Most of these books should be somewhere on the bookshelves of anyone who has more than just a passing interest in Traditional Japanese Budo, which is such a fascinating subject with a rich and colourful history, with literally no shortage of authoritative material to tap into.
Most book choices people make are understandably subjective, but these are being recommended to assist in the process of learning about Traditional Japanese Budo, from both an historical, philosophical and a practical perspective.
It being imperative to know where, when and why they evolved and who was responsible for their development, along with the prevailing philosophy of the time and how it is (or is not) being interpreted today, the latter being to serve as an aide memoire to complement what has been learned in the Dojo, regardless of discipline or style.
This is not a definitive guide and more suggestions will be added down the line.
Classical Bujutsu v 1 and 2
Modern Bujutsu and Budo
One cannot begin to suggest some reading material in this genre, without the mention of Donn F Draeger, without doubt the leading historian on all traditional, classical and modern Japanese Budo and Bujutsu.
These 3 books are all available in paperback.
The Fighting Spirit of Japan
E J Harrison
First published in 1913 and now available in paperback, this is a general perspective of the way of life in Japan around the practice and development of traditional Japanese Budo.
Go Rin No Sho or the Book of Five Rings
Translated by Victor Harris in 1974, this book became a best seller as a strategic development tool for Japanese businessmen.
Musashi was known in Japan as Kensei - or sword saint - as there appeared to be no one who could beat him in battle. He was famous for his two sword style of fighting - very often taking on opponents with just two wooden swords or Bokken,
He wrote Go Rin No Sho as a Way of Strategy called Ni Ten Ichi Ryu in 1645 for one of his disciples, shortly before his death at the age of 60. It is strongly philosophical with the influence of Zen Buddhism, Shinto and Confucianism. His words take time to understand intellectually and to put into practice.
The Secrets of the Samurai
Westbrook and Ratti
Not quite mentioned in the same breath as Dreager’s work, this is quite a comprehensive look at the history, evolution and development of the military class and its rise to power.
Covering both armed and unarmed Bujutsu, it has an interesting final chapter on the morality of Bujutsu at the time.
Again beautifully illustrated by Oscar Ratti.
Originally published in 1979 - some reprint hardback copies are still available.
MORALITY AND PHILOSOPHY
The Soul of Japan
Originally written in English 1899 when Nitobe was in the US - it was a few years before it became translated into Japanese.
This is a real classic of Bushido as a system of Ethics, written in the style of the day, when he was still a Professor at the imperial University of Tokyo.
Bushido, which literally means Military - Knight - Ways - became known as the Way of the Warrior and was an important source of the eight virtues most admired by the Japanese people.
Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics
R H Blyth
A gem of a book - if you are interested in English Literature, that is, and how Blyth manages to find moments and messages of Zen in a vast range of literature. He devotes 4 whole chapters to Non Attachment - an integral and essential element of Zen Buddhist philosophy.
Originally published in 1942 in Japan by the Hokusiedo Press - it is now available in paperback.
The Religion of the Samurai
First published in 1913, this was reprinted in 1973 and was one of the first books on Zen written in the English language. The title is a little misleading, but as a study of Zen Buddhism it is a classic.
Approach to Zen
Kosho Uchiyama Roshi
This is simply written as an A to Z of the Zen in Zazen and how important the practice of sitting is. Awash with practical tips and cross references to daily life, it was written in 1973, and is a good beginners guid to Zazen and its meaning.
Vol 1 - 5
These 5 volumes serve to bring to life what was going on in the world of Aikido as it was launched onto the worlds stage, with a number of the Uchideshi of the Founder of Aikido - Morihei Ueshiba, making their way to Europe, such as Chiba and Tamura and the US to ply their trade. Passmore Sensei was at the forefront of some of this development, when he became the very first Secretary of the British Aikido Federation in 1975.
Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere
Westbrook and Ratti
Every book written has an objective and this one in the authors’ own words - it is to “widen and deepen knowledge of this discipline of coordination.
That is what they set out to do and that is exactly what this book has achieved - for both those who have a general interest in the Japanese martial arts and for active Aikido, especially for those in the early years of their practice and undertaking.
A brilliantly illustrated publication, it was first printed in 1970 and had it eighth printing in 2005.
This is Karate
The Bible of Karate This enigmatic and bull of a man and Founder of the Kyukoshinkai style of Karate, put together what is the best tome on karatedo that will appeal to all styles. It was so far ahead of its time and to this day remains the bar for any open publication on traditional karate.
Donn F Draeger - with Gordon Warner
MEDITATION AND ZAZEN
Another Gem - and the first attempt to discuss the physiology of breathing in detail and bring it into perspective as a method of gaining and keeping ones attention.
Sekida’s real reason for writing the book was to portray Zen as simply “a rational method of helping us to become better people”.
First published in 1975 and now available in paperback.
Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial Arts
David A Hall
A good source of reference for anyone with a serious interest in Japanese and Asian martial culture.
Published in 2012, it is available only in hardback at present.
Shinto - The Kami Way
Dr. Sokyo Ono
A delilghtful little book on the indigenous religion of Japan, which blended in with the arrival of Zen Buddhism in the 12 Century without any bloodshed and prevails to this day.