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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Shotokan's Secret The Hidden Truth Behind Karate's Origins

Bruce D Clayton


For many of us, when studying karate, we reach a point where we start to look beyond what is being taught to us on a weekly basis. A good place to start is always the dojo. However, our instructors may be unwilling to impart the knowledge (for a variety of reasons), too busy in class of varying grades or quite simply they may not know themselves.

There is a wealth of “technical” manuals available to us on the market and with the advent of on-line book sellers few are impossible to locate. Many of these from the great Masters tell us how to improve our karate through kihon, kata and kumite. However, in my own personal experience the answer to the “why” question is always the hardest to find an answer to. Why did karate develop in a certain way, why am I performing this particular series of techniques? There are good bunkai books available but do they do not always put the execution in context.

When I first saw this book I was looking for something that could give me answers to some of the why questions my teenage son was asking. The title Shotokan’s Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins is certainly an invite to any inquisitive mind. For the book to match the claim would be an achievement.

The author attempts to apply a very logical approach to his arguments in that he is able to take certain political and historical facts and build up his arguments. However he makes clear early on that much of the information he has had to incorporate is anecdotal and taken from the Okinawan oral tradition which can be inconsistent at best.

What the book does well is create a picture of Okinawan culture and the events in both local and world politics which created an environment in which a martial art could develop and flourish (albeit secretly). He then takes a look beyond Funakoshi to his teachers and their teachers before them to establish a context in which these men lived and trained. Through a series of anecdotes a picture of these individuals such a Matsumura, Itosu and Azato is built up. Not only their contribution to the art but their position with Okinawan society.

Where the author may start to lose the reader is when he tests his theories in some hypothetical situations. To me this is a very logical step in any argument and I for one found these interesting but could see where some other readers may take exception.

The second half of the book is dedicated to application. The author should be commended on his attention to detail and analysis but at this point I felt that I was reading a different book and would not necessarily bought this particular one if I had been specifically looking for one on application.

Overall I would recommend this book for anyone to read as it does provide a lot of information not readily available elsewhere, and does offer some interesting insights and theories. Not least of which is that Shotokan has it's roots in a very explosive fighting technique which was as much offensive as defensive. Do I feel as if I am a holder of the key to Shotokan’s most hidden treasures? Probably not. Ask me again in 20 years if I still here.

Cameron Buchanan

16/10/06