BY HOWARD REID AND MICHAEL CROUCHER
WOODSTOCK, NEW YORK: THE OVERLOOK PRESS, 1995
This attractively produced book is an introduction, not only to the Asian martial arts, but also to the philosophical systems and spiritual values which underlie them. While examining the martial arts of India, China, Okinawa and Japan, the authors emphasize the connections between fighting styles and diverse religious traditions, including Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism and Shinto.
Throughout, the authors take pains to emphasize “The Paradox of the Martial Arts”: serious training under a proper master produces not only skill in the use of violence, but more importantly, the self-confidence and self-discipline that enable the martial artist to avoid violence.
The book begins with two introductory chapters on the martial arts in general and the legend of Bodhidharma, the sixth century C.E. Indian monk who brought Mahayana Buddhism to China, and who is considered both a patriarch of the Ch’an (Zen) school, and the founder of Shaolin boxing. The third chapter takes up a subject seldom addressed: the south Indian kalaripayit fighting tradition. The connection between mastery of the martial arts and practical medical knowledge is brought out in this chapter as well.
The authors, in their treatment of the martial arts of China, discuss the external or hard styles (Shaolin boxing, in both northern and southern styles), which they consider connected with Buddhism, and the internal or soft styles (hsingi, pa-kua, and t’aiı-chi-ch’uan) which they consider inspired by Taoist principles. In the fourth and fifth chapters, which treat external and internal styles respectively, a great deal of information on history, religion, and philosophy is brought out as the authors place the training methods and principles of various fighting styles in their historical and cultural contexts.
In their treatment of the weapons schools of Japan, such as kendo (fencing with bamboo swords), iaido (the art of drawing the sword), naginata-do (halberd fighting, reserved for women), and other styles involving weapons, the authors distinguish between bujutsu (the original combat-oriented arts practiced by warriors in the past) and budo (modern martial arts practiced as a means of physical but above all of spiritual tempering).
Karate, perhaps the martial art best known in the West, is discussed in the context of its birthplace, the island of Okinawa. The historical reasons for the development of “empty hand” fighting (Okinawans were forbidden by their Japanese rulers to carry weapons) also explain the derivation of the standard karate weapons bo (staff), kama (sickle), tonfa (handle of rice-grinder), and nunchaku (rice flail) from common farm implements. Okinawan karate master Higaonna sensei eloquently explains the significance of kata (forms) and how, through a lifetime’s diligent application, karate is a way of approaching spiritual enlightenment.
The final three chapters take up assorted modern and contemporary martial arts, including aikido and shorinji kempo as practiced in Japan, and the Philippine escrima or stickfighting. Perhaps the only significant Asian martial art not treated at any length in this volume is Korea’s national art of tae-kwon-do.
One of the book’s many strong points is its attractive production. It contains copious photographs, numerous illustrations, maps, and diagrams, and a number of examples of Asian paintings and calligraphy relevant to the text. There is also an extensive glossary of martial arts terms, and an index. Overlook Press, a prominent publisher of martial arts books, has done a fine job with this book.
Reid and Croucher’s book should lend itself to undergraduate and high school instruction, by reason of its clear and dramatic presentation, and the constant relating of the martial arts to their historical, cultural and spiritual roots. It would serve admirably as an adjunct text for courses in Asian civilizations