Thursday, 10 January 2013

Holiday Reading



A most welcome gift
Just a few weeks before Christmas I received a copy of the latest historical translation from Mario McKenna sensei in Canada. I have to say, I was a little surprised that he would even think of me, but I'm very glad, and grateful, that he did; for this book is a wonderful peek back to a different age.

Long before karate became the multi-national waste of time it is for many people today, it played a very different role in the lives of those who pursued it. This book provides some insight in to the mindset and thinking of a karateka from almost eighty years ago; an era before Japanese karate took it upon itself to sell Okinawa's martial heritage to the rest of the world.

Where some of the better known (read egotistical) translators of karate's historical texts, are quick to impose upon the reader there own views and opinions; as if to say, "Even though I have no way of knowing, this is what the person meant."...the author of this book does not intrude. Instead he simply clarifies certain points here and there, and provides technical information where needed; for example, in regard to a particular kanji used in the original text.

I can highly recommend this book to anybody interested in karate as it was practised before it became a sport or means of making an easy buck. McKenna sensei presents the work faithfully, and without people like him to do such work, books like this would remain beyond the reach of all but those fluent in Japanese. I am very grateful to him for taking on such projects, and in particular for thinking of me when this, his most recent, was completed.

19th century politics...Japanese style
This is a great look at the reality of the former "samurai" class of Japan, in particular the life and times of one man: Saigo Takamori. Stop thinking Tom Cruise when you hear the words The Last Samurai...this is the real thing, the story of a man born at the wrong time for the beliefs he held, a man for whom the modern world held no sense of honour or integrity. Forget apologists like Nitobe, if you want to get a glimpse of Bushido, the code of the warrior, this book will give it to you.

I'm only half way through the book, but it has already given me so much insight and food for thought. For example, why do Japanese based karate organizations act like samurai clans; and why do silly Westerners mimic them when they start their own "styles" and "associations". It has also become apparent to me, how convenient the lessons of history are when you're not obliged to learn from them.

So, the next time you see a karateka posing with a sword, or listen to them babble on about Bushido....give them a copy of this book, and ask them if they have the same courage of their convictions as Saigo Takamori.