Acclaimed samurai of old would while away their elder years writing scrolls to impart their wisdom unto the next generation. These scrolls, a mix of martial arts technique and personal philosophy, would then be the foundation for the various fighting schools. The most famous and acclaimed of these are Musashi Miyamoto's "The Book of Five Rings" and Tsunetomo Yamamoto's "Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai."
Hatsumi Masaaki is determined to continue in this tradition, walking as much as possible in the path of the Sword Saints, the near-mythical warriors of the warring states period. This latest book, "Japanese Sword Fighting: Secrets of the Samurai," is a blend of martial arts photography and technique, ancient scrolls showing the heritage of this kind of work, warrior philosophies and ruminations on the Japanese language and how one can use it to unlock the fighter's path.
One thing this book is not is a history lesson. Anyone seeking further insight into the authentic samurai would be severely disappointed. Hatsumi's interpretation is not one of facts and dates, of reference books and University lectures. He is more interested in the spiritual and allegorical warrior, one who sharpens his soul so that it is straight and upright like the sword that is his symbol. Those who have read other of Hatsumi's books will know more or less what to expect, but its probably not the best book for a new reader.
What you do get, is heavy doses of how to be a warrior with your entire life, not just in the dojo. An inheritor of shared wisdom, passed down from his master Takamatsu Sensei, Hatsumi seems to want to share this with a wider audience and continue the link. Along with this are some striking photographs, a collection of ancient scrolls and photos of Hatsumi and his partners, wearing impressive sets of full samurai armor, demonstrating fighting techniques with a variety of weaponry.
Much of Hatsumi's wisdom comes from the Japanese language itself. The use of Chinese characters, where each individual character has a different meaning, is heavily tied up with what he has to say. One instance of this is his ruminations on the word shiki, which can alternately be read as "wisdom," "to respect the manner of death," or "the importance of determination." Hatsumi brings these together to mean that a warrior finds wisdom by respecting the manner of death, and through personal determination. While not necessary, those with Japanese language skills will be able to read "Japanese Sword Fighting" with a much greater depth.
Followers of Hatsumi will definitely find some insight into their sensei in this book, as will those who see martial arts as more of a spiritual path than a fighting technique. Casual readers, or those interested in the historical samurai and their fighting arts, would do best to seek elsewhere.