Fighting Techniques of the Oriental World

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 December, 2008, 12:00am

Fighting Techniques of the Oriental World


Amber Books, HK$280

It is not apparent which of this book's authors wrote which of its five chapters, or whether each was a team effort. Michael E. Haskew, Christer Jorgensen, Chris McNab, Eric Niderost and Rob S. Rice ended their survey of Oriental fighting techniques in the middle of the 19th century, just when martial arts in their broadest sense were becoming really interesting.

Guerilla strategies and tactics as espoused by Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh occasioned significant changes to military thinking - and their influence continues in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fighting Techniques of the Oriental World skates through six centuries of conflict, first examining the role of the infantry and cavalry and how they were controlled, then taking a specific look at the realms of naval and siege warfare. There is an enormous amount to enjoy here and the key battles are illustrated with coloured and numbered maps outlining the action.

It is the feats of Asia's generals that really stand out, although 'armouraks' will be able to spend long periods analysing the drawings of Chinese rocketeers, Japanese warrior monks and Manchu guardsmen. Leading the troops were the likes of Genghis Khan; Tokugawa Ieyasu, who by force of arms established a shogunate that endured for two centuries; and the Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin, who saved his country from invasion by destroying an enemy fleet off the island of Hansando in 1592.

These were real leaders of men, relying on the force of their personality and sharp wits while nodding to the dictates of the Seven Military Classics, of which Sun Tzu's The Art of War remains the best known, not least for his advice having been adapted in recent years for application in the realm of commerce.

That the Chinese enjoyed a dominant role in Asian warfare is understandable, especially given the part they played in the invention of gunpowder, firearms and cannon, hi-tech devices that were to prove their undoing when they had been improved by European scientists. And it is ironic that the trebuchet (a siege catapult) should have been devised by the Chinese, vastly improved by Europeans - who introduced a counterweight to increase the machine's range and power - then used against the Chinese to devastating effect by invading Mongols.

The major omissions from Fighting Techniques of the Oriental World are an introduction - apart from the dustjacket's text - and a proper conclusion.

The final chapter ends with a crisp depiction of the British expeditionary force storming Shanghai in 1842, but there is nothing in the way of a summary to indicate how this triumph of western technology contrasts with the Mongol cavalry's resounding defeat of a Russian army in Ukraine at the battle of the River Kalka in 1223.