Takeda Shinobi Hiden

Serge, for beginning readers in this field, could you tell us a bit about each of your previous titles?

As you know, so far I have written five books in the field of Japanese martial arts, and warrior culture in the wider sense. Takeda Shinobi Hiden will be my sixth.

My first book was Classical Fighting Arts of Japan, A Complete Guide to Koryu Jujutsu. It focused on the history and development of jujutsu, and the jujutsu traditions. It was published in 2001 by the respected Japanese publisher Kodansha International.

My second book, Classical Weaponry of Japan, Special Weapons and Tactics of the Martial Arts, also published by Kodansha International was published in 2003. This book as it were is a little encyclopedia covering over a hundred special, secret or curious Japanese weapons, with the exception of the Japanese swords and Japanese pole-arms.

In my third book Invisible Armor, An Introduction to the Esoteric Dimension of Japan’s Classical Warrior Arts, I decided to provide the western reader a better insight into the spiritual background of the Japanese warrior and the warriors schools. This book was published in 2008 by Eibusha.

If there is one weapon that is almost automatically associated with the Japanese warrior then it must be the sword. So my fourth book Classical Swordsmanship of Japan, A Comprehensive Guide to Kenjutsu and Iaijutsu is completely dedicated to the history and development of Japanese swordsmanship, and the schools that instructed in them. It was published in 2010 by Eibusha.

Bujutsu Densho, Exploring the Written Tradition of Japan’s Martial Arts Culture, published in 2013, is a book intended for all those interested in the intriguing and mysterious world of secret martial arts manuscripts and scrolls, and their significance. In Bujutsu Densho I also wanted to show the beauty of these manuscripts, and the artwork that can be found in them.
Your last three titles are self published, can you explain why you chose to do so and what the pros and cons are to self-publishing?

You may have noticed that there is a gap of some 5 years between my second publication (2003) and my third (2008). Although my editor at my previous publisher was briefed over my esoteric book before I started on it, when I had almost finished the project, it was felt that the book was too much of a commercial risk. I was asked to write about a more accessible subject instead. So I suspended my work on Invisible Armor, and started working on Classical Swordsmanship. By the time this was ready however, the publishing world had been changed drastically by self-publishing companies and large on-line sales organizations. This put the traditional large publishers under a lot of pressure. My previous publisher told me they were going to concentrate on works written by Japanese authors, or translation of Japanese works. So I basically found myself without publisher. Setting up a working relation with a new publisher can be time consuming, and since in Invisible Armor I had accessed sources which had never been made public before, and already several years had been lost, I decided I could not hold back publishing it any longer. I also knew other publishers would probably be shied away by the nature of the work, and editorially I was not prepared to make compromises, so I decided to follow my gut feeling and publish the book myself in 2008.

The biggest rewarding factor is that I have complete editorial control, and do not have to shy away from topics traditional publishers might find commercial risks. An even greater feeling of satisfaction I get from the numbers of readers that seem to understand this and have stayed loyal fans. The biggest disadvantage of course is that I have no well-oiled sales devision to support me worldwide.
Now let’s talk about the new book. When did you first thought of writing about this topic?
For my research on my other books I frequently consulted ninjutsu related manuscripts, and readers often asked me to write something about the ninja or ninjutsu, if even from my own perspective. However I never felt the need to write a translation of one of the better known works on ninjutsu such as Bansenshukai, Shoninki and Ninpiden, and secondly I never considered myself an authority in this field. So I decided to write something on the subject only if I could make a meaningful contribution. Then one day, I stumbled upon a scroll with the intriguing name Iga Ryu Koka Ryu Shinobi Hidensho. A quick glance at the scroll revealed that this scroll was actually the main secret scroll of a shinobi or ninja tradition that traced its roots back to the famous 16th century warlord Takeda Shingen. The level of detail in the scroll was unbelievable, and frankly almost too good to be true. I decided to check the background of the manuscript, and the details of the individuals that were mentioned in it. I visited the relevant places in Japan, and the discoveries I did there, made me realize that the story of this shinobi tradition was so fascinating that it was simply screaming to be told. This is when I knew for sure I had to write this book.

Since the 80’s the world is filled with “Hatsumi sensei’s Ninja”, surely many of them will be interested in this book. Did you consider them in writing the book? Are there myths or assumptions you intended to disprove or perharbs affirm?
Naturally I hope people of the various present day ninja related groups will be enticed to read this book, but I did not write this book with one or another group in mind, nor with the intention of affirming or disproving myths. I only wanted to tell the story of Takeda Shingen’s shinobi. In the process I may offer new views, and perhaps disprove some general ninja misconceptions. Most of all I hope readers, regardless of their background, will find a renewed view of the subject of ninja and ninjutsu, and enjoy reading it.
The book is a full 192 pages. Without giving away to much, but can you name something in the book that will most likely surprise most readers?
The most surprising might be that Takeda Shingen and his close advisors had a very thorough knowledge of the methods of the Iga and Koka shinobi groups, and apparently even had access to their secret documents! Documents that may well be the source of later period works as Gunpo Jiyoshu and the ninja bible Bansenshukai. Shingen and his advisors managed to use that knowledge to their advantage and created an intelligence gathering network that had no equal in its time. This knowledge also became the cornerstone of the Takeda Shinobi tradition. But what is most interesting is that this tradition was kept alive in all secrecy, for centuries (until the end of the Edo period), by the descendants of the very families that once faithfully served Shingen!

In that same light; In researching or writing this book, could you tell us about any classic Eureka discoveries you personally might have had and what they were?
More than the actual technical aspects (and the tradition contains many!), I was deeply moved by the human side of the whole story and the loyalty of some of Shingen’s former retainer families. The most significant point however was when I was able to establish beyond any doubt that the Iga Ryu Koka Ryu Shinobi Hidensho was real and thus worth translating and exploring, and that the individuals mentioned in it were also real. This was the start of a very long but interesting journey.
Looking at the book, I notice you have chosen the same harcover bind and size as “Classical Swordmanship” and “Invisible Armor”. Are you returning to this as your new standard after changing the format for “Bujustu Densho”?
The format of Bujutsu Densho was purposely chosen because it allowed the drawings and pictures of the scrolls in it to be shown in the most ideal way. I also do not rule out that future projects in the same style as Bujutsu Densho will be done in the same format.
However fortunately for collectors of the series, Takeda Shinobi Hiden looks and reads best in the same format as Invisible Armor and Classical Swordsmanship!
It’s time for some good old fashioned promotion. When will the book be out? Where can we get a copy?
If all goes as planned the book will be ready around 8 July 2016, and will be available via www.eibusha.com

Thank you for you kind and candid replies. I for one am looking forward to reading the book.