Came across this when I was digging through the troves at the local bookstore. Pretty interesting concept.
Most people probably know of the book Art of War, written by Sun Tzu. It contains his advise on how to be ‘successful’ in war, if such a term can be used. I got a copy of my own and made a brave attempt at reading it, as it is considered the quintessential piece ever written on how to come out on top from a conflict. However it’s not as straightforward as it sounds – or perhaps the difficulty lies in how straightforward it is. When Sun Tzu writes about how to deploy forces on different types of terrain, it can be a challenge to see how you can apply the strategies on your own personal level. Currently it is still enriching my bookshelf, yet to be conquered.
Fortunately, this is exactly what writer Martina Sprague has done in her book ‘Lessons in The Art of War’. In addition to Sun Tzu’s writings, she also considers the writings of Carl von Clausewitz (European strategist that you have probably never heard of) as well as other great minds like the cunning Niccolo Machiavelli and famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Each chapter follows a very logical structure; after outlining a very general concept such as what actually qualifies as “victory”, she highlights what the strategists have written on it. She then narrows down the focus on what it is made out of – for example the statement ‘strike at the enemy’s center of power’ and shows how it can be applied in a very real situation, in this case advising the reader that when faced with a strong kicker, neutralise his strongest asset by breaking his legs. It’s a good writing approach that makes it easy to follow the line of thought from a highly conceptual level to a concrete way of handling a conflict.
It’s obvious that the writer has a good understanding of the nature of different martial arts, as she makes numerous references to the different styles in the ways that their inherent strategies refers back to the different faces of warfare. For example, a popular Sun Tzu quote is ‘All warfare is based on deception’ – and Sprague highlights how this is highly evident in Capoeira, where what seems to be a cowardly ducking movement is actually a setup to launch a lethal spinning kick. The fact that the writer has a good grasp of what martial arts are about makes you respect her writings that much more rather than, say, an uninitiated TV reporter who’s doing a coverage to raise viewer ratings.
The book describes itself as a ‘scholarly yet approachable tome’. Although the book is written in a clear and easily understood language, it still took me longer than expected to finish this 200 pager – probably because no one ever accused me of being a scholar. I’d recommend this for those students who have an interest in the more theoretical sides of martial arts, such as philosophy and strategy. It may not bring that much to the table for those who have been training for a number of years, but it could be quite the eye-opener for the curious beginner or intermediate student.
Sprague has also written other books with titles that catch my interest, such as ‘365 Ways to Practice Your Karate, Grappling, and Martial Arts Techniques’ and ‘Norse Warfare: Unconventional Battle Strategies of the Ancient Vikings’. But more than anything, it’s how she shows not only understanding but also true appreciation of all martial arts that leaves me inclined to keep an eye out for more reading material from this writer.