I buy a large number of martial arts books, almost anything reasonable. I put Stephens on the edge or below that cut. He has had a number of lightweight martial arts books published. Someone in his publishing company decided to term him the world's foremost aikido writer / instructor or something else I can't be bothered to look up but you can find. I found that risible, but then again, haven't read any of his aikido books (may have years ago and forgot). I'll settle for any number of other aikido authors. (Oh, yeah, Stephens' 'Three Budo Masters' is an lightweight read for the mildly interested.)
The book in question has some new information for anyone that doesn't read Japanese or know some Japanese history, so in that sense it may be interesting for beginners. I was put off by the lack of footnotes, particularly from an academic. Also, I did and do believe he lifted info from the old forum where folks like CK, Wdax, Finarashi, and if I may say, me, posted information. Why do I think so? There is one specific phrase, a post that contained a peculiar error in the personal history of Kano shihan that was posted in the old forum, worded in a very particular way; that specific phrase shows up in Stephens' book, but the information is not supported in Japanese references. That phrase only shows up on judoforum.com . An accident, but a telling one. (Mapmakers would often intentionally insert non-existent, 'paper towns' in their maps to track plagiarizers; in a sense, I think Stephens was caught by the same, unintentionally. I know of no other writings by Stephens on judo, so it seemed odd that he fired up such a book out of nowhere, but he didn't give credit to the number of people was real hard and original research apparently fed him. But there were no copyrights on the posts, so it wasn't illegal; I simply thought it very poor form to appropriate it without some acknowledgement of the debt. (But I now don't post much new I find, and I find new details and major finds almost daily.)
But that's OK, there's nothing much less like his book, think of it as a Kano bio for high schoolers, as it's written at a very low level. Almost grade school, like most his books (admission: I've only glanced at a couple). I expect he's writing for his publisher's customers.
Also, Stephens makes a number of errors, which makes me think his research was limited, Internet, or taken from the old judoforum.com or he simply is not a good researcher (or didn't care - as I said, it's a lightweight book). The subject matter is hard to research and observe, and it's easy to make mistakes, even if you look at a very narrow topic; recently I realized a detailed article by Carl de Cree, who I thought was a meticulous researcher, had major errors in research / documentation, apparently because he didn't have it peer reviewed. At this level of judo research, there are only a handful of people that can even pretend to check, and as there's no money in it unless you're flogging pseudo-academic papers to get a degree or keep your job as an academic, no one's likely to know offhand, or do the research, or even if they know, bother to point out your errors. So, who's going to correct your research when there's really so few that understand the basics?
Also, Stephens has a penchant for making up dialogue and personal details that simply are not borne out in the resources. Some are obvious, others not but likely, and he has admitted such to at least one acquaintance of mine.
All that said, to me his worst sin is, in listing a number of Kano related books, that he takes a gratuitous swipe at Brian Watson's The Father of Judo: A Biography of Jigoro Kano, saying IIRC 'the less said, the better' as if it is worthless. I thought that unprofessional, childish, even petulant.
Waton's The Father of Judo is the much better book, but still an easy read.
(edited) And Watson's 'Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano' is one of the best. (see links below in later post)
Watson, whom I've met, took the long series of interviews of Kano shihan by one of his students and translated and edited them into readable English, as they are near unreadable in the original Japanese, which were serialized across months of Judo magazine in after Kano shihan retired from Tokyo Higher Normal School, and added enough info so the cast of characters makes sense to a modern, non-Japanese. A labor of love, it is a view into Kano shihan's view of his own life and career. It's not easily read fluff like Stephens', but should be in every serious judoka's library. It took him years to do it; he has a real job, not an academic. And, he is an eminently decent gentleman.
I highly recommend it.
Last edited by NBK on Wed Dec 09, 2015 10:50 am; edited 1 time in total