Autumn Lightning - The Education Of An American Samurai

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Author: Dave Lowry
Pub: 1985 by Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Pages: 179
Ranking:Four Star Rating
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The title says it all... written in an autobiographical manner, this book details the Dave Lowry's initiation into Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, a classical style of Japanese swordsmanship. Lots of Japanese 'stories', written in a loose, non-scholarly way, entertain you as you read through the book. If you enjoy this book, as I did, you'll want to read the followup book, Persimmon Wind


   Foreword vii                               
   Preface ix                                 
 1 Meeting with the Past 3                   
 2 The Sixteen Spears of Nagano 9            
 3 Matters of Concentration 21               
 4 A Death Among Peach Blossoms 33           
 5 Autumn and Other Things Japanese 47       
 6 The Swordsmen in the Shadows 59           
 7 A Ritual of Style, A Function of Grace 77
 8 The Shogun's Master 87                    
 9 Iai, Cutting at Raindrops 101             
10 The Swordsman and the Priest 115         
11 Lessons in the Warrior's Way 133         
12 Things Out of Season 149                 
   Afterword: Two Rivers into the Same Sea 157
   Glossary 161                               
   Illustrations 175                          



The bamboo survives due to its resiliency. It can bend with the force of the wind and the weight of the snow because its roots grow deep and strong. The roots of Budo, the traditional Japanese martial arts, go back over a thousand years. But, in modern times, many of these roots have been cut, transplanted to other countries, or trampled upon by the march of time in their own homeland. To survive, Budo has changed and adapted itself to its new environment considerably. We must, however, always be mindful that by straying too far away from the original nature of Budo, we may be in danger of losing its essence. Change is the law of nature. But we must never forget that, in the face of the adverse winds of time, the resiliency of Budo, like that of the bamboo, depends on the strength and depth of its roots.

As a student of martial arts for many years, I fear we may be losing these roots altogether. Indeed, we may be sacrificing the tree for the fruit and achieving only a temporary gain. It is with great pleasure then that I note that devoted students and scholars of the martial arts such as Dave Lowry are making great efforts to recultivate these roots for the benefit of all. Mr. Lowry has undertaken two difficult projects: recounting his own personal experiences in martial arts training under a traditional teacher, and relating the development of the Yagyu Shinkage ryu, an out-standing school of traditional Japanese swordsmanship. I hope this unique approach will bring deep insight into the martial arts for all interested students.


Daniel Furuya

(Daniel Furuya, an aikido teacher in Los Angeles, California, is a leading authority on the culture of feudal Japan, with a particular interest in the classical martial arts of that country and in the swordsmanship of the Yagyu school of fencing. Furuya Sensei is at the fourth dan in hombu aikido and at the second dan in the Muso Shinden ryu of iaido.)



When I began to plan this book I knew that a good deal of material would need to be translated because there has been almost no serious literature written in English on the classical martial arts of Japan. For help, I went to a young Japanese man who had immigrated to the United States a few years ago and was lecturing on Oriental philosophy and teaching Zen at a nearby college. Our conversation on Zen was rambling, punctuated by long, companionable silences. Finally, I got around to telling him of my problem. Many of the older treatises I was using for research were couched in archaic Japanese, so if I stumbled during my efforts at translating them, I wanted to count on his assistance. He readily agreed and we talked on, discussing some of the difficulties of rendering ideas from one language into another. After a prolonged pause, he asked me why I practiced kenjutsu, the techniques of wielding the Japanese sword. Because Zen and swordsmanship have had a lengthy and intimate relationship in Japan, I was surprised at the question. I started to explain how a study of the art led to improvement in physical and mental capabilities, but the Zen man interrupted. "No," he said firmly. "Kenjutsu is only killing with the sword."

As attitudes and institutions progress so rapidly in our world, we risk becoming further alienated from previous generations. Even among the Japanese, it seems, appreciation of the traditional arts of the samurai is waning. I cannot speak for the whole of those who are still devoted to these arts, nor can I even speak from the perspective of a Japanese. Yet it is worthwhile, I think, to present modern society a personal account of an education in swordsmanship and the other classical arts of the samurai, reveal-ing them as endeavors more meaningful in purpose and with deeper ends than just killing. From the experience, as I hope is found in these pages, they are indeed, very much more.

Naturally, whenever anyone devotes time to a particular discipline, he acquires knowledge and insights that give him a wider perception of it. My involvement with the martial crafts of feudal Japan has extended for over half my life. In an effort to put the events of those years into a sort of readable order, I have altered time and characters and places a bit. For that reason, I must say that while the contents of this book aren't all factual, they are all true-embarrassingly so at times, for me. Additionally, I have ascribed conversations and personal details to historical characters to make their stories more understandable, but all of those individuals did exist and contribute to the development of the Yagyu Shinkage ryu, and their actions, as I've recorded them, are a matter of fact.

I must thank some of the people who encouraged me to undertake this project. From Japan: Watatani Kiyoshi, that country's foremost scholar of feudal history; Otsubo Shiho Sensei, one of the remaining masters of the Yagyu school of the sword; and his daughter, Haruko, all provided me with appreciated information, as did the offices of the Nara prefectural government. The late Donn Draeger prodded and cajoled when I needed it, In this country, I was given invaluable advice by my friends Randall Hassell and Daniel Furuya, and I hope sincerely that my efforts have been equal to the expectations of all of them.

Thanks to the Quincy College Library of Quincy, Illinois. Their outstanding Asian Collection provided invaluable help in research and translation. I believe the staff there considered me something of a ghost, appearing once a month mysteriously to haunt the stacks, but they left me alone and the hours I spent there were as pleasant as they were productive.

Also, to the uchi no yatsu, who knows little of Yagyu heiho, but who knows much about the ways of a Yagyunin.

Excerpts from The Shino Suite, by Ronald Tanaka, and Shibumi, by Trevanian, are used with the kind permission of the authors.



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