Secrets to textbooks – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

We all know there are no secrets any more in the budo, not with internet video out there. But how far back did these secrets start to get spilled?

Research Journal of Budo Vol. 17 (1985) No. 3 p. 8-17

Research on the Texts of Martial Arts Published in Edo Period – with Emphasis on the Texts Related to Archery –

Kohei Irie
The University of Tsukuba

The technical system of martial arts in Japan had been established in the 16th and 17th centuries and various schools of them had been founded. In the area of archery, the transmission system of technical method in mounted and ceremonial archery, which were characterized as the chivalrous accomplishments, had been established in the 15th century. On the other hand, foot soldier archery (Hosha), which aimed at the real battle, was developed toward the same direction as those of another martial arts.

In the Edo period, the publishers, which had become one of the established business, printed, published, and made public the texts of martial arts which had hitherto been secret. Archery, strategy, and gunnery were the main categories of martial arts in terms of the number of publishing. Many works on strategy and gunnery had been published after the 19th century, assumedly because of the influence of advanced military techniques introduced by the European countries.

As for the works concerned with archery;
1. The arrival of firearms in the 16th century and the accompanied changes in the warfare methods made decrease the utility of the bow. Thereafter, archery was emphasized with its traditional and ceremonial aspects.
2. Archery started to be recognized as the chivalrous accomplishments being a part of general education of a Bushi.
3. Competitive aspect of archery (e. g. Toshiya) raised the interest among the vast majority. These factors might have facilitated the publication of texts dealing with archery.


Archery, strategy and gunnery manuals. Where are the sword manuals from the Edo? There were some which we have today, but it seems not as many as for archery (no longer used for war so no need to keep it secret), strategy (when was that ever secret, being based on the Chinese classics) and gunnery (which perhaps was foreign, best used in large scale warfare, and not otherwise worth keeping as a secret). Within all this, perhaps the sword schools assumed that their skills might yet be used in a fight and so might be worth keeping secret. Those manuals we do have might also have been written for the few, as was Musashi’s Go Rin no Sho, written for his employer.

I don’t know if an author in the Edo could benefit from being published, presumably he would at least achieve some promotional value toward being hired as an instructor if not monetary gain. Any benefit would have to be weighted against the risk of revealing too much and losing potential students who would figure they could just “buy the book”, and the potential loss of life if the secret, unbeatable technique was revealed to the public. How many of these manuals got general circulation as opposed to being “privately published” for the boss? I can’t imagine them being any more popular than they are today (not very) so they were likely of limited print runs. The western military manuals of the same era seem to be of the same ilk, being written mainly for the select few.

In our own era, famous instructors such as Nakayama Hakudo produced small print run books to give to their students. Some of these have become somewhat widely available but does one call them secret or public? Is it secret if nobody has seen it, even if it was intended for the public? Is it public if everyone has a copy even though it was intended for students only?

Speaking of secrets, do we really learn anything from internet video? We learn the general shape of things by watching, and if we were thinking of a fight to the death that would be a handy thing to know. It’s never good to have a sword appear from a strange angle. But beyond that, there are a world of things that don’t show up on film. A student mentioned last night that she found her first kyu test on some tapes and it wasn’t at all what she remembered it was. I have mentioned before that I once made a student repeat a kata five or six times because she wasn’t “on” and with the final one I was happy. Looking at the video later it was quite clear that whatever I was seeing “live” wasn’t there on the video. For myself, I have watched video of myself in dread, knowing how off-balance and weak I was, only to see nothing of the sort. I have also looked at a film of a strong performance, only to see a shaky old man.

There is simply a lot that film can’t capture. Imagine how much less you can capture with words in a manual.

Well, actually words are a lot stronger than film, a lot more revealing of some things. A video of a kata will show shapes and shadows, a few well-chosen words can open up a cascade of understanding much more secret than any peeking into windows.

Kim Taylor
June 24, 2015


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