Filipino Martial Culture
Tuttle Publishing, 1997
398 pages Paperback
Reviewed by J.Christoph Amberger
You know them when you see them...shelves upon shelves
of how-to martial arts titles at your local book superstore.
You name it, tae-kwon do, jeet kune do, kendo, tai'chi,
all presented by humorless thugs posing in grainy
black-and white photos. Like a well-rounded Alsatian
farmer's wife, they grab you by the neck and begin
stuffing junk down your throat until you put the book
down, none the wiser, but with the feeling that your
liver just got a step closer to becoming kung fu foie
There are exceptions, of course. But few martial
arts authors have the cultural awareness and sensitivity
to put their art into a larger picture, one that transcends
the stances, blocks, and hits -- positions it as part
of a living, three-dimensional cultural phenomenon.
One writer who was able to live up to the task was
the late Donn Draeger. And his holistic approach has
been carried on, with varying degrees of success,
by the International Hoplology Society (IHS) under
the guidance of Hunter Armstrong. In recent months,
two other authors have exhibited that they have what
it takes, HF members Karl Friday and Mark Wiley.
The Right Stuff
Any Westerner who attempts to create a competent
comprehensive appreciation of an Oriental martial
culture not only requires the appropriate amount of
expertise in the subject matter he chooses. He also
has to have guts to face the "my-kung-fu-is-better-than-your-kung-fu"
pundits (mostly Westerners, too) who know everything
better in the first place, and then believe their
particular sub-system was not represented to their
liking. Mark Wiley has guts -- and the discipline,
humility, perseverance and expertise to create a trail-blazing
work on the ins and outs of Filipino Martial Culture.
Rivaling, and often even surpassing Donn Draeger in
scope, his book is probably the most important martial
arts title to hit the stores this decade.
Wiley's approach combines solid historical research
skill (uniting archeological and folkloristic sources)
with deeply personal knowledge of the culture (and
cultures) he is writing about. By adding an anthropological
element into his analysis, he manages to put his work
into a globally human perspective -- as important
to a practitioner of a Filipino martial art as to
any other culture.
Himself an accomplished practitioner of arnis and
eskrima, the Filipino stick fighting art, he could
have chosen a less holistic approach and still written
an excellent book. But there's little of Mark Wiley
in this book, reflecting his respect of all other
styles and schools (most of which are represented
in generous chapters) as well as the self-effacing
humility you would expect from a master.
Even if you're not particularly interested in Filipino
stick fighting, this is one of the most worth-while
additions to your fighting library you're going to
make for the rest of this millennium.
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