Book Review: Ancient Art Of Chinese Long Saber

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Book Review: Ancient Art Of Chinese Long Saber

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Thu May 19, 2011 11:32 am

Ancient Art Of Chinese Long Saber by Jack Chen
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Review - This translation of the dandao manual is one of several manuals from a collection known as "Martial Arts After Farm Work," written by Cheng Chongyou in the late Ming dynasty. The dandao is a type of Chinese two-handed saber. Other manuals in this collection focus on staff, spear and crossbow. Cheng's work is not significant simply for the explanation of technique. Cheng's books are actually the first published on Shaolin martial arts. Cheng's manuals are also the thought to be the first that record techniques as a form. As the earliest work of its kind, it offers the reader a window into martial arts of the late Ming. Historically speaking, this is quite significant, particularly to those interested in Chinese historical swordsmanship. Jack Chen's translation is the first to make this important text on the dandao (literally, single saber) available in English.

To Chen's credit, he organizes the translation portion of this book so that the original Chinese text and illustration is on the left hand page, with that text reprinted line by line in parallel with his translation on the opposite right hand page, and with the pinyin pronunciation below the Chinese characters. This is important for serious researchers, because while Chen translation is excellent, translation Medieval Chinese can be quite tricky and is always open to some interpretation. By presenting the text as he has, Chen has made it easy for future researchers to delve more deeply into the text.

The Supporting Information chapter presents the author's interpretation of technique, grip and body mechanics. This is not only useful for those who might also be interested in reconstruction these techniques themselves, but offer insights into how he interpreted the text. However, it should be understood that the interoperation presented, given the information available, is still only a best guess. Chen should have make this clear, but has not. The reader should understand that there are other possible interpretations of the techniques recorded in Cheng's dandao manual. Chen has apparently based his interpretation from Japanese swordsmanship, but it should be noted that Cheng extensively studied staff techniques and that it is generally believed that staff techniques greatly influenced two-handed swordplay of that period. He should also have taken into account the targets being cut. After all, the dandao manual is focused on using this two-handed saber facing a spear. The lack of a detailed analysis, comparison of possible interpretations, is one area Chen has fallen short.

While the translation is excellent, few modern readers are likely to be familiar with the context and period in which the book was originally written. The lack of an introduction to the material is a real oversight by the author. (Those not familiar with Cheng Chongyou or his work can see the link to the CCTV documentary link below). The illustrations are also modern tracings of the original wood block prints that accompanied the text. While these do the job, they have none of the aesthetic appeal of the originals.

Rating - Buy this book if you are at all serious about Chinese historical swordsmanship.

What I'd like to see - In a word, more. The dandao is just of several manuals Cheng Zongduo penned, hopefully Jack Chen will have his other manuals in print in the near future.

*Master Cheng Documentary ... r_embedded

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