March 2022 Book Survey
Welcome to the March 2022 book survey.
In March 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 March. Read on to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The Invention of Martial Arts, Paul Bowman, 2021
The Invention of Martial Arts is another fascinating work by the prodigious Dr Paul Bowman. Page 1 notes that it is "primarily concerned with media representation of martial arts," particularly in the United Kingdom. Page 8 continues the theme by saying the book is about "the invention of ideas about martial arts, not martial arts themselves." This is an important distinction that colors the entire argument. Page 10 reminds readers that our ideas about martial arts don't necessarily come from martial arts themselves. They are more likely to derive from media. This does leave me wondering if practitioners' views align with non-practitioners?
Overall this is an insightful and original book with varied scholarship. It's well worth reading if one wants to stay current on hot topics in martial arts studies.
The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts, Benjamin N. Judkins and Jon Nielson, 2015
What can I say about The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts other than "why didn't I read this earlier?" In brief, this book is just superb, and should serve as a model for anyone writing books on the history and development of specific arts. Just today I recommended it in the Martial Arts Studies Facebook group.
The authors pose this intriguing point early in the book: "Rather than always treating the martial arts as a dependent variable (the thing that is explained) any balanced historical investigation must be open to conceptualizing them as independent variables as well" (emphasis added). I believe I first heard this argument from Dr. Judkins when he appeared on a podcast. (I thought it might be Jaredd Wilson's Martial Thoughts, but I could not find it?)
In other words, martial arts might influence the development of other activities. Other activities are not always doing the influencing.
The Annotated Fall Guys: The Barnums of Bounce, Marcus Griffin, Steve Yohe, and Scott Teal, 1937/2019
The Annotated Fall Guys: The Barnums of Bounce is a wonderful book only available from the publisher at the link provided. It's a heavily annotated version of the original 1937 text by "journalist" Marcus Griffin. In brief, you can't believe almost anything Mr. Griffin wrote. Steve Yohe and Scott Teal provide page after page of corrections, in line with the original text. I found these annotations more interesting than the original version; perhaps a new independent book is warranted?
The book also features 22 pages of original biographic material on key figures mentioned in the text.
I noted that the original title is likely the source of the myths that presidents like U.S. Grant were wrestlers. (I debunked that narrative in the post from 2020 titled Ulysses S. Grant, The Patient Fighter.)
I would never recommend the original 1937 book after reading this title. Although obscure, it's well worth reading if you want a more solid albeit scattered history of professional wrestling.
Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods, Robert W. Smith, 1974/1990
I bought a copy of Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods after Dr Judkins recommended it in his Wing Chun book as the "best of Robert W. Smith's books." I had encountered dubious scholarships in other titles by Mr. Smith, but I agree this book is generally more grounded. The author wrote it based on his training in Taiwan from roughly 1959 through 1962 or 1963.
I had three main objections to the text. First, the author has a pretty negative take on "kung fu movies," by which he likely means Bruce Lee (who has just died when the book was first published). Second, the author holds a bit too much faith in "chi" for my liking. Third, he plays into the myth that shuai jiao is the ancestor of judo, completely ignoring that SJ is likely descended itself from Mongolian wrestling.
This is not a must-buy, but if you want to read what it was like to train with Chinese masters in Taiwan in the early 1960s, this book is for you.
When the Body Becomes All Eyes, Phillip B. Zarilli, 1998
When the Body Becomes All Eyes, published in 1998, was one of the first books to take a more serious, academic look at a specific martial art. I bought it to get a sense of the early swing away from "sifu/sensei-said" martial arts books popular for most of the last century.
Dr Zarrilli's title is well documented, with copious end notes and surprisingly good black and white photos. This book is the product of extensive field work in an otherwise obscure martial art. While the history is a little shakier than I would like, it's worth reading if you want to get the best possible read on kalarippayattu.
Fighting for Honor: The History of African Martial Arts in the Atlantic World, T. J. Desch-Obi, 2008
I first bought Fighting for Honor: The History of African Martial Arts in the Atlantic World when it was only available as a somewhat obscure hardcover. Today paperback and Kindle editions are available and I think the book is on somewhat of an upswing. I recall when I first learned of it that some had concerns about the title, but I do not share those sentiments.
The book has a fairly narrow focus (mainly west central African martial arts), but that is driven by the author's sensible desire to rely on sources and fieldwork. I was amazed by what Dr Desch-Obi was able to draw from available texts. In a few cases, however, as in discussing Nubian wrestling on page 61, I wished he had looked to more reliable sources.
This is really the best book available on African martial arts that is based on sound evidence and sourced research.
The Art and Science of Judo, Lindy Avakian, Jiichi Watanabe, 1959/2022
The Art and Science of Judo is a new version of the classic 1959 text The Secrets of Judo. The 2022 edition features a new foreword by judo great Neil Ohlenkamp, and most noticeably, new technique photography.
This is a really unusual book, as the authors try to use physics equations to explain the impact of judo techniques. I like it as an example of the emphasis on science in some martial arts. I'd like to thank Tuttle for sending an evaluation copy.
Alta Armatur und Ringkunst Companion, Michael Chidester, 2020
The Alte Armatur und Ringkunst Companion is another of the great limited quantity books published by Wiktenauer founder Michael Chidester. This is a beautiful book published to accompany their pioneering (2020) Hans Talhoffer facsimile. The biography within is excellent.
I'm personally more of a fan of these companion books than the facsimiles, as they teach me more about the work than a reproduction might. I look forward to similar titles soon.
Irish Collar and Elbow Wrestling, Ruadhan MacFadden, 2021
Irish Collar and Elbow Wrestling is another niche book that's definitely worth a look. The author has been leading the rediscovery of this art and I decided to support him by buying his book.
The title features nice production, clear writing, and extensive footnotes. I loved the technique reconstructions based on historical descriptions. The original artwork is awesome. I much appreciated the 20 page first appendix that corrected errors in a popular but highly flawed 1959 book titled The Magnificent Scufflers by Charles Morrow Wilson.
Irish Collar and Elbow Wrestling is another excellent example of high quality independent scholarship and publishing.
An Illustrated History of Martial Arts in America: 1900 to Present, Emil Farkas, 2007
At the other end of the spectrum we have An Illustrated History of Martial Arts in America: 1900 to Present. My copy of this 2007 title only measures 7" by 10", and as a result it's tough to clearly see most of the photos in this book. It's all photos for pages 1-269, with a terrible font that is a pain to try to read.
The errors begin on page 1, where it says "Only one or two books on the Japanese self-defense systems were published before 1910, and very few Americans had heard of ju-justsu [sic] or judo." This ignores the over a dozen books in my library on that very topic, as well as the uncited sources for photos that appear in the first chapter. Page 4 also repeats myths about president Roosevelt's judo training, claiming that he was a "3rd degree black belt." Roosevelt held no rank in judo whatsoever.
The book becomes more reliable once chapters on the 1940s appear, and the material relates to the living memories of those who provided pictures and captions. However, despite claiming to range from 1900 to the present (2007?), there is little to no material on the UFC or MMA. This probably reflects the popular bias in many "traditional" arts against MMA.
There is no reason to buy this book.
Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran, Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, 2013
Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran is an impressive title, but it's difficult to get your hands on a copy. The author's own site is probably the best source at this point. This massive color and black and white hardcover measures 12" by 9 1/4" by 1 1/2". I have no other book like it.
The work features material mostly by the lead author Dr Khorasani, but essays from others appear as well. It also features the longest "about the author" section you're likely to ever find in a book. The text includes an assortment of original translations from 16th century texts.
The volume offers hundreds of photos, some of which are small but still clear. Over 300 of these photos are labelled "miniatures," demonstrating techniques derived from source material. There are 2,189 end notes!
I am not in a position to know enough about Persian or Iranian martial arts to agree or disagree with most of the material, but I did find this statement curious: "Iran did not play an offensive military role in its history" (p 26). Is the author ignoring the Persian invasion of Greece?
If you can find a reasonably priced copy of this book, it will make quite a statement on your shelf. It will also provide weeks of thorough study if you are so inclined.
Krav Maga and the Making of Modern Israel, Andrea Molle, 2022
Krav Maga and the Making of Modern Israel is the latest title in the martial arts studies series. Dr. Andrea Molle writes from a political science perspective, so there is not as much history as I would have liked. This book is more about the "why" of Krav Maga than the "when" or "who;" in fact, in one section several famous instructors are mentioned only by last name.
One of the messages of the book is that Krav Maga was a manifestation of "muscular judaism" in the face of a "weak jew" stereotype. Another message is that Krav Maga is a "social vaccine" for violence. These were innovative concepts backed by plenty of social theory and sources.
On the negative side, the book fell prey to several bad sources, like the fake Shaolin Grandmasters' Text exposed in the December book survey. The text also cites a 2010 paper by Acevedo and Cheung which promotes the false narrative that Shuai Jiao dates to the Han dynasty and was "MMA." Finally, the book falls for the "sickly Helio" Brazilian jiu-jitsu creation myth.
On the positive side, I was glad to see mention of Moshe Feldenkrais, a nearly-forgotten pioneer and founder of Krav Maga. This is a deep work, but it is at heart a political science book. I have a degree in political science (along with history), so I was pleased to read this volume. Thank you to Dr. Paul Bowman for facilitating a review copy from the publisher. I look forward to more titles from this series.
English Martial Arts, Terry Brown, 1997/2010
I had high hopes for English Martial Arts, but this was not money well spent. This book really needs a second edition to address the improper or lacking sourcing and inconsistent quality. For example, pages 13, 15, and 23 mention "the Liber Albus," (with the first two citations italicized and the third not), without any explanation. Who wrote it? When was it published? Why should I care? The bibliography lists "Riley, H. T., 1861," but that is just a more recent edition of the original, published by John Carpenter in 1419.
The highlight of the book are the clear black and white photographs of techniques on pages 100-204. These are not enough to carry this edition of the book, unfortunately.
The Close Combat Files of Colonel Rex Applegate, Rex Applegate, Chuck Melson, 1998
I was surprised by how much I liked The Close Combat Files of Colonel Rex Applegate. I bought the paperback, which is a large book with lots of photographs and reformatted source material. The content deals with techniques taught during World War II and reproduces class materials taught to special operators and soldiers. I was particularly impressed by the inclusion of propaganda-style art by the late but famous artist Jirayr Zorthian.
If the history of combatives interests you, check out this book.
Warfare in Ancient Egypt, Bridget McDermott, 2004
My experience with Warfare in Ancient Egypt did not start out well. I bought what was advertised as a "like new" copy, only to find that the previous owner had sloppily underlined or otherwise highlighted sections of text with an ink pen. Ugh. Thankfully the outstanding scholarship and presentation by Dr Bridget McDermott compensated for the deceitful seller listing.
The author notes that she wrote this book to show "how the [Egyptian] soldier handled and transported his weapons," and it offers a "complete record of pictorial representations of Egyptian soldiers and their weapons" (p x). The text covers the predynastic through the 20th Dynasty periods.
The book is well written with a huge bibliography. Unfortunately it lacks footnotes or endnotes, as it was probably aimed at a more general audience. It features nice art, including recreations of highlights to aid the reader's perception of ancient artifacts. I loved the stick fighting pictures. My only concern was that I could not understand the layout of the material in the second appendix.
If you want a book on ancient Egyptian fighting, this is the right book.
March was a mixed bag. The book on Wing Chun is the clear must-read. There are many other winners in this month's lineup as well.
Stay tuned for another book survey in about a month!