November 2021 Book Survey


Welcome to the November 2021 reading survey! 


In November 2021, I (Richard) continued my reading plan that prioritized print books that have been on my shelf for months, or years. This post describes books on Bodhidharma, Shaolin, Tai Chi, and budo.

The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen, Jeffrey L. Broughton 1999

I turned to The Bodhidharma Anthology to try to find a reliable source for the semi-mythical figure who many assume brought martial arts to the Shaolin Temple. That is basically a myth, as later books in this survey series will reinforce. 

The author is Dr. Jeffrey L. Broughton. His biography on the California State University Long Beach Emeritus Faculty site notes:

"Professor Broughton’s specialty is Buddhist Studies (early Ch’an texts). He has a B.A. from Columbia University in English Literature and Oriental Studies and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Classical Chinese from Columbia’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. We congratulate Prof. Broughton on his recent retirement."

A prominent mention of Bodhidharma is probably found in the 10th century Record of the Patriarchal Hall, which places Bodhidharma in the mid-5th to mid-6th century AD. This book also cites Yang Hsuan-chih's Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Lo-yang from 547 AD, which mentions a "150 year old" "Persian central Asian" character who may have been Bodhidharma. Tao'hsuan's 645 AD book Continued Biography of Eminent Monks has entries on Bodhidharma and follower Hui-k'o. 

This book, however, presents the ten texts that "we have now attributed to Bodhidharma or [claim] to present his teaching" (p 4). "The one [text] generally held to contain material that is authentic in some sense is the Bodhidharma Anthology, which itself is composed of seven texts," discovered in the early 20th century (pp 4-5). The texts are the "earliest Zen books of recorded sayings" (p 7). 

This book includes material attributed to followers like Hui-k'o and Yuan. For example, it offers Biography, Two Entrances, Two Letters, compiled by T'an-lin in the first half of the 6th century. T'an-lin was probably a student of Hui-k'o. The commentary on each translation is interesting. For example, the author theorizes that Bodhidharma, called an Iranian, maybe have visited Loyang between 516 and 526 AD.

This book is best suited for Buddhist scholars seeking the meaning of the earliest Zen texts, but it has useful source material for what researchers have learned about Bodhidharma.

Shaolin Kung Fu: Treasure of the Chinese Nation: The Best of Chinese Wushu, Xing Yan, 1995

I bought Shaolin Kung Fu while attending the World Wushu Championships in Baltimore, MD in the mid-1990s. This is a beautiful book with English and Chinese text. Curiously, it does not attribute Shaolin martial arts to Bodhidharma! It says that monks practiced martial arts prior to his arrival. There are no mentions of a disciple cutting off arm to prove his worthiness, either. 

While the color photos are excellent, some are "photoshopped." One on p 34 looks like a literal cut-and-paste job using scissors. The fighters were clearly inserted into a photo to make it look like they were fighting on top of structures. 

I was pleased to recognize the famous monk Shi Yan Ming in several pictures, such as one on p 41.

This book is a good buy for fans of Shaolin, but treat it as an extended fan album and not as a serious work.

Shaolin Kung-Fu, Cai Liuha, 1992

I bought this Shaolin Kung-Fu book with the prior one. This title also features English and Chinese, and begins with a foreword by then-abbot Shi Deqan, who also does not attribute martial arts to Bodhidharma. This volume offers beautiful pictures, focusing more on individual weapons, step-by-step forms, and posed monks, some of which are silly. For example, one is a stunt showing a monk supposedly lighting bulbs with his chi. I recognized Shi Yan Ming again. Some of the pics from this book appear in the previous title.

This book is another good buy for fans of Shaolin, but again treat it as an extended fan album and not as a serious work.

Lost Tai-chi Classics from the Late Ching Dynasty, Douglas Wile, 1996

I bought this book not because I am interested in Tai Chi, per se, but because Lost Tai-chi Classics from the Late Ching Dynasty embodies the Martial History Team mission to promote martial arts history based on sound evidence and sourced research. This title helped set a new standard for books on martial arts by presenting translated primary sources, an extensive bibliography, and end notes. The book specifically mentions "martial arts historians" on p vii as an intended audience.

Dr. Wile was well-suited to write this volume in the early 1990s. A 2017 article he wrote for the Martial Arts Studies journal included this biography:

"Douglas Wile is professor emeritus of Chinese Language and Literature from Brooklyn College-City University of New York. He holds a PhD in East Asian Languages from the University of Wisconsin, with additional training at Stanford University."

On p xv Dr. Wile notes "t'ai chi history has become a major intellectual battleground between myth-centered traditionalists and human-centered rationalists." This is true of all martial arts history!

As to the origins of Tai Chi, Dr. Wile posits that "if traced as a distinctive form with specific postures and names," like the 29 postures from the 16th century book by General Qi Jiguang (1528-1587), Tai Chi may originate in the Chen village with Chen Wang-ting in the 17th century (p xv).

I expect scholars or those with deep interest in Tai Chi to be the audience for this book. It would be nice to have a summary section with take-aways for casual readers like myself.

Tai Chi's Ancestors: The Making of an Internal Martial Art, Douglas Wile, 1999

Tai Chi's Ancestors: The Making of an Internal Martial Art is a sort of sequel to Dr. Wile's previous book. This book is definitely for specialists but it largely maintains the academic quality found in Dr. Wile's books. I say "largely" because this appears to be a self-published title lacking an editor. For example, on p 2, I found a single sentence with 3 typos -- "It's" instead of "its", "ressonate" instead of "resonate", and "phansasies" instead of "fantasies". The description of the contents on the back of the book don't seem to match the actual contents, either. 

This book is notable because it is one of the few that present a translation of the circa 1560 work by Qi Jiguang / Ch'i Chi-kuang that is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Chinese martial arts text. I already had a copy of the material in the great 2020 edition by Jack Chen, but it was nice to see this 1999 version from Dr. Wile. His text on pages 18-19 which translated the introduction (followed by postures) were helpful on their own.

Dr. Wile contends that General Qi's book was the source of Tai Chi's posture and forms. He says the philosophy and ideology draw upon Wang Chen-nan's Art of the Internal School, while the theory and classics, which are the bulk of this text, derive from Ch'ang Nai-chou's assorted works.

On p 5 Dr. Wile offers that because of a 1727 Manchu edict banning martial arts, only the theatrical aspects continued to flourish, while the private self-defense and military aspects suffered. One could argue that the Chinese arts have had trouble recovering since then.

Dr. Wile notes the 1669 Epigraph for Wang Cheng-nan by Huang Tsung-Hsi emphasized a supposed divide between "external" martial arts ("Shaolin" and Manchu) and "internal" martial arts, which are more inherently "Chinese." This is a departure from the 1621 position of Mao Yuan-yi where Wu-pei Chih says "Shaolin excels at combining hard and soft" (p 47). 

Like Dr. Wile's previous book, this is a work best suited to scholars, but it has a lot of compelling content.

The Taijiquan Classics: An Annotated Translation, Barbara Davis, 2004

Author Barbara Davis has a master's degree in East Asian Studies, and her book The Taijiquan Classics: An Annotated Translation is a more readable text than those by Dr. Wile. Her book offers five texts from the Yang family lineage, "first commercially published in the 1920s by Chen Weiming, a leading disciple of Yang Cheng Fu" (no relation to the Chen style of Tai Chi, p xiii-xiv). 

This book has a helpful Chinese / Pinyin / Wade-Giles / Pronunciation guide on pp xx-xxi. Ms. Davis notes that Qi Jiguang's (1528-1587) text Jixiao Xinshu (mentioned earlier in this post) included an excerpt from Yu Dayou's (1503-1580) Sword Classic, meaning Yu's work is likely older.

Ms. Davis writes that "taijiquan existed under that name in the Henan-Hebei area of northern China by the latter part of the 19th century... The predominant school of thought is that taijiquan -- or rather its precursor -- originated with members of the Chen family, or at least passed through their hands. It was then disseminated by the Yang family, while the Wu family developed taijiquan's literary tradition" (pp 6-7). The Yang family's mythical attribution of taijiquan to the famous 12th century figure Zhang Sanfeng is analogous to tying Bodhidharma to the creation of Shaolin kung fu (p 17).

This is likely the authoritative book on the Taijiquan Classics, an anthology of uncertain authorship and date.

Dignity in Silence: Secrets to Mastering the Undefeatable Presence of a Samurai, Ogasawara Kiyomoto, 2020

The author of Dignity in Silence, in addition to being a master of Japanese archery, also earned his PhD in neuroscience!

This small 150 page book was previously only available as a small beautiful hardcover. Now a Kindle edition is on sale, but it's tough to justify the $32 price tag. 

The book contains material on etiquette (Rei-ho), archery (Kyu-jutsu), and mounted archery (Kyu-bajutsu). The author is a descendent of Ogasawara Kiyotsune, who was the younger of two grandsons of clan founder Ogasawara Nagakiyo. 

Kiyotsune's older brother was Nagatada. Both brothers were sons of Nagatsune (1179-1247).

During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), in 1174, Emperor Takakura (reigned 1161-1181) granted the Ogasawara name to Nagakiyo. Dr. David Hall's Japanese encyclopedia notes that Nagakiyo was a great-grandson of Minomoto (no) Yoshikiyo (1075?-1149?). 

Nagakiyo was famous for performing the Yabusame archery ritual for the emperor in 1187. He was the first Genji clan member to do so, as the Heike clan previously fulfilled that duty.

The author differentiates between the Soryo and Doto lines in the family, where the Soryo line is the "warrior" or "family name" clan and the Doto line is the "martial arts" clan. In 1562 the Doto responsibility transferred from the descendants of Nagatada to the descendants of Kiyotsune, who is the author's ancestor. This is why the author and his family are experts in martial arts.

Was that confusing? Yes. It took me a while to understand it.

Another important element of the story is the compilation in 1335 of two books, the Shushin-ron and the Taiyo-ron, dealing with mind and body aspects of martial arts, respectively. The author notes Akazawa Tsuneoki, 7th head of the Kiyotsune clan, and Ogasawara Sadamune, 7th head of the Nagatada clan, compiled the book. The author draws upon its contents in this and other texts.

Should the publisher choose to drop the price in half, I think this would be a neat read for those interested in old Japanese martial arts.

I Know Japan: Budo, Japanese Martial Arts, Masatomo MORIYAMA and Masaomi FUJITA, 2017

I Know Japan: Budo is one of the most gorgeous books in my library. If you visit the link provided, you can see the publisher's web site. This book is hard to find, and I had to order it from Japan, I believe. The contents address Yagyu Shinkage-ryu (kenjutsu), Tendo-ryu Naginatajutsu (naginata), Ogasawara-ryu (archery and horsemanship), and Hozoin-ryu Sojutsu (spear). The appendix features a Tanuki soup recipe! There are pictures of the great Dr. Alexander Bennett in the naginata section. 

This is the sort of book that is amazing to look at, as it mainly contains pictures.


Similar to last month, I do not recommend any of these titles for the general martial arts or martial arts history audiences. While these books are good resources for research, I do not think any of them reach the "must-read" level.

However, if you are looking for books that demonstrate how to write an academically-grounded martial arts history text, take a look at the titles by Wile and Davis. 

Stay tuned for another book survey in about a month!

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