February 2022 Book Survey
Welcome to the February 2022 book survey.
In February 2022, I (Richard) continued my reading plan that prioritized print books that have been on my shelf for months, or years. This post describes a mix of print and digital books I read in February. Read on to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The Bartitsu Compendium, Volumes 1 and 2: History and Canonical Syllabus, and Antagonistics, Tony Wolf, 2005 and 2008
The Bartitsu Companion Volume 1 and Volume 2 are excellent resources for anyone who wants to learn about martial arts in the UK during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tony Wolf has done a tremendous service by compiling these two large format paperback books. The work of Edward William Barton-Wright (1860-1951, a contemporary of judo founder Kano Jigoro, also born in 1860) comprises the bulk of the material in Volume 1.
Volume 2 integrates content from so-called "Edwardian jiu-jitsu," such as The Complete Jujitsuan by William Garrud, The Game of Jiujitsu by Yukio Tani and Taro Miyake, The Textbook of Jiujitsu by Sadakazu Uyenishi and E. H. Nelson, Ju-Jitsu Self-defence by W. Bruce Sutherland, Tricks of Self-defence by W. H. Collingridge, Jiu-jitsu: What It Really Is by William Bankier, and other manuscripts.
Mr Wolf claims researchers should study Mr Wright because he was the "first instructor to teach them [Japanese martial arts] in Europe [1898-1902]. He was also the first creator of an eclectic self-defense system that combined Eastern and Western fighting styles" (p 12), a sort of "Edwardian Jeet Kune Do" (p 13). Mr Wolf acknowledges that there were demonstrations of Japanese martial arts prior to Barton-Wright, as was the case with T. Hidachi's 1892 lecture on jujutsu to the Japan Society of London.
I highly recommend buying both volumes, with a few caveats. First, there is a certain amount of internal redundancy due to the style of the book. Some material is sourced and repeated in several places. Second, while I appreciate a bibliography and "further reading" list, the two should not be combined. A bibliography lists sources used to create the text, while "further reading" doesn't necessarily mean the author used those titles when writing the book.
Overall, these two volumes are a compelling collection of historical and modern material and commentary. The books are well-written with good layouts and production value. There is a helpful timeline of martial arts in the London area from the 1890s to 1910s as well on pp 166-173. Barton-Wright's canonical techniques occupy the last 90 pages of so of volume 1, while volume 2 shares concepts and techniques from contemporary sources.
The Sherlock Holmes School of Self-Defence, E. W. Barton-Wright and Peter Bridgewater, 2017
The Sherlock Holmes School of Self-Defence is a somewhat odd book. It's tiny, measuring 7 1/4" high and 4 1/2" wide. It's a sort of novelty throwback, with a clothbound hardcover containing 130 pages. The small size confuses the eye into thinking the pictures within are larger than they appear, but when measured objectively one sees they are tiny.
Page 11 claims "his [Barton-Wright's] system is presented as originally expounded." This is not quite true. The book contains text and pictures selected from a series of articles by bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright, published in Pearson's magazine in 1899 and 1901.
The title also includes quotes from Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, and finishes with a picture of Doyle. Oddly, the book includes material by Marcus Tindal's "Self-Protection on a Cycle" article for a 1901 Pearson's edition, but presents it as though Barton-Wright wrote it.
As this book is now available in Kindle format, those who just want to see the content now have a cheaper option than buying the hardcover. Those who like novelty martial arts books (like me) will probably still like the print edition. However, I would have preferred clearer delineation between the different source materials and probably a larger format.
Modern Bartitsu: Scientific Street Fighting for Ladies and Gentlemen, Tommy Joe Moore, 2020
Modern Bartitsu is a book in rough "widescreen format," measuring 8 1/4" wide and 5 7/8" high. I bought it directly from the author when he first published it, so I'm not sure how my copy compares with the edition now for sale at sites like Amazon.
This book offers lovely color photos and impressive design. The English is a bit rough in places, using fragments instead of sentences. My copy is also missing the pictures on page 33. Overall, I still like this title as it is something unique in the martial arts book space. I appreciate the author Tommy Joe Moore's teaching style. For example, his comparison of various guards is effective, and the outlines of foot placement is similarly innovative.
Banned from Boxing, 2nd Ed, by Kirk Lawson, 2009
Banned from Boxing, 2nd Ed, is a book that offers "the forgotten grappling techniques of classic pugilism." It delivers on this content in spades, although the English could be better in places. It credits Tony Wolf as editor, which is odd given the general high quality of Mr Wolf's own works. This book, however, starts on the wrong foot, as its first sentence uses "who's" instead of "whose," and says "therefor [sic] would have not". Page 13 also says "realize the what the" (?).
Apart from typos like these, the content really shines. The book integrates lots of classic material via quotes, pictures, recreated artwork, and original (albeit simple) artwork. It includes such techniques as "chancery and fibbing," i.e., standing headlocks for striking! This title offers a truly European "martial art," with native elements that correspond to techniques in Japanese jujutsu or judo. I also appreciated the bibliography.
Captain of the Guild: Master Peter Falkner's Art of Knightly Defense, Christian Henry Tobler, 2011
I bought a hardcover edition of Captain of the Guild: Master Peter Falkner's Art of Knightly Defense because I am a fan of early martial arts treatises. This book offers a full color photographic reproduction of the text in question, also known as KK5012. The original dates from the 1490s, based on the volume stored in Vienna, Austria.
This edition includes translation, commentary, analysis, a bibliography, and a glossary. This is a first-rate presentation all around, with neat material like wrestling with daggers and shield versus shield combat. I commend Mr Tobler for his work on this title and Freelance Academy Press for their high production quality.
The Mokken Collection: Books and Manuscripts on Fencing Before 1800, Miriam Vogelaar, 2020
The Mokken Collection is another sort of "novelty" book that I enjoy buying for my library. It's a partial reproduction of historical European martial arts treatises from the Dutch collector Wiebe Mokken, presented in a full color hardcover format.
The work offers samples from various titles, in a sort of fencing picture book format. The presentation ranges from 4 pictures per page to 1 picture on 2 pages. Every entry includes a small picture of the original title as photographed with its cover closed.
I loved the pictorial timeline on pages 198-203, sampling content from books published between 1531 and 1798. (See this Tweet for an example.) While this book is expensive, it's a great addition to any serious bibliophile's library.
Ancient Swordplay: The Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London, Tony Wolf, 2012
Ancient Swordplay is another title by Tony Wolf. It focuses on Alfred Hutton (1839-1910) and Egerton Castle (1858-1920), two pioneers in the penultimate revival of historical European martial arts. This is a well-written, fast read. It's not easy to find quality references on the topic of reviving HEMA in the late 19th century, aside from Mr Wolf's books. I highly recommend this paperback if you share that interest with me.
Polish Saber: The Use of the Polish Saber on Foot in the 17th Century, Richard Marsden, 2015
I bought a hard cover of Polish Saber before the much cheaper Kindle edition arrived. This is a massive 11 3/8" by 8 7/8" book with color photographs and excellent content. Mr Marsden does a great job providing what material is available on the Polish saber, and surrounds it with contemporary material from related styles. Now that the Kindle is available for a low price, I highly recommend this book for HEMA historians.
The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe, Sydney Anglo, 2000
The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe by Dr Sydney Anglo is the sort of book that deserves to be reprinted in both print and digital formats. The copy I bought is another giant hardcover, measuring 10 1/2" by 8". Dr Anglo covers material from the early 15th through the late 17th century, drawing upon resources in the R. L. Scott library in Glasgow.
On page 2, Dr Anglo summarizes why he wrote the book:
"The intellectual atmosphere has become so rarified that nobody asks how duelists studied the arts of killing, who taught them, and where."
This book answers that question, and more. For example, Dr Anglo discusses how combatants learned martial arts in London in order to prevail in trials by combat during the 13th-16th centuries, where innocence could be won through the force of arms. By the 15th century some countries featured martial arts schools based on the guild system, with levels of scholar, provost, and master. By the 16th century many of these guild approaches were disappearing.
Dr Anglo shows how in some places martial arts teaching was seen as immoral (as in 1464) but became more professional by the 16th century and even academic in the early 17th century. Page 23 claims "monks enjoyed greater fame (or notoriety) as wrestlers" than fencers; it would have been fascinating to pit a 14th century European fighting monk vs his Chinese counterpart!
I can't say enough good things about this book. It absolutely belongs in the library of every martial arts historian, Asian or European or otherwise. It is a benchmark against which other histories could be measured. Its only weakness is being out of print.
PS: I noted Dr Anglo's comment on p 62 that "the complete history of military diagrams has yet to be written." I also liked the early 17th century advice to flee when confronted by an opponent at night, as noted in this Tweet, and the humorous excerpt from Lucini's parody of fencing and geometry on p 73.
Historical European Martial Arts in Its Context, Richard Marsden, 2016
Historical European Martial Arts in Its Context is another title from Mr Marsden, similar in size and production value to his Polish Saber book. There does not appear to be a Kindle edition however.
This is less text-dense than the previous title by Dr Anglo, and features material on single combat, duels, tournaments, self defense, war, and masters and their treatises. There is a ton of great sourced content in chapter 1, but I found the organization confusing.
This book is less about HEMA and more about that environment in which European martial arts grew. Mr Marsden has a real talent for summarizing centuries of European history, and this book is a fine complement to Dr Anglo's title. It's also highly worthwhile on its own.
Swords, Science, and Society: German Martial Arts in the Middle Ages, Jamie Acutt, 2019
Swords, Science, and Society: German Martial Arts in the Middle Ages is best described as a "cerebral" HEMA book. I am impressed that the author enlisted one of his biggest critics as editor, after Mr Farrell wrote a scathing review of a previous book. This title features over 200 footnotes by page 50, although that might indicate too much discussion in footnotes versus the main text.
This book is an exhaustive, and in some ways exhausting, coverage of "lesser-known sources of the German school of fencing within the medieval tradition, so as to demonstrate both similarities and differences to the Liechtenauer tradition" (p 125). This book could be a model for a new type of deep investigation into HEMA sources.
One note: p 68 says that MS I.33 was published "around 1320"; a footnote on the same page says "c. 1325"; p 14 says "c. 1325"; p 16 says "c. 1300." I would have preferred a single date for the same treatise.
I was pleased to read so many solid titles in February. Dr Anglo's book, despite its scarcity, is clearly the winner for the month, and possibly the year. For once, this post does not feature any weak titles.
Stay tuned for another book survey in about a month!