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Cook, Harry. 2001. Shotokan Karate: A Precise History.
Size European A4 (8.25 X 12 inches.) 352 pp.
A privately published limited first edition available only as a hard cover edition exclusively from Dragon Associates, Inc. PO Box 6039. Thousand Oaks, CA 91359
818 889 3856 $75.00 + S&H

Book Review By J.N. Edwards editor of Dragon Times

I could have read this book and written a typical review that would have been easy. However, because it's a very important book I thought it would be more interesting to speak to its author and the people involved in its production and compare their views with mine before expressing my views publicly. The Author Harry Cook is an interesting character, a combination of education, wisdom, wit, and humor. He would have made an excellent early American colonist, the sort of man you would find in the company of Franklin and Jefferson. An individual who could design a new plowshare based on scientific principles before lunch, then construct it with his own hands in the forge before dinner. A graduate (Chinese) of England's Durham University, he has studied Shotokan karate for more than 30 years, and Goju Ryu for almost as long, including three years in Tokyo with master instructor Morio Higaonna at the legendary Yoyogi dojo. He has a teaching certificate in Muay Thai, studied Ba Gua with Sifu Rose Li (see Robert W. Smith's new book Martial Musings), and is a student of Capoiera under Maestro Gato.

The Book-An Overview This book meets an important need. In the past much that was published on Shotokan was written from the heart rather than the head. Little original research was done and almost everything that appeared in magazines and books was derivative—new generations of authors repeating and embellishing the tales woven by their predecessors. Factual material was rare, reliable sources rarer, prompting stories of Okinawan peasants removing armored samurai from their horses with flying kicks, (have you ever seen how high up a man on horseback actually is) and karate instructors as big (and bad) as Big Foot. Wild claims were made, absurd statements published, and ludicrous positions adopted by otherwise rational individuals. For some Shotokan became a cult with Gichin Funakoshi as its principal deity and his primary disciples its high priests. To suggest he was simply a retired school teacher with a keen interest in karate was to invite derision and scorn. He was, we were told, the true and only source of knowledge, the greatest karate master that ever lived, the originator of a style so perfect it would never change. Shotokan was inviolate, a sacred creed, an ancient philosophy, the very epitome of all that was good, fine, and noble. Yet there was, is, and we continue to find clear evidence in Funakoshi sensei's images and words to refute this. We know also that many base, shallow, and ignoble things have been done in the name of Shotokan, and that many of the most senior adherents were far from the humble, courteous, and scholarly "Confucian Gentlemen" the Founder suggested they should strive to be.
Cook's work truly distinguishes itself from everything that has gone before. His research is original and he shares it with us all in his superb text as well as in his copious footnotes, end notes, and appendices. He has gone back to the beginning of the Shotokan story, the birth of Gichin Funakoshi, and relying upon his investigative powers, which are clearly prodigious, constructed a chronology as detailed as any could be. This book is not written as much as it is crafted. Every fact has obviously been carefully checked before being placed into the text, the author ever mindful that, like the bricks used to construct a great building, each must support the entire weight of the structure above it. There is no compromise on standards; assumptions are not permitted; conjecture in unacceptable. It is here we see the power of the author's analytical mind and it is this that best qualifies him for the task of writing the definitive Shotokan history, rather than his ability and experience as an instructor of the art. Perhaps most importantly, unlike those who have gone before, this author has no hidden agenda, nothing to prove, nothing to defend. He is an historian, a scholarly time traveller present to guide the reader through the story, moderate the competing voices of the many fascinating characters you will encounter in the corridors of time, and ultimately assist (but never influence) us to reach logical conclusions based upon what we read.

The Contents: It is evident that every word in this book has been carefully considered, not a word, a comma, or a period is superfluous. The mass of fascinating material it presents combined with the infectious enthusiasm of the author's writing style, also makes it immensely readable. This is not a book you will need to slog through. Pick it up and you will not be able to put it down!.

Shotokan Karate A Precise History is divided into an introduction, eight chapters, four appendices and an index. It is very well organized and although the amount and quality of information is a little overwhelming at first, one soon learns how to get the most from it. The first section of the book features a foreword by Morio Higaonna, 9th Dan Hanshi, a preface by noted karate historian Graham Noble—obviously a book to be taken seriously.

Chapter 1 Okinawa This deals with the historical background of the Ryukyu Islands and how a culture developed that would give birth to modern karate.

Chapter 2 Shorin Ryu The Roots of Shotokan The lives, times, and teachings of karate pioneers: Tode Sakugawa, Matsu Higa, Ason, Iwah, Wai Shin Zan, Bushi Matsumura, Ishimine, Yasutzune Azato, Ankoh Itosu, Kentsu Yabu, Shimpan Gusukuma, Chomo Hanashiro, Choshin Chibana, and Chotoku Kyan.

Chapter 3 Gichin Funakoshi His birth in 1868, early karate instructors, a career as a school teacher, relocation to Tokyo, his friendships with Jigoro Kano, Kenwa Mabuni, Hakudo Nakayama, Taira Shinken and others, early writings, Keio and Tokyo universities, Yoshitaka Funakoshi.

Chapter 4 Japan Goes to War. Manchuria, militarism, Shotokan karate in Korea the birth of Taekwondo, Egami Hironishi and Nakayama, Takushoku University, the first Shotokan Dojo, Tode becames Karate, Yasuhiro Konishi, the Butokukai, karate during the war, Ten no Kata, Mitsusuke Harada, Hidetaka Nishiyama, Taiji Kase, Yoshitaka Funakoshi.

Chapter 5 The Rebirth of Shotokan The war's end, Teruyuki Okazaki, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Takayuki Mikami, Keinosuke Enoeda, Judo & Karate, the Japan Karate Association, Waseda University, the Shotokai, the Yotsuya dojo, Isao Obata, Strategic Air Command, Americans at the Kodokan, 1953 JKA instructors tour the United States, tournament karate, the funeral of Gichin Funakoshi.

Chapter 6 The JKA & Its Derivatives Masatoshi Nakayama and the Japan Karate Association, the Suidobashi dojo in Tokyo, the instructors' class, foreign students of the JKA, Mikio Yahara, Hitoshi Kasuya, Dr. David Hooper, Shiro Asano, Tetsuhiko Asai, Funakoshi's memorial, Alistair Mitchell, the death of Nakayama and fragmentation of the JKA.

Chapter 7 The Shotokai Tadao Okuyama, the Shotokai, Shigeru Egami, Shintaido, Shotokai kata and kumite, the budo approach, breathing.

Chapter 8 Shotokan for the World Kanazawa in Hawaii, European pioneer Henri Plée, Hiroo Mochizuki, Tetsuji Murakami, Tsutomu Oshima, the British Karate Federation, the JKA in Britain, the Karate Union of Great Britain, Shotokan as a sport, Shotokan in America, the AAKF/ITKF etc., the future of Shotokan.

Appendix A When historical information is introduced in the main text a source is given in the form of a footnote. When the footnote exceeds more than a few lines (and they often do) the additional material is placed in the end notes (Section A). This prevents the flow of the book being interrupted while allowing the reader to go back at his or her leisure to read the minutiae. And what a pleasure this is. Some end notes run to several thousand words - essays that offer fascinating information not available elsewhere.

Appendix B This is a list of the Shotokan kata and their origins.

Appendix C A complete list of Shotokan books published in English.

Appendix D Master Funakoshis Twenty Precepts are listed in English and Japanese

Index The index is very well organized, comprehensive, and easy to use. Without it navigation through the myriad subjects and thousands of footnotes this book contains would be difficult. With it the book is a genuine pleasure to read and to study.

If you enjoy Harry Cook in Dragon Times, you will delight in this book. It is just as readable as his articles, just as engaging, even more informative. His knack of reducing the most complex issues to a few easily digestable sentences has never been better used than here—his book presents a wealth of strong factual information intertwined with an anthology of fascinating karate biographies centered around the life of Gichin Funakoshi from his birth in 1868 until his death, and beyond. Of special note are the photographs in this book, a good number of which are sensational. Many appear here for the first time including images of Funakoshi, Mabuni, Motobu, Ueshiba, Taira and others from the Konishi private collection. Several were only recently discovered, notably superb early images of Kentsu Yabu in California and Chojun Miyagi in Hawaii. Many of the photos dealing with Strategic Air Command-JKA connection in the 1940s and 1950s were printed recently from the original negatives on state of the art darkroom equipment, and are of the highest possible quality. One has to wonder how the then young men pictured in these photographs with Funakoshi sensei will feel to look open themselves more than 50 years later. There is nothing that I can fault in this book. It is essential reading for instructors and students of all styles as it demonstrates very clearly just how closely they are all related. The quality of production, printing, and binding is of the first order, it's one of those books you will use often, and read cover to cover every two years or so. As I usually buy a paperback (to use for work) and casebound (for my collection) editions of titles that interest me or that I feel are of special importance it would have been nice to have a paperback edition. However I can understand why the author decided against it given the magnitude and importance of this work. I shall buy two copies of the limited signed edition, use one and put the other away. I and many other book buyers were amazed to see the price of signed copies of a similar but smaller volume, History of Karate - Goju Ryu by Morio Higaonna (originally sold at $39.95) reach $225 secondhand on E-bay and just keep on going. I suspect that this title will do even better!

Technical Information A privately published limited edition, printed at the press of Page Brothers Ltd. a company founded in 1746 (and still located) in Norwich, England. It is folded in 22 signatures of 16 pages using "Fineblade", one of the best coated papers available. Its binding is sewn for permanence then fitted with linen covered boards, gold blocked in Japanese and English to produce the highest quality casebound (hardcover) book. This volume is finished with a heavy duty rexine (clear) cover similar to that used in library collections to protect rare volumes. Shotokan Karate A Precise History has 352 pages in the large format European A4 size (approx. 8.5" x 12"). It contains over 150,000 words, more than150 photos, and weighs almost three pounds.

I spoke at length to the staff at Page Brothers and all were very impressed with this volume. They print millions of high quality books each year so their opinion has value. One veteran staff member told me: "it has the bulk, size, and appearance of a fine Bible" prophetic words (forgive the pun) for a book that is already being referred to as the "Shotokan Bible."

Writing a brief conclusion to a review such as this is difficult. To reduce so much material to a few trite words—the work of thirty years to a sentence or two doesn't seem right somehow so I looked elsewhere for inspiration. Dr. Robert Dohrenwend said in his review of this book for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts (Spring 2001) : "This book is one of the two or three finest historical treatments given to any martial art…"

I would go farther. It is in my opinion the best book of its type, certainly the best book on Shotokan, probably the best karate book ever published in the English language. JNE


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