Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Research of Martial Arts Paperback – April 3, 2014
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
About the Author
Shifu Jonathan Bluestein (LL.B) is a martial arts teacher and author hailing from Israel. He is the founder of the Tianjin Martial Arts Academy, where he teaches the traditional Chinese martial arts of Xing Yi Quan and Pigua Zhang and Jook Lum Southern Mantis. For many years now, shifu Bluestein has been devoted to the practical and scholarly investigation of the martial arts. This book is his labour of love, and had taken him 5 years to complete. As a multidisciplinary researcher, shifu Bluestein’s writings are also heavily influenced by Chinese Philosophy, Jungian Psychology, modern sports science and various historical sources and anecdotes. He considers the martial arts to be a holistic field of study, and therefore strives to explore their nature utilizing many different viewpoints and disciplines. In recent years, shifu Bluestein has also published a multitude of articles about the martial arts, which are listed and can be read freely on the book's official website (under 'about the author'): http://www.researchofmartialarts.com
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Bluestein’s work, the product of his extensive background in several schools of martial training ranging from Western Boxing to Xingyiquan, is something that readers will want to give themselves time to digest. Weighting in at over 400 pages this book is a far cry from the rather slim volumes that make up most discussions on the martial arts. In terms of genera his work somewhat resembles the short essays and chapters of authors like Adam Hsu and Daniele Bolelli. While the material in this book is presented in short chapters, the various discussions do build on one another. This allows the author to draw together wider arguments over the course of his work.
In a sense Bluestein presents his readers with three somewhat autonomous books under a single set of covers. The first section of his book (taking up a little under half of its total pages) is dedicated to a conceptual discussion of the practice of the martial arts. Obviously there are a number of ways that an author could choose to approach this topic. Bluestein used the traditional typology of “Internal” and “External” styles to structure his discussion.
I suspect that this section of his book will prove to be the most controversial. As I mentioned earlier it is simply impossible to say anything concrete about the practice of the various styles without generating a wave of denials and counter characterizations. For instance, Bluestein’s discussion of the weapons (particularly the pole) in Wing Chun bears little resemblance to the art that I practice.
Given the vast differences that can exist even between different lineages in the same style (consider for instance that Bruce Lee, Chu Shong Tin and Ip Ching all had the same teacher, Ip Man) it is hard to see any way around this problem. On the one hand Bluestein gives his readers a lot to think about. In so doing he is likely to attract a fair number of disagreements as well.
Debate is not the worst thing in the world. Conceptually grounded discussions could go a long way towards increasing our understanding of, and ability to explain, the various hand combat systems. Unfortunately we as martial artists we have not always handled such “discussions” with as much grace and generosity as one might hope.
Bluestein notes in his introduction that this is a text that benefits from sequential reading. In general I agree with that assessment. Nevertheless, readers might want to consider starting with his own biographical history (“Origins – My Story in Martial Arts” pp. 213-221) and the short essay “The Crime of Creating Ignorance” (pp. 225-228). These two pieces will provide an overview of Bluestein’s background and general approach to the subject. As such they frame some of his more technical discussions of various aspects of the “internal” and “external” approaches to the martial arts in ways that certain readers will find helpful and illuminating.
If I have one major criticism of this section it would be his reliance on the internal/external paradigm as a device to structure his discussion. In a sense it is no surprise that Bluestein would employ this framework. It has the definite advantages of being historically well established and widely understood by modern Chinese stylists. In fact, if one were to ask a randomly selected practitioner to describe her style there is a good chance that she would begin by attempting to situate the art somewhere on the continuum that seems to stretch between these two ideal points.
In many respects structuring this conversation around the internal/external divide is simply common sense. Still, “what everyone already knows” has a funny way of becoming “what no one critically examines.” I have long suspected that these categories can lead us to overemphasize parallels between certain arts while ignoring relationships between others.
For instance, Meir Shahar has noted a number of very interesting parallels in the development of early Taijiquan and Shaolin during the first decades of the Qing dynasty. This relationship can easily be obscured by conceptual methods of categorization that ignore the geographic and sociological links between these arts. While the “internal” category has some basis in the sociology of the modern Chinese martial arts, it is not always clear how to apply these terms when engaging in deeper historical discussions.
These categories, as they exist today, are really the product of certain martial reformers in Northern China at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. They then played an important role in the spread and popularization of these same styles in the 1920s and 1930s. Unsurprisingly these categories seem to work best for the sorts of arts that reformers like Sun Lutang were familiar with.
These rhetorical categories were never part of the traditional discussion and development of the martial arts in Southern China. As such it should not be surprising that many of the regional arts seem to defy easy categorization. Bluestein notes for instance that certain lineages of “Wing Chun” seem more “external” than others. The same observation could easily be extended to the wide variety of approaches seen in any large regional style including Hung Gar or White Crane.
Other authors have started to experiment with different ways of classifying and discussing the various martial arts. Hing Chao has recently undertaken a major historical and technical study of the southern Chinese fighting systems. In attempting to understand the relationship between these arts he has turned to sociologically based categories structured around the linguistic groups that used or conveyed various martial practices. He argues that in southern China the most salient categories for understanding the nature of the traditional fighting systems focused on the unique tradition of the Cantonese speaking community of the Pearl River Delta, the Hakka tradition along the East River and the more northern fighting systems of Fujian Province (White Crane and Five Ancestors being the most important). In my own book on the development of the southern Chinese martial arts I employed a very similar system.
Alternatively one might focus on the era when these arts were developed. Many of the systems that were spread during the 1920s and 1930s have a very different flavor than arts that emerged out of the middle to late 19th century. Ted Mancuso recently wrote a short post exploring the variety of traditional combat systems based on their “size.” He noted some interesting parallels in how “large” arts (which have incorporated many forms and traditions over the years) and “small” styles (which tend to have very specific goals and thus value parsimony) operate.
None of these systems will be perfect. No typology ever is. Each will reveal certain relationships while ignoring or obscuring other interesting facts. Still, if one were to have a comprehensive discussion of the principals behind the TCMA, it might be interesting to see what we could discover without the relying on the internal/external divide as an organizing mechanism. After all, these categories are relative newcomers in the vast historical flow of Chinese martial culture.
While I would like to see the field of martial arts studies develop some newer and more rigorous concepts, it may be unrealistic to expect Bluestein to produce them for a project like this. As I mentioned previously, the great advantage of the internal/external paradigm is that it is one that readers are likely already familiar with. While I find it to be somewhat polarizing, it does provide a handy framework for readers to begin to engage with the substance of Bluestein’s arguments.
While well written and carefully argued throughout, Bluestein’s book only improves as the reader moves through it. The second section of this work (about 50 pages) is dedicated to a number of short essays grouped together under the heading “Contemplations on Controlled Violence.” I personally found these to be among the most engaging and authentic materials included in the book. After reviewing the section I began to feel like I was developing more of an appreciation for the author’s background and perspective.
Students of martial arts studies will probably be most interested in the volume’s final section. Titled “The Wisdom of Martial Spirits: Teacher, and the Things they Hold Dear” this section includes six highly detailed interviews with contemporary masters covering styles as diverse as Taijiquan, Wing Chun and Karate.
I have written on the importance of preserving the history of the modern martial arts in many places on this blog, and I feel that these interviews are an excellent example of what is to be gained by such an enterprise. Bluestein addresses important topics (including difficult questions about what life was like for Chinese martial artists during the Cultural Revolution) and comes up with some fascinating discussions. Readers will want to take their time working their way through these interviews as there is a lot of material to consider and engage with.
The importance of this material is really driven home by the untimely death of Master James Cama. A student of both Fut Sao Wing Chun and Southern Mantis, Cama had a long and interesting career. He died on August 15th of this year. As such it was very gratifying to open my copy of this volume and to see an almost 25 page interview preserving his thoughts on the martial arts for future generations.
Bluestein’s volume is easy to recommend. Here we have a rare example of a conceptual discussion of the martial arts that will be accessible and interesting to students from a wide variety of styles. Even students of non-Chinese systems are likely to find fascinating ideas and debates within these pages.
While I do not expect that everyone will agree with everything that Bluestein has to say, his volume is remarkable for the type and variety of conversations that it seeks to start. While different readers may find themselves attracted to either the first, second or third sections of his study, each contributes to the overall value of the volume.
As a physical object the book is well constructed and laid out, with clearly labeled illustrations. It is obvious that a lot of personal time and dedication went into this project. I hope that this volume will open a door for more vibrant discussions of what unites the traditional martial arts and gives them meaning in the current era. Bluestein’s engagement with both traditional Chinese thought and modern scientific research suggests the vitality of these practices, as well as the benefits that can be had from dialogues that do not seek to confine themselves to a single stylistic approach.
At times the book is long and strangely organized but without a doubt it is the definitive first edition textbook for any course of study on martial arts that is not from a pedantic anthropological only point of view, but an actual martial artist point of view. For those who are seeking the Way of the martial artist, whether be it warrior skill, zhenren, perfection and mastery, or simply to improve their historical perspective, I highly recommend this book. He is also a very accessible author and I am sure would love to hear your thoughts and questions.
Research of Martial Arts by Jonathan Bluestein isn't the type of book you read cover to cover (though you could). It's more akin to a reference manual in my opinion. Something you go back to time and again to refresh your memory on the many basic and advanced concepts he has discovered through his own studies and from other Masters.
Jonathan Bluestein covers a wide variety of subjects from his own perspective, with chapters addressing the fundamental differences and similarities between Internal and External styles, the philosophy behind why Martial Artists move the way they do and a fascinating section discussing psychology and body mechanics.
One section, in particular, cemented my respect for the author, Part III: The Wisdom of Martial Arts , wherein Mr. Bluestein shines the spotlight on the thoughts of other Master practitioners in the form of interviews and anecdotes.
When I decided to get this book, I though I would be adding "just another" martial arts book to my library that might contain a few nuggets of useful information. What I've since discovered is that this book contains as much depth of knowledge as it is thick (418 pages!).
I recommend the purchase of Jonathan Bluestein's book, Research of the Martial Arts.
Colorado Martial Arts Academy