The Fighting Spirit of Japan

Fighting Spirit of Japan
E.J. Harrison
Independently published, 2019
Purchase from Amazon (paid link)

Two books that should be of interest to people studying both classical and modern Japanese martial arts are E.J. Harrison’s The Fighting Spirit of Japan and Hiroaki Sato’s The Sword and the Mind. Both are published by The Overlook Press and in very attractive editions, at that.

The Fighting Spirit of Japan is a reprint of an early work first published, if I recall correctly, around the end of the Meiji period. It’s a sort of rumination on aspects of Japanese martial culture, written by a man who lived in Japan for many years, beginning before the end of the nineteenth century, a time when the most prominent figures in martial arts were ex-samurai, men who’d lived and worked in one of the very oldest martial societies. The differences in perspective between then and now are scarcely calculable.

Although Harrison’s book may seem a little bit naive to us in the 21st century, it is very important to remember that it is probably the earliest Western attempt to look at Japanese martial culture in a critical way. He was one of the very first Western pioneers in budo, whose achievements were only later paralleled by men such as Warner, Draeger, Chambers, and Relnick, and he has insights and a perspective none of us can capture now.

The book begins with an extended discussion of judo and jujutsu, continues with kendo, sumo, kembu, karatedo and aikido, then moves to more esoteric aspects of the martial arts. The final section of the book includes a brief–and in my mind not too cogent–overview of Zen, a Japanese version of yoga, thoughts on Japanese theater, women’s role in Japanese society (remember, this was written during the Meiji period, so it is a bit jarring to us today) and a look at what was then called the “gay quarters” of the city.

All in all, a very interesting read, and worth having on one’s bookshelf.

Sample a brief tale by E.J. Harrison, “The Mutts and Mochi Cakes.”

Meik Skoss

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