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Burt Konzak (1946-) - Sidelights

samurai book life children

A former university professor, Burt Konzak has been studying Asian philosophy and martial arts for decades. Using his experience, he has distilled some of what he has learned into several books for children and young adults, including Noguchi the Samurai, a picture book for young children, Girl Power: Self-Defence for Teens, a practical how-to book for teenage girls about how to handle dangerous situations, and Samurai Spirit: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life, an inspirational book containing a mix of traditional Japanese samurai folklore and stories about Konzak's own life.

Konzak told SATA: "Writing is and always has been a liberating experience for me. The act of writing gives me insights into the world and people around me. It enriched my adolescence, made university into a formidable experience, and provided me with insights that I never knew were really in my head. The act of writing shook them out.

"Yet it was as a father that writing really became one of the center points of my life. Of course, I always wrote out detailed plans for my classes and research projects. In fact I always had written plans for just about everything. But now, as a father, I turned my writing toward what was to become three books that reflected the different stages of my children's lives: a children's book, a book for teens, and a book for young adults. I was speaking to a general audience, but I was also speaking to my own kids. I was saying things which in my heart I considered really important and that I believed needed to be said, to my children and to others, expressed in both fiction and nonfiction.

"When I finished my book Samurai Spirit: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life, much to my surprise, as I read the final manuscript, I realized that I had finally written a book I had long planned on writing as a University of Toronto professor of Asian philosophy: a book on Buddhist ethics. Only this book was not for a very limited scholarly audience. It was for anyone with an interest in Asian wisdom. Buddhist ethics were expressed through the stories and legends of the ancient samurai, detailed with philosophical and historical commentary. This book was dedicated to and written for my children, who, I knew, needed to know these ideals to become the type of dignified and powerful adults that I truly wanted them to become (and that I believe every parent would like their children to become). Samurai Spirit was serious stuff, but full of mystery and adventure that anyone, young or old, would find fascinating to read." Samurai Spirit has been translated into Danish and further translations are being negotiated into Dutch, Swedish, and French. In 2004, it received the Storytelling World Award. Samurai Spirit also received a positive review from School Library Journal contributor Vicki Reutter, who thought that Konzak "succeeds in drawing the connection between this ancient philosophy and daily life." Margot Griffin of the Toronto Star called the book's tales "inpiring," while Resource Links reviewer Lori Lavallee found that Samurai Spirit's "strength lies in its introduction to Japanese history and culture, particularly of the warrior class."

Konzak continued, "My earlier book, Girl Power: Self-Defence for Teens, is a completely new approach to self-defence. It teaches the fundamentals of self-defence, physical fitness, and how to avoid dangerous situations and to deflate them should they occur. For a truly strong woman or man, physical technique is the absolute last resort to a violent encounter. Running away or avoiding danger in the first place are far better alternatives." Reviewers noted how important it is for teenage girls to be able to defend themselves, and Journal of Asian Martial Arts contributor Elisa Hendrey thought that Konzak did an excellent job of conveying that information to girls in the text, recommending that parents, school libraries, and martial arts schools should invest in a copy. "Girl Power, written as it is in such an engaging manner and designed with a contemporary look that has teen appeal, may well inspire many of its readers," observed Hendry, to begin classes in the martial arts.

Konzak told SATA, "Noguchi the Samurai is a children's samurai story full of action and samurai ethics with beautiful paintings by Johnny Wales. It received fabulous reviews all across Canada and was the recipient of the Gold Seal Award from the Canadian Children's Book Centre. In this book, an elderly master-samurai outwits a violent attacker and saves the passengers on a boat from harm without even lifting his sword from the scabbard." Writing for the Toronto Star, Margot Griffin remarked that Noguchi the Samurai "will help empower [a child] with the self-confidence she needs to deal with life's bullies by using her brain against their brawn."

"I have also published scholarly works in the fields of ethics, Asian philosophy, and mental health in my capacity as a University of Toronto professor where I taught for over twenty-five years," Konzak told SATA. "I was the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship as well as many other academic awards and have been a guest lecturer at Stanford University, the University of Calgary, Guelph University, Tokyo University, and conferences and workshops in Japan, Mexico, Europe, Israel, Canada, and the United States.

"My university teaching and my writing and research are of course related in theme. Yet my major material for writing comes from the art form at the center of my life: the Asian martial arts. I started my own dojo (training hall) when I was a Ph.D. student in 1970. Since then, I have been featured on the covers of many of the world's major martial arts magazines and have been written about in National Geographic World as well as dozens of other newspapers and magazines. I have traveled the world teaching and demonstrating martial arts.

"My wife and children are great martial artists and have shared this passion in their own lives. They have all been intimately involved in my three books, as in every aspect of my life from family dinner to training together at the dojo. Presently my two daughters, Sonya and Mélina, are in university. My wife, Françoise Boudreau, is associate dean at Glendon College, York University, and is a renowned scholar in the field of mental health. We have written scholarly works together, in both English and French, in the fields of mental health, Asian philosophy, ethics, and martial arts.

"My book Samurai Spirit: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life recounts the great samurai stories, legends, and ethics. Not only are these stories both profound and fascinating, full of action and intrigue, they are a vivid portrait of Asian wisdom and illustrate how people can take control of their lives and become the men and women they truly wish to be. These stories have inspired me all my life. I have seen them inspire new generations of boys and girls and men and women as they have come into my dojo. I am happy that they have also inspired my children to become the great young women they are. I also believe that many years ago, when I first knew Françoise, they helped inspire her to take a chance and marry me."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Canadian Materials, September, 1994, review of Noguchi the Samurai, p. 132.

Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), May 22, 2000, Donna Nebenzahl, review of Girl Power: Self-Defence for Teens.

Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Volume 10, number 3, 2001, Elisa Hendrey, review of Girl Power, pp. 103-104.

Quill and Quire, April, 1994, review of Noguchi the Samurai, p. 36.

Resource Links, February, 2003, Lori Lavallee, review of Samurai Spirit: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life, pp. 40-42.

School Library Journal, June, 2003, Vicki Reutter, review of Samurai Spirit, p. 144.

Toronto Star, November 6, 1994, Margot Griffin, review of Noguchi the Samurai; April 27, 2003, Margot Griffin, review of Samurai Spirit.

ONLINE

Toronto Academy of Karate, Fitness, and Health Web site, http://www.torontoacademy.com/ (March 11, 2004).

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