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The Life-Giving Sword: Secret Teachings from the House of Shogun (The Way of the Warrior Series) [Hardcover]

Yagyu Munenori , William Scott Wilson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: 13.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

26 Nov 2003 The Way of the Warrior Series
This is a translation of an important classic on Zen swordfighting. Yagyu Munenori was so widely renowned that he was appointed official sword instructor to two Tokugawa shoguns. (The position was always coveted by Miyamoto Musashi, but he never succeeded in gaining the post). Yagyu's style is known as the Shinkage-ryu style, for centuries the official style of the Tokugawa dynasty. His spiritual mentor was Zen priest Takuan. Here, Yagyu's Buddhist spirituality is clearly reflected in his central idea of the "life-giving sword" - the notion of controlling an opponent by the spiritual readiness to fight, rather than during the fight. His mastery of restraint and diplomacy made him a trusted political and military advisor to the shoguns. This book is a look into a master swordsman's thoughts on nonattachment and even non-violence.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha International Ltd (26 Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770029551
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770029553
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 14.6 x 19.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 661,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author


YAGYU MUNENORI was so widely renowned that he was appointed official sword instructor to two Tokugawa shoguns. (The position was always coveted by Miyamoto Musashi, but he never succeeded in gaining the post). Yagyu's style is known as the Shinkage-ryu style, for centuries the official style of the Tokugawa dynasty. His spiritual mentor was Zen priest Takuan. Here, Yagyu's Buddhist spirituality is clearly reflected in his central idea of the "life-giving sword" - the notion of controlling an opponent by the spiritual readiness to fight, rather than during the fight. His mastery of restraint and diplomacy made him a trusted political and military advisor to the shoguns. This book is a look into a master swordsman's thoughts on nonattachment and even non-violence.
WILLIAM SCOTT WILSON, the translator, was born in 1944 and grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College in 1966, he was invited by a friend to join a three-month kayak trip up the coast of Japan from Shimonoseki to Tokyo. This eye-opening journey, beautifully documented in National Geographic, spurred Wilson's fascination with the culture and history of Japan.
After receiving a B.A. degree in political science from Dartmouth, Wilson earned a second B.A. in Japanese language and literature from the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies in Monterey, California, then undertook extensive research on Edo-period (1603-1868) philosophy at the Aichi Prefectural University, in Nagoya, Japan.
Wilson completed his first translation, Hagakure, while living in an old farmhouse deep in the Japanese countryside. Hagakure saw publication in 1979, the same year Wilson completed an M.A. in Japanese language and literature at the University of Washington. Wilson's other translations include TheBook of Five Rings, The Life-Giving Sword, The Unfettered Mind, the Eiji Yoshikawa novel Taiko, and Ideals of the Samurai, which has been used as a college textbook on Japanese history and thought. Two decades after its initial publication, Hagakure was prominently featured in the Jim Jarmusch film Ghost Dog.
Wilson currently lives in Miami, Florida.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting read 16 April 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For those who have ever had an interest or studdied budo this is an interesting read.much of japans turbulent history overlaps so if you are versed in much of japans samurai warfare this isnt that exciting.there are some interesting sword techniques from the school to look at and practice if you have the time and an understanding of budo.the author has definatly put some time into the book and yagu was a prominant sword school.Worth a look if your intrest is in the swords schools.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
An accurate & comprehensive historical account of one of the world's greatest swordsmen dating back nearly 400 years, written in a clear & easy style that keeps the readers interest all the way through.

Almost "a rags to riches" story of a man who came from a humble background & rose to one of the highest positions in Japanese Society.

It gives proof that with a degree of dedication & persistence along with the constant practice & perfection of just one skill, in this case swordsmanship, one can use that skill & make a success of ones life & be rich in many more ways than just financial.

William Scott Wilson is a true genius when it comes to writing about ancient Japanese history & subjects concerning the life of famous samurai warriors. His successful & prolific writings are a testament to this.

About a third of the book is devoted to a very interesting background to the life of Munenori & life in Japan as it was nearly 400 years ago. Also, it was a bonus to see in this account many mentions made to another famous samurai that lived at the time - Miyamoto Musashi (author of "The Book of Five Rings" fame) & their spiritual companion & Zen Priest: Takuan Soho (author of "The Unfettered Mind"). These two great & so different warriors must have been aware of each others existence, one wonders whether they had ever met in person & if they had, what the outcome would have been?

A great historical & truly valuable account by a master writer, which ought to be on the top of any martial artists list of important books. Look out for Wilson's other title "The Lone Samurai" which traces the life of Munenori.
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Format:Paperback
i have to say i prefer this book to the book of five rings , Yagyu was obviously a man of strong mind and zen like calmness .
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Giving life to the sword 25 May 2004
By Robert Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Anyone who looks to a book to learn how to swing a sword will forever be disappointed. Those of us who have actually taken the time train in the sword know that direct transmition is the only way (yes, the schools still exist -- go find one).
What this book presents (along with some very good subtle sword pointers) is the proper mental attitude you must gain in order to progress on the path. Mr. Wilson does a wonderful job translating a difficult text. If you are serious about sword, get this book AND go find a teacher ...
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I surely love this book 18 Jun 2010
By GG Gawain - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mr. Yagyu Munenori had a crystal clear mind so grounded in Zen, his writings amazingly show how Mankind has taken a big step back in being grounded in the "Now." I find his words so comforting, and when applied to the practice of the sword, they manifest themselves physically into action. It is one thing to seek enlightenment through books, but it seems only through physical experience can true manifestation of that knowledge be put to use. I love how you learn to throw away the mind, "No Mind" and live in the freedom of your actions. If your mind lingers anywhere, it becomes trapped. I see this "sickness" of the trapped mind everywhere today in people. They are trapped in the past, or a future of which they dream, and are looking forward to a reality that does not exist. They are not "here" when you speak to them. Their mind is caught in a dream, like a lotus eater, glassy eyed and harried.

Other than children and animals, it's very hard these days to find people who are absorbed in the present moment. No future, no past, only living for that moment. This book is like a soothing ointment to straighten jagged thoughts of delusion. A must read.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classical text 13 May 2005
By Jason Allen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Munenori's book is a classic work of Japanese literature that explores the Way of the sword through what we in the west might call a philosphical approach. Yet, I don't think the distinction between the physical style and philosophical approach would be seperate categories to Munenori. His book sets out to present the Way as a total approach of mind, body, and spirit, and not merely the development of each independently. Reading the book in any other way will probably make it fairly disappointing.

The other thing to remember about this book is its a classic by one of the most influential sword instructors of his era. In that respect, the book is rich with perspective on early 17th century Japanese culture. Particularly interesting are the reprinted plates in the back of the book showing the original inked pages of technique.

As other viewers pointed out, this is not a book for someone simply learning to wield a sword. Instead, Munenori's book is a fascinating account of swordsmanship that gives the reader insight not only to the richness of the Way, but also wonderful insight on a fascinating historical figure. Highly recommended for those interested in Japanese culture, history of samurai, and the feudal era.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful 1 May 2007
By Ginro - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I give this book five stars simply because I love it. For anyone who finds Miyamoto Musashi's book a little hard to fathom at first, then maybe you could start with this.

I have a number of translations by William Scott Wilson, the most recent being 'The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts', I love them all and have to say that I prefer his translations over any other.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece Treaty on the Way of the Sword 4 Jun 2009
By Ronin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
First and foremost this is not a story for entertainment nor is it a manual that will teach you how to use a sword. This is a deeply philosophical investigation into the Zen mind required to master the sword. Experienced practitioners will get the most out of it. Beginners will stumble through it and most of the value will be lost. It requires many reads and deep contemplation together with practice to really come to life.

The first 60-pages of the book are very interesting, as Wilson takes us through a brief synopsis of the life and times of Munenori with some descriptions of his character and people he associated with. Munenori was a very colorful character who was a teacher and adviser to shoguns, winning the post against Musashi himself.

The Yagyu clan is an old ninja family who live in the mountains outside Nara. Their village is surrounded by rice paddies and is difficult to approach. At one point Musashi traveled there to challenge Munenori (who was conveniently not present) and instead wound up dueling and killing a master of the kusurigama, a sickle with a chain and weight on the end and a common ninja weapon.

The actual Life Giving Sword is about 70-pages long and is mostly a philosophical zen treaty with application for any martial art, but geared to the Way of the sword. Also included are 28 prints from the Illustrated Catalog of the Shinkage-ryu, which offers brief descriptions of the techniques and includes the "Tengu Series".

This is an essential book for any sword practitioner, or anyone involved in the martial arts. I can't recommend it enough.
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