Dec 13 2008

Intrinsic Concepts in the Teaching of Classical Okinawan Karate

Intrinsic Concepts in the Teaching of Classical Okinawan Karate

by Anthony DiFilippo


The roots of Asian society lie in the careful attention given to reflective thought on the needs of all society and in the conscious development of effort as a process of spiritual awakening or enlightenment (kaigan) for everyone, working in relationship and harmony (wa). This is embedded in the East and is particularly visible in Japanese culture.

Traditionally, the teaching of classical Okinawan karate also integrated the principles of kaigan and wa and was imparted through close one-to-one care, attention and guidance given to a student by a master teacher. This was central to the teaching tradition of the old karate masters and formed the core of the karate Program.

Master Teacher Defined

As with many words, common use of the term teacher has steadily robbed it of any depth of meaning. It pays to examine it more closely, and in particular to go beyond the term teacher and understand what lies hidden in the further term master teacher. The simple definition of a teacher is that he (or she) instructs another in one or several subject matters. A teacher has achieved fluent control of their area of expertise and they have established an effortless relationship with the materials, processes and outputs of their chosen field and are able to communicate this to others. A master teacher is something more. A true master teacher has progressed beyond this to a deep understanding of humanity itself so that he/she is able to see what needs to be nurtured and at the same time deeply understands and can guide the learner through the process of struggle, learning and growth that yields maturity. He can grow future teachers and indeed future master teachers. The result of a teacher’s work is output. The result of a master teacher’s work is people.

Whereas a shogakusha, beginning learner of classical Okinawan karate sees the art as a practical means of self-defense and as a method to condition the body, a master teacher understands that classical karate is a path of life and philosophy that both teacher and learner pursues in the search for enlightenment. In Japanese this is referred to as michi.

The master teacher strives at his art, for it to always carry the light. He strives at himself, for his virtue to be capable of the task. His teaching is a calling.

Master teachers carry this practical philosophy in two ways. Firstly there is a dimension of sacrifice evident in their teaching, sacredness both in process and product (Latin: sacrificio – to make sacred) so that it definitively carries life’s meaning. Then there is evident in themselves a powerful ascetic self-control. They work a long way beyond being self-centered. (Latin: virtus – strength. Virtue – to have the clarity of soul, the strength of soul, to hold to what is right and not let go.)

Essence of Classical Okinawan Karate

Classical karate is an art that embodies physical practice, theory, and ethics (moral philosophy and spiritual foundation). In the initial stages, most classical karate instruction concerns itself with physical practice and theory, with ethics being revealed in time, under the careful guidance of a master teacher.

Physical Practice and Theory

The physical practice and theory involves learning and integrating a broad range of fundamental physical skills as well as the underlying physiological and psychological principles upon which the self-protection arts rest.

The physical practice and theory of classical Okinawan karate encompasses a core curriculum designed to ensure that the learner achieves the highest level of skill for its intended utilitarian purposes i.e. the simple yet effectively brutal self-defense, while at the same time nurturing the active direction of attention to the philosophical and spiritual aspect of the art.

While the immediate output of physical practice and theory is effort, it always has internal as well as external results. Dedicated training requires internal effort, developing the self-control necessary to master a skill for instance, which results in the internal competence to be able to apply that skill. In all growth processes the internal stages occur unseen – below ground – and a master teacher will nurture that process, feeding the roots. What flowers comes later are of its own accord, i.e. the internal always precedes the external, and patience is essential because time is the true judge.

While physical practice and theory provides for technical competency, it should not be seen as an end in itself. The core mission of physical practice and theory is to provide a conduit in which human growth occurs and where the meaning of all things is seen in the context of the whole and thus each thing is done for its intrinsic value, a process in which both the master teacher and learner express themselves, listen, absorb, respond, and find themselves incrementally enlightened through their relationship.

“One of the most significant features we find in the practice of archery, and in fact of all the arts as they are studied in Japan and probably also in other Far Eastern countries, is that they are not intended for utilitarian purposes only or for purely aesthetic enjoyments, but are meant to train the mind; indeed, to bring it into contact with the ultimate reality. Archery is, therefore, not practiced solely for hitting the target; the swordsman does not wield the sword just for the sake of outdoing his opponent; the dancer does not dance just to perform certain rhythmical movements of the body. The mind has first to be attuned to the unconscious.

If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the Unconscious.”

Zen in the Art of Archery

Moral Philosophy and Spiritual Foundation

In modern times, far too commonly, there is no explicit discussion of the philosophical and spiritual foundation alive in karate practices, leaving the learner inarticulate about the effect this has on ones life. There is much to be gained by the conscious prompting of discussion in this area in view of the fact that karate’s origins dealt not only with conflicts restricted to situations resulting in physical aggression but sought to confront internalized conflicts so that the learner could strive to overcome their fears, doubts, and inhibitions.

What was true in the beginning is still true today, i.e. that the development of the inner self develops personal humility, respect and tolerance for all things of the universe and it is through this austere training that the learner is able to avoid life’s obstacles and overcome insurmountable odds in order to live happily and without conflict. This is the true pursuit of classical Okinawan karate study. The roots of this practical philosophy lie in the Japanese concept of Shugyo, the dynamic interplay of patience and humility.

Stages of Development

In classical Okinawan karate learners go through three phases of development. This development is a protracted endeavor which many people never achieve, and which master teachers would say repeat and never end. The processes of growth are slow and the phases of development have to be nurtured over time. The three phases of development are known in Japanese culture as Shu Ha Ri.

While starting from Confucian roots teaching in Japan has been substantially shaped by Zen practice. In particular the teaching of classical Okinawan karate is structured through the shu ha ri cycle of minute attention to detail, the development of complete technical fluency and then an alert responsiveness to circumstances very analogous to Zen learning emphasizing the closeness and subtlety of the master/student relationship and its longevity, through repeating cycles of action and reflection over time, in a three-fold learning process.

Shu ha ri as a learning process which goes from superficial to profound to superficial, so that there is first a external understanding based upon learning rules by rote; the second stage involves expanding the learning to various applications and situations, in order to deepen; and the final stage is superficial again, as one reaches the ultimate phase all attachments are severed and one is completely emancipated. This emancipation, however, leads one back to the beginning and the foundations of his education. The final phase brings one back to the first steps of learning the rules, but now the rules can be understood from a perspective of freedom, in that they are applied not through unquestioning replication but through an understanding of their inherent wisdom.

In this context, the responsibility carried by the master teacher for formative guidance – for care and respect for the person being guided – and the responsibility of the student to try to give life to the guidance of the master teacher – a reciprocal caring and respect – is tangible. But so is the Japanese view of life as a learning process of growth towards aware maturity, in which activities are always worked at for their spiritual content.


The heightened empathy, seeking out the root causes of things, and realizing its potential for good, is at the heart of classical Okinawan karate. These building blocks are central to the teaching of classical Okinawan karate. Sensitivity to the detail of circumstance has to be combined with the observations of others captured from their experience and passed on as advice. Out of the struggle of this combination process comes enlightenment. In all this the experience is primary, as much of what the master teacher is passing on can only be passed on in context. Competence cannot be developed in abstract. It cannot be taught in a handing over information in a classroom sense, because it is not abstract information. It is a set of dynamic skills, alert sensitivity and well-honed responses to circumstances that has to be developed in guided practice.

This provides a framework for the master teacher to impart and teach classical Okinawan karate. Specifically, it highlights the real responsibility of the master teacher as an archetype and catalyst, not simply as a custodian of information.

The following quote captures the spirit of teaching classical Okinawan karate very effectively:-

It is as though the master had said to him, “I can tell you there is something you need to know, and with my help you may be able to learn it. But I cannot tell you what it is in a way you can now understand. I can only arrange for you to have the right sorts of experience for yourself. You must be willing, therefore, to have these experiences. Then you will be able to make an informed choice about whether you wish to continue. If you are unwilling to step into this new experience without knowing ahead of time what it will be like, I cannot help you. You must trust me.”
Author unknown

About The Author:
Anthony R. DiFilippo is the owner and director of the Ryukyu Kodokan Dojo/Silk Road Enterprise . He has been a student of the martial arts for over thirty years and holds Yudansha grades in Okinawan Shorin Ryu karate and Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu and is the Africa Shibucho for the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society and Africa Region Style Head for Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu, under the auspices of Hanshi Patrick McCarthy.

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Dec 13 2008

Musashi: His Life and Writings

Review: Tokitsu K. Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings . Boston : Shambhala Publications, Inc. 2004, ISBN 1-59030-045-9, $34.95. (20% discount available by ordering from website:

I got my first Musashi “hit” when, following class way back in 1957-58, my original karate teacher Ryuko Tomoyose, used Musashi legends to reinforce a particular karate technique’s importance or to emphasize a lesson in morality. As an impressionable nineteen year-old, I could almost visualize Musashi’s remarkable feats as Sensei described them while the two of us sipped green tea following a grueling four hour class.

The massive novel Musashi by Yoshikawa Eiji, based on his Japanese newspaper series, eventually found its way to the West and refueled my interest many years later as well as generated the super hero image of Musashi that now exists throughout the world.

When Shambhala Publishing sent me this book exactly one year ago, I began reading it and thought, “Wow, what great insights into the writings of Musashi, interpreted through the mind of another martial artist.” In scanning the chapters, nuggets of fascinating bits of information kept jumping off the pages, as though written for someone like myself. Tokitsu’s work includes an annotated translation of Musashi’s Gorin no sho ( Book of Five Rings ). The text translated by Tokistsu comes from the most common 1942 edition based on the text handed down in the Hosokawa family edited by Takayanagi Mitsutoshi. The author compared it to different versions and different transcriptions of modern Japanese. Where versions differ significantly, he gives notations.

Since Musashi wrote of abstract concepts in brief sentences, his work is very difficult to understand, especially for the Western non-martial artist. It may prove difficult for even the most patient and eloquent martial artist to describe technique and theory clearly. Based on his own experiences as an active and knowledgeable martial art practitioner and teacher, Tokistsu attempts to demystify the text and offers many new views of Musashi’s work.

Although I do not consider myself in the same martial arts category of a Musashi, I can relate, as a modern martial arts teacher, how difficult it is to describe the sometimes mind-blowing experiences that occur during a workout to those not present, even if they train. As an occasional writer, I am always trying to find ways to document or preserve something very physical, with words. Although keeping a journal of my personal physical experiences helps me relive those memories and perhaps may even have some value to another martial artist, for a non-marital artist, my words would, for the most part, be wasted. I can relate to the difficulty Musashi had attempting to define, explain, and preserve his art with words and, therefore, can value and appreciate Tokistsu’s challenge and contribution in writing this book.

I have read different translations of Gorin no sho , and while I found each interesting, earlier translations of Gorin no sho left far more questions for me as a martial artist than answers. Tokistsu’s translation makes the Gorin no sho more “user friendly” for the martial artist through his familiarity with the subject and efforts to understand the mind of Musashi. He does not simply reproduce the word structure from Japanese into English, an impossible task in any translation.

Not all historians believe Musashi deserves the accolades bestowed on him as either a scholar or swordsman. The author sites a number of them in his book. As an example, in the epilogue to his modern work on the Gorin no sho , Takayanagi Mitsutoshi criticizes Musashi’s writing skills and method of organizing his knowledge of the sword, offering a non-complimentory reason for the text being difficult to understand, in contrast to the author’s point of view:

• That the Japanese language has evolved so much since Musashi’s time.

• The limited role language and the written word plays in the martial arts.

• The fact that martial arts is transmitted through direct teaching, not the written word and that when used, the written word for the most part was simple enumerations of technical terms.

• The difficulty of communicating techniques of the body and mind in writing.

The author continues to address this issue by saying that Musashi’s critics:

… seem to have based their remarks on a distortion of the sense of Musashi’s work. They consider it a literary work, the entire sense of which is meant to be communicated by the use of words. In my view, Musashi’s text should be understood by seeing its connection to those to whom it was addressed, his students, and by understanding the role its author intended it to play for them – a guide to be used as a complement to shared practice

Despite Musashi’s reputation as one of Japan ‘s most famous duelist, the author discovered many historians who question Musashi’s reputation with the sword:

Naoki, a famous writer of samurai novels, triggered the polemic by writing that Musashi did not achieve excellence in the sword until a few years before his death. His view is that in his youth Musashi was no more than an expert in publicizing himself and that his strength in the sword was not extraordinary. He takes as his proof Musashi’s duel against Sasaki Kojiro, in which Musashi used a wooden sword so as to have a sword longer than Kojiro’s; moreover, he deliberately delayed the time of the fight in order to disconcert his adversary.

Harada Mukashi, another detractor, offers another of many conflicting accounts of this battle. Particularly noteworthy to me, however, was the statement where Harada writes: “Musashi won the duel, but contrary to general opinion, it was not an honorable victory.”

Harada relies on the Text of the Numata Family , which in his opinion, is the most faithful to reality, and on the Bugei shoden , which is close to it. Also based on this book, Mukashi developed a truly “original interpretation,” by claiming that in the duel Kojiro did not die from Musashi’s blow. Rather he speculates Kojiro was killed either by Musashi’s students or retainers of Hosokawa which he believed hid on the Island during the duel. This version attempts to provide some credibility for the claim that Musashi fled the Island after being chased by Kojiro’s students who learned of their teacher’s assassination.

Tokistsu presents a number of conflicting accounts of this duel, along with his own explanation as to why or why not the description is valid. In the end, Tokistsu gives the highest credibility to Harada’s interpretation of the duel and events following the fight.

As the Editor noted in reviewing this, Harada contradicts himself. If “students” or “retainers” killed Kojiro, what were Kojiro’s “students” doing at the time? If Kojiro’s students “chased” Musashi, where were his “students” and “retainers?” Furthermore, the island is tiny; Musashi would have no reason stay, and the “straw students” and “retainers” would certainly have encountered one another. Finally, Harada fails to account for the consistency between competing versions that have Musashi dispatching Kojiro. Harada merely chose two complimentary sources that support the version of Musashi he wished to sell. Unfortunately, Toketsu does not recognize these contradictions.

Regardless of which version of the battle one elects to believe, according to the author, this duel was a turning point in Musashi’s life, one in which Musashi gave up seeking individual duels. To support this point, the author examines the following passage from the Gorin no sho :

At the age of thirty, I reflected and saw that although I had won, I had done so without having reached the ultimate level of strategy. Perhaps it was because my natural disposition prevented me from straying from universal principles; perhaps it was because my opponents lacked ability in strategy. I continued to train and to seek from morning till night to attain a deeper principle. When I reach the age of fifty, I naturally found myself on the way of strategy.

Tokistsu explains with repeated examples how Musashi’s skills may have neither been universally recognized nor respected during his lifetime. He recognizes in an era where losing meant death, Musashi was, on the score sheet of life, a survivor and, therefore, a winner. There may have been times when Musashi’s youthful and energetic need to test himself and his skills ran counter to the rituals of fighting that prevailed during that era. However, what evidence for these rituals really exist? On the contrary, evidence exists against such in opponents of Musashi. In the final duel in Kyoto , his opponents intended to ambush him. Perhaps like chivalry, these rules exist more in the minds of those who wish to imagine a better past than actually existed. Whether or not duels during this era were actually steeped in such convention, Musashi would have none of this, considering victory to be the only objective. In this regard, he was considered to be the very best of his time, based on his success and survival, not necessarily on his methods.

Have not the martial arts in general experienced the same fate? Beginning as a brutal method of self-protection with no rules, evolving into a physical fitness activity with rules of engagement and rank based on style, accuracy and other fighting traits but lacking the life or death mindset that truly tests the art and the artist? As the author points out:

In the beginning, the nature of the sword was obvious. The blade was the main thing – it killed in a bloody way. Spirituality had little place in the practice of the sword. In the next phase, the sword continued to be there, but it was in a scabbard. It killed less frequently, almost not at all. Sword practice was more a matter of technique, and it coexisted with spirituality. The notion of do developed in association with the consciousness of one’s duty toward the ruler.

Continuing with this thought, the author sees the conception of the way ( do ) developing as a natural progression of budo , as the warriors disappeared and weapons were prohibited.

The author attributes much of this “practice for art sake” to the fact that once warriors were not fighting for their lives on the battlefield or in duels, their practice changed from a purely practical and physical necessity to one that incorporated the “mind” and “art.” I might add that in the process simple, powerful, and effective techniques became stylized and structured studies in movement. However, Musashi eschews such when discussing technique in his Gorin No Sho . Indeed, he stresses practical application to the point of confusion for the non-martial artist. Harris gave up in his translation, stating that the reader would have to study kendo to understand Musashi! Thus, while Musashi may have made the “practical” an “art,” he insisted in keeping the art practical.

Tokitsu unfortunately demonstrates a major deficiency in critical thinking when he claims mystical powers on the part of Musashi . He writes that Musashi demonstrated in his later fighting “no touch” or “no action” to win duels. This is especially interesting, since this phenomenon continues to be used by modern “masters” of martial arts and attributed to a mysterious energy force developed by these “masters’ . I do not recall an example of Musashi claiming this in Gorin No Sho . Out-thinking your opponent, developing intuition, doing more than one action at once . . . yes! Not this! Leave aside the lack of actual evidence for such paranormal feats on the part of Musashi; the author describes this phenomenon in a manner that gives credibility to something that any magician or scientist could debunk. I mention this because at the 2000 SummerFest that I host, we were actually able to invite one of these “masters,” who was willing to submit to a scientifically validated, double blind test where these powers were absolutely shown to be a function of the participants’ controlled-mind rather than any power or skill on the part of the “master.” To date, no one has successfully shown evidence of such phenomenon under properly controlled conditions. The laws of physics remain intact.

Rather than consider more terrestrial explanations, Tokitsu accepts the fanciful stories without critical examination. This is not history. Tokitsu describes a number of instances where Musashi uses this “mind” device to overwhelm his opponent and further claims this ability is used by modern Kendo and other martial art masters to dominate their opponents without any apparent movement. The Editor and the Nobel Committee would welcome any documented case of a legitimate match won by such nonsense. Not surprisingly, Musashi himself never claims this ability, and his Gorin no sho certainly does not mention it. On the contrary, his work stresses the very practical aspect of fighting.

Here is an example of one of Toketsu’ claims:

Musashi’s combats during the years of his maturity recall what is known today in kendo as kizeme , literally “ ki offensive ,” at its highest level. Toward the end of his life, Musashi fought his duels by dominating his adversaries without striking a blow. This way of defeating an adversary would in the future become the ultimate goal of the Japanese martial arts, in the form they acquired during the Edo period.

The author goes on to further claim in his “One Life, One Art” section of his book that, “Toward the end of his life, a unique approach to combat became second nature to him: to defeat the adversary without striking a single blow.” The ability to fly would also be a “unique approach.” The author continues: “Defeating the adversary without striking is a paradox that develops in the realm of awareness. The person who is defeated without having been struck is in reality struck by a sensation of energy that overwhelms him and makes him have a sense of an inner void.”

As the Editor reminds, and I can attest, the martial arts abound with mythic founders. Believe some of the stories of my style’s founder, and he achieves perfect Sanchin just as he died of kidney failure! Perhaps we want our founders to be superhuman. This detracts from the humanity and real achievements of such men.

That flaw aside, this remains a book you will take your time reading. Every page brings a new perspective to the life of Musashi. Aside from possibly disagreeing with a couple of Tokitsu’s suppositions relating to Musashi’s actions , martial artists will be especially impressed by Tokitsu’s new view of the man and his ideas. The author has examined and includes all of the conflicting information, dates and stories in his work and provides compelling evidence for what he considers to be the most reasonable explanation for the conflicting stories, dates and names.

Also of interest is the author’s coverage of:

  • The main periods in the history of Japanese swordsmanship.
  • Musashi’s childhood and his first duel.
  • The founding of Musashi’s School of Two Swords.
  • Musashi’s influence on contemporize practice and
  • The evolution of budo, or martial arts practiced for self-cultivation.

Musashi was also a respected artist, and the book contains color reproductions of his own calligraphies and paintings, supplemented by commentary from the well-known art historian Stephen Addiss. Of particular importance to the martial art student are the very excellent Appendixes, Notes, Glossary and Bibliography, each worthy of its own review.

No matter how many books you’ve read on Musashi, if you are a martial artist, you should add Tokitsu’s to your library.


Harada Mukashi. Shinsetsu Miyamoto Musashi (The Truth about Miyamoto Musashi) Fukuoka : Ashi shobo, 1984

Morenski JD, Glasheen WP. An Empty Force: (, 2000.

Musashi M. A Book of Five Rings: the Classic Guide to Stategy. Harris V, trans. New York : The Overlook Press, 1982.

Takayanagi Mitsutoshi. Gorin-no-sho . (Edited with commentary). Tokyo : Iwanami, 1942; rev. ed., 1969.

George E. Mattson
International Uechi-ryu Karate Federation
POB 217
Mount Dora , FL 32756

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Dec 13 2008

Advanced Stick Fighting (book)

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

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Dec 13 2008

A Grateful Nation Rejoices (book)

A Grateful Nation Rejoices

Review: Nowlin B, Prime J. Blood Feud: The Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Struggle of Good versus Evil.Cambridge: Rounder Books, 2005, ISBN 1-57940-111-2, $16.95.

Massarotti T, Harper J. A Tale of Two Cities: The 2004 Yankees–Red Sox Rivalry and the War for the Pennant. Guilford: The Lyons Press, 2005, ISBN 1-59228-704-2, $14.95.


I mean hate, like hatred, like that bad quality in human beings to hate. I hate them. I hate Yankee fans. I hate their team. I am filled with rage.

Michael O’Malley, Reverse the Curse of the Bambino

Any Sox fan that tells you they thought they were going to come back and any Yankees fan that they thought it was possible, at that point, is lying through their fucking teeth.

Denis Leary, Reverse the Curse of the Bambino

I walked down the street like I was Sparticus! As a Red Sox fan living in New York it’s a wonderful thing, because you get to see Yankees fans struggling with their new identity, which is, “Ah, the Greatest Chokers in the History of Sport!”

Paul Sullivan, Reverse the Curse of the Bambino

As the overused yet true cliché reveals: There is nothing constant except change. Nevertheless, we strive for permanence, something familiar, certain, and solid in the rushing chaos of time. For many in the more fashionable corner of Our Great Red Sox Nation–and parts of Canada, with some recent prospects escaped from Cuba, not to mention Japan–this permanence promised that, eventually, the Noble House Red Sox falls to the Evil Empire of the City of New York. Or as the foul knaves that infest a wretched backwater known as “the Bronx” belch, “1918.”

Much has been said, written, and filmed about the rivalry between the Noble Boston Red Sox and some team from New York. More will certainly arrive as the aftershocks fade from the Event: the sudden cataclysm of last fall that threatened the fabric of the Universe. This Editor shall not dwell on the controversy between various theologians as to whether or not the Event signified a coming eschaton, but He will note that physicists from MIT have been described as “very concerned.” String theory calculations performed in 2003 demonstrated that the impending World Series between the Sox and the Chicago Cubs would have either resulted in a simultaneous Series defeat for both teams, the collapse of the entirety of space-time into a quantum singularity, or George Lucas formulating an original idea. However, until the Event, this heralded rivalry has proved about as valid as “Wrong Said” Freddie Mitchell’s rivalry with Rodney Harrison, or with, well, anyone. When one side of a “rivalry” has zero World Championships and the other has twenty-six, when one side has lost more than the other has had opportunities to either win or lose, then who is kidding whom?

The reality of the situation means little to its victims, of course. True or not the New York Yankees seemed to succeed where the Sox failed. The Yankees seemed to obtain the “best players,” often from the Sox. While the Yankees obviously never beat the Sox in a World Series, this Editor is certain someone can find some way to blame them for Johnny Pesky “holding the ball,” Danny Galehouse, Ted Williams having a bad post-season, and even Bill Buckner. They were playing in New York after all. Belief often develops from such simplistic and erroneous explanations: Pesky did not “hold the ball,” Buckner did not blow the lead, nor did he lose the seventh game of the ’86 Series. Even Bucky “F-in'” Dent did not destroy the Sox’s fourteen game lead.

Grady Little did keep Pedro in that extra inning.

Yankees fans can point to disasters, not all of them named Ortiz or Schilling. They have coped with horrible seasons, even bad decades, but 25+ Championships provides quite a psychological cushion. While Sox fans have created a rivalry, Yankees fans have nurtured it: “No matter how bad it gets,” they rationalize, “we ultimately beat the Red Sox.” Misery loves company, particularly if it is even more miserable. They could always taunt “1918” while Sox fans could only whimper a weak “2000.” Yankees fans in moments of despair could look back on what has been, while Sox fans could only look back on what “coulda” been. Sox fans could not even gain solace in the misery of others. As one friend well-versed in the lore of The Curse proclaimed, “at least the Sox will win a World Series before the Patriots ever win a Super Bowl!” It has been a tough decade for him.

With the Event comes a flood of books seeking to exploit the Joy of Our Fair Nation and the Misery of the Evil Empire–and some inhabitants of a small town in the Mid-West. This Editor was fortunate to find two that are not just hype-driven pulp. Both compliment one another by serving two different purposes. The first examines the history and meaning of the rivalry while providing an honest history of the Red Sox. The second examines the 2004 season from the perspective of a Boston and a New York sportswriter.

Blood Feud should stand as one of the best basic and honest histories of a sports organization. Extremely well-written and organized, it opens with a fiery introduction from Bill “Spaceman” Lee and concludes with a touching assessment from Johnny Pesky who really does not hate the Yankees. Lee does. While the authors proclaim proudly their bias towards the Sox, they actually give a fair treatment with criticisms of the Sox and even recognition for New York. Yankees fans may disagree, but the opinion of losers really does not matter.

The authors open their story with a detailed and devastating description of the first three games of the 2004 American League Championship Series, guaranteed to leave any reader in the same state as all of the Great Nation were left when A-“F-in'” Rod, Jeter, Matsui, and the Yankees batboy finished decimating the Sox in their home: suicidal. For Sox fans, it was not bad enough to have watched Bucky “F-in'” Dent “bloop” disaster or Aaron “F-in'” Boone do the same after a blown lead, this final indignity lacked even the honor of a “decent try.” There is really no way to put a “positive spin” on a 19 to 8 violation capping a 3 to 0 ALCS lead other than to hope it fatigued the Yankee batters. As this Editor groused to Yankees haters at the time, “the Red Sox will be lucky to have the opportunity to lose the seventh game!”

The authors then explore a number of issues of Red Sox history. Where they succeed is in organization. Some fan love statistics. They care that on Tuesdays of the third week of a month in which the President warns of “nuculer threats” David Ortiz hits such-and-such against Democrat pitchers. The authors separate the statistics into sections so those who care may enjoy and those who do not may skip without losing the flow. If the reader is interested in reviewing the debate over “who benefited more” in Sox-Yankees trades, there is a chapter devoted to it. How did Sox players who became Yankees players fair other than they won a few more rings? The authors provide the statistics in a separate section. They also provide humor such as an application to transfer loyalty from the Yankees to the Sox which asks how many times the Yankees have won a World Series in the last decade, century, and millennia. Hint: the answer is the same.

Other topics include reviews of past horrors of failed Series, how Sox and Yankees loyalties divide in New England, and even interviews with families divided. They reveal islands of Sox Fans in New York and expose traitors in Boston. Their treatment of The Curse of the Bambino rivals the same titled work of Dan Shaughnessy. The authors review the actual history and correct some of Shaughnessy’s critics. For those unfamiliar, The Curse refers to the belief that the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees cursed the Red Sox to failure. While even Shaughnessy contends, despite what his critics claim, that it is just a way to bring meaning to unfortunate circumstances and excuse errors of the Sox own making, events such as the ’86 choke and the 2003 ALCS loss may challenge even the most skeptical. They cheerfully review some of the more bizarre attempts to remove The Curse from hunts for a sunken piano to Fr. Guido Sarduchi’s attempts to bless Fenway Park. Ironically the “Official Salem Witch,” Lori Cabot, gave up her efforts to remove The Curse just prior to the 2004 season. Score one for rational thought.

While certain that more knowledgeable fans may find errors, this Editor could only find one: They misquote comedian Steven Wright by combining his words with another from the wonderful HBO documentary Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino. In other words, there are no significant criticisms. The book provides a fantastic introduction to Red Sox history, the feelings of their fans, and the meaning of it all. In paperback, it is well-constructed and appropriately priced. One can obtain it from the publisher and other on-line booksellers at a reduced price. This itself places the work above far more expensive and superficial hardcover efforts. After presenting the pain that is Red Sox history compared to the joy that was Yankee history–just how does a team blow a fourteen game lead?–with both humor and empathy, it concludes with the proper transformation of tragedy into comedy.

A Tale of Two Cities serves as a good companion because despite its titled intent to examine the Sox-Yankees’ rivalry, it does not contain the same information. The book consists of the observations of a Red Sox reporter, Massarotti, and a Yankees reporter, Harper, on the 2004 season. While touching briefly on the foundation of the rivalry, they provide more “in house” detail of the season. The book opens with the season’s true beginning: the Aaron “F-in'” Boone home run that sent both teams to their traditional fates. They detail off-season efforts of the likes of Theo Epstein to correct weaknesses. As they note, the most obvious first change was the sacking of Grady “Just One More Inning, Pedro” Little. The efforts of the Sox to secure Alex Rodriguez serve as a good example of such efforts. While many members of the Great Nation have granted Rodriquez with a middle name previously bestowed upon Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone, the authors remind that it was not A-“F-in”” Rod’s fault his trade to the Sox failed; the Player’s Association refused to allow the player to accept the required pay-cut. That Steinbrenner produced the funds to acquire A-Rod could only irritate Sox fans and management. Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez sat on wavers.

Derek Jeter, who has thus far avoided elevation to the “Red Sox Honor’s List,” serves as another example. He should serve as the focus of Sox hatred; as the authors note, he is even good looking. They compare the admiration Sox players developed for Jeter when he injured his face diving into the stands to make a play with their reaction to the behavior Nomar Garciapara. Jeter could have ended his season if not career. Sox players actually applauded. They, management, and fans had to wonder about Nomar, who would not play when asked, and whose arcane “rituals” required him to sit alone in the dugout while his teammates cheered and tried to rally. While they note Nomar would argue he simply followed his known “rituals,” others had to wonder if Nomar refused to risk himself for the team prior to becoming a free agent.

The “inside gossip” has a purpose; it attempts to explain the motivations of players, management, and fans. In describing the excruciating violation that was the first three games of the 2004 ALCS, they reveal how Sox frustrations spilled over to their spouses. Harper gives an interesting perspective on Steinbrenner and Joe Torre’s success working under him. Apparently, Steinbrenner’s brief experience with college football causes him to approach baseball as if it could be played like football. According to Harper, Steinbrenner often demands his management to devise “plays.” While the difference may seem obvious to most readers–just how does a pitcher “pump fake” and can batters “blitz” the pitcher?–Harper explains some of the actual strategy in baseball. Torre has the ability to let such distractions pass through him while previous managers allowed the frustration of such meddling to build. This discussion compares well with Massarotti’s discussion of Terry Francona and Theo Epstein’s understanding of “stratometrics” which runs counter to “tradition.” Fact remains pitchers do fatigue after a personal number of pitches, a fact lost on Grady Little. Ironically, Francona challenged these statistics by keeping Pedro Martinez in over his number to disastrous results! As with Blood Feud, the authors succeed in presenting the statistics without dryness or tedium.

This Editor has one serious criticism. The authors do not reliably identify who is contributing to which chapter. Sometimes it is obvious: Harper will refer to his counterpart by name, for example. Where irritating confusion enters is from the curious changes in type. One would assume each writer has a different type. This is not the case, which makes the changes more inexplicable and distracting. This does not ruin the work, but it remains an unnecessary irritation. Otherwise, the book is well-constructed and very reasonably priced. As with Blood Feud, one can obtain it reduced prices through on-line bookstores.

One might wonder if asked, “which book should I choose if I could only get one?” how this Editor would reply. He would simply recognize the question as puerile ignorance and have Staff work-over then cast the simpering questioner into the darkness inhabited by Chicago fans. While he did not expect or intend both books to compliment one another, they do. Besides, since few truly extraordinary historical events occur, the 2004 Red Sox Season and the 2004 Yankees Choke deserve to be savored, revisited, and hallowed. As far too many cretinous Yankees fans claim, it may be another eighty-six years before we can do so again.


Roy G, Bernstein R, Producers, Roy G, Director. Reverse the Curse of the Bambino. Home Box Office Sports, 2004.

Shaughnessy D. The Curse of the Bambino. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.

J.D. Morenski

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Dec 13 2008

Greater Nowheres (book)

Greater Nowheres
Wanderings Across the Outback
Dave Finkelstein and Jack London

First off, let me tell you that both David Finkelstein and Jack London are lifelong friends of mine.

When I heard that they were going on an extended trip to the Australian Outback, my first thoughts were “They will kill one another!”

Picture the original “Odd couple”, Felix and Oscar (Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon), spending the better part of a year trekking through the wilds of the Australian Outback, searching for the elusive Salt Water Crocodile. (The original purpose for going on this journey). London, the “laid-back”, writer with perennial writer’s block, always up for a beer and tall tale, teamed up with his Birkenstock clad “Felix”, fascinated by the thought of “interviewing” “Ladies of the Evening” for the purpose of discovering what “place in the future of Kalgoorlie does the whorehouse play” and, of course, to have a purely innocent “heart to heart” with the “madam” and you get some sense of a potentially volatile relationship, but an exceptionally warmhearted, winning formula for an adventure.

I don’t think the book started out to be a delightful and humorous narrative starring dozens of Damon Runyon characters, each with his or her fascinating stories of adventure, hardship, love and death in the untamed Outback region; but to the benefit of the reader, this aspect of their book adds a dimension to the travelogue segments that is truly fascinating.

When I first read Greater Nowheres, back in the 80s, it was released as a hardback book. David sent me a copy which I brought with me to Okinawa and China on one of my karate trips. I really enjoyed it, as in some weird way, their experiences paralleled mine while I was touring some of the primitive “outbacks” in parts of China.

I was fully expecting to see the book shoot up the New York Times list, but for some reason it didn’t get either the publicity or acclaim it deserved.

At the 2003 SummerFest, David was honored by being the recipient of Uechi-ryu karate’s “master’s” degree. Beside all his other accomplishments, David is an eighth degree black belt. He also was honored by Lyons Press; learning that they were going to re-release the book as paperback. True to his word, David sent me another copy, which I just completed. This time I would like to shout to the world that this book should be on everyone’s must-read list.

For those of us who know Jack and David, the book offers a belly laugh with every page. For those who don’t know them, you will, after a few chapters, come to know and love them while appreciating their enjoyable experiences and wincing at those times when life in the Outback reminded us all of the many faces of Mother Nature.

Get online and contact or and order your copy today.

George E. Mattson
Eastern Arts & Humanities Center, Inc.


“Delightful… Finkelstein and London write well. Their account is filled with engaging descriptions of beautiful, forbidding landscapes, the tough bush boys they meet and the lore of the Godforsaken town…[Their] trip is not for every traveler. But their book is.”
—Chicago Tribune

“The reason to read this book is the myriad brief encounters, many of which are hilarious.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review

“…a fine volume in the literature of unpleasant but enlightened travel.”
—Outside Magazine

“Always exciting, sometimes hilarious… The perfect gift for the armchair traveler.”
—Travel & Leisure

“A vivid book…bound to attract attention.
—Toronto Globe and Mail

“… gives us a rare view of the bush and its extremes of weather, of distance, and of character. You’ll enjoy it even if you don’t get there yourself.”
—New York Post

“A pleasure.”
–The New York Times Book Review

Talk about classic returns. Dave Finkelstein and Jack London’s immensely popular, wildly funny, and critically acclaimed book GREATER NOWHERES: WANDERINGS ACROSS THE OUTBACK, which was first published almost two decades ago, is back—this time in paperback and with a new introduction by Dave Finkelstein—to give delight to a new generation of readers. The book is a must for those with a penchant for exciting adventure tales, as well as for armchair travelers and lovers of humorous “on-the-road” stories–in this case, off-the-road, “bush-bashing” stories–here brilliantly and poignantly told by two oddly compatible traveling companions, one the Irish romantic, the other the Talmudic rationalist.

Driving a Toyota 4-wheel-drive truck and armed with snake boots, an “esky” full of beer, and an insatiable appetite for adventure, intrepid journalists Dave Finkelstein and Jack London set out into the Australian bush in pursuit of the fearsome saltwater crocodile, a huge, notoriously dangerous reptile with an equally insatiable appetite for humans. Though the “salties” prove elusive, in their travels the authors stumble upon a diverse and outrageously entertaining cast of dinki-di Australian characters—sun-hardened men and strong-willed woman–eking out an existence in the croc’s hardscrabble, primordial habitat: stockmen, aborigines, “roo” hunters, bushrangers, latter-day pioneers, escapists, and outright lunatics.

In ramshackle pubs along desolate stretches of dusty track, shantytown settlements in the middle of nowhere, and million-acre cattle stations hundreds of miles from their nearest neighbors, they experience an Australia rarely seen by the average traveler: dwarf-throwing contests, cold spaghetti sandwiches, even a regional rash called “Karumba rot”—the inevitable souvenir of a visit to the forbidding Gulf of Carpentaria, with its swelteringly oppressive tropical climate. Yet, like no other observers before them, in their celebration of the Outback and its inhabitants, the authors (described by one reviewer as “at least as amusing as the extravagant characters they meet”) get to the heart and fiber of the Australian soul, to the very essence of what makes Australia the unique and marvelous country it is.

As author Jim Harrison says, “GREATER NOWHERES is an absolutely wonderful book… a classic of travel literature. It’s unthinkable that anyone would go to Australia without first reading this book.”

Rich in the history and geography of a vast, fascinating continent, GREATER NOWHERES (Lyons Press, $14.95 Trade Paperback, April 15, 2005) is also an exploration of solitude, mateship, contemplation, and adventure.

DAVE FINKELSTEIN, a graduate of Harvard Law School, had a legal career distinguish-ed only by its brevity—one month. Fluent in Mandarin, he went on to become a Chinese interpreter for the U.S.Department of State–the first language student of his generation to qualify for that position–then the Ford Foundation’s first China specialist. Now a freelance writer, he has written about political and wildlife issues throughout the world. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, New York Times, and Washington Post. A flamenco guitarist and avid fisherman, he also holds an 8th degree in Okinawan karate. He lives in New York City.

JACK LONDON’S work has appeared in Audubon, Sports Afield, the Miami Herald, and The London Observer. A former English professor, he lives in Key West, Florida.

Greater Nowheres
Wanderings Across the Outback

Dave Finkelstein and Jack London
With a new introduction by Dave Finkelstein
Foreword by Philip Caputo
$14.95 Trade Paper
$21.95 in Canada
320 Pages
5.50 X 8.5
ISBN: 1-59228-396-9
April15, 2005

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Dec 13 2008

The Lone Samurai (book)

Review: Wilson WS. The Lone Samurai: the Life of Miyamoto Musashi. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd., 2004, ISBN 4-7700-2942-X, $24.00.

All you need for a founding figure is a name and a place.

–Prof. Jonathan Z. Smith, as quoted in Mack.

One really does not need much to build a mythic character. Take a man, a place in time, and start telling stories. The stories spread and change with repetition. The figure gains attributes both positive and negative as the story grows depending o the needs of the teller and the wishes of his audience. As a figure and his legends grow, more and more want some connection to the figure even if it is known the figure is actually mythic. Greater and greater deeds become assigned to the figure. This process applies to real historical individuals. As Prof. Smith’s observation implies, that a real figure existed has little to do with the development of the stories. If one adds up all of the places “Washington slept,” he would have missed the American Revolution. Glastonbury, England, boasts to not just the tombs of Arthur and Genievere, but Joseph of Arimethea’s staff-turned-tree. Churchill never observed that the “grand traditions of the Royal Navy” were “rum, sodomy, and the lash,” but he did admit he wished he had. A town in Iowa voted itself the future birthplace of James Tiberius Kirk, future scourge of Klingons and alien females. As Yogi Berra actually stated, “I really didn’t say everything I said!”

For some figures with little historical documentation, this process is understandable. Tellers make up a story to cover the gaps. Some, like Hammurabi, contributed directly to their myth. Supporters of Vespasian claimed he could raise the dead. A storyteller never lets something so minor as facts get in the way of a good story. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart is William Wallace, even if his Battle of Stirling Bridge lacked a bridge, Wallace’s father lived longer in real life, “Longshanks” outlived Wallace, et cetera. Historical documentation does help, but one has to research and present the evidence, and the audience must care. Traditions may become so strong facts cannot stand in the way.

Thus with one of the great martial arts characters: Miyamoto Musashi. He is the invincible swordsman, peerless artisan, and wisest of writers of unfathomable yet life-changing books. As with all popular legendary characters, we know his story: killed his first opponent at the age of thirteen; fought and won over sixty duels, often using whatever was available at hand such as a stray cat; declared at the age of thirty he knew nothing of swordsmanship; commenced study and mastery of all arts, including calligraphy, sculpture, ink painting, and rhythmic gymnastics; never bathed, never took a wife; finally retiring to a mountain to dictate the greatest text on strategy which has influenced martial arts ever since and the size of cupholders in Toyota cars. Yet, was he not defeated by some monk who hung him upside down until he experience a revelation? Did he not have a woman following him from chapter to chapter and movie to movie? Are there not stories of “the one guy who” bested him in a duel at “such and such a place?” At least three different locations claim his birthplace. One of the powers of legend is its ability to contain conflicting, if not contradictory, details. All are true.

Wilson’s work offers something rare in martial arts histories: actual history. History consists of opinionated science; the historian marshals what facts he can and tries to interpret them. Other historians can judge his interpretations by evaluating his facts and reasonable inferences. Some interpretations prove more obvious and objective than others, but ultimately the credibility of the work depends on the quality of sources and the historian’s use of them. Scholars use primary sources when available. One will not find any record of George Washington’s assault upon a cherry tree, but one will find the book that started the myth. Too often, martial art historians merely parrot stories taken from secondary sources without seeking the basis for them. Part of this results from an understandable language and distance barrier. If only we all had the luxury and ability to learn the languages and travel the countries. Wilson enjoyed both through virtue of his studies of Japanese language and culture, his previous translations, and his visitations of important sites.

Historians have to exercise care to avoid “cherry picking” data that supports the figure they want. This is especially true for martial arts historians. Who does not want a founding figure to have killed a tiger and a few score bandits with his bare hands? Rational examination of historical figures does not diminish them. Which is more inspirational: a George Washington “who never told a lie,” or a shrewd man who could act to inspire dissatisfied officers to prevent them from overturning the country they defended? Wilson recognizes this in his description of Yoshikawa Eiji’s influencial novel: ” The problem for the reader is the tendency to believe that Yoshikawa’s Musashi is in fact the historical Musashi. Endlessly entertaining and instructive, it is a story we want to believe is true.”

Wilson promises a history from the onset to the end. A quick skim shows a list of his primary sources, a map of events in Musashi’s life, including conflicting birthplaces, all the way to extensive appendices and bibliography that includes depictions of his life in film. In the Preface, he identifies the inspiration for his current work as his translation of The Book of Five Rings–Go Rin No Sho–for Kodansha: “The project turned out to be an intensive course on the very core of what might be called the Musashi myth, and on how that myth came to be.” The final point is most important. It is one thing to show that a favorite aspect of a life is a legend, it is even better to show how the legend arose. He gives an outline of the surviving sources for Musashi from, “. . . a monument inscribed with the story of Musashi’s life and erected by his adopted son Iori in 1654,” to a chronology published in 1910. “Scattered among these are records of various clans that were touched by Musashi’s presence . . . and even family records that mentioned Musashi, . . .” Wilson notes:

Because of discrepancies in time and place and the personal alliances of the various authors, these sources often had Musashi in different places at the same time, held various and even diametrically opposed opinions on his personality, talents and accomplishments and could be quite perplexing in regard to the chronology: one, for example, had his father dying years before Musashi was born.

Wilson opens his work with a description of the prologue to the celebrated and infamous duel between Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro on what would become known as Ganryujima or “Ganryu Island.” He asks and proposes to answer just how Musashi came to that point in his life and then passed into legend.

Though out this journey, Wilson describes the sources for events, weighing them to produce the most likely picture. His treatment of Musashi’s clashes with the Yoshioka clan in Kyoto serves as an example. He begins with an introduction of the history of the Yoshioka clan from the earliest member Naomoto to the members challenged by Musashi based on extant sources which include the family annals, the Yoshioka-den. He provides one of the fanciful legends concerning one of the brothers challenged by Musashi, Seijuro: “Seijuro was said to have reached such a level of concentration that, when he focused his thought on a single bird on a treetop in the forest, hundreds of birds would fly up to the treetops at once.” Such details prove important as Wilson tries to understand the motivations of Musashi: “Musashi’s decision to challenge Seijuro was not random. By defeating Seijuro, he would not only show the whole world what he could do but also demonstrate a thing or two to his father, Munisai, who was still teaching martial arts in Kyushu.” Wilson then details Musashi’s father’s successful matches with Seijuro’s father which brought Shimen Munisai renown. All of this explains the eagerness of Seijuro to accept the challenge from an apparent young unknown. In his extensive endnotes, Wilson gives some of the opposing views of Musashi’s matches with the Yoshioka such as the aforementioned family annals that try to claim Musashi proved too cowardly to show up for a duel with brother Denschichiro that other sources show he lethally triumphed.

Wilson carries on with this care through his descriptions of other events in Musashi’s life. He supplements these with details of his own field work which includes travels to Ganryu Island:

This island is still called Funa Island, as it was four hundred years ago, but anyone you ask will tell you that, yes, it is also well-known as Ganryu Island. Then they will often extend their forearms as if holding a sword, and smile.
. . . .
Just as we approach the boat, the captain leads me to a low rise. We push aside the thin trees and bushes and walk up a short path to a two-yard high memorial stone, now hidden in the overgrowth. The Chinese characters engraved on the stone are weathered and lichen-covered, but you can still make out the name: Ganryu Sasaki Kojiro. A few old coins lie in the rusted offering box at the base of the stone, and next to it has been placed–some time ago–a One-Cup Ozeki saké can, now half-filled with murky water. Who still comes here to offer such things?

Reigan Cave, and, finally, Musashi’s tomb. The book closes with an extensive appendix that traces the development of the stories popularly attached to Musashi from the first kabuki work, Revenge at Ganryu Island in 1737 to the many popular movies. Included is a detailed discussion of the popular and influencial serialized novel of Yoshikawa Eiji, Miyamoto Musashi:

It is through Yoshikawa’s novel and the movies that followed the story line that Musashi’s image is known throughout the world today. It was also through this book that the common view of Musashi changed radically from what it had been for hundreds of years prior to its appearance. . . .
. . . .
Typical of his other historical novels, Yoshikawa based his work for the most part on the known facts of Musashi’s life, then filled in the large gaps with his wn imaginative accounts of what could have been.

The critic who does not find anything to criticize is not doing his job. Wilson rather assumes Musashi authorship of Go Rin No Sho. Some, like Donn F. Draeger argue otherwise:

. . . he did not write the Gorin no sho. Those who came after and eulo-gized him did the writing. This was much like the Bible, Qur’an, etc., where students recalled the great man’s sayings add statements plus what-ever embellishments the writers wished to add. The result was the Gorin no sho we have today.

In its recent Japanese editions, the Gorin no sho has been misinter-preted and recast in terms that are glowing and pleasing to modern ears. Thus, it is a far cry from any original that may have once existed. Even the earliest version, the one that never gets to the public eyes, is far removed from the brush or mouth of its purported author.

The work would have benefited from a summary of a text-critical analysis of the most famous work attributed to Musashi to address these concerns. Textual criticism seeks to recover a text through analysis of extant versions known as “witnesses.” This involves study of the history of the witnesses and the variations between them. Sometimes the answers are obvious: a later version corrects the grammar of the original, or scholars have an autograph or version written by the claimed author. Sometimes, analysis demonstrates the text could not have been written in the period or by the author as claimed. For a biography that seeks to find the man behind the legends, this is a glaring omission, particularly given the wonderful care Wilson demonstrates in separating facts from legends throughout. If credible claims arose that an aid wrote Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” biographers would have to discuss such. He may discuss such matters in his previously published translation of the work; unfortunately a copy proved unavailable for review. If Wilson feels the Musashi authorship of Go Rin No Sho is established, a brief outline of the evidence would have completed the book. Nevertheless, he does provide in his Appendix a discussion of the influence and parallels to Go Rin No Sho.

A few weeks after the completion of this review, a local Japanese bookstore decided to obtain a number of copies of Wilson’s translation of Go Rin No Sho. In his introduction to the work, Wilson discusses the sources for the work. No autograph–work written in the author’s hand–exists, but existing copies agree closely with one another according to Wilson. He chose the copy considered the authoritative: a copy Musashi’s adopted son gave to their patron lord. The copy dates to within twenty years of Musashi’s death and has remained in the lord’s family. This all rather contradicts and rebuts the claims made by Draeger.

Aside from that, with a complete and current filmography, glossary, and bibliography of works in English, Japanese, and Chinese, Wilson provides a very complete treatment of the Musashi as both a historical and legendary character. The book is very well written and is printed with the quality expected from Kodansha. The book’s listed price of $24.00 for hardcover is appropriate. Discounts are available on-line which make this book a true bargain.

John David Morenski, M.D., Yondan, Uechi-Ryu


Berra Y. The Yogi Book: “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!” Workman Publishing Company, 1999.

The Churchill Centre. “Quotes Falsely Attributed to Him,”

“The Code of Hammurabi,” Meek TJ trans, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd. ed. Pritchard JB ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Draeger DF, “Letters on Miyamoto Musashi,” Joseph Svinth ed., Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 8 (3), 1999.

Mack B., A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins. Fortress Press, 1991.

Mackay JA. William Wallace: Braveheart. Mainstream Publishing Company, Ltd. 1996.

Musashi M. The Book of Five Rings. William Scott Wilson trans. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd., 2002.

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Dec 13 2008

Bad Astronomy (book)

Bad Astronomy Review

Review: Plait PC. Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax.” New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002, ISBN 0-471-40976-6,, $15.95.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.

— Prof. Richard P. Feynman

Comedian, author, and skeptic Steve Allen, one of the few men worthy of the honor “renaissance man,” devised rules to avoid becoming “dumb”–functionally ignorant. With this goal in mind, the Editor embarks upon a few works to avoid the descent into ignorance that can only lead to country-western music and NASCAR. One of Allen’s rules specifies gaining an understanding of the current theories of how the Universe works. How does the Noble Readership gain this understanding? What seems basic and simple for a physicist will melt the brain of a layman, and some of the more cutting edge theories challenge specialists. A number of books intended for a “general audience” strive nobly but fail miserably. Hawkin’s A Brief History of Time is one such work, and it remains the most successful book to gather dust on a nightstand.

The answer, of course, is through the kind, learn’d, yet humble guidance of the Editor. The Editor confesses He is not a physicist and suffers severe allergies to mathematics. Over the past few months, the Editor has struggled through a few potential books designed for “the laymen” that have sent Him scurrying to a far corners with a bowl of ice cream and a graphic novel until His brain ceased squirming. In the meantime, the Editor’s morning post filled with increasingly threatening “requests” for a review from this site’s Administrator. Rumor has it the Administrator employs ninja . . . or is it yakuza? Fortunately, all for a cartoon, the Editor will not have to find out. He spied one of a mother helping her child with her third-grade science homework thinking, “oh, so that’s why the sky is blue!”

Suddenly, the Editor was reminded of this wonderful book he read when it first came out. Bad Astronomy is the work of Dr. Philip Plait, “the Bad Astronomer,” and creator of the wonderful internet site,, infamous for taking apart pseudoscientists such as Richard Hoagland, Emanuel Velikovsky proponents, and your basic astrologer.

He also explains why the sky is blue.

One of the charms of Dr. Plait’s work is he never forgot why science is actually interesting. He examines interesting subjects and urban legends “we all swear by” to reveal the basic science of astronomy. Does the Coriolis Effect cause the water in toilets and drains to swirl in different directions above and below the equator? Dr. Plait not only demonstrates why this does not happen, he even exposes the hoax run by a man in Kenya who charges tourists to watch drain water after he walks across the equator, a hoax unwittingly propagated by Michael Palin in his PBS series, From Pole to Pole.

His section on the “Moon Hoax” claims alone makes his book work. While this Editor hopes the Noble Readership recognizes that, yes, Neil Armstrong and others did actually land on the Moon, there is a significant pool of conspiracy theorists. The Moon Hoax Conspiracy serves as a wonderful paradigm for other current conspiracy theories, such as JFK, 9/11, Bigfoot, Holocaust denial, and George Steinbrenner. Proponents raise a number of objections that appear reasonable in order to call in question the accepted theory. Regarding the Moon Hoax Conspiracy, proponents note that no stars appear in the sky in photographs taken on the moon. The Moon is in space; there should be stars. Dr. Plait patiently explains the mistaken assumptions and often frankly bad science behind this and objections. He carries this patience into other areas such as tides, astrology, and even whether or not the Moon and Sun actually “looks bigger” at the horizon. Regarding astrology, he demonstrates why that beer can to your left exerts a stronger gravitational pull on you than, say, Saturn. Indeed, he explains why the Moon can exert an influence on a large body such as an ocean while having negligible influence on a human.

Along with various astronomy topics, Dr. Plait devotes an entire chapter to bad astronomy in major motion pictures. Dr. Plait is not a killjoy; he freely admits to loving “bad science” movies while educating why the ship cannot bank, the explosions cannot go “boom.” However, where movies “go wrong” reveals quite a bit about real science even if fans simply cannot accept a USS Enterprise that does not “whoosh!”

This is a well-written book, neither obscurely technical nor condescending. It covers a range of topics that should interest just about any reader for a very reasonable price. This Editor cannot recommend it too highly.

John David Morenski, M.D., Godan, Uechi-Ryu


Allen S. Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking with 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind. New York: Prometheus Books, 1998.

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Dec 13 2008

The Fabric of the Cosmos (book)


Review: Greene BR. The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. New York: Vintage Books, 2005, ISBN 0-375-72720-5, $15.95.

The most astonishing thing about the universe is that we can understand it at all.

— Prof. Albert Einstein

One of Steve Allen’s “rules” to avoid “dumpth” requires an understanding of current theories on how the universe works. Continuing his quest to combat “dumpth” and the resulting acceptance of country-western as a form of music, the Editor offers a book that provides an overview to modern physics. This has not been an easy task. While there have been many attempts to describe ph

ysics and modern cosmology for laymen, most, frankly, fail. What seems basic and simple for a physicist will melt the brain of a layman, and some of the more cutting edge theories challenge specialists. As noted in a previous review, Hawkin’s A Brief History of Time remains the most popular book to gather dust on a nightstand. Furthermore, most high school and university introductory courses do not touch upon the significant principles and implications of General and Special Relativity other than to describe some of the weirder aspects, such as how much time slows down when you walk across a street and why you will never travel fast enough to reach the highly skilled and reasonable priced nymphomaniacs of Nimbus 9. Similarly with quantum mechanics: “we really have no idea where the electron is! It’s all probability!”

Why should anyone care? “A WARRIOR would not care about the Copenhagen school!” screams a voice in the head of the Editor. A good rhetorical question, and an indication the Editor needs to adjust his medications and/or alcohol content.

Aside from the obvious fact that we all live in the universe, and it might be “nice” to know something about it, we are beset on all sides by pseudoscience. We have “quantum thinking” and “quantum touch.” We have wild claims of magnetic bracelets and shoes. Cable news programs stream advertisements for medicinal substances that contain no active ingredients. We have large groups of screaming people who not only listen to country western music and actually know who Jeff Gordon is, they want to declare science a matter of opinion. Evolution is not a fact, it is a “theory,” demonstrating ignorance of what “theory” means in science. Said Screaming People mischaracterize accepted theories of cosmology–“how can something come from nothing?”–without understanding them. Science is really not a matter of opinion as an erudite mentor of this Editor spake: “it is a matter of fact!”

Pseudoscience and fraud thrive in the vacuum left by the complexity of modern science. If one does not know the science, how can one question the ridiculous claims? How can “something” like the universe come from “nothing?” That physicists can answer that does not really help if the answer involves mathematical arguments that makes one’s eyes bleed. The psuedoscientist and fraud merely laugh and appeal to the simplicity of their ignorance. Indeed, an out-of-work actress and some filmmakers have touted pseudoscience in a movie with the “hilarious” title of What the @#$% Do We Know in the hopes of introducing viewers not to science but the Ramtha cult! Tom Cruise denigrates Brooke Shields treating her post-partem depression while believing he is infested by the spirits of ancient aliens. The Editor will not even get into the prehistoric clams, but He will recognize ridicule for a “religion” that would force one to dump Nicole Kidman.

Compiling an introductory work for laymen proves very difficult as well-intentioned failures demonstrate. Many concepts that are “second nature” fundamentals for a physicist who had no choice other than suffer through the math that demonstrates why the “nonsense” has to be “sense.” Perhaps it is difficult for those who understand to distill their understanding to the layman. The analogies designed to explain current theories often confuse and misdirect more than enlighten. It is no wonder that layman give up or believe the simpler myths of cultists.

Based on the enthusiastic response from both physicists and laymen to Greene’s previous work, The Elegant Universe, the Editor decided to try Green’s most recent work when he found himself actually listening to Shania Twain’s music during a period when his alcohol level had reached a critical low. This is a phenomenal work that succeeds in explaining the fundamental concepts of modern cosmology. It takes the reader to the current “edge” of theory such that one can understand why concepts as odd and counter-intuitive as “multi-dimensions” and “string theory” have become mainstays in modern theory. The Editor will confess that this proved a very difficult review to compile. While Greene succeeds in distilling and explaining not only the current physical models but why physics feel that way, it takes him some time to achieve this. In previous drafts, the Editor has tried to “distill,” very unsuccessfully, some of Greene’s analogies. Each time, the Editor has stared at a twenty-page review that failed to do justice to Greene’s ability to explain a difficult concept.

To give an example, one of the more curious and provocative predictions of quantum mechanics confirmed by experiments is entanglement. Quantum mechanics holds that particles do not have a true locality, they instead have a probability. Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen objected to this, feeling that the particles do have specific properties, and quantum theories simply cannot reveal them. Quantum, argued Einstein, proves a limited theory. He and his colleagues demonstrated that quantum theories make a ridiculous prediction: particles can be related such that measurement of one determines the measurement on the other, even when separated at distances beyond which either could affect the other–including opposite ends of the Universe! The implications of entanglement have been cited in support of some of the psuedoscience the Editor has righteously denounced.

Begging the Noble Readership’s patience, the Editor will try to explain what that all means. To begin, the Editor found a reference devoted to this curious concept only to find it hopelessly dense. Greene does a far better job in his long chapter than Aczel in his entire book. The basis for Einstein’s objection and the concept of entanglement is exclusion: two particles cannot share the exact characteristics. If they share all other parameters they must have opposite “spin,” for example. Thus, when entangled electrons move in opposite directions, determination of spin on one must mean the other has the opposite spin. Entanglement seems to make intuitive sense if one believes, like Einstein and his colleagues, that both electrons actually have the specific opposite spin prior to any measurement. That is not actually the case in quantum: particles only have a probable value for these attributes until measured. Greene borrows a good analogy: if one separates a pair of gloves and sends one to Los Angeles and another to Paris, and the man who opens his package in Paris finds he has the right glove, the man in Los Angeles must have the left glove. However, quantum holds that prior to any measurement, the electrons have only a probability for the spin and measurement defines the spin. This would be the same as if the glove sent to Paris has only a probability of being either a right or a left glove, and only the opening of the package–a measurement–will convert the probable left or right glove to an actual left or right glove. How then does the glove in Los Angeles “know” to be the opposite of the Paris glove? Do not both have separate probabilities if quantum is correct, and will not, based on probability, occasions arise where both men end up with the same-handed glove? Yet, that would violate exclusion. If the Parisian glove is randomly determined to be “right” by opening the box, it must then send some “signal” to determine the glove in Los Angeles and vice a versa. Returning to particles, if they do not have a specific locality–specific parameters like spin–then the measured electron must somehow influence the other electron. If the quantum theory is true, argued Einstein and his colleagues, then measurement of the potential spin of one determines it spin and determines the spin of the other electron no matter where it is. For one electron to affect the other at a great enough distance, the influence would have to travel faster than the speed of light. Ridiculous!

Testing this objection seemed impossible: how does one demonstrate that measurement of the spin of one electron in some way defines its spin as quantum predicts rather than merely reveals it as Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen predicted? Irish physicist John Bell devised a model which described, basically, an experiment that would determine whether or not the electron has a definite value which measurement merely uncovers, or a probable value which measurement defines. Bell’s actual argument is elegant but unfathomable if one shares the mathematical ineptitude of the Editor. Greene demonstrates his skill in using an analogy which makes sense and is again far more accessible to the mathematically crippled than the reference listed.

The Editor will not leave the Noble Readership uncertain of the answer. When technology caught up to theory, experiments confirmed that Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen were correct that quantum predicted entanglement, and their objection to it was wrong. This is one of the great ironies of modern physics: what Einstein considered too strange to accept actually happens. The electron does not have specific characteristics that measurement merely reveals–the Parisian glove is randomly determined to be right or left-handed, and only when the box is opened does it become one or the other. How the Los Angeles glove “knows” to be opposite is an interesting discussion, but it does not involve the sending of any information between the two. The electrons do not communicate in such a way that breaks the speed of light. Greene gives some of the current models that try to explain why entanglement actually happens.

Entanglement is just one of the many difficult concepts that Greene successfully explains. Given that, the Editor finds it curious that Greene would risk confusion with some of his examples and analogies. For example, Greene does not discuss or explain exclusion, the basis for Einstein’s objection and the concept of entanglement. This would have made his explaining why the particles have to have opposite spin if they share all other characteristics easier to understand. Furthermore, in his discussion Greene chooses to state that the entangled electrons have the same spin. In foot- and endnotes he admits the opposite is true but wishes to avoid confusion. If a reader cannot handle the fact that entangled electrons in his model share everything else but have opposite spin, he will not make it past the title page or the more obscure works of Dick and Jane. He might as well buy the latest Neil Young album and root for Dale Ernhart, Jr. A reader having any understanding of the subject, even from other popular descriptions, will know this is wrong, while the rest will encounter problems if they consult other works. Greene introduces confusion rather than lessens it. That having been written, Greene handles the rest of his description of entanglement very effectively, more effectively than the “intended for the general audience” work the Editor references, and certainly better than any attempt the Editor tried in previous drafts.

That objection aside, Greene’s work remains a very accessible description of very difficult concepts, even for physicists. It is both reasonably priced and well-written.

-John David Morenski, M.D., Godan, Uechi-Ryu


Aczel AD. Entanglement: The Unlikely Story of How Scientists, Mathematicians, and Philosophers Proved Einstein’s Spookiest Theory. New York: Plume, 2003.

Allen S. Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking with 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind. New York: Prometheus Books, 1998.

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Dec 13 2008

Advanced Applications of Kata by H.Thom


Review: Uechi-ryu Karate: Advanced Applications of Katas & Applications. By Henry Thom. Available on the Uechi-ryu Store – $25

Shihan Henry Thom created this DVD for his Kyoshi requirements in 2007. Henry chose to focus on the practical applications (bunkai) of our advanced kata, Seisan and Sanseiryu. Henry began his Uechi training as one of my early students during the Hancock Dojo era. He was well known for his excellent fighting and self-defense skills, in both competitive venues and on the streets of China town, where he and his other Chinese friends were frequently the target of gangs from other areas of Boston.

Henry hasn’t forgotten the practical side of the Uechi art and this DVD provides what he considers to be many of the best techniques found in the kata. The instruction is clear and easy to follow. The DVD is a real bargain at only $25.

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Dec 13 2008

Coiling Silk Exercises by D.Mott

Review: Coiling Silk Exercises: by David Mott, Published by “Cold Mountain Uechi-ryu“.515 Logan Avenue, Toronto Canada M4K 3B3. Tel: 416-461-1358 $25.00.($20 Canadian) To order, email

A person who only fights is nothing more than a brawler.

A person who only practices his/her forms without being able to apply them, is nothing more than a dancer.

A person who theorizes about the martial arts without being able to demonstrate his/her knowledge is only an armchair theorist.

A person who practices all of these without applying the martial arts to the art of living misses the inner usefulness of all of this activity.

A person who practices all of these, applies it to the art of living and takes great pleasure from this effort, is a true martial artist.

— Martial arts master Liang Shouyu

David Mott, Uechi-ryu Karate Kyoshi and 8th degree black belt, has once again published an important martial art program that will help teachers and students understand and master a side of the martial arts often overlooked.

I’ve studied David’s eight techniques and plan to incorporate his “coiling” method of performing kata segments as a teaching method for both new and advanced students. It definitely works and helps Uechi practitioners understand the difficult concepts associated with advanced application methods. I’ve created a brief summary of David’s excellent DVD here, so he can explain in his own words what his coiling silk exercises consist of and how they can help you become a better martial artist.


Thanks to Chris McKaskell for sending us the following review. . .
I really like the DVD and the exercises. I’ll probably need a few more for the various people

“David Mott recently made a DVD of Coiling Silk Exercises he has been quietly working on and sharing with his students at Cold Mountain School, in Toronto.

There are eight exercises in total and each derives its form from various physical phrases found directly in the practice of Uechi-Ryu.

I’ve shared them with my small class and have found them to be valuable in developing body integration, a deeper understanding of breath as it relates to movement, smoothing out small muscle control issues and opening a new chapter in the way Uechi kata can be perceived.

Besides that, performing these exercises makes me feel good. 


Chris McKaskell

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