history that runs alongside another chronological list of events related to the ninja and ninjutsu.

If the whole book had been a more thorough expansion of these two appendices, it would have real merit as a scholarly work. That the vocabulary used to describe 'ninja' changed as time went on is an interesting fact. The appendix highlighting this could have been the basis for an interesting exploration into how the ninjutsu traditions were viewed throughout history, what those views represented and what effect this may have had on the development of ninjutsu itself.

This also applies to the appendix representing the chronological events as no connection is given (other than a chronological one) between the two lists of events. No theory was offered as to any possible relationship between the two; all that exists, basically, are two lists, side by side. An exploration of this would have truly been a serious addition to the field of Japanese history (and history in general).

Much of the scholarly text (in particular, the appendices and notes) is a display of linguistic proficiency with detailed information on Japanese kanji characters and brief histories of other martial arts. There are some fairly interesting episodic references to the ninja and ninjutsu sourced from historical scrolls but some of the conclusions made from these sources are contradictory and no effort has been made to resolve them (for example, in one reference, the author writes that, "It can be concluded, then, that the mercenary aspect of the ninja of Iga and Koga rests indeed on a firm historical basis." In the reference that follows this one, he then states that, "This is a surprising example; the ninja was far from being a simple mercenary, as many seem to believe.")

A frustrating feature of this book is that while ostensibly a work on the history of the ninja and ninjutsu, there is little historical narrative present. In addition, the book is heavily weighed down with continual attempts at martial and spiritual grandeur. That the possibility of such grandeur existing within the martial arts is not in question here but the repeated attempts by the author to express it does little to add to the scholarly value of the book.

The author ends his history of the ninja with a look at the previous grandmaster of the ninjutsu tradition he claims membership with (surprisingly, there is no mention of why he does not end the book with a look at the current grandmaster). Much ink is spent on this deceased grandmaster with a translation and commentary of two of his writings. His commentary raises some interesting and valid questions on the relationship between combat and spirituality but again, the attempts at martial grandeur and wisdom have a distracting effect; one gets the feeling that the author has not experienced the spiritual epiphany he feels compelled to write about.

For any academically aware reader, this book will offer some interesting information (there is an appendix listing the historical scrolls on ninjutsu but no reference to their location) but will ultimately find it disappointing. The philological and linguistic information has value but perhaps it is best to say that linguists and philologists do not make the best historians.

The Essence of Budo: The Secret Teachings of the Grandmaster
The Essence of Budo: The Secret Teachings of the Grandmaster
by Masaaki Hatsumi
Edition: Hardcover
21 used & new from $21.84

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There is Nothing Here, July 18, 2011
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Hatsumi-sensei's writings are filled to the brim with a word-play that takes full advantage of the idiosyncracies of the Japanese language. As with many of his previous books, the English text suffers from attempting to feature these idiosyncracies as part of the English language. The result is an English text that is heavily laden with Japanese kanji characters which can make for cumbersome reading.

Fortunately, as with his previous works, the original Japanese text is included. This may not be of much help to those who cannot read Japanese but such is life. The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to translate art, it can only be expressed and the author's decision to include the original Japanese ought to be seen as proof of this.

Beyond that though, this book is the clearest expression yet of budo's essence. There is none of the cliched morality and attempts at high-sounding ethics that many martial artists fall victim to in their often patterned expressions of martial arts 'philosophy'. Like his other writings, this book goes beyond the cliche and is expressed through beautiful anecdotes featuring the author's teacher as well as the author's own realisations as to the nature of his art. Creative license has been granted free reign and, at least in the Japanese text, it shows clearly.

This book may seem puzzling to some who will no doubt be turned off by the apparent lack of narration. Others will naturally fall into the trap of thinking that the so-called 'techniques' section is a martial arts treasure chest. Still others will overlay the words and numerous photos with what they imagine budo to be.

All of this is right and proper but if one takes to heart the admonishment by the author that holding on to the horses tail while it travels a thousand miles is impossible, then one will have indeed travelled far in understanding that there is nothing in this beautiful book that cannot be found on one's own.

Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction
Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction
by Patrick L. Gardiner
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.91
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1 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Introduction for...?, May 27, 2010
I think that it is important for this series of short introductions to decide who it is they are catered for. It seems to me that many of the writers are more academic than is probably necessary and while this doesn't diminish the information presented, it does stifle the life and personality of the subject matter. It appears that the demands of academic rigour and its associated authority are a lot more deeply entrenched than I would have thought.

God Emperor of Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 4)
God Emperor of Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 4)
by Frank Herbert
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.09
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A chance to see for yourself!, August 26, 2008
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
It is possible to see in the development of myth a bypassing of the original inspiration. Rather than personal insight, many come to rely upon the forms of myth as knowledge in and of itself.

In the Dune series, the role of myth and the power it plays in the universe created by Frank Herbert is particularly strong. This book, the fourth in the series, gets straight to the heart of the matter by allowing the reader to witness the original inspiration in action.

Most would accept that the great novels of the world are reflections of their authors and of the realisations attained in their own lives. The truly great novels are replete with insights into life, death and all that exists in between. Yet what happens when such insights are coated in the guise of science-fiction? It would serve the reader well to see the discoveries and insights of this novel as those of Frank Herbert.

The plot of God Emperor, such that it is, is held together purely by the strength of the insights provided by its main character, Leto II, and his relationship with those lacking in those insights. These relationships provide much of the novel's movement as Leto II continues his husbandry role within the known Dune universe. Through Leto II, the reader becomes privy to the nature of self-awareness, its enlargening and at the same time isolating effect on the individual. From this, we see the reality behind original inspiration and the reality behind myth and legend. As such, God Emperor serves as the perfect novel from which to understand the rest of the Dune series.

As a work of science-fiction, the book offers less than it does as a book on the nature of self-discovery and creative insight.

Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction
Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction
by Michael Tanner
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.90
75 used & new from $3.46

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Leading the Horse to Water, August 14, 2008
Before reading this book, I was of the opinion that philosophy, really, was nothing more than the study of the pyschology and personality of the philosopher. After reading this introduction to Nietzsche though, I am pleased to have discovered that the relationship between the philosopher and his or her philosophy is more involved - and interesting - than I had first thought.

In this book, Nietzsche comes across as someone who seemed as if he was overwhelmed by the gravity of his philosophical discoveries. I'm not completely sure if this is true or not but in one sense this is irrelevant as Mr. Tanner has succeeded in making me want to find out more for myself.

More than just relating 'facts & figures', Mr. Tanner has succeeded in letting Nietzsche's discoveries reveal their own life - and worth - to the extent that the only thing left now is to read Nietzsche and find out for myself.

Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction
Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction
by Sue Hamilton
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.39
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6 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Without a heart, everyone dies..., August 7, 2008
This book is difficult for me to recommend for the average person. Despite it's size, the writing style and editing suffers from trying to be too logical in order to make the topic accessible to the non-specialist. By this, I mean that the narrative flow of the book has the sense of being enforced from the outside. You feel as if something is missing. The result is that the book comes across as being something similar to a summary report for graduate students or their professors. The depth and vitality that is suggested as being part and parcel of the history and tradition of Indian philosophical thought is missing. While such an approach may be acceptable for the specialist, for the lay person, it is quite the turn-off. For what it is worth, my advice for any future editions would be to put a bit more humanity and creativity into the writing.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 22, 2011 4:54 PM PST

Unarmed Fighting Techniques of the Samurai
Unarmed Fighting Techniques of the Samurai
by Masaaki Hatsumi
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from $7.88

9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Importance of Floating in a Shop of Crystal, July 23, 2008
The anticipation on the various forums for this book has been enormous. A common theme for this anticipation has been the book's capacity as a 'reference manual' for the Bujinkan arts.

Everything that the author has ever said in his books, DVDs and in person goes against the commonly perceived notion of 'reference manuals'. This art, in the author's own words, can only be learnt by the heart, directly with a person who has the feeling of Budo. In the Bujinkan, this person is clearly Masaaki Hatsumi.

As to the book itself, despite the efforts of the translators, their attempt to mimic the idiosyncracies of the Japanese language sees large swathes of the English translation failing to capture the beauty of the original Japanese text. This is an ongoing issue with this series of books and reveals the problems inherent in translating art. Fortunately, the Japanese text is included in the book and if you are lucky enough to be able to read Japanese, then more power to you. The Japanese text ought to be considered a work of art.

As with the rest of the author's writings, there are scores of photos included in the book. Some of them are clear, some of them are confusing and some of them are beautiful. If the English text seems odd, then the photos are more than capable of taking their place - there are some lovely shots of the author and his teacher and in terms of budo and of art, the spaces inherent in these photos are stunning.

There are scores of 'techniques' contained in this book which perhaps accounts for the reference manual some have been seeking. However, given the lack of importance the author has placed on techniques in his art, the reference nature of this book ought to be looked for elsewhere. Perhaps the techniques listed ought to be seen as a kind of screening mechanism - some will get trapped by them while others will move on. Is this a literary case of separating the wheat from the chaff?

On the back cover of this book, there is a quote, "You should not just read the records of Budo and think you have understood it. Budo only has substance in a world of great dignity."

If the reader bears this warning in mind, the true value of the book will become evident.

Togakure Ryu Ninpo Taijutsu; Ten Ryaku, Ten Chi, Jinryaku No Maki. Book of Heaven, Earth, and Human strategies.
Togakure Ryu Ninpo Taijutsu; Ten Ryaku, Ten Chi, Jinryaku No Maki. Book of Heaven, Earth, and Human strategies.
by Soke Masaaki Hatsumi
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stepping out into the world, December 13, 2007
Soke begins this book with gratitude and a sense of sublime respect towards his own teacher, Takamatsu-sensei, and he ends it with the same. In between, we catch a glimpse of Hatsumi-sensei exploring the secrets of his martial art through the printed word and in his own words " bare and show budo to the world and in becoming bare finding the resolve to face death."

A book of this nature is very much open to criticisms from those who look for packaged and easily discernible logic. Is this part and parcel of Soke's decision to 'become bare'? Like Soke's recent works, many of the photographs are out of order or come from differing photography sessions. The number of techniques in this book are legion but it is the sense behind each photograph that reveals the nature of what is being presented. Forget about the more common 'one-two-three' approach and absorb the confusion that is part and parcel of Soke's art. After all, it is in this confusion that the value of the written material can be found.

If you are able to read the original Japanese, more power to you. Unfortunately, the English tanslation that accompanies the copy that I have is rather poor but there is more than enough for the discerning reader to grasp, if they have the wherewithal to do so.

The stories and anecdotes that dot this book are quite literally martial treasures but for those weaned on 1970s pop-kung fu mysticsm, the value of these lessons in printed form may not be recognised for what they are and subsequently go unnoticed. This would be a shame really as they contain the correct attitude with which to understand the techniques and movements presented.

Soke began this book with respect towards his teacher and ended it with the same. It would be a good thing indeed if people reading this book could absorb some of this sense and to recognise it's value in understanding the Bujinkan arts.

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