August 2023 Book Highlights
Here are highlights from some of the martial arts books I surveyed in August 2023.
Boxing: A Cultural History, Kasia Boddy, 2009
Boxing: A Cultural History is an impressive work that uses history to tell a cultural story. Here are a few excerpts:
"Prefiguring the boasts of Muhammad Ali, Epeios[, semi-mythical (?) Greek soldier of the Trojan War,} claims the prize before any competitor has even stepped forward:
I say I am the greatest...
It will certainly be done as I say -- I will smash right through the man’s skin and shatter his bones.
And his friends had better gather here ready for his funeral, to carry him away when my fists have broken him."
"Justified boastfulness also features in the Odyssey (c. 725 BC). In book eight, the Phaeacians seek to impress the travel-weary Odysseus with a display of their athletic prowess. All goes well until Laodamas, son of the prince and a champion boxer, urges their guest to participate, telling him,
‘there is no greater glory that can befall a man living than what he achieves by speed of his feet or strength of his hands’."
The author contrasts the Greek esteem for boxing with the later disdain seen by more modern Europeans:
"By the sixteenth century, British boxing’s Greek origins had been largely forgotten and if the sport was considered at all, it was grouped with other rowdy rural pastimes such as cock-fighting and bear-baiting; all were outlawed under the Puritan government of Cromwell."
Things began to change, though:
"The first boxing-match recorded in a newspaper, The Protestant Mercury, took place in 1681 in the presence of the Duke of Albemarle, with the winner, a butcher, already recognized ‘the best at that exercise in England’...
The great Enlightenment project of systemization and law-making thus extended to pugilism, with the first written rules of prize-fighting published under Broughton’s name in 1743...
By 1838, these rules had developed into the 29 English Prize Ring Rules. Wrestling holds, such as the cross-buttocks, remained a part of boxing until the Queensberry rules abolished them in the 1860s...
Boxing regulations had gradually become more rigorous during Victoria’s reign: Broughton’s 1743 rules were superseded in 1838 by the London Prize Rules (which were revised in 1853). These specified the size of a boxing ring, the use of turf, the role of seconds and umpires, and outlawed head-butting, kicking and biting...
The Queensberry Rules (essentially a modified version of those which had governed sparring for many years) went much further towards bridging the gap between the amateur and professional sport. All the grappling holds now associated with wrestling were disallowed, thus ensuring a more upright contest; weight categories for boxers were to be strictly observed, and gloves, which had been used mainly in training, were now to be compulsory in fights...
Under the London Prize Rules, fights were to the finish, although exhausted fighters or their seconds might agree to a draw (as happened after 37 rounds in the case of Heenan vs. Sayers). Under the Queensberry rules, there would be a set number of rounds (usually no more than twenty), limited to three minutes each, with one minute between rounds; a man who was knocked down was allowed ten seconds to get to his feet or lose the fight by a knockout)...
By the 1890s boxing was not simply a modern sport, but increasingly an American one. The last British heavyweight champion (until Lennox Lewis in 2002) was Robert Fitzsimmons, who won his title from ‘Gentleman Jim’ Corbett in 1897, and lost it two years later to Jim Jeffries."
There's a lot in this book, but I wanted to capture a few of the history elements that I highlighted.
Shotokan's Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate's Fighting Origins, Expanded Ed, Bruce D. Clayton, 2010
Shotokan's Secret is an interesting book that has attracted many reviews on Amazon. The "secret" is this:
"Hard-style karate was invented in the mid-1800s by the bodyguards to the king of Okinawa. These unarmed guards were often outnumbered by armed and aggressive enemies. To defend themselves and the royal family, they were forced to turn their bodies into lethal weapons…
"I mapped a series of bayonet-disarming techniques into the second half of heian godan. The standard combatives lessons for rifle disarming were all present in heian godan, and the moves were there in step-by-step order!
Would Matsumura and Itosu have taught that lesson to to their recruits? Yes, without question. They faced rifles and bayonets on more than one occasion.
I looked at the first half of the same kata and realized that those clusters could all be explained as jujutsu disarming techniques, and they would also work against sabers. Had Matsumura and Itosu faced sabers? They certainly had! Perry's officers wore sabers when they invaded Shuri...
Heian godan is about fighting Perry's naval officers and marines. Every move in the kata can be tasked to that end, and the applications form chains of escalating ruthlessness. Itosu seemed to be saying, "'Try this. If that doesn't work, shift to this." The whole kata suddenly made sense on multiple levels. The lesson was organized, complete, and ruthless."
It seems that the book is tough to acquire these days, and the Kindle version is not currently available for sale. I hope Black Belt (the publisher) fixes these problems.
Check in next month for a look at a few other books that have made it through my queue.