Peter A Goldsbury
Well, I suppose it depends what you want in a book review. I think you have to start with the book itself, especially a book like HIPS, and analyze carefully what the author states, how he reaches his conclusions, and the evidence he uses to support these conclusions. The basis on which the review is written by a particular author might or might not become clear, but if it obtrudes too much, then I think the review becomes less satisfactory as a result.
I appreciate the review and am enjoying the questions raised; I just question whether the nature of the review overshoots the intent of the work. I read the work with the idea that he was not shooting for “conclusions” with his points of interest. Ellis stated in private discussions, in posts on aikiweb, and in the book itself that the intent of the piece was never to be definitive or to reach conclusions in the first place. I believe he cited various reasons;
-There wasn’t enough written documentation available or accessible to conclusively verify certain recent circumstantial evidence as empirical evidence.
-Proof that the material he was searching for (internal training) had familial ties to individual artists or the body of arts Takeda and Ueshiba would have been exposed to.
-Documented internal training in extant Koryu is not readily available, and his hopes that this seminal work would lead to more research.
In other words, he openly stated the piece was not conclusive but rather intentionally controversial and undertaken with the hopes of raising interest of a level that others with better training, better access, or holding information, might undertake a more scholarly and rigorous approach in pursuing the subject.
I think that remains an important distinction. He knowingly makes it clear (for the sake of his own credibility) to the readers, and also for those researchers that might follow; how handicapped one is in this daunting task. The difficulties he ran into with the lack of material to support the work as “conclusive” is no doubt going to be a challenge for future efforts by scholars. Thankfully, he saw importance of getting the subject matter out there worth sacrificing a certain comfortability in the work presented.
Personally, I have never agreed with Ellis that scholars could do a better job with the work and have told him so. I think this is an effort better left to Budo men. I have seen the efforts of scholars in the documentation of other subjects near and dear to my interests; Arms and Armor, their manufacture and use
. Their unfamiliarity with the topic led to glaring errors, and mutually supported citing of each others works in support of other erroneous "conclusions." U.S. Steels technical manual as a single body of work, did more to clarify earlier metallurgical work then all the collected scholarly works of the day. I remain convinced that a similar case is all but guaranteed to occur with the present subject of internals in the Martial Arts of Japan for the same reasons. I can see the interviewing of present day experts of extant arts (who themselves are unfamiliar with the topic) being asked inane questions by a scholar (unfamiliar with the subject himself) and the resultant interview being used to support other material, and then have it presented in a way as to pass a rigorous review by a panel of unknowing peers and then be accepted as “conclusive,” on to being published and then cited by other scholars twenty years down the line as further support of their ideas.
To return to an earlier comment, you can ask Ellis (himself one of those potential experts) if the existence of certain internal components that he had been searching for was even evident to himself in his own arts? That being the case, we can ask ourselves "How conclusive would it be were he to be one of the men interviewed, then later cited in some future work?"
There are no methods I can think of that would reach a conclusive study in the martial arts of Japan. I think Takeda serves us well as a titular example of what we will find in researching any connection between internals and stellar martial artists. There are cases where brilliant individuals have no recorded extensive training in established arts to support their highly unusual –even unique understanding. Research into the lives of Musashi, Iizasa, Takeouchi, Munenori, Tesshu, etc. Haven’t been definitive in explaining their own brilliance or enlightenment. Takeda is just more of the same. At least with Takeda we have him pointing to in-the-flesh individuals rather than tengu and scrolls from the gods.
Ellis's "take" on Takeda’s past, his relations and upbringing and the reasons for Takeda’s behavior was certainly refreshing and at the very least had more validity than the preponderance of anecdotal and largely “spun” stories coming out of the aikikia’s affiliates. I think almost anything that counters the Ueshiba family’s version of history is worth the price of admission. I feel the same about some of Ellis's opinions about Ueshiba. I think more time could have been spent on specifics of the change from the execution of Daito ryu waza to Aikido waza as emblematic of the spiritual changes in Ueshiba that could actually have strengthened and supported his views, but no matter.
As far as the main thrust of his ideas that this stuff is "Hidden In Plain Site,"
I can only say I think Elllis is enjoying how ironic his initial ideas were, even more so today. I think we will be hearing more on that from him later.
I don’t think we will ever verify the existence of a connection between internal training and single individuals or entire arts in an empirical study. Were we to make the attempt, we are going to need to first verify the existence and effects of such training on a series of adepts, and then verify and prove the –lack – of internal training on a control group of warriors. All done posthumously! Further, any historical conclusions are going to have to be verified by the reading of makimono of the first group and the scrolls of the second, by those capable of reading older Kanji and who themselves understand the subject to a degree that they can verify the relevance of the material to anything meaningful by way of internal training and then tie that into historical documentation physical augmentation of an arts adepts. Finding the occasional reference to breathing exercises, tied it into chanting is not conclusive of anything, nor has it necessarily produced powerful adepts who had access to similar material in their own arts in the modern age. Technique and skill can mimic and mask a lot of things. These discoveries may hint to other more detailed practices with in a ryu, but many times certain “inside the threshold” teachings have been relegated to oral tradition in the gokui. For that matter it becomes questionable whether you can even use –that- as evidentiary of an arts power or reputation. As Ellis continues in his research he is finding evidence and running into groups of Koryu adepts who know of the subject, but do not practice the material. What does that tell about the premise of his work? He continues to find more evidence that this subset of training actually did exist, but was not readily discussed or even consistently transmitted by those with the material right under their very nose!
So I guess my take on the review is that while I enjoyed it on several levels, I even laughed out loud (in a good way) a few times, I think it is expecting the book to be more than what the authors stated goals were. Were I to set the same standards it appears you are proposing on the work, I think it would not have seen the light of day. But then we would never have seen the subject forwarded to a largely unfamiliar readership, or seen the question of the existence of this very important subject of study in the martial arts of Japan even raised. Taken as a whole, I think the book served its author's stated purposes well and was an enjoyable read. I consider it to be required reading for anyone who trains with me, while I am not even remotely surprised to find that the majority so-called martial artists would pass it by and remain unfamiliar with the “questions” raised in its pages. In that regard, I think it matches the state of affairs in the Japanese arts. So much is “Hidden In Plain Site” that those in the arts-even experts- can’t seem to find it.