Myths & Legends of the Martial Arts

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Author: Peter Lewis
Pub: 1998 by Prion Books Limited
Pages: 241
Ranking:Three Star Rating
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Although I sometimes question why some stories were included, and others left out, this is a fairly good collection of short "stories" or myths of the martial arts. They must be read with a 'grain of salt', since they are just myths, and perceptions of the author. Lite reading, and fun, however...



 Introduction                          XI
 The Nature of a Man                    1
 The Master Swordsman                   5
 Painting Legs on a Snake               9
 The Shaolin Temple                    11
 The Karate Man and the Tiger          14
 Five Against One                      18
 The Waiter and the Seaman             20
 Beautiful Springtime                  23
 Iron Belly Shang                      27
 The Master of Strategy                30
 Stick versus Sword                    33
 The Rebel Monk                        36
 The Bok Hok Pai Test of Courage       41
 The Death Touch                       46
 The Drunken Boxer                     51
 The Teamaster and the Samurai         55
 The Chi Gung Breath of Life           58
 The Death of a Legend                 62
 Beaten by a Novice                    66
 King of the Thai Boxers               72
 The Flower of Youth                   74
 The Journey of 1000 Miles             78
 The Secret Champion                   81
 A Lesson in Humility                  85
 Look Beyond the Target                90
 The Fight of No Fight Style           95
 The Forty-Seven Ronin                 99
 The First Sumo                       103
 What's in a Name?                    105
 Patience is the Key                  109
 The River Workers' Lunch             113
 The Deadliest Man on Earth           116
 Empty Hands versus the Yakuza        120
 The Black Assassins                  124
 When the Buddha Called               130
 The Leaping Leopard                  132
 The Northern Mantis                  135
 The Great Thief                      138
 Fist of the North Wind               141
 Ninja versus Ninja                   144
 The Overflowing Cup                  148
 The Invincible Warrior               150
 Daddy's Scissors                     153
 David and Goliath Japanese Style     157
 Committed to Death                   160
 The Herbalist                        164
 That Which is Useless is Everything  167
 The Runaway Bull                     171
 Attack on the Bridge                 174
 Petals of Death                      178
 The Invisible Hand                   183
 The Gentle Way                       189
 The Peasants Against an Empire       195
 Grand Ultimate Fist                  199
 Sul Sa                               203
 Jam Pon Ken                          208
 The Unseen Fan                       213
 The Shaolin Legacy                   218
 Master of Shuriken                   223
 The Deceptive Arrows                 228
 The Strategy of War                  233
 The Kung Fu Fisherman                237
 Epilogue                             241



There is an old Chinese proverb which states: 'A story grows bigger by the telling.' Much of what purports to be history within martial arts has been handed down verbally rather than scripted. Consequently, the truth becomes corrupted and facts tend to follow the fancy of whomsoever is telling the story. The truth is further tainted with embellishments from the storyteller's own imagination. A veritable potpourri of fact mixed together with a great deal of fiction distances the tale from its origins and the truth of actual events. Be that as it may, there is still a nucleus of original information within every myth, and this allows us to gather enough facts in order to understand, as well as to enjoy, it centuries later.

Translations of Southeast Asian manuscripts can often obscure more than they clarify. They say repetition eventually gives validity, and indeed the tales and legends are so often repeated that they have to be assessed upon their merit and given the benefit of the doubt. Some are just tales that got bigger by the telling. Whether or not the storytellers of old kept to the facts is of little consequence to us today. This book, although written purely for entertainment, does contain within the stories epigrams of ancient Oriental wisdom that still have something to say about how to live in our modern, technological age.

When writing about the distant and recent past in the Asian world, the Western reader has to be aware of the vastly different religious, cultural and political factors of the times. If not, and the reader does not accept the events in the stories, then a curtain is drawn that will prevent the reader from enjoying the stories for what they are-pure and simple. All too often, as Kipling so famously wrote, 'East is East and West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet.'

Much of the history of the martial arts is steeped in Oriental philosophies which span some 3,000 years. A story may not seem to have a point to it, but upon closer examination, by looking a little deeper, the essence of the tale will appear. An Asian reading Greek mythology for the very first time would find many of the stories quite preposterous. We must show respect to Asia's venerable traditions of folklore and fable and accept the stories just as they have been handed down.

Some of the legends related in this book will conjure tales of ancient kung fu masters founding the first principles of a fighting system that eventually lead to a true and systematised martial arts discipline. For example, 'Painting Legs on a Snake' is a story about making positive decisions, and 'Overflowing Cup' is a little tale that emphasises the point about learning and wisdom. The mix of material within a story is quite diverse because the intention is to cover the many aspects that make up the martial arts. Man, nature, religion and the universe all play an integral part in the Asian pantheon and for the most part run parallel with the founding and development of martial disciplines, and their underlying theme of thought immersed in philosophy.

Wisdom, wit, heroism and strength in adversity are just some of the many aspects to be found in the stories, along with the historical events that inspired the early beginnings of the martial arts.


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