Eric Van Lustbader

As one of the forerunners of what we’ve come to know and love in action-packed thriller novels, Eric Van Lustbader has long been on the cutting edge of the suspense genre. In addition to his storied career penning the Nicholas Linnear series and the Sunset Warrior Cycle, Van Lustbader has also taken up the distinguished assignment of writing the Jason Bourne series in the wake of creator Robert Ludlum’s passing. In celebration of Van Lustbader’s reissue this month of five books from the Linnear and Sunset Warrior series with Open Road Media, he this week presents his “Five Favorite Books on Martial Arts and Samurai.”

The Art of War: The New Translation
By Sun-Tzu; Translated by J. H. Huang

“This is the sine qua non of strategy, whether it be for physical war, psychological war, or business war. Sun-Tzu (or Sun Wu, his real name) was a contemporary of Confucius, and yet his trenchant observations, stratagems, and advice on how to wage war on every level are as relevant today as they were centuries ago. “Keep your friends close, your enemies closer,” is a phrase from The Art of War that has been repeated — and acted upon — so many times in contemporary literature, films, and TV that it has become part of our modern vocabulary.”

Secrets of the Samurai: The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan
By Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook

“A fascinating and comprehensive look at all forms of bujutsu practiced by samurai, as well as a history of the Bushi, the warrior class that became samurai; the great martial arts centers in feudal Japan; and a brilliant illustrated guide to the martial arts using the body, swords, pikes, bows and arrows, and armor. An indispensable companion for understanding the nature and the mental skill required for martial arts.”

By James Clavell

“The quintessential novel about the Tokugawa Shōgunate, one of the most important periods in the development of Japan as a nation, as well as for gaining insight into Japanese culture. Before Ieyasu Tokugawa’s rise to power in the early 1600s, Japan was at war with itself while many feudal daimyos fought each other for land and power. Tokugawa (Yoshinaga Toranaga in the novel) changed all that, outsmarting, outmaneuvering, consolidating, and then cementing his power over the other regional warlords to become shogun, the first feudal emperor. It was Tokugawa, both ruthless and brilliant, who, among many other things, had the Japanese written language codified and made Buddhism the official national religion in order to keep track of the population.”

Matsuo Bashō
By Makoto Ueda

“Samurai were not only required to learn and hone their martial skills but also to create: paint, play instruments, et cetera. Of these soft skills, the most revered was poetry, that is, haiku. Of all the haiku masters, Matsuo Bashō is, to my mind, the greatest of them all. This slim volume not only introduces the reader to the poet’s deeply moving haiku but imparts insight into how this quintessentially Japanese art form is created. By showing the reader Bashō’s Japanese poems side by side with the English translations, Ueda does us a great service in giving us a window not only into Bashō’s thoughts but also into how this astonishing art form can affect us so utterly with so few words.”

The Ninja
By Eric Van Lustbader

“At the risk of being immodest and if I’m to be completely honest in compiling this list, I can’t leave out The Ninja. It introduced the entire Western world to a previously undiscovered class of assassins whose skills and mind-set were — though due to the novel, less so now — entirely alien. Culled from the heinin, the lowest class in Japanese feudal society (the outcasts, the untouchables), ninja formed their power over decades by carefully picking and choosing bits and pieces of martial arts from many different Asian countries and the quasi-sorcerous philosophies found only in the most remote corners of Tibet to create their own unique martial art, passed down orally from generation to generation. Having spent time with ninja families in Japan, I can assure you that there is no written codex on ninjutsu; anyone who claims otherwise is wrong or a huckster. To this day, the arts of the ninja remain shrouded in secrecy and shadow: one of the reasons we find ninja so fascinating.”