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Filipino Martial Culture

Mark Wiley
Tuttle Publishing, 1997
398 pages Paperback
ISBN 0804820880
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 gras...

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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