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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Master Series – Fortress Storming
By John Burke
Review by Angela Giesens


John Burke’s book is an intricate look at the Shotokan kata Bassai Dai. The author writes in a friendly, conversational tone throughout, meaning the text is easy to follow and interesting to read. The book starts of with an overview of the kata and then leads on to a step by step explanation of the performance, accompanied by easy to follow photographs. After that the author briefly explains some of the concepts behind Traditional Chinese Medicine before leading into the applications.

Fortress Storming will be considered controversial for some as it smashes through the (sometimes dangerous) myths still being taught in some dojo, and in a straight forward, no-nonsense manner presents viable alternatives. The applications are explained from a Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view and the author explains how one could incorporate pressure-points into the bunkai with emphasis on 5 element theory.

The book:

The book starts out with an explanation from the author for why he decided to write the book, and then goes on to explain what karate is, the difference between do and jutsu and why we perform kata.
Then we move on to the first section, “How to…” Contained within this section is an introduction to the kata and a brief section on its origins and history. After this there is a look at the performance of the kata, with accompanying photos. The breakdown of the kata is very comprehensive and with the addition of the photos is a good base for anyone interested in the performance of Bassai Dai.

The second section is concerned with the bunkai and oyo extrapolated from Bassai Dai. This is where Fortress Storming really starts to come into its own. It starts of with an explanation as to what applications are and how we come to them. After that there is a quick overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This does not go into too much detail, it is clear that the author is only trying to lay a foundation for the rest of the book, there are plenty of other books aimed purely at TCM, this book is not trying to emulate them.

The next section discusses some of the basic principles applied to all of the applications, and examines why they work. Some of the aspects discussed are “Small Circle”, “Controlled Pliability” and “Heavy Hand”. With all the other principles it sets up a strong grounding for a karateka working on applications.

The author then goes on to discuss Colonel John R Boyd’s OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Attack) and how it applies to what we do. There are a few more pages discussing how to engineer suitable applications, and also the responsibilities of any karateka learning them.

Now we get into the real meat of the book, a breakdown of every move in Bassai Dai with an accompanying application. Every move is first of all presented with an application the author has heard from elsewhere, which is then broken down to highlight common mistakes, before the reader is offered an alternative application, with a detailed explanation on how to make it work, and why it works. The text is neither mocking, nor patronising, settling instead on a more straightforward approach. The detail given on the offered applications is very in-depth, and there a lot of photos to highlight the author’s points.

The author finishes of with some conclusions of his own, which sum up quite nicely. Throughout all this is written is a friendly, highly readable manner.

As a bonus, at the back of the book is a selection of photos taken from Bassai Sho, and a glossary for those unfamiliar with the Japanese words.

Good points:

The conversational tone makes it easy to follow, despite the heavy subject matter. The applications are described in detail and go on to describe the defence from a Traditional Chinese Medicine approach. For the people uninterested in TCM there is still plenty of analysis of the applications to make the book a worthwhile read.

Bad points:

Fortress Storming is let down somewhat by having a somewhat unpolished look. The photos inside are in black and white, and the action photographs in particular suffer from a grainy appearance, which at times makes it hard to decipher what is going on. There are a few spelling mistakes and a couple of printing errors, but overall these do not detract from the readability of the book.

At the moment it is still relatively hard to get hold of outside of the UK.


Throughout the book the author’s obvious enthusiasm and dedication for his art and the kata/bunkai is clear. He is not afraid to highlight some of the ridiculous, and at times dangerous, bunkai still being practiced in some dojo. This is approached in a very technical manner, with a comprehensive explanation as to why the author believes the bunkai is flawed.

Fortress Storming is not a book for a beginner to karate, the technical information within is best suited to those who already have a strong foundation within the art. In the majority of dojo Bassai Dai is a kata for brown belt and above, and this book would be a very useful accompaniment to those studies.

Anyone who studies Bassai Dai, or any of the similar kata (Patsai, Passai) and wants to increase their knowledge should consider adding this book to their collection.

On a scale from 1 to 10, each criterion is assigned a rating. The numerical ratings are then summed to reach the overall rating of the book.

Quality of information 9
Quantity of information 8
Quality of book (printing, binding, etc) 5
Value for karate development 9
Readability/tone 9
Flow between/within topics 8
Technical details 10
Photos – quality and quantity 5
Photos – form of examples 7
Value/cost 9
Total 79

Notes on ratings:
Quality of information - The book contains a lot of information including some history on the kata, how to perform the kata, karate principles and bunkai/oyo.
Quantity of information - A lot of information.
Quality of book (printing, binding, etc) - The binding is good. The book could look a bit more aesthetically pleasing.
Value for karate development - The book is aimed at people with some experience under their belt, and is a good guide for anyone interested in in-depth analysis of their kata.
Readability/tone - A friendly tone makes the book very enjoyable to read, despite the depth of knowledge being imparted.
Flow between/within topics - The book flows well from one chapter to the next.
Technical details - This is a fairly advanced analysis of the kata, including explanations from a TCM point of view.
Photos (quality and quantity) - Many good photos but quality and clarity are sometimes lacking, especially in the action shots.
Photos (form of examples) - Good.
Value/cost - A very fair price for the information contained within.