Shotokan's Secret (book review)

Discussion in 'MartialTalk Magazine Articles' started by matrixman, Feb 3, 2010.

  1. matrixman

    matrixman Yellow Belt

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    Shotokan’s Secret! (Book Review)

    Shotokan's Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate's Fighting Origins (Paperback)

    Dr. Bruce Clayton
    Paperback: 400 pages
    Publisher: Black Belt Books; Expanded edition (May 31, 2010)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 0897501888
    ISBN-13: 978-0897501880
    $20

    I searched the site for books the other day, and found Shotokan’s Secret (Dr. Bruce Clayton) mentioned a couple of times, but not for a long time, and not as much as I felt it should be.

    Interestingly enough, the guy at the martial arts supply store told me it wasn’t a very good book. Yet I found myself savoring words, almost not wanting to keep reading because I found what Dr. Clayton was saying so darned intriguing that I just wanted to keep rereading the words.

    First, the book is a history, it backgrounds karate, tells why it was specifically invented and for what purpose. This viewpoint alone had me rocking and reeling. This is a basic why behind karate, and explains all sorts of things having to do with the development of forms and techniques. As I read this material I couldn’t stop going over my forms and examining them in new lights. I began doing my forms differently, and was totally revitalized and excited as new thoughts kept swamping me.

    And, the book is a linguistic adventure. What do the hieroglyphics really mean? Is there a secret code in the language that would be understandable to the bodyguards and their ilk, and not necessarily to late comers? Fascinating to think that people, even the authorities we revere, could have been talked around themselves.

    Lastly, the book is a research of magnificent proportion. I read a few reviews where people disagreed with the author, but I couldn’t go along with them. When he tells you about the shape of the imperial palace and how a form could be slotted to fit that geography, you pay attention. Yes, there could be, and probably are other reasons, there are always multiple contributing factors to any development. But he makes his case well, and you might find yourself alive with new ideas.

    The material of the book is fascinating, well written, and makes a reader think. Definitely for karate stylists, especially ones with experience (I’ve got 40+ years in the arts). People with limited experience may not find it as fascinating, but, then again, they might. Other stylists probably won’t be taken by it, I think the guy in the store was a kung fu stylist, and that was why he was not so was not effected.

    At any rate, I really hope you get the same joy out of it as I did.

    By the way, doing a search on books, book reviews, and so on, on this site is very rewarding.
     
  2. nicoledc109

    nicoledc109 White Belt

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  3. Victor Smith

    Victor Smith Blue Belt

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    I guess I take a slightly different point of view on Shotokan's Secret.

    [FONT=&quot]Shotokan's Secret[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]"Shotokan's Secret" by Bruce D. Clayton, Ph. D. `The Hidden Truth
    Behind Karate's Fighting Origins.' Ohara Publications (publisher of
    Black Belt Magazine) - 2005

    The author – Bruce D. Clayton Ph.D.

    Ph.D in Ecology, known survival expert, 5th degree black belt in
    Shotokan under Vincent Cruz.

    The premise – Real Okinawa karate was born in the Shuri crucible, of Matsumura and other noble families who were the government, and the body guards of the king of Okinawa. Their art didn't develop for the military, it didn't develop for civilian self defense, it developed for use by the bodyguards of the king. Thus real Shuri Karate is expressed best in the Itosu lineage and further moved to Shotokan as the real art of Karate. (after all he is a Shotokan stylist).

    Perhaps there is some merit to his contention the real reason that karate developed was to be used by the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa, and this shaped what is and isn't in karate's structure.

    Structurally the book covers 1) that the art of karate developed for the use of the kings bodyguards, and techniques like grappling, ground work, pressure point strikes wouldn't work in those situations, so linear techniques were the primary focus 2) a `history' of how the art developed (both as Shuri and then Shotokan) 3) a comparison of the pure Itosu Shuri to the lesser vehicle taught by Kyan and 4) an analysis of the art of the bodyguard, why Shotokan didn't have `bunkai' and what should be added quickly to keep students interested and learning.

    Unfortunately from my perspective I consider this work a rhetorical argument, that of `special pleading', rather than something of historical merit. It is my contention that he's taken quite a number of authors `histories' and shaped a story that tells what he wants to tell. Thus Shotokan, descendant of a real karate-ka Itosu is Good, and arts that were descended from Funakoshi's evil twin, Kyan are less worthy, less workable and over all bad.

    He takes the invasion of Okinawa by Perry as the basis for an understanding of how Matsumura would have guarded the King, and how such events shaped the emerging
    karate. Actually his retelling of that tale is interesting.

    Unfortunately he weaves his story with references of Sells, Alexander, McCarthy and Kim, among many others. There are not references supporting most of his inferences at my quick initial look-see.

    My opinion such a book might draw a good grade from a University professor. It tells a clear story, has lots of quotes, footnotes, references, index and pictures. It's just I don't think they necessarily tell a real story. At first glance a lot of this seems to tie together, but again in my opinion as wish fulfillment.

    For one thing, quoting Richard Kim will help sell the book to Ohara, which publishes Kim's `Weaponless Warriors', interesting stories about Okinawa. But he didn't do his research, for Kim lifted those stories from a book written by Shimabuku Ezio, without reference to the original author. 20 years ago I could accept this for who knew, but
    today it would not take much research to substantiate this fact. And those stories are based on oral history, hardly true `proof'. IMO Oral history has a place, but not for more than the tales involved.

    While I've read many of Clayton's sources, I don't have my library indexed to quickly dig out these opinions, so I'm just calling it from what I've seen.

    Among the books contentions are that WWII destroyed so many homes, any written references to the past were lost, and it may just be because of that that the stories that the history was only maintained orally remain. I can accept his assessment that the devastation of the war was very hard for the survivors.

    And I do not share opinions like when he writes "The appalling atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, amounted to only 3% of the total destruction." My own opinion remains that those bombings were extremely justified, necessary and correct. But my opinion of his special pleading is not based on our geo-political opinions.

    Among his central premises is that Karate was developed specifically as an art for bodyguards. The central development of it from Matsumura, setting it apart from the Chinese arts, was his use of linear karate. Not time for locks and throws, no time for pressure point strikes (which he derides Kyan for using), just blasting linear strikes.

    The purpose of the art was to blast into attackers, to blast a way through them and to protect and extract the king from trouble. He even makes a case that the real use of Nihanchi was to step sideways, not to keep one's back to the wall, but to protect the king behind them as they side stepped him to safety (with their version of the secret
    service).
    [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]
    [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot] He performed much research, watching several hundred kata, making notes, to derive his opinions about the arts. He does analyze Isshinryu, with the work of Javier Martinez, as his text, but he admits he did watch video tape of Uzeu Angi, but his primary purpose isn't to deride Isshinryu, it's more a wider attack from all arts
    deriving from Kyan. And as he found the Martinez material for his case (and Angi's video tapes) he could build his case against Kyan using Isshinryu.

    Truthfully it's hard to say where to begin, I have so many things I don't care for. Totally shotgunning I'll list a few: [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]
    [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot] 1. A bibliography which includes works like James Clavel's "Shogun", Bruce Tegner's "Complete Book of Jujutsu", Mashiro, N.'s "Black Medicine vol I – Iv" and Richard Kim's "Weaponless Warriors", makes me wonder what he was really thinking of. Was it Clavel's great storytelling in `Shogun' the inspiration of his own?

    2. On Kyan page 86 "….For instance, Kyan learned the same Pinan kata as Funakoshi and Mabuni, but the Pinan kata he taught are almost unrecognizable." Of course they're unrecongnizable, as everything I've ever read on Kyan only discussed him teaching 8 kata (Naifanchi, Seisan, Gojushiho, Chinto, Patsai, Wanshu, Ananku and Tokomeni No Kon – from John Sells Unante). Now I know one of his students, Nagamine, does teach the Pinan kata in his Matsubayshi Ryu, but those kata came
    from previous study not Kyan.

    3. Later in the book he perpetuates the story it was illegal to own weapons, something I've seen abandoned as having real historical merit.

    4. On Kyan page 89 "He spent his life changing the Shuri kata in various ways, although not always constructively. It may be that Kyan saw no advantage to linear technique, so he discarded it and reverted to vital point technique instead. Kyan's unique contribution was that he combined China's vital-point strikes with Shuri's ruthless philosophy of ikken hisatu, One strike, sudden death. He went for the
    eyes and throat first, which a Shaolin monk never would have done."

    Shaolin monk, where did that come from? It's a reference used several times and seems to infer the Chinese arts are only pure if they're done with the same intent of the Shaolin Buddhists? Wonder how he sources that information.

    "Later in his life, Kyan completely abandoned Shuri-te completely and taught only pre-Matsumura kata and techniques. That tells us quite a lot about his attitude towards Shuri-te and the Shuri masters. In the end, he completely turned his back on them."

    5. "By quirk of fate, we have one window into the kata of Itsou's youth. We can compare Itosu's revised kata with the similar kata taught to Tatsuo Shimabuku by Chotoku Kyan……..Isshin-ryu is a kata time capsule. Of course, we know that Kyan and Shimabuku changed a few things, but we just have to live with that (big of him, VS). Funakoshi made a few changes too. …. "we are fortunate to have detailed theory
    and applications for the isshin-ryu versions of kusanku (kanku), naihanchi (tekki), and chinto (gankaku) kata, published by Javire Martinez of Puerto Rico……It is clear from Martinez's own comments that his interpretation of the isshin-ryu kata do not reflect modern isshin-ryu practice. Martinez places his emphasis on the ancient techniques, which were a mix of grappling, locking and striking. The bunkai he envisions do not have much in common with the current isshin-ryu bunkai demonstrated by Angi Uzeu, .. which are of the modern punch/strike/block variety."

    But as Mr. Martinez's material is available Clayton decides that is representative of what Kyan's arts included. A very curious lack of effort to understand the entire range of systems of study which came from Kyan, and would seem to be a better argument to make if there is a logic to his contentions

    6. "Kyan's version of Kusanku is supposed to come from Chantan Yara, who was another direct student of Kong Su Kung….In any case the Isshin-ryu version of kusanku seems farily soft, circular and antique compared to other versions. It seems reasonable that it is still pretty close to the techniques taught by kong Su Kung."

    "The remarkable thing about kusanku is its reputation for a "night-fighting" kata. In my experience, shotokan stylists don't know this part of the kusanku legend, and there is a reason for that. Shuri's long-range impact techniques require light to see by (referring to the theory karate only developed for body guards in the well lit castle).

    He then compares Martinez applications to some shotokan applications and concludes "The details of the techniques are not really important. The critical difference is the midset. The ancient applications used multiple techniques to reduce one attacker. Itosu's linear interpretations provides weapons against many simultaneous enemies.
    In fact ther eare applications within kanku dai where a single technique injures multiple attackers. Again, this is completely consistent with the difference between the world view of the Shaolin monk and that of the keimochi bodyguard."

    Clayton concludes Isshinryu does not contain linear striking. Perhaps he does us a very great service, and we should require all non isshin-ryu stylists to read and believe this book. Then they'll never know what hits them.

    Part of his lack of research rests in the belief the true answer of Isshinryu is that multiple kata technique are required to subdue one opponent, where as shotokan's punch will do the same. I believe most here hold a different opinion from Mr. Clayton.

    In fact his use of his research to make his case as he chooses, especially without qualification whether his research represents reality, is one of the ways a case of `Special Pleading' is recognized.

    Very quickly let me extract some of the major aspects of `older' training Itosu discarded, explaining why the bodyguard aspect is the focus. They were fewer pressure points, fewer nukite strikes, no submission techniques, no night fighting. I love statements like "In shotokan you might crack the prostrate opponents skull with your heel, but you wouldn't grab his foot and twist it to control him."

    From his research Clayton examines the art of the bodyguard as having the following required bunkai.

    1. Break out of simple holds on wrists and arms.
    2. Break out of restraining holds on clothing.
    3. Break out of arm locks and wrist locks.
    4. Break out of holds on the hair.
    5. Break out of body restraint holds.
    6. Counter attempts to tackle.
    7. Throw off choke holds.
    8. Burst through a line of enemies to penetrate a crowd.
    9. Rapid-fire body shifting inside the crowd.
    10. One-hit stun/maim/kill techniques for targets in a crowd.
    11. Rapid clear a path through alert enemies.
    12. Use an enemy as a weapon by throwing him under another enemy.
    13. Use an enemy as a shield against other enemies.
    14. Jump and dive to avoid weapons.
    15. Leap past a blocking enemy.
    16. Snatch and use enemy weapons.
    17. Abduct an enemy.
    18. Block and strike with tessen (an iron fan).
    19. Fight on a stairway.

    He concludes with a complex analysis of why Itosu may not have taught
    bunkai, seeming to promote the concept that since bodyguards for the
    king were no longer needed, using karate for `DO' instead of actual
    practice made sense to him.

    He makes complex argument that Shotokan instructors do not know the bunkai for their system. I find this difficult to accept because for 10 years I spent a great deal of time studying bunkai of Shotokan with Tris Sutrisno (which admittedly is not main-stream Shotokan). My reality is very different from his.

    Especially contrast this with the work of Mutso Mizo published in 1933. He clearly shows all of the upcoming kata that will be included in Shotokan over the next several decades, and half his work shows the applications, especially those that Clayton says were not present in the Itosu art. Nakasone had been a student of Funakoshi, did make a trip to Okinawa for research, but the fact he published so much bunkai and shotokan choose not to publically include it in their practices (I refuse to accept shotokan seniors, who certainly had access to Nakasone's book, didn't include that material in their closed practices, but not for general distribution, especially world wide). On that future day Joe-san completes his translation and has it published, I think many heads will change their opinions about what was in karate.

    Trying to draw this to conclusion without writing a complete refutation is difficult.

    Let's say this, this is one of the current problems with martial scholarship. Just because material is in print, using it (including video tapes) as certified research is problematical. The research is only as accurate as the source you vet completely.

    Clayton should have research Isshinryu in greater detail than just reading some books and watching some video tape. The system is larger than that. And for that matter he should have investigated the other Kyan derivative systems in more detail to have any idea about what he was writing about.


    [/FONT]
     
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  4. K-man

    K-man Grandmaster

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    Thank you for the time and effort you have put into this post. Great work and interesting reading.
     
  5. Nomad

    Nomad Master Black Belt

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    I thought it was an excellent read, and gave plausible explanations for some of the moves in classic shotokan kata (particularly like the idea that the grab and twist in Kanku Sho could be for disarming someone of a rifle, rather than the traditional explanation of grabbing a - presumably moving - bo).

    The bottom line to me is that, like many other stories relating the "history" of the arts, documentation is very sparse and much of it comes down to oral histories and legends... it's an interesting alternate hypothesis which served to make me think a little more about my art.

    I think it was a worthwhile read, but readers need to keep in mind that this is one person's theory, and that the person writing it may not be completely unbiased in his opinions... which definitely does come through in the text.
     
  6. Victor Smith

    Victor Smith Blue Belt

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    Nomad,

    If a book makes you think and you find value in it's technique applications that's fine. You bought it after all and you can make up your own mind.

    I just have labored hard to try and undestand the history of karate and am at the point the only historical evidence I find of interest is what the Okinawans have accumulated, looking forward to the translation of their new Okinawan karate encyclopedia, the horse's mouth so to speak.

    I have problems with system analysis that use the wrong system as a starting point, such as Shimabuku Tatsuo's extensively modified Kyan kata as an example of Kyan's Karate, when there are many other extensively documented systems to make such an analysis.

    The problem with books, once written the tend to be come future 'documented' sources of information, even if their analysis is suspect.

    My points are not to put down Shotokan or any other system refernced, just a commentary on the author's assertions, from my own studies.

    To date the most authorative Shotokan history I've seen is Harry Cook's and he doesn't take this approach. He explains the other Okinawan systems but finds no need to compare them to Shotokan.

    I find systems and schools should stand on their own light and not be used for comparison.

    my personal twitch,
     
  7. Jason Striker II

    Jason Striker II Blue Belt

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    Without going into gruesome detail, let me only say that as a Shotokan practitioner of some 42 years, I have severe reservations regarding many of the ideas put forth in Dr. Clayton's book. Victor Smith's analysis above brings forward many of the problems that I had with that work. Caveat emptor.

    To Victor Smith: thanks for those detailed posts. Osu!
     
  8. punisher73

    punisher73 Senior Master

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    I thought it was a good read as a story, and I enjoyed reading about the early karate masters. After that though, the book is a good historical fiction much like any other "war book".

    As has been pointed out, he spends alot of time talking about Isshin-Ryu and their kata, but why not use Zenpo Shimabukuro's kata that are still taught exactly as Kyan taught them? Why look to an altered version?

    He also only talks about Shotokan, but what about all the other derivitives of Itosu's lineage? Funakoshi admits to making changes to his kata and took out many techniques that were left there. For example, in Wansu/Empi he took out the dump/throw that is there and instead has a jump and turn. So, again the theory doesn't hold true that only applications for a bodyguard would be left. One key thing a good protection person will do is KO and throw a body into a crowd to create an obstacle.
     
  9. Kraideliz

    Kraideliz White Belt

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    Interesting review. I liked it.
     
  10. Ray B

    Ray B Green Belt

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    I read and reviewed this book many moons ago.
    I agree with Victor. The author has a definate bias and axe to grind.
    I was fortunate to find that my labrador ate it one day while bore at home.
    Seems she found it more appetizing than I did...
     
  11. Neijia

    Neijia Yellow Belt

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    Its really sad to see so many karate apologists giving reasons why shotokan is lacking. It does have to do with history, but modern history. Its a dumbed down white crane for schoolchildren which was later taught to American GI's.

    Japanese rape Okinawans then ask them for their martial arts. Okinawans lie to them and teach them qigong that cripples them over time. American rape Japanese, then ask to learn dumbed down white crane for school children. Even more secrets are held back and now you have dojos in America where no one knows anything. Its pitiful. Mcarthy knows what is going on, he went back to the source and filled in the holes, most did not. The result is a pathetic martial art in which people have to make up history because they are so removed from the root. You are doing bad white crane. Go learn real white crane. The movements you have studied will actually make sense. High level martial arts are in karate, but you will never find them without a real transmission.
     
  12. stone_dragone

    stone_dragone Senior Master

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    Speaking of axes to grind...
     
  13. Neijia

    Neijia Yellow Belt

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    I'm assuming you are using the internal and external medicines which are carefully detailed in Okinawan white crane manuals. No? Your sensei never mentioned that? Oh well, happy arthritis.
     
  14. Ray B

    Ray B Green Belt

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    I have no axe to grind. I like Shotokan.
    I know many good Shoto players.
    Same goes for Judo. It may be sport, but they can drop you on your head pretty good...
     
  15. Grenadier

    Grenadier Administrator Staff Member

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    Attention all users:

    Art bashing is strictly forbidden. Continuing down this path will result in infractions points being levied. Consider this your final warning.

    Ronald Shin
    MT Assistant Administrator
     
  16. Neijia

    Neijia Yellow Belt

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    this is a question of history, not art bashing. I think shotokan is the best martial art for children to do. It is also a martial art a mentally retarded person can legitimately get a black belt in. Those both serve a great purpose. The book is a lie and has nothing to do with history. Don't believe me, go to China and find out for yourself. If you do karate and do not have the bubishi then you are a fool, plain and simple. The old karate texts are full of herbal formulas and acupuncture points as the medicine was an integral part. Now that everything is bastardized and lost its far easier to rewrite history instead of actually completing your educaiton. Yes...the bodyguards used one hit one kill twist punches.....no..they didn't. Go to Okinawa, then Fujian, then Sichuan, then Tibet and find out what white crane really is. Maybe I'm full of it, but unless you go find out for yourself you will never know.
     
  17. The Last Legionary

    The Last Legionary All warfare is based on deception.<br><b>nemo malu

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    Truly he is a master.:wavey:
     
  18. puunui

    puunui Senior Master

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    I am glad that I took shotokan when i was young. There came a point when I needed to move on, but to this day I carry with me certain attitudes towards training that I got from my time in Shotokan. Taekwondo also owes a debt of gratitude to Shotokan. I wonder what taekwondo would look like today if there were no shotokan influence.
     
  19. punisher73

    punisher73 Senior Master

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    I agree, totally a master debater.
     
  20. Randy Strausbaugh

    Randy Strausbaugh Master Black Belt

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    Not to mention a cunning linguist.
     

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