Correct contextual knowledge regarding traditional Chinese martial arts is not readily available for the general reader. With the proliferation of modern, commercially inspired leisure activities disguised as 'martial arts', Selby's reliable research, gathered mostly in China, and translated from Chinese texts (old and new), offers an insight into a martial art (archery) that is more than just a set of physical exercises. Archery - like any traditional Chinese martial art is imbued from start to finish with a lavish Chinese cultural view of the world. Selby does not attempt to interpret an activity that originated outside of the West, through a biased Eurocentric perspective that is common nowadays in many martial arts books claiming authority upon the subject. Although unmistakenly 'academic' in nature, nevertheless, Selby's work is presented in an easily accessible format that is logical and clear. The text may assist both the beginner and advanced reader equally.
The paperback (2006) edition contains 418 numbered pages, and consists of 13 chapters proper, a Preface, an Epilogue and a number of addition texts designed to assist the reader acquire background knowledge suitable to the subject. The chapters are:
1) Introduction. 2) The Legendary Archer Hereos. 3) The Archer's Magic. 4) The Archers' Rituals. 5) The Confucian Ideal. 6) Bows, Arrows and Targets. 7) Fact, Fiction and Stranger Yet. 8) The Crossbow and Other Forms. 9) China's Middle Ages. 10) China Shared. 11) Action and Overreaction. The Ming Dynasty. 12) The Transition from Ming to Qing. 13) The Final Years.
Since 1949, mainland Chinese culture has undergone a tremendous distruction and reconstruction. Selby states in the Preface:
'In 1800, traditional archery held a much stronger place as a gentlemanly sport in China than it did in England. Yet now, traditional forms of archery and bow-making are a popular hobby and sport in the English-speaking world while in China, no one remembers how to pull a traditional bow, let alone make one.'
As a consequence, Selby's research begins from the earliest time of recordable Chinese history and continues up until 1950. After this time, the Chinese government embarked upon a radical movement away from ancient tradition. This is a fascinating text. Selby invariably provides ample Chinese references and texts, impeccably translated in correct English. There is a sense of immense depth of culture throughout the book that is inspiring to encounter. It is one of those rare books that tends to transcend its subject matter. Perfect.