Review: Masaaki Hatsumi. Advanced Stick Fighting. Appleby B, Wilson D. trans. Tokyo :
Kodansha International, 2005, ISBN 4-7700-2996-9, $35 (US: Hardcover).
Many of you will, no doubt, be familiar with Stick Fighting by Masaaki Hatsumi and Quintin Chambers. First published in 1971, the book is older than a great deal of its readership, yet has a very “modern” feel to it. The A6 sized soft cover version, in particular, with its no-nonsense approach to the Kukishin Ryu techniques, gives the impression of a training manual. Hatsumi’s new book, Advanced Stick Fighting , is quite a different beast, although comparisons are inevitable.
One of my criticisms of the original was its complete absence of technique against an armed attack. The introduction tries to explain this,“… to be able to acquit yourself without injury when attacked by armed assailants requires a degree of skill that is achieved by few,” but my own need for that feeling of “fair play” was not satiated: “So, members of the jury, the defendant claims my client grabbed him by the wrist, at which point the defendant proceeded to bludgeon him over the head with a cudgel.”
Advanced Stick Fighting takes us back to the original purpose of Kukishin Ryu – use of the staff on the battlefield. Almost every single situation covered in the technical section of the book is bo against the katana. And here is one of the paradoxes – that by looking at the original practical techniques against armed attackers, we can see their lack of practicality in the modern world – I rarely leave home carrying a 2-metre length of solid oak.
Which is not to say they could not be improvised, as strongly endorsed in the first book, with broomsticks, umbrellas, or what-have-you. Hatsumi implies this need in the text, illustrated by the famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro, but never actually says it directly.
On this duel, Hatsumi claims that Musashi’s skill in using the Bo, as opposed to his swordsmanship, is what brought him the victory. He provides some rationale for this theory, but no hard evidence.
The main text contains a mish-mash of topics of various levels of relevance to the title. Possibly because of the absence of a native English-speaking co-author, the text lacks a certain sense of cohesion. Take, for example, the sub-chapter on Musha Shugyo. Over half of the space is taken with a paragraph on how a “Ninja diet” helped get his blood sugar levels back to normal. Other parts deal with esoteric numerology and others go on to criticize Go Rin No Sho and Hagakure as demonstrating that, “… they did not reach the highest level in the martial arts, and their experiences and writings are mere illusion.” One can only assume then that Hatsumi has reached the highest level.
The technical section differs little from the original book, although the explanations are much briefer–again, the absence of Quintin Chambers?–sometimes the entire explanation for a series is less than the commentary from a single photo from the first book.
The photographs are of better quality than in the first book, and there are a number of pictures of different bo-type weapons and their usage, including the naginata and staves with weighted chains. Unfortunately, many of these are not captioned, and sometimes appear at the end of one of the technical sequences, when appearing separately would be far more helpful and possibly less confusing. Furthermore, a number of somewhat superfluous photographs have been included (Hatsumi posing with Zulus, a certificate from a former Pope, statues of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune), as well as overly “posed” or stylized ones (some where a smoke machine has been employed).
The original Japanese text is included in the back of the book, but it is, of course, of little use to non-readers of the language.
Overall, I was a little disappointed with the book. The quality of the original had given me high expectations. With a jacket price of 3500 or $35 US, I feel that if you’re not a Hatsumi fan or actively studying bo techniques, you would be best waiting for it to appear in your local library.
Andrew Smallacombe, B.A., Dip. Ed., Nidan, Aikido