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A Brief History of the Martial Arts: East Asian Fighting Styles, from Kung Fu to Ninjutsu

Jonathan Clements

3 Reviews

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Brief Histories, East Asia, Far East, Prose: non-fiction, Asian history, Oriental martial arts

From Shaolin warrior monks to the movies of Bruce Lee, a new history of the evolution of East Asian styles of unarmed combat, from Kung Fu to Ninjutsu.

Folk tales of the Shaolin Temple depict warrior monks with superhuman abilities. Today, dozens of East Asian fighting styles trace their roots back to the Buddhist brawlers of Shaolin, although any quest for the true story soon wanders into a labyrinth of forgeries, secret texts and modern retellings.

This new study approaches the martial arts from their origins in military exercises and callisthenics. It examines a rich folklore from old wuxia tales of crime-fighting heroes to modern kung fu movies. Centre stage is given to the stories that martial artists tell themselves about themselves, with accounts (both factual and fictional) of famous practitioners including China's Yim Wing-chun, Wong Fei-hong, and Ip Man, as well as Japanese counterparts such as Kano Jigoro, Itosu Anko and So Doshin.

The history of martial arts encompasses secret societies and religious rebels, with intimate glimpses of the histories of China, Korea and Japan, their conflicts and transformations. The book also charts the migration of martial arts to the United States and beyond. Special attention is paid to the turmoil of the twentieth century, the cross-cultural influence of Japanese colonies in Asia, and the post-war rise of martial arts in sport and entertainment - including the legacy of Bruce Lee, the dilemma of the ninja and the global audience for martial arts in fiction.

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Praise for A Brief History of the Martial Arts: East Asian Fighting Styles, from Kung Fu to Ninjutsu

  • A detailed study of the interaction between folklore, nationalism, religion and politics in the east Asian martial arts . . . refreshingly frank. - NEO magazine

  • I defy anyone to come away from this book without a deeper knowledge of all martial arts. - http://blog.alltheanime.com/books-a-brief-history-of-the-martial-arts/

  • [Clements'] final conclusions surprise . . . leaving the reader satisfied as well as educated. - MyM magazine

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Jonathan Clements

Dr Jonathan Clements is a historian and TV presenter specialising in East Asia. He was visiting professor at Xi'an Jiaotong University in China from 2013 to 2019 and is the author of several books on the history of China, including A Brief History of China, The Art of War: A New Translation, and Confucius: A Biography. His history of the Silk Road and his lives of the First Emperor, Empress Wu and Wellington Koo have all been translated into Chinese.

Dr Clements has presented several seasons of Route Awakening (National Geographic), an award-winning television series about icons of Chinese culture. In the course of his travels, he has harvested rice with Hani tribeswomen, cooked a Kam curry using a cow's intestinal juices and picked tea in Fujian.

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