In every century there are unique individuals whose fate makes them standing symbols of unique merit and accomplishment. Robert W. Smith's Martial Musings stands out as the sole literary work which offers readers a special perspective of martial arts as they evolved during the 20th century.
Smith personally escorts the reader on a martial arts tour. He starts with his own initial involvement in the arts, then launches outward, across the nation, over to Asia, and eventually home again.
Some of the topics covered in the book include martial arts theory and practice, portrayals of leading Asian instructors, profiles of Westerners who studied the arts and brought them back to their respective countries and an historical record of the evolution of fighting arts in the West.
Martial Musings represents the fourteenth book Smith has written on the subject and is a broader, somewhat historical, semi-autobiographical commentary on martial arts in the 20th century.
But, what makes this book such a joy to devour is the literary relish Smith stir-fries in with the books basic ingredients. He astutely couples combatives with literary panache, and a ready wit.
In short, Martial Musings introduces the reader to the individuals who shaped martial arts in the 20th century. The hardbound book has 398 pages and over 300 illustrations with a full-color cover and two-color text pages.
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This book is a fascinating look at Robert Smith’s extensive experiences in the martial art world, but disturbing in it’s increasing criticism of other practitioners and methods as the book progresses. His earlier books and articles are well-organized, tactful, and superbly written. I recommend any of those earlier books without reservation, and you should read any of those before attempting to read Musings. The best parts of this book are similarly his personal experiences in boxing, judo, and Chinese martial arts; which have tons of historical detail and personal anecdotes. He has met many of the most well-known and proficient twentieth century practitioners, and was trained by and sparred with many. He was one of the leaders in bringing Asian martial arts to America. His overall philosophy is that martial arts are at their best as a vehicle for personal development best disseminated by good teachers in the social setting of local studios. Musings is more memoir and autobiography than history or analysis. He has strong opinions, not only about martial schools and practitioners, but about many areas not related to the martial arts, including politics. Unfortunately he does not hold back. I do not think the book is for beginners- you have to be selective in enjoying the more useful parts, while practicing dispassion and discipline in blocking out the increasing criticism in the latter parts of the book. There is something in this book to offend almost anyone, which unfortunately distracts from the otherwise excellent material he offers. With that stipulation, I do recommend it for serious students of judo and the Chinese martial arts.