Antony Cummins seems pretty knowledgeable about the Samurai and warfare in feudal Japan, and, intrigued by his attempt to recreate the Natori-ryu as a modern-day Samurai school and his claims to have translated its syllabus from the 17th century, I bought myself The Book of Samurai.
Generally I like his material very much, but the one serious criticism I really should mention, since there’s a lot of this on YouTube, is his demonstration of rather careless handling of Samurai swords. Yes, I know that one doesn’t need training to cut things with a katana, but those things are bloody dangerous. An untrained person screwing around with one is liable to seriously injure themselves and others around them. Several times Cummins came dangerously close to severing his axillary artery during his ‘speed draws’.
Before doing anything with a 3ft live blade, one should spend a few years (at least) practising with a bokken under the guidance of a Sensei who knows the history and is fussy about traditions, etiquette, techniques, discipline, etc. These are observed for very good reasons. Learn to develop and ‘extend’ Ki so there’s control and precision in the bokken’s movements, develop the constant mindfulness of everything around you.
Anyway… the premise of The Book of Samurai is the Natori-Ryu was founded sometime in the 1500s, to circulate the teachings of the then Samurai with a syllabus that focussed on things related, directly and tangentially, to warfare.
It was after 1654, we’re told, that a Natori Masazumi became the master of the Natori-Ryu. He was to collate the Samurai teachings into a syllabus and create an encyclopaedia of all things Samurai, and this expanded into many other areas than warfare, tactics and strategy. It is within the scrolls that we find information about the Ninja/Shinobi arts, though I think you’d find that in Cummins’ other book, The Book of Ninja.
The Book of Samurai appears to be a pretty decent and credible work. My Aikido instructor, who’s far more knowledgeable about Samurai-related literature, thinks it’s legit. The caveats are that Cummins himself isn’t conversant or literate in Japanese, and the absence of illustrations/photographs of the source material makes it difficult to verify independently.
Personally I believe, at the very least, the book reveals to us subjects that were addressed in the source material, and what was generally written. This is why, even though it’s excellent as a syllabus and educational, I approach it with skepticism.
As a stand-alone book, the content is excellent. Aside from what we’d expect in a Samurai manual, much of the syllabus is remarkably practical today. For example, there’s an etiquette and strategies for preventing conflict, its escalation and other problems that might ensue. There’s advice on travelling at night, and what to do when confronted by a group of potential attackers. You’ll also find sections on emergency preparedness, with advice that’s very similar to what’s given in a corporate fire safety training session. Anyone who’s into the whole Ninjutsu tradecraft thing would certainly like it.