May 2022 Book Survey Part 2

 Welcome to the May 2022 book survey, part two. I decided to break this month's survey into two posts, so here is the second segment.


In May 2022, I (Richard) continued my reading plan. This post describes 8 more books that I read in May. My last post addressed the other 8 that I surveyed last month. Read on to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

Martial Arts of the Orient, Peter Lewis, 1985/1992/1993

I bought Martial Arts of the Orient in the 1990s. Back then, if I saw a book on martial arts at Barnes and Noble, I usually bought it. This title is a color hardcover measuring 11 3/4 inches by 9 1/4 inches. It includes chapters on karate, kung fu, aikido/judo/jiujitsu (not the Brazilian kind), taekwondo, other Japanese martial arts, "Siam," and weapons. 

Like many of the books in this survey, it offers great pictures and dubious content. This book for some reason pushes the narrative that martial arts spread to the US because of the Korean War, not World War II (page 6). That seems like splitting hairs, as the two conflicts occurred within a few years of each other and many are veterans of both wars. 

We start to read some hilarious content starting on page 8. The author claims that Okinawan "deadly hardened fingers easily penetrated the armor of their [Japanese] oppressors." The author also promotes the "lethal kicks" versus "mounted enemy" myth, and states on page 12 that the Okinawans used the tonfa "to parry blows from a samurai sword." 

When we reach the kung fu chapter, we encounter the expected myths about Bodhidarma. Worse, the author's understanding of Shaolin seems to be derived from the imagery and story of the 1970s Kung Fu TV series. 

The book claims Adolf Hitler was impressed by a kung fu display at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but as there are no endnotes, footnotes, sourcing, or bibliography, we have no idea where this came from. My copy of Andrew D. Morris's excellent 2004 book Marrow of the Nation confirms the display, but doesn't say anything about Hitler's reaction.

Here are a few more myths that appear in this book: President Roosevelt and his daughter earned black belts in judo (false)professor Kano was a twelfth dan judoka (false, although an earlier edition of a Kodokan judo book mentioned this incorrectly); many origin myths about taekwondo, crazy ninja stories, and so on.

This might be a fun book to buy for $1 at a yard sale, but I wouldn't bother otherwise.

The Martial Arts, Peter Lewis, 1987/1996

The Martial Arts appears to be a sequel to the previous book. I bought it in the 1990s. It is another attractive color hardcover measuring 8 3/4 inches by 11 1/4 inches. This book focuses on techniques, with chapters on kung fu, karate, taekwondo, and "ninjutsu." 

The introduction begins with the standard false kung fu origin myths, as one might expect. However, the book redeems itself with some of my all-time favorite "kung fu" technique pictures. They feature old school UK stuntman Dave Lea wearing only blue pants, a red sash, and a headband. There's a female version of Mr Lea wearing the same outfit, with a white tank top added for modesty. 

There's really nothing else like it in my collection.

The only other noteworthy item for this book is the bright orange background used in the "ninjutsu" photos. So many books show darkly dressed practitioners against dark backgrounds. In this case, the darkly dressed ninjas stand out in stark contrast against the orange walls. Well done.

This book is worth more than a dollar at the used book store, for the kung fu pictures.

The Complete Martial Arts, Paul Crompton, 1989

Here is The Complete Martial Arts, another color hardcover. I bought this one recently, although it's an older book. This one measures 8 1/4 inches by 10 1/4 inches. This book features 25 chapters on many martial arts, some of which are less popular like rykyu kobujutsu, jodo, iaido, and kyudo. Each chapter offers a bit of "history" and philosophy, with some technique pictures. 

The myths in this book aren't as bad as the previous titles, although I winced at the claim on page 117 that tai chi has a "5,000 year" history.  Also, professor Kano did not earn a PhD (p 17).

This book isn't bad and I give it higher marks for featuring a broad selection of arts.

The Martial Arts Sourcebook, John Corcoran, 1994

The Martial Arts Sourcebook by John Corcoran is an 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches black and white paperback book. It's probably the most reliable of all of the titles by Mr. Corcoran profiled in this blog. Why? It's mainly a collection of lists, anchored by competition results from the 1970s to the early 1990s. The other parts of the book include "styles and practices," including a list of 1158 styles (!), famous martial artists from 1968 to 1993, films, and a business directory. There are no HEMA styles listed.

Aside from the films section, which contains a short summary and rating, the rest of the book mainly offers lists. This book is helpful if you want to look up the winner of some karate tournament in the 1970s to early 1990s, but otherwise you can skip it.

The Martial Arts Encyclopedia, Jennifer Lawler, 1996

The Martial Arts Encyclopedia by Jennifer Lawler is probably the book in this list that slightly exceeded my expectations. It is another 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches black and white paperback that I bought in the 1990s. The book features sections on general information, schools and styles, forms and techniques, weapons, biography, literature, and countries of origin.

This book should probably be titled "Asian martial arts," as it defines "martial arts" as "Asian fighting systems." (!) 

The country entry for South America mentions only capoeira and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The entire continent of Africa is summarized with a mention of capoeira. The author says the following of Europe, after listing "classical Greek boxing, Pankration, Boxe Francais, and Savate" as European arts: "[Europe] has no true indigenous martial arts. Several fighting methods have developed, as have several martial sports, but they were not derived from combat arts." Oh boy. Such was the state of martial arts studies in the 1990s!

Beyond promoting the myth of a southern Shaolin temple, this book does a decent job presenting other information. There are three pages of "selected readings" but no sources for entries. That said, the book represents quite a lot of effort. It might be a place to start an inquiry or casual reference, but no one should rely upon it as a source.

The Ultimate Martial Arts Q&A Book, John Corcoran and John Graden, 2001

Where do I even start with The Ultimate Martial Arts Q&A Book? The subtitle is "750 expert answers to your essential questions." It should instead be "two authors manufacture answers based on what they've heard in the dojo." 

Let's start with an example on page 1. The authors claim that the famous Beni Hasan art (mentioned previously here) dates to "over 22,000 years ago." They actually date to the 6th through 12th dynasties, or 2345 BCE to 1782 BCE. The first dynasty began about 3100 BCE

Page 3 continues with citing Bodhidharma myths. Page 5 says "in 1477, the Japanese occupied Okinawa. As part of this occupation, all Okinawans were disarmed." There was no Japanese occupation of Okinawa in 1477, although there was some sort of weapons ban imposed by the Okinawan government. The Japanese occupied Okinawa in 1609. 

Pages 7 and 8 repeat the myth of colored belts, black belts, and dirt. Page 14 repeats the Wing Chun creation myth involving Ng Mui. Incidentally, this all appears before chapter 2, on "martial arts myths"!

The book becomes downright crazy in its later pages. The authors claim on page 44 that karate, judo, aikido, and kendo are not martial arts. They are "fighting methods." Page 58 says that the "best martial art for children [is] judo, unquestionably." 

I gave up at this point. I do not recommend this book.

The Way of the Warrior, Chris Crudelli, 2008

I bought The Way of the Warrior a few years ago because I am a huge fan of DK books. My copy is a massive color hardcover measuring 10 inches by 12 inches by 1 1/4 inches. It represents a huge undertaking, with entries for martial arts all over the world.

Unfortunately, the book is filled with too many myths to take the entries seriously. Once again we encounter the narrative of Chinese martial arts having a "5,000 year history," with Bodhidharma popping up and India getting unwarranted attention as some sort of home of all martial arts. The author claims on page 24 that Bodhidharma was kalarippayattu's "most famous practitioner," which has zero evidence to support it.

The photography is the best aspect of this book. I'm shocked by all the original pictures. Still, beware the labels in the photos. Check out the book's depiction of a "two-sectioned staff."

Beyond art names and photos, however, I would ignore everything in writing. There are no sources and the dubious material cited thus far undermines credibility. This is another book worth a few dollars at the used book store.

The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia, New and Revised Edition, John Corcoran and Emil Farkas, 1983/1993/2011

The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia, New and Revised Edition is a curious book. It's a black and white paperback measuring 8 1/8 inches by 10 5/8 inches. This is the third version of a book originally released in 1983 as Martial Arts: Tradition, History, People. A new version appeared in 1993 titled The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: Tradition, History, People. I've owned all three, having bought the second version in the 1990s and the first and third versions over the past few years.

If you have the second version, beware that this "new and revised edition" is the same book with a 40 page supplement bolted onto the end. It appears to be literally the same copy as the previous one until you get to the 40 new pages. This means that the 20 page bibliography that appears before the 40 page supplemental material doesn't cover the new pages.

As with other books by Mr. Corcoran, be prepared to read myths about dirty belts turning black, and so on. It has no footnotes or endnotes.

The book features a ton of photographs, but some are too small, and some are too dark, and others are just poor quality. This is what happens when you keep producing a book that was first laid out in 1983.

This book is worth perusing casually, but it has little authoritative value outside of the old school karate competition scene.


This is probably the first survey where I do not recommend any of the books in the post. 

If you do want a solid general martial arts encyclopedia, I recommend reading the post Best Book Winner: General Martial Arts Histories in English. My Scholar's Award winner was Martial Arts of the World, 2 volumes, by Dr. Thomas A. Green and Joseph R. Svinth. I wish a Kindle or cheaper paperback edition was available. Also, the listing for that title on Amazon is messed up; the author is not "Vera Chan."

Stay tuned for more books in next month's survey!

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