- Shuojian conggao [inline-graphic xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" xlink:href="01i" /] (Discourses on the sword: Collected manuscripts)
The author of this volume, Ma Mingda (b. 1943), a history professor at Jinan University in Guangzhou and a widely recognized martial artist, is one of four sons of Ma Fengtu (1888-1973), an educator, traditional physician, and martial artist of Hui (Muslim minority) descent, tracing his origins to early Middle Eastern immigrants to China in the late thirteenth century. The Ma family ancestral home was in Hebei Cangxian , the "County of Martial Arts." Ma Mingda was born, raised and educated in Gansu Province, where he graduated from the Northwest Minorities Institute and Lanzhou University.
From the outset, Discourses on the Sword: Collected Manuscripts far surpasses all normal expectations for a book on the topic of the Chinese martial arts. The thirty-two articles that are included comprise a martial-arts treasure trove running the gamut of subjects. These include thirteen articles discussing weapons (different types of straight sword, broadsword, spear, and flail); four articles on barehanded fighting or "boxing"; and ten articles on selected historical groups and personalities who practiced and/or encouraged martial-arts practice (including the Monks of Mount Wutai, Emperor Taizu of the Song, leaders of the Yan-Li school of thought during the Qing period, Republican-period warlord Feng Yu-xiang, and others). Among the historical personalities, the author provides valuable vignettes of Hui (including the author's father) and Zhuang minority involvement in the martial arts. Finally, five of the articles describe the author's concern for serious scholarly research into all aspects of the martial arts and the need to raise the level of understanding, especially in the martial arts community, of their content, history, and place in Chinese culture and society. All of Ma's articles themselves exemplify the high degree of scholarship he advocates. Some point out specific examples of observable shortcomings in the martial arts community.
Ma's writing style is clear and refreshing, with a no-nonsense flavor appropriate to the subject matter and reminiscent of Ming General Qi Jiguang's writings. He further taps a wealth of sources that go beyond those referenced in Chinese Martial Arts History, the first official history of the martial arts published by the National Physical Culture and Sports Commission Martial Arts Research Institute in 1997. In sum, these essays bring Chinese martial-arts history to life as no other work that I know of.
The quote from Sima Qian's preface to the Record of History on the title page sets the tone of this book:
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Without trustworthiness, honesty, benevolence, and courage one cannot explain soldiering or discuss the sword. It is the same as with the Way; internally one can regulate the body and externally cope with contingencies, so the superior man associates with the virtuous.
Ma himself explains that the title of his book is taken from the Record of Music in the Book of Rites, and the chapter titled "Discourse on the Sword" is included in the Zhuangzi. The relevant passage in the Record of Music reads as follows:
All under heaven knew that King Wu did not intend to use military force any more. The army was disbanded and the practice of archery commenced in the suburban academies. In the east they shot to the music of the Li shou and to the west they shot to the music of the Zou yu. Archery piercing buffcoats (military style archery) ceased and the archers practiced in civil robes with ivory rank tokens stuck in girdles, while the officers of the guard took off their swords and made them the subject of discourse.1
Ma's interpretation makes a great deal of sense in the context of civil-military relations. In fact, Japan's first Tokugawa Shogun took...