Review By J.N. Edwards editor of
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.
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
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!.
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.
This deals with the historical background of the Ryukyu Islands and how
a culture developed that would give birth to modern karate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shotokai Tadao Okuyama, the Shotokai, Shigeru Egami, Shintaido, Shotokai
kata and kumite, the budo approach, breathing.
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.
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.
is a list of the Shotokan kata and their origins.
C A complete
list of Shotokan books published in English.
Funakoshis Twenty Precepts are listed in English and Japanese
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.
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
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.
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
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