Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia
Volume One: A-Q, Volume Two: R-Z
Hardcover, 895 Pages, $185.00 US
Edited by Thomas A. Green
Publisher: ABC-Clio, Inc.
Reviewed By Jason Couch
For some time, the martial arts readership has awaited a volume that
would catalogue and detail the entire spectrum of martial arts, as Draeger
and Smith's Asian Fighting Arts managed to do for the Asian martial arts.
As the years have passed since its re-publication as Comprehensive Asian
Fighting Arts, increasing access to the Internet has resulted in an explosion
of interest in information on an ever-widening variety of martial arts.
Asian Fighting Arts was groundbreaking in both its scope and its depth
of coverage of Asian martial traditions. It is with pleasure that I now
announce the birth of an encyclopedia reflecting today's eclectic interest
in Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia.
This encyclopedia encompasses a range of martial styles and subjects
never before published in a single work. It offers an incredible diversity,
which is why I believe it will become a standard resource for institutions
and dedicated martial artists. It may lack some of the exotic appeal of
Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts, but it more than makes up for that
deficiency with its solid academic basis and much broader scope.
There have been intermediate attempts at a martial arts encyclopedia
with varying degrees of success. Corcoran, Farkas, and Sobel put forth
a solid effort with The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: Traditions,
History, Pioneers. Their work, punctuated with an impressive array of
photographs, certainly increased the coverage of non-Asian arts. They
also provided an extensive coverage of martial art personalities, particularly
US karate practitioners. Even with substantive entries on other arts such
as savate and sambo, though, the focus was overwhelmingly on Asian disciplines.
Suffering from a lack of recent revision, it is also dated.
Lawler took a less successful approach in her Martial Arts Encyclopedia.
Her effort to be inclusive resulted in a dictionary-style volume limited
to mainly brief entries. Lawler’s focus was also overwhelmingly
Asian, with little mention of non-Asian martial arts.
Most recently, the editors of Inside Kung Fu published the Ultimate Martial
Arts Encyclopedia, which, while flavorful, is basically just a republication
of certain past issues of their different magazine lines. The academic
value is therefore the same as any other issue of Inside Kung Fu, which
The set reviewed here, Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia, is
the first to go beyond a token effort of covering martial arts other than
those from East Asia. It does so by linking together cross-cultural themes
as well as including traditional categories of style, country, etc. Further,
it is a more useful reference for martial research since bibliographic
entries are provided for each entry, rather than lumped together at the
end of the volume.
Physically, this two volume set looks like a matched pair of academic
textbooks. The cover, in keeping with the worldwide theme, displays both
eastern and western training photographs. The volumes themselves extend
over 400 pages each, with a total length of almost 900 pages including
The encyclopedia is composed of nearly 100 entries by over 40 contributors.
Each subject is discussed in depth. Unfortunately, however, many minor
or less practiced martial arts are not directly addressed, although they
may be noted, or included within the historical backgrounds of another
The contributors are often familiar to the reader either from their academic
achievements or as well-known practitioners in their respective disciplines.
Following each topic entry is a listing of related topics in the encyclopedia
and bibliographical references for the entry itself. Appended to the end
of Volume Two is an abridged version of Joseph Svinth's informative timeline
Kronos: A Chronological History of the Martial Arts and Combative Sports.
The organization shows thought, but is not necessarily intuitive for
the reader unfamiliar with the set. Major subjects, such as countries,
have general entries detailing the types of martial traditions historically
practiced in the country. A listing of the country-specific arts and other
related topics will appear at the end of the entry guiding the reader
to further resources in the set. The index, however, is thorough and will
normally lead you straight to your destination.
The entries themselves range from good to excellent, with a variety of
writing styles displayed. At the minimum, an entry provides the basic
history of an art, including relevant technical and philosophical discussions.
These types of entries include at least a handful of good bibliographic
references and also the occasional pop reference, such as Black Belt magazine.
They appear to be aimed primarily at a reader unfamiliar with the subject
and offer a limited selection of resources for further reading.
At their best, the entries are near journal-quality articles worthy of
publication in their own right. These entries often include a long list
of scholarly references that provide a fertile ground for further academic
research. Many topics appear to have been thoroughly researched to provide
an in-depth examination normally reserved for a specialty book on the
particular topic itself.
What impresses even more is that the encyclopedia format provides an
opportunity to include subjects that transcend style, including: folklore,
chivalry, religion and spirituality, meditation, political conflict, rank,
social uses, training grounds, and women's issues. In addition, fascinating
entries have a tendency to appear on topics the reader would not expect
to see at all. To my surprise, not only was there an entry for "Professional
Wrestling," but it turned out to be both an informative and enjoyable
Other diverse topics, such as gunfighting, heralds, performing arts,
and traditional Chinese medicine were also surprising but welcome. Again,
part of its value is because these topics are rarely covered as a part
of the martial arts, let alone found together in a single source.
One drawback to the format is that the focus of the entry depends primarily
upon the identity of the contributor. I do think it is a criticism worth
mentioning because I believe this encyclopedia may become a standard reference
in the field. A problem arises in that no information is given about the
various contributors other than name, city, and occasionally school or
organizational affiliation. So unless a reader has either read a contributor's
writings before, or is familiar with a contributor as a practitioner,
the reader may have difficulty judging what influence may be present.
The lack of biographical data that could help expose the inherent bias
of the contributors is the only serious criticism I have of this work.
It should also be noted that this set is quite expensive. Bearing a list
price of $185.00 US, this set is probably going to be more popular with
institutions than individuals. Price is an important consideration today
since a ready supply of information awaits at the end of a mouse click.
The value of an encyclopedia lies in its use as a handy bookshelf reference.
The online competition is increasingly difficult to compete with, since
not only is more information added daily, but it is also free. Nonetheless,
as a testament to its merits, I can say that Martial Arts of the World:
An Encyclopedia is worth the price and belongs on the bookshelf of both
the institution and the serious martial artist.
This book is available from the FightingArts Estore:
Published by Koryu Books
((Hardcover, 894 pages)
Two Volume Set
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