Matthew Apsokardu is a dedicated martial artist, and the mind behind the excellent website, Ikigai Way. He has a long track record of creating valuable content for karateka and kobudoka, mostly through his website. For some time, now, he has been working on something a bit grander. “Tales from the Western Generation” is a rather lengthy book, weighing in at over 500 pages, that clearly took a great deal of time and effort to write, and I want to thank Matthew for all of the work he put into it. He was kind enough to provide me with an advance copy, and I felt it only right to review the book once I had finished it. “Tales from the Western Generation” explores the development of karate in the United States of America–focusing largely on the 1950’s to 1980’s–through the eyes of the men and women who lived it. It begins, however, by explaining how the book was written, and how it is meant to be read. Following this introduction, the author briefly discusses some of the history of how the East and West interacted with each other in the centuries leading up to the era the book focuses on. This gives the reader an important backdrop for the stories they will read, and I was pleased to see that it was included.
Having brushed up on your history, the book then takes you into the lives of the first Western generation of karateka. While it is impossible to catalog every karate style, or interview every karateka of the era, the author has done an impressive job of compiling information and interviews from a wide variety of sources. The book begins with interviews from Goju-Ryu practitioners, then follows with Chito-Ryu, Isshin-Ryu, Matsumura Seito, Okinawa Kenpo, Oyata Shin Shu Ho, Seibukan, Shobayashi-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan, Shotokan, and finally closes the interviews with a Shuri-Ryu practitioner. Despite the categorizations, the reader will be exposed to even more styles through these interviews, as the karateka of the Western generation did a great deal of cross-training, and made friends with people from many other styles of karate.
The book ends with some words from the author, reflecting on the interviews that the reader has just finished. It is easy to see these men and women, and the teachers they revere, as more than human. Through the interviews, and Matthew’s reminders at the end of the book, we get to see them as real people. They had to make due with very little, in comparison to what we have, today, and there were a lot of problems to deal with in those days. This book will make you feel, all at once, envious of experiences you can never have, disheartened by knowledge that has been lost, thankful for the opportunities you have, and inspired by the thoughts and acts of those who came before. I believe this book is an excellent read for any karateka, but for American karateka, in particular, I believe it is essential.