Journal of Combative Sport, January 2000
Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century
Review By Joseph R. SvinthRobert W. Smith, Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century (Erie, PA: Via Media Publishing Co, 1999). Hardbound, 6"x9". 400 pages, over 300 B&W illustrations. Price: US $39.95. ISBN 1-893765-008.
Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.
Order through Amazon.com, Koryu Books, or Journal of Asian Martial Arts.
Most anyone interested in the Japanese or Chinese martial arts should find this book a peach; the exceptions will be those who dislike writers who state their opinions bluntly. The photo selection is first-rate, the factual content is sound, and the text reads like a series of letters from Bob Smith. (Not Mr. Smith, the martial arts instructor, but Bob, the guy who helps site shelters for bluebirds.) The sections on judo -- easily a third of the book -- burn with the gem-hard flame of A Complete Guide to Judo (1958). The chapters describing Mr. Smith's many notable friends -- E.J. Harrison, Donn Draeger, Jon Bluming, Bill Paul, Cheng Man-ch'ing, Ben Lo, Rose Li, and others -- sparkle with insight. And if you read between the lines, then you should find a wealth of how-to, including how to spend life breathing free rather than on your knees and truckling.
Major themes include:
To summarize, this book represents Mr. Smith's best published writing in years and may be his best book ever. And, while its themes and answers may offend some readers, that is irrelevant because this book is autobiography rather than dissertation. I recommend it highly.
- Love (Agape rather than Eros, mind you) is a key to happiness. What blocks most of us from understanding that is ego, which in the martial arts is frequently manifested by the desire to be a master rather than be true to ourselves.
- Internal strength is true strength. Why? Because internal strength is both faster in action and more restful in practice. Relax, breathe, and move from the center; misdirect and avoid rather than confront directly; and seek always for maximum efficiency and mutual welfare. These are keys to success in life as well as the martial arts, says Mr. Smith.
- If you practice your martial arts only in class, for awhile you'll get trophies and become better at your forms but in the end all you'll get is old. But if you pack your love into both fists and carry it with you everywhere you go, then by the time you become as ragged as the velveteen rabbit perhaps you will sometimes catch occasional glimpses of something more. This isn't faith or magic. It just is. One recommendation, though: if you observe significant differences between what you say in church or in class and what you do the rest of the time, then pay special attention to the chapters you probably skipped, namely the ones on books, music, and poetry.
- We all need humor in our lives, if only to keep us from taking ourselves entirely too seriously. Put another way, life is too short to spend infusing everything we do with pseudo-samurai determination. If this includes your practice, then perhaps it is time to take up shag dancing instead.
JCS Jan 2000