Chuck Smith Books

His latest book, Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century, takes the reader full-circle from Smith’s early beginnings in boxing and judo through his transition to Shaolin and the internal arts of tai chi, paqua, and hsing-I. Smith introduces us to the many friends and colleagues he had the fortune to meet or train with, influencing his martial arts and outlook. The book is filled with the philosophies, concepts, and thoughts of these great teachers. A treasure chest of wisdom, Martial Mmings is a must read and welcome addition to any student’s library.

The Foundation

Smith’s first formal training in combatives was through basic training as an enlisted Marine, but, as Smith recalls, Marine corps judo bore no resemblance to die sportive jacketed wrcsding I encountered in Chicago after being discharged in 1946, he recalls. Marine judo was a melange of punches, chops, elbows, and low kicks — most of them aimed at die groin. No throws or locks, just strikes by die number.

After the service, Smith began his boxing training from ex-pro Andy Duncan. Around that same time, he also starred learning judo, which he continued until 1972. Surprisingly, Smith has strong views against the violence in boxing and the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). Although I grew up liking professional boxing — and lord forgive me, 1 even promoted amateur boxing— I have long since believed that all boxin should be banned, he maintains. Boxing is too brutal for civilized societies. Boxing is the only sport that has injury as its aim.

While Smith’s moral view may seem like an antithesis to some readers, both boxing and judo gave Smith an indelible and pragmatic tool with which to gauge the proficiency and structural effectiveness of other systems and their practi-tioners. Rest assured, whatever Smith has written about, he has experienced it first hand.

Over the years, many rumors spread regarding Smith’s involvement with the CIA. Most were not true. As he explains, At the CIA I worked for the intelligence rather than the operations (’spook’) side. As part of a highly professional team, I analyzed the political, economic, and military capabilities and intentions of foreign powers. In those days, that meant chiefly the U.S.S.R. And The Peoples Republic of China. I have since heard all lands of nonsense said or written about my OSS and CIA activities (I was too young to be in the OSS).

As many readers know, Bob Smith and Donn Draeger had a long and prolific friendship. They co-authored Asian Fighting Arts, a book well ahead of its time. Draeger had even worked in some films. According to Smith, Donn’s most lucrative film work was for the James Bond series. In You

Only Live Twice, Donn was a stunt double for an out-of-shape, obviously bored Sean Connery. Another Mystery De-Mystified

The day after 1 met Smith at William C.C. Chen’s tai chi studio, I had a phone conversation with one of my instructors, Roberto Torres, who 1 told enthusiastically, Next, I would like to interview John F. Gilbcy (author of Secret Fighting Arts of the World, and others). To my surprise, Forres’ reply was, Well, you just met diem both last night. That’s right folks: Gilbey and Smith are one and the same.

According to Smith, John Gilbey was born in Donn Draeger’s house in Tokyo in 1961. Donn hit on die idea of giving me a textile millionaire doppelganger. Gilbey was a joke, an exaggeration, a fantasy. Fie had money, time and amazing skill in everything. We were sure diat readers would be smart enough to realize this. We were wrong. Several noted writers used excerpts from Gilbey pieces. Even Bruce Lee copied techniques and illustrations from Secret Fighting Arts of the World’m his Tao of feet Kune Do, notes later published as a book. This writer is also guilty of having quoted Gilbey in some of my previous articles. Secret Fighting Arts of the World (1963) contained some truth, plus many whoppers, confesses Smith. The Way of a Wamor (1982) con- tained more personal philosophy and some straight history. He continues, Gilbey’s third book, Western Boxing and World Wrestling: Sto>y and Practice (1986) was almost entirely straight, and included most of the research I’d done for my long-promised Histoij of World Wrestling Taiwan: An Ocean Of Fighting Arts

In 1959 Smith’s work for the CIA transferred him to Taiwan. It was there his martial odyssey took a new direction. Smith writes, This was to be a watershed event in my life. I had heard and read and written about Chinese boxing for years and here suddenly was Taiwan chock-full of every variety hard and soft. I was determined to test Donn Draeger’s contention that traditionally the Japanese had a paucity of unarmed fighting methods. And Donn said, ‘The Chinese had an ocean; the Japanese a lake.’ Ever pragmatic, the Japanese put their priority on weaponry.

During this time. Smith met and studied with some of the great masters of this century. Many are chronicled in Chinese Boxing Masters and

Methods. Smith has extensive film footage of those teachers, many of whom are since deceased. While screening and narrating the rare films at

William Chen’s tai chi studio in New York to a select audience, Smith lamented how back then he wished he spent more money to capture higher- quality footage, quoting the Chinese saying, Buy the best and cry once. Although Smith continued teaching judo until 1972, the transition to the Chinese arts started early. Smith relates, For the first year in Taiwan, Shaolin held sway, but as I dug deeper into the soft arts — hsing-I, paqua and especially tai chi — the internal took over and I never stopped learning.

Man of Many Talents

In all of Smith’s work on the many famous masters he met and wrote about, none got more press than Cheng Man-ch’ing. Cheng was a student of the great Yang Ch’cng-fu. He also mastered painting, calligraphy, poetry, and medicine. Unlike certain tai chi masters today who have other kung- fu boosting their tai chi, Cheng’s only martial art was tai chi chuan. Smith recalls, I met professor Cheng in Taiwan over 40 years ago.

Before I met him, I was told that he was strange, a versatile master blending painting and odier arts with tai chi. Most of Smith’s practice with Cheng, other than form, was push hands. Smith prefers to use the term sensing hands, as it is more accurate since the push is a result of sensing first. Professor would allow Smith to attack him all out with whatever striking technique he wanted, only to be soundly defeated every time. Smith relates, He was the only person I ever met in any martial art who could defeat you and not hurt you because he only knew the soft.

In describing Cheng’s softness in sensing hands practice, Smith notes, With him you never had the sense you were even in contact with his clothing. There was no place that you could pur your hand that gave enough substance for you to push on.

Cheng related an incident to Smith where the professor had asked Yang a question on application. He asked Yang a question on function. Yang put two light fingers on his throat and threw him 20 feet, knocking him out. When the memory of this faded, impetuous Cheng asked another question. This time professor Cheng told me, Yang put a hand that felt like cotton on his jaw and threw him, again knocking him out.

Smidi shares some notes from the professor from 1962. Particularly tow-ard the last, all Yang Ch’eng-fri did was a litde push hands and some form, mainly endless repetitions of single whip, play guitar and repulse monkey. Yes, it was true that Yang’s older brother could extinguish a lighted candle with a gesture from six feet. But this did not mean that he could kill from a distance, it only meant that he had a special kind of chi. Yang Ch’eng-fu was peerless with a sword; against famed Li Chin-lin in Nan-king, no sooner had they squared off than Yang knocked Li’s sword from his hand. Bear in mind that Li is renowned in our martial arts, and especially for his swordsmanship.

Tai Chi Tactics

A good part of what we practice in traditional martial arts will not help us in the real world of combat. In fact, many traditional training methods are outdated and many form applications, if taken at face value, could get you killed against a streetfighter. Many boxers, both amateur and professional, don’t think very highly of the Asian style martial arts in general. Why? Because they have seen so many kung-fu experts, with years of training under their belts, get their heads handed to them in reality fighting.

Suddenly, their kung-fu starts to look like a poor attempt at kickboxing, and God help those who do not know how to grapple.

In fact, some instructors today have given up their systems in favor of pure defensive tactics. One would think that Smith — with his boxing and judo background, along with his friendship and network of people who could really fisiht — would reach the same conclu-sions. On the contrary. While Smith is a realist when it comes to analyzing the effectiveness of a system or an applica-tion, he also appreciates the art side of kung-fu. This is why he chose to teach tai chi, paqua and hsing-I. In Smith’s questions to the professor, he pulled no punches. It was a documented fact that Cheng Man-ch’ing had never been beaten in a challenge.

Even back in Taiwan, many masters would not fight the wresders. Shuai chiao grandmaster Chang Dung-sheng was both feared and respected among his peers. Although Smith feels shuai chiao is inferior to judo, even he acknowledges Chang’s proficiency in combat. Smith wondered how Cheng would fare against a grappler. When I asked Cheng how he would have handled sumotori,
judoka and wrestlers, he acknowledged the physics problem. He said that he would tell a challenger that he could hit or kick, but if he grabbed his small body, Cheng would have to resort to tien hsueh (the art of striking vital points).

Smith compares judo to tai chi. Judo was the high school of soft. Tai chi, I learned the first time I touched Cheng Man-ch’ing, was its college. Part of the difference is in the nature of the two. Judo is a grappling form where a strong grip is paramount; tai chi is an art that requires the hands and all else to be relaxed so that the chi can function through the fingertips. As far as achieving Cheng’s level of function. Smith writes, Working through relaxation and jing (energy) and eschewing physical force, tai chi was more amorphous. The synthesis I forged of reading/writing/practicing provided me a start, but alas I could never get to the end of it: or, for that matter, the half-way of it.

However, there was solace in knowing that this mystery was real, if not realizable. Some students don’t even reach that level.

Regarding the combative side, Smith notes, To assimilate these ideas in your form, push hands, and freefight-ing takes a long time. But the functional returns on push hands in freefighting for the average person will be far less. It may give you an edge in the street with non- fighters, but beyond that the yield is questionable. It is no surprise that William C.C. Chen, one of Cheng’s top students, utilizes western boxing as a vehicle to learn combat and apply tai chi principles. Chen will often put the mouthpiece and gloves on and spar with his students.

Liao Wuchang (left) marveled Smith with his monkey boxing. Cheng Man-ch’ing in a sweeping lotus (below left). Soft pugilist William C.C. Chen (below right) was another senior student of Cheng Man-ch’ing. Johnny Osako (right) applies a combined arm-lock and foot-to-head strangle on the author (circa 1948). Osako (a 7th dan) ran the Chicago Judo Club where Smith studied. Donn F. Draeger (below left) as Don Eagle. Kao Fang-hsien (below right) showing northern shaolin functions.

T o many aficionados and martial arts veterans, Robert W. Smith and Donn F. Draeger books were required reading in our quest for combative knowledge.

In Asian Fighting Arts (1969), Smith and Draeger chronicle almost every organized fighting of that region. In Chinese Boxing Masters and

Methods (1974), Smith takes us on a journey to the Far East to sample a smorgasbord of Chinese martial arts in Taiwan.

Smith has written or co-written 14 books and numerous articles on different martial arts. His past work has had a profound influence on this writer as well as thousands of other readers who were guided to the styles they practice today.

His latest book, Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century, takes the reader full-circle from Smith’s early beginnings in boxing and judo through his transition to Shaolin and the internal arts of tai chi, paqua, and hsing-I. Smith introduces us to the many friends and colleagues he had the fortune to meet or train with, influencing his martial arts and outlook. The book is filled with the philosophies, concepts, and thoughts of these great teachers. A treasure chest of wisdom, Martial Mmings is a must read and welcome addition to any student’s library.

The Foundation

Smith’s first formal training in combatives was through basic training as an enlisted Marine, but, as Smith recalls, Marine corps judo bore no resemblance to die sportive jacketed wrcsding I encountered in Chicago after being discharged in 1946, he recalls. Marine judo was a melange of punches, chops, elbows, and low kicks — most of them aimed at die groin. No throws or locks, just strikes by die number.

After the service, Smith began his boxing training from ex-pro Andy Duncan. Around that same time, he also starred learning judo, which he continued until 1972. Surprisingly, Smith has strong views against the violence in boxing and the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). Although I grew up liking professional boxing — and lord forgive me, 1 even promoted amateur boxing— I have long since believed that all boxin should be banned, he maintains. Boxing is too brutal for civilized societies. Boxing is the only sport that has injury as its aim.

While Smith’s moral view may seem like an antithesis to some readers, both boxing and judo gave Smith an indelible and pragmatic tool with which to gauge the proficiency and structural effectiveness of other systems and their practi-tioners. Rest assured, whatever Smith has written about, he has experienced it first hand.

Over the years, many rumors spread regarding Smith’s involvement with the CIA. Most were not true. As he explains, At the CIA I worked for the intelligence rather than the operations (’spook’) side. As part of a highly professional team, I analyzed the political, economic, and military capabilities and intentions of foreign powers. In those days, that meant chiefly the U.S.S.R. And The Peoples Republic of China. I have since heard all lands of nonsense said or written about my OSS and CIA activities (I was too young to be in the OSS).

As many readers know, Bob Smith and Donn Draeger had a long and prolific friendship. They co-authored Asian Fighting Arts, a book well ahead of its time. Draeger had even worked in some films. According to Smith, Donn’s most lucrative film work was for the James Bond series. In You

Only Live Twice, Donn was a stunt double for an out-of-shape, obviously bored Sean Connery. Another Mystery De-Mystified

The day after 1 met Smith at William C.C. Chen’s tai chi studio, I had a phone conversation with one of my instructors, Roberto Torres, who 1 told enthusiastically, Next, I would like to interview John F. Gilbcy (author of Secret Fighting Arts of the World, and others). To my surprise, Forres’ reply was, Well, you just met diem both last night. That’s right folks: Gilbey and Smith are one and the same.

According to Smith, John Gilbey was born in Donn Draeger’s house in Tokyo in 1961. Donn hit on die idea of giving me a textile millionaire doppelganger. Gilbey was a joke, an exaggeration, a fantasy. Fie had money, time and amazing skill in everything. We were sure diat readers would be smart enough to realize this. We were wrong. Several noted writers used excerpts from Gilbey pieces. Even Bruce Lee copied techniques and illustrations from Secret Fighting Arts of the World’m his Tao of feet Kune Do, notes later published as a book. This writer is also guilty of having quoted Gilbey in some of my previous articles. Secret Fighting Arts of the World (1963) contained some truth, plus many whoppers, confesses Smith. The Way of a Wamor (1982) con- tained more personal philosophy and some straight history. He continues, Gilbey’s third book, Western Boxing and World Wrestling: Sto>y and Practice (1986) was almost entirely straight, and included most of the research I’d done for my long-promised Histoij of World Wrestling Taiwan: An Ocean Of Fighting Arts

In 1959 Smith’s work for the CIA transferred him to Taiwan. It was there his martial odyssey took a new direction. Smith writes, This was to be a watershed event in my life. I had heard and read and written about Chinese boxing for years and here suddenly was Taiwan chock-full of every variety hard and soft. I was determined to test Donn Draeger’s contention that traditionally the Japanese had a paucity of unarmed fighting methods. And Donn said, ‘The Chinese had an ocean; the Japanese a lake.’ Ever pragmatic, the Japanese put their priority on weaponry.

During this time. Smith met and studied with some of the great masters of this century. Many are chronicled in Chinese Boxing Masters and

Methods. Smith has extensive film footage of those teachers, many of whom are since deceased. While screening and narrating the rare films at

William Chen’s tai chi studio in New York to a select audience, Smith lamented how back then he wished he spent more money to capture higher- quality footage, quoting the Chinese saying, Buy the best and cry once. Although Smith continued teaching judo until 1972, the transition to the Chinese arts started early. Smith relates, For the first year in Taiwan, Shaolin held sway, but as I dug deeper into the soft arts — hsing-I, paqua and especially tai chi — the internal took over and I never stopped learning.

Man of Many Talents

In all of Smith’s work on the many famous masters he met and wrote about, none got more press than Cheng Man-ch’ing. Cheng was a student of the great Yang Ch’cng-fu. He also mastered painting, calligraphy, poetry, and medicine. Unlike certain tai chi masters today who have other kung- fu boosting their tai chi, Cheng’s only martial art was tai chi chuan. Smith recalls, I met professor Cheng in Taiwan over 40 years ago.

Before I met him, I was told that he was strange, a versatile master blending painting and odier arts with tai chi. Most of Smith’s practice with Cheng, other than form, was push hands. Smith prefers to use the term sensing hands, as it is more accurate since the push is a result of sensing first. Professor would allow Smith to attack him all out with whatever striking technique he wanted, only to be soundly defeated every time. Smith relates, He was the only person I ever met in any martial art who could defeat you and not hurt you because he only knew the soft.

In describing Cheng’s softness in sensing hands practice, Smith notes, With him you never had the sense you were even in contact with his clothing. There was no place that you could pur your hand that gave enough substance for you to push on.

Cheng
related an incident to Smith where the professor had asked Yang a question on application. He asked Yang a question on function. Yang put two light fingers on his throat and threw him 20 feet, knocking him out. When the memory of this faded, impetuous Cheng asked another question. This time professor Cheng told me, Yang put a hand that felt like cotton on his jaw and threw tai chi, paqua and hsing-I. In Smith’s questions to the professor, he pulled no punches. It was a documented fact that Cheng Man-ch’ing had never been beaten in a challenge.

Even back in Taiwan, many masters would not fight the wresders. Shuai chiao grandmaster Chang Dung-sheng was both feared and respected among his peers. Although Smith feels shuai chiao is inferior to judo, even he acknowledges Chang’s proficiency in combat. Smith wondered how Cheng would fare against a grappler. When I asked Cheng how he would have handled sumotori, judoka and wrestlers, he acknowledged the physics problem. He said that he would tell a challenger that he could hit or kick, but if he grabbed his small body, Cheng would have to resort to tien hsueh (the art of striking vital points).

Smith compares judo to tai chi. Judo was the high school of soft. Tai chi, I learned the first time I touched Cheng Man-ch’ing, was its college. Part of the difference is in the nature of the two. Judo is a grappling form where a strong grip is paramount; tai chi is an art that requires the hands and all else to be relaxed so that the chi can function through the fingertips. As far as achieving Cheng’s level of function. Smith writes, Working through relaxation and jing (energy) and eschewing physical force, tai chi was more amorphous. The synthesis I forged of reading/writing/practicing provided me a start, but alas I could never get to the end of it: or, for that matter, the half-way of it.

However, there was solace in knowing that this mystery was real, if not realizable. Some students don’t even reach that level.

Regarding the combative side, Smith notes, To assimilate these ideas in your form, push hands, and freefight-ing takes a long time. But the functional returns on push hands in freefighting for the average person will be far less. It may give you an edge in the street with non- fighters, but beyond that the yield is questionable. It is no surprise that William C.C. Chen, one of Cheng’s top students, utilizes western boxing as a vehicle to learn combat and apply tai chi principles. Chen will often put the mouthpiece and gloves on and spar with his students.

Penned three volumes of uproariously straight-faced martial arts tall tales.

But now, at last, we have Martial Musings — his most personal volume, an omnium-gatherum, the final vast orchestration of a lifetime’s concerns. It is a thundering success, a compulsively readable, effortlessly entertaining cocktail of history, personalities, memoir, erudition, opinion and humor. There has never been another martial arts book even remotely like Martial Musings.

Lest this review make the book sound like fangless entertainment, it must be noted that Robert W. Smith tells it like it is. Here are chapters celebrating and critiquing some of the century’s best- and least-known heroes and charlatans. Fans of Bruce Lee, the Gracies, Hollywood tough guys, Mas Oyama, and many other inflated reputations get a little (or a lot) of well-deserved air let out. It’s difficult to name an author in any other field who has single-handedly, by his life works, virtually created an entire literary genre. With the possible exception, in science fiction, of Robert A. Heinlein, only Robert W. Smith comes to mind when we ask who else has turned the fan chat of amateur enthusiasts into, finally, a legitimate literature. As the 20th century ends, America’s greatest martial arts writer has produced his genre’s one indispensable book.

Robert W. Smith is the world’s leading authority on Asian martial arts. Martial Musings is his 14th book. Early in it, Smith speaks of himself and his great friend, the equally seminal Donn Dragger: We probably felt the essence of the Asian martial arts more and earlier than most exponents in the West. We abhorred commercialism. And we liked to read and write. Raised during the Great Depression in a Galesburg, III., orphanage, Smith served out World War II in the Marine Corps. In the post-war, he went on to earn a master’s in Far Eastern studies from the University of Washington. Smith eventually moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency as an analyst — not an operative, as goofy Internet legends keep insisting.

For 50 years, Smith has practiced, taught and written about what he likes to call combatives. Starting in his late teens, he trained in wrestling and boxing, then devoted himself to judo and, eventually, the Chinese martial arts. So, on one level, Martial Musings can be read as the unfolding story of one man’s global quest for the ultimate fighting style — which he eventually locates, in mid-century Taiwan, in the person of a Master of the Five Excellences, professor Zheng Manqing.

Previously, Smith has written books about judo, wrestling, an overview of Asian fighting arts (with Donn Dragger, Chinese masters and methods, and the first-ever English-language texts

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