Beyond being a pioneer book in introducing Chinese Martial Arts to western audiences, I have some other reasons to appreciate « Chinese Boxing : Masters and Methods » by Robert W. Smith.
First, it is clearly a personal account of Mr. Smith’s own experiences in Taiwan in the beginning of the sixties. It does not try to become a manual or guidebook: often western authors create handbooks from their personal experience; in most cases the results are sort of dogmatic books spelling intimate truths. Mr. Smith’s does not have that tone, and the accounts he brings are both interesting for the practice and inspiring.
Second, Mr. Smith does not slide into void Chinese explanations or new age mysticism (which is a criticism that even this blog could receive). He keeps his feet on solid ground and he would rather bring his subject to his own experiences, either relating them to his training in Judo, or to our own western cultural background. He looks for bridges so he can grasp the meaning, this can be seen on the many quotations he makes in the text (like on I particularly appreciate, G.K. Chesterton’s: “ I find that most round things are nice, particularly Eternity and a baby.“). In this book he is not a purist, he is looking to build his learning on his references.
Third, learning Chinese Martial Arts is a personal experience, and the accounts provided by Mr. Smith illustrate how the Arts. Some insight comes particularly from the chapter on Cheng Manching, the most extensive, where he reports some of the exchanges and methods of the master. For example, I recall reading that when students started to sweat, Cheng Manching (鄭曼青) would declare a pause on the training, which in itself is a lesson.
Mr. Smith would become a sort of role model for the “western that met a Chinese Master” that we can find from the end of the sixties on. Even though there are the good and the bad in this kind of figure, my best teachers were in the same position. This generation of western teachers is the bridge to the traditional knowledge and in my opinion the more they approach the style of Mr. Smith personal accounts in his book, the more valuable their transmission is.

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