First of all, some of the good stuff about this book. It's very absorbing and the tantalising possibility of the theory presented keeps you reading. Clayton looks at karate history from a fairly new angle, examining Okinawa's history at the time of its principal developers, as opposed to solely karate's oral history as presented in early published works from the 1920s. It centres around two main areas; the fact that Matsumura and Itosu worked for the Ryu Kyu Kings, and the visit, in 1853, of the American Commodore, Matthew Perry, and his 'black ships'. Perry's visit was fairly well documented and happened at a time when Matsumura would have been in his mid-forties, and Itosu in his early twenties. The book presents several illustrations from the expedition's report and suggests, quite viably in my opinion, that Itosu and Matsumura could be among the shadowy figures of Okinawan officials shown. One is a startling portrait of the Regent with two assistants, and Clayton makes a case for this actually showing Matsumura and Itosu, an idea I would not immediately dismiss. Quite frankly, they could be two out of hundreds of royal advisors, but I do see a resemblance with Miyagi's well-known sketches of the two teachers. Clayton thinks about how a fighting system would develop if its prime creator (or adapter) was one of the king's bodyguards on an island where weapons had been banned and there was an influx of possible dangers; from its samurai overlords, Chinese traders and American might. In the kata he finds bunkai that would exactly deal with a fight in Shuri Castle's main hall against visiting dignitaries and their armed soldiers.
History is an odd thing. Quite often a theory is built and as you get used to that theory, it becomes more and more reasonable and you start building other theories that balance precariously on top of the original supposition. Before you know it you have a complete narrative, but if the foundations are weak it can sway around wildly and even come tumbling down completely. I do think that Clayton has an interesting foundation, but I'd be nervous about building too high from it, especially as one of his main building blocks is the fact that weapons were banned in Okinawa. This is a myth and, in fact, provably untrue. On top of that he seems to be saying that Shotokan is practically a product of Perry's visit to Okinawa and was designed specifically for the imaginary battle that could have taken place had negotiations turned sour at Shuri Castle. I don't believe that. The king's bodyguards must have had to deal with hundreds of variable situations, in the marketplace, dealing with the Japanese, on the waterfront, on country roads. The core of karate's developers weren't just bodyguards but administrators too, and they would all have been in potential 'situations' as they went about their various diplomatic tasks through the years. The Americans weren't the only visitors to the Ryu Kyu islands, despite the historical importance of Perry's expedition (the British and French were there in the 1840s).
Early on in the book Clayton informs us how lithographs are based on photos, but actually, the only true lithograph based on a photo in the book is the one of the regent. The others are from sketches made by Perry's expedition artist and were possibly open to some interpretation. I know this from my own research into the Afghan War of 1878-80; the woodcuts that are from photos show people standing stock still in a pose, anything with movement is from a sketch made 'on the battlefield' and worked up properly later, usually with a little imagination thrown in. That's not to say the Perry illustrations are incorrect - the job of the sketch artists was to faithfully record the expedition, but we all have our agenda to some degree. The book has a strong bias in favour of Shotokan (obviously) but it leans slightly distastefully on the side saying that Shotokan is the true descendent of Okinawan karate, and others are treated as corruptions, if they're not different martial arts all together. I once visited a leisure centre and stood outside watching a karate club in progress. The sensei, assuming I was a curious beginner, invited me in telling me that "Shotokan karate is the original karate, the proper one". I declined his invitation and moved on. The Shotokan that most people practise today is the result of the Okinawan art being quite Japanified and then exported to the west. Nothing wrong with that, and I'm sure it's seen some improvements thanks to this process. I do happen to think that Shotokan does contain a lot of the original traditional Shuri-te, and some Karate styles are practically different martial arts - for instance Goju-Ryu, and Clayton acknowledges this. Another somewhat black-and-white view is revealed in the caption to a photograph of nineteenth century samurai, labelling them as 'evil puppetmasters'.
Overall the book is a valuable addition to the study of karate's history, and I'd welcome more research into the people and places of the nineteenth century Ryu-Kyu kingdom. It is a very sad fact that most of Okinawa's history went up in flames when the islands were bombed out of all recognition during an American attack on Japanese bases in 1945, which also happened to flatten almost 100% of the cities of Naha and Shuri. For me (and I admit that Clayton has researched all this far more deeply than I have, and my view of his theory is not a fixed one), too much of the book is based on supposition designed to fit the theory and I feel uncomfortable about the statement on the back cover that blurbs "Shotokan's Secret explains, once and for all, where karate really comes from and what its purpose truly is". It hasn't done that, but it has discovered a couple more pieces to a jigsaw, a jigsaw of which most of the pieces will never be found.