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Secrets of the Samurai: The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan Hardcover – April 30, 1999

4.4 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Highly Recommended." -- Library Journal

"The only work of its kind." -- The San Diego Union --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook met at Columbia University in New York, where he was doing graduate work in classical languages and she studying philosophy. Both share a longtime interest in the thought and rituals of ancient civilizations. Experts on the Japanese warrior arts and ethos, they were also the authors of Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 481 pages
  • Publisher: Booksales; New edition edition (April 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0785810730
  • ISBN-13: 978-0785810735
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,014,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is truly an impressive attempt to cover all of the martial skills that the fuedal warriors of Japan studied. Unfortunately, their section on Aiki-jujitsu and Aikido has some serious errors. First, they claim that Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido was the only legitimate heir of the Daito Ryu school of aiki-jujitsu. This is incorrect. Tokumine Takeda, son of Sokaku Takeda (Ueshiba's Daito Ryu teacher for over a decade), was the heir of Daito Ryu. The current headmaster is Katsuyuki Kondo. There are also several other branches of Daito Ryu: Kodokai, Roppokai, and Takumakai, which were started by students of Takeda Sokaku who were actually senior to Ueshiba. Ratti and Westbrooke also stated that Daito Ryu no longer exists, and that we have no way of knowing today the techniques of the the Daito Ryu. Again, untrue. Daito Ryu is one of the most widely practiced traditional styles of martial arts (Koryu Budo) in Japan. Finally, they state with some authority that Daito Ryu descended from Prince Sadasumi. This cannot be verified, even by Daito Ryu practitioners. Like many oral tales, it is a history that people accept in the absence of confirming or contradicting evidence.
What is disturbing is that after twenty years, this information was never updated. Perhaps this was because Ratti and Westbrook did not use any original source, i.e. Japanese, material (at least I did not see any when I glanced through the glossary). Perhaps it was because they felt some need to promote aikido at the expense of Daito Ryu. It does not matter, really. Writing a traditional Japanese martial art out of any book that purports describe the history of Japanese martial arts is a gaffe that makes me wonder what else about the book they have gotten wrong.
I give the book three stars for effort, but let the buyer beware. When reading, don't believe anything until you verify, verify, verify.
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Format: Hardcover
I am writing this review, because people are erroneously using this book as a source for research into pre-modern Japan. It should not be used for this purpose. It belongs to a genre which I call "gosh golly" books. I will proceed to comments relating to previous reviews.

1. The illustrations are modern and appear to have been drawn by a western artist. What it does not contain is reproductions of premodern woodblock prints, paintings, &c. or photographs of actual artifacts.

2. While it has a large bibliography, the works are pretty much exclusively in English and appear to be popular rather than scholarly publications.

3. This book contains descriptions of Japanese "martial arts" such as "tessenjutsu" which do not appear in reliable Japanese literature.

4. This book contains descriptions of highly improbable "martial arts" such as the supposed ability for a seated practitioner to kill an armed opponent by shouting at him.

5. The historical descriptions in the book betray a woeful ignorance. For example, chapter 1 includes a claim that Buddhism is "monotheistic". This makes me wonder how the authors managed to use the correct Japanese words for the military class and the court nobility. Saddly, the scattering of accurate information in this book makes it even less desireable as it lends credance to the book's fantasy elements.

6. One commentor recommended the books by Stephen Turnbull. If you are interested in more scholarly treatments of Japan's medieval period, I recommend consulting books by Marius B. Jansen, Paul Varley, John Witney Hall, William Wayne Farris, and Jeffrey P. Mass. Heavenly Warriors by Farris specifically deals with the origin of the buke class going beyond earlier work by Mass.

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Format: Hardcover
Having read Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook, I looked forward to reading this book and adding it to my library. While Aikido was the newer of the two books, it was my first exposure to these authors. I had grown fond of their academic, though dry at times, writing style as well as their tendency to research their topic in great detail. I was hoping this book would live up to that standard, and I was not let down. In Secrets of the Samurai Ratti and Westbrook explore in great depth the historical roots and many practices of the samurai culture of feudal Japan. To lend some context or background for the focus of this book they include an introduction that contains a brief time line of the era, as well as some meaning to the words bujutsu (the group of methods employed by the military). The book then quickly moves into the structure of the Japanese military itself.

The authors go into great detail on the ranking system of the military, as well as it's relation to the government of the period. However it is not a book strictly about the rise of the samurai. Instead, the authors include a vast amount of detail about many topics surrounding the warrior class. Details such as the clothing that would be common for each rank or class, the armor the samurai would have adorned and the weapons they had employed. They do not limit their exploration to just the samurai themselves, choosing to also cover more obscure topics of the samurai culture, topics such as subcultures that existed within and around the samurai: ninja, Buddhist monks, and the women of the samurai for example. The use of simple sketches and drawings help to fill in the picture and are a nice inclusion.
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