Sunday, February 06, 2011

Guest post from Chris Bradford: A Character-Full History

Today Chris Bradford, author of the Young Samurai series of young adult novels set in 17th-century Japan, is stopping by with an informative and enthusiastic guest post about the historical basis for his characters.  Welcome, Chris, and thanks for contributing an excellent article about Japanese history and culture!

A Character-full History

By Chris Bradford, author of the Young Samurai series

Creating authentic characters is a challenge for any author. But using history as a wellspring for ideas, it becomes merely a matter of discovering the right person in right place at the right time.

When first developing my Young Samurai series, the question that challenged me was whether there were real young samurai in Japanese history, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries. Otherwise, my books would be just pure fantasy.

My research led to me a man called Miyamoto Musashi. This true historical figure became a central pillar in the formation of my story.

Miyamoto Musashi was one of the greatest swordsmen in Japanese history and he quickly became the source for Masamoto Takeshi, the adult samurai character who rescues my hero, Jack Fletcher, and teaches him the Way of the Warrior throughout the Young Samurai series.

I discovered Miyamoto Musashi was just 13 years old when he participated in his first single combat against the samurai Arima Kigei. Musashi defeated Arima and actually killed him during the duel. This was my proof that young samurai actually existed!

At 16 years old, Musashi began his Musha-Shugyo (a warrior pilgrimage), a samurai tradition in which a warrior would become a ronin (a masterless samurai) and travel the land, fighting in duels to establish and perfect his skill as a warrior. This journey concept is a classic narrative device; and although I didn’t use it for the first three books, the idea inspired my follow-on Five Rings adventures that form the forthcoming 4-to-8 books in the Young Samurai series (never waste a good idea!)

During the late 16th- early 17th centuries, Musashi fought many duels and battles, including the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, and never lost. He defeated many opponents including the Yoshioka family in Kyoto, Shishido Baikin, a noted master of the sickle and chain, and Sasaki Kojiro in one of his most famous duels on a beach using a weapon carved from a wooden oar. This latter story has been adapted for The Way of the Warrior and functions as a thrilling introduction to my Masamoto character.

Musashi went on to found his own sword school, the Niten Ichi-Ryu, 'Two Heavens As One School', after his unique style of fighting using both the samurai swords as one weapon. He taught hundreds of students over the years, but it is said that at the time of his death not one of Musashi's students could master his devastating technique and the style died with its creator.

However, this godsend of a technique provided me with both a goal for my young samurai hero to learn, and supplied me with an authentic school where he could learn his martial arts skills.

In later life, Musashi devoted himself to the perfection of the other arts practised by the samurai, including ink painting, calligraphy, wood sculpture and metalworking.

Musashi wrote two great treatises on the art and the way of the sword, including Heiko Sanjugokajo - the 35 Articles on the Art of Swordsmanship - and Go Rin No Sho - The Book Of Five Rings, the most famous of all Japanese works on martial arts. Not only did this latter work inspire the titles for my follow-on books, but it also provided me with key samurai lessons for my young samurai to encounter during their training at school!

Aside from his supreme sword skill, Musashi is also known for his scarred and pockmarked skin, the result of eczema as a child, from which arose the rumours of his refusal to wash, shave or even undress! These intriguing personal characteristics all lend depth and believability to my own character, Masamoto.

To this day, Musashi's legend survives and is often known to the Japanese as Kensei, the sword-saint.

So, having established a samurai warrior on which to hang my story on; a sword school for my hero to train at; as well as proven that young samurai existed, this led me onto my next predicament:

Was it possible for a young Englishman to be in Japan during this century and realistically become a samurai?

History answered me yet again in the form of one William Adams. You may have heard of him – he is the basis for the classic samurai epic, Shogun. But in my books, I made him a young boy and turned this historical figure into my hero, Jack Fletcher…

If you wish to discover the historical truth behind my Young Samurai, please visit and look under The Legend.


Read The Way of the Dragon and discover the truth behind the adventure!

For competitions, samurai school and more, visit

Chris Bradford is the author of the award-winning Young Samurai series, a tale of adventure, friendship and heroism that follows an English boy as he strives to become the first foreign samurai. (

Chris is a black belt in martial arts and lives in a village in West Sussex, England, with his wife. He is currently training in ninjutsu.

Books in series: The Way of the Warrior, The Way of the Sword and The Way of the Dragon.

The Way of the Dragon Synopsis

June 1613.

Japan is threatened with war and Jack Fletcher is facing his greatest battle yet.

Samurai are taking sides and, as the blood begins to flow, Jack’s warrior training is put to the ultimate test. His survival – and that of his friends – depends upon him mastering the Two Heavens, the secret sword technique of the legendary samurai Masamoto Takeshi.

But first Jack must recover his father’s prize possession from the deadly ninja Dragon Eye. Can Jack defeat his ruthless enemy? Or will the ninja complete his mission to kill the young samurai...


  1. Oh man, what a fantastic post! Thank you, Chris! I learned a lot and your enthusiasm is infectious. What would be a good introductory non-fiction introduction to the period?

  2. After I read this, I had to go look up William Adams--what an amazing, and in some ways rather sad story! Thanks for adding to my history collection, Chris. :-)

  3. Great article. I learned something about Japanese history. I'm putting this book on my TBR list. I'm just finishing another historical fiction book called "The Scorpion's Bite" by author Aileen G. Baron. It's set in the Middle East during WWII. The main character is a is the author. Very interesting!

  4. I guess the main challenge of a series like this would be to achieve it without glorifying violence in a culture where every film teaches young men that violence is the only thing of interest and central to who they might hope to be.