Chris Bradford wrote the Young Samurai series. The first book, The Way of the Warrior, was published in August of 2008. Bradford wrote a total of nine novels for this series. The first three books, The Way of the Warrior, The Way of the Sword, and The Way of the Dragon, comprise the first major story arc. The next five books, The Ring of Earth, The Ring of Water, The Ring of Fire, The Ring of Wind, and The Ring of Sky tell the next major story arc. The final book, The Return of the Warrior, is a standalone, concluding wrap up to the series published in September of 2019.
Bradford wrote this series to be as historically accurate as possible, with a few fantastic machinations added here and there. The series is set in 17th century Japan. Samurai, Ninja, and other feudal Japanese concepts still thrive and abound during this time. Guns and cannons are present in the story, but are rare, just like they were in Japan. Many characters in the series heavily use bows and arrows.
Bradford takes his readers across feudal Japan. He describes hidden mountain villages, stern, austere samurai dojos, and densely populated Japanese cities. At one point, the characters have a series encounter with an active volcano! It is within the real-world limits that Bradford spins his tale.
Jack is the main character of the Young Samurai series. His story begins when he and his father set out for Japan, a near-mythical land, on board a ship to trade. The journey takes years, and they finally arrive. When they do, their ship is ambushed by pirates. Jack’s father is slain, and Jack is almost killed as well. He is saved by someone whom he would come to know as Masamoto Takeshi, a legendary swordsman.
He eventually earns the right to learn the ways of the Samurai. He is enrolled at Masamoto’s school, called the NitenIchiRyū (One School of Two Heavens). He takes to the ways of the Samurai quite well and becomes the first gaijin (foreigner) Samurai, in history.
Jack’s goal is to learn how to survive in a foreign, hostile country, and learn how to defend himself. Second, he wishes to return home to his sister Jess, as she is all the family he has left. Jack is determined and driven. He often acts courageously, selflessly adhering to the concepts of Bushido, the Samurai code of honor. Jack is also incredibly loyal to those he cares about.
Date Akiko, or just Akiko, is the main female protagonist of the series. She is quiet, kind, and intelligent. She has more common sense than most others in the series. She and Jack meet at Masamoto’s home, and she helps him learn Japanese. Akiko is also enrolled at the NitenIchiRyū and quickly becomes an incredibly skilled Samurai. Akiko is present in most of the books, aiding Jack in his struggles and supporting him when he faces racism and prejudice.
Masamoto is the foremost sword master in Japan. He is famous for developing the Two Heavens Samurai sword technique. It is different from others due to utilizing both the katana and the wakizashi at the same time. He runs the NitenIchiRyū, one of the best and most famous Samurai schools in the country. Masamoto is strict and unyielding, though he can also be kind and understanding in certain situations. His commitment to Bushido is unwavering; he has a strong sense of honor.
The main antagonist of the series, Dragon Eye is a fearsome ninja with a single, seemingly glowing green eye. Jack first encounters Dragon Eye when he leads a pirate attack on the ship Jack and his father are aboard. He kills Jack’s father and the rest of the crew, Jack barely escaping with his life. It is revealed Dragon Eye is after Jack’s fathers’ rutter, a navigational logbook that would allow a ship to sail anywhere in the world. Such books were incredibly rare and highly valued for the economic and military advantage they would afford the country that owned them.
Bushido is a real code of honor adhered to by Samurai of the past. It is comparable to the tenets of chivalry European knights followed. It plays a significant role in the Young Samurai series, many of the characters’ thought processes and traits centered around it. Seven virtues comprise Bushido, each playing off each other to create a code of honor Samurai are bound to follow.
Gi – Rectitude:
A Samurai must confidently make the moral decision and treat all people equally, no matter their differences compared to themselves.
Yu – Courage:
As warriors, Samurai are called to handle every situation with bravery and be unflinching in the face of danger.
Jin – Benevolence:
A Samurai must be compassionate and generous. They must not use their martial might to dominate others or act arrogantly.
Rei – Respect:
Samurai must be polite and respectful to all they encounter.
Makoto – Honesty:
Samurai must be honest with themselves and with others. They must always accomplish their tasks in a morally sound way and with full effort given.
Meiyo – Honor:
Honor is something to strive for, and it must be sought with a positive mind and correct behavior. Adhering to Bushido in all things will bring Meiyo to a Samurai.
Chungi – Loyalty:
Without dedication and loyalty to the task at hand and those around them, a Samurai can never fulfill Bushido.
A major portion of the Young Samurai’s draw is the fighting technique present. Bradford goes into great detail regarding moves and cuts the characters make, allowing the reader to feel as if they can see the fight happening before their eyes. Two dominant fighting styles are present in the book – that of Samurai, and that of Ninjas.
Samurai are trained from a young age to ascend into the warrior caste of their society. They attend a school where they learn a variety of topics in which a Samurai must be proficient. In terms of martial learning, students at the NitenIchiRyū focused on three core skills: Kenjutsu, Taijutsu, and Kyujitsu. In English, this means The Art of the Sword, The Art of the Body, and The Art of the Bow. Students also had the option to learn how to wield various other weapons, like tantos, clubs, and naginatas.
Samurai are also expected to have sharp minds to direct their trained bodies. Students engaged in meditation classes and often pondered on philosophical questions. In later years, a haiku writing class would be an integral part of their learning.
Ninja feature rather prominently in all parts of the series, though mainly in books four through eight. Jack learns the way of the Ninja and finds it to be quite different from his Samurai training. Ninja are meant to be the antithesis to a Samurai. They base their entire skillset around exploiting flaws in Samurai fighting styles.
Where Samurai are rigid, adhering to certain moves and techniques, the Ninja are free-flowing and loose. Instead of practicing the same set of moves thousands of times, they engage in free combat, training their reflexes and only practicing their specific moves a few times. Stealth features prominently in a ninja’s skillset. They learn how to walk silently and perform incredible feats of climbing and acrobatics. Their practices are called Ninjutsu, or, the Way of the Ninja.
While not entirely historically accurate, Bradford aims to capture the essence of Japanese culture during this time. He does a reasonably good job of doing so, especially regarding the Samurai and their way of life. Bradford was trained by one of the last living Samurai in the world. He has first-hand experience with the moves and techniques used by the characters. This experience shows in the fight scenes he crafts, utilizing moves (with their specific names as well) and counters to those moves in a comfortable, flowing way.
Masamoto Takeshi’s Two Heaven’s sword technique is real. Masamoto is based on a real Samurai named Miyamoto Musashi, who developed this technique. The style of the NitenIchiRyū was reasonably accurate; some embellishments made to heighten the excitement of the story.
Bradford’s inclusion of women in fighting roles is also historically accurate. While women did not necessarily attend Samurai schools, many were heavily trained in the art of combat. The Onne-Bugeisha was an all-female division of warriors belonging to the Japanese nobility. They were deadly and highly trained, as well as respected around the country. Their purpose was to defend their homes when their husbands were away at war and often went into battle themselves.
The hatred of gaijin (foreigners) is mostly accurate as well. While perhaps not the extent shown in the books, prejudice certainly existed. The hostility towards Christians was real, though not because people found Christianity repugnant as a religion. Instead, the Shogun did not want Christianity in Japan, as he was afraid it would split his people’s loyalties.
Where this series diverges from history is in the characters and some of the locations depicted. Several historical figures like ToyotomiHideyoshi do not appear. Several Daiymo are made up as well, their purpose to serve the story rather than historical accuracy.
Born on June 23, 1973, Chris Bradford is an English author, martial artist, and professional musician. Bradford employs a concept in his writing he calls “method writing.” Similar to method acting, Bradford likes to truly understand what he is writing about. He wants to be an empirical source of what his characters do in his stories.
Before writing the Young Samurai series, Bradford trained in iaido (Samurai swordsmanship), ninjutsu, karate, and earned his black belt in Taijutsu. He is also proficient in Muay Thai, kickboxing, and judo. This methodology not only applies to the Young Samurai, but also to another series he wrote, the Bodyguard.
Bradford took an intensive close protection course, used to train real, high-tier bodyguards before writing his new series. He learned new forms of unarmed combat, tactical firearms, threat assessment and surveillance, defensive, skillful driving, and how to prevent ambushes. Bradford’s dedication to his craft enables him to bring his books to life, providing real experience behind his characters’ actions, something felt by all of his readers.
Jack’s overarching goal in this series is to get back to England. His sister, Jess, is there alone. Their father left her enough money to last for several years. But without Jack’s return, she will eventually run out. The Young Samurai consists of Jack’s adventures throughout Japan as he tries to figure out how to get home. Along the way, he will encounter ninjas, fight in wars, endure prejudice and racism, and even engage pirates! Jack and his companions embody Bushido’s concepts through and through as Bradford spins a tale of loyalty, honor, and courage.
Reception and Popularity:
The Young Samurai was very popular among middle schoolers and up. It appealed to their sense of adventure and also provided a look into popular Japanese culture. There are no plans for any movies or TV shows to be made of the series, though that could change in the future.