By: Lee Ying-arng
The Secret Arts of Chinese Leg Manoeuvers
by Lee Ying-arng
(Unicorn Press, 1962, 114 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
If you look at older lists of notable Tai Chi books, one that keeps cropping up is Lee’s Modified Tai Chi Chuan for Health by Lee Ying-arng. Maybe that’s because back in the early 1960s, there were about thirty books on Tai Chi in English, and most such lists were about thirty books long. I don’t know. I haven’t seen that book or any of the other ten books that Lee wrote on various aspect of the Chinese martial arts, from Thai boxing to Shaolin to iron palm, except for the one that’s the subject of this review. But the facts that he did write on all these topics and that he looks pretty proficient in the photos of him performing “Chinese leg manoeuvres”—generally, kicking of all sorts—say that he knew what he was talking about.
The book, with it's quaint, old-fashioned way of spelling "maneuvers," opens with a history of Chinese martial arts that literally begins with cavemen first developing the art of self-defense to hunt meat and fight off predators. The account fast-forwards to about 2600 BC in China and the development of go-ti, (Horn Gore), a primitive form of combat in which the opponents donned horned headgear and attempted to gore each other. Apparently, this bizarre pastime persisted, Lee says, for nearly three thousand years until the Yuan Dynasty, when the Mongolians combined their form of wrestling with go-ti. He further states that when go-ti was introduced to Japan during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), it was adopted as a national art of self-defense and renamed “sumo.”
The history continues in this vein of historical vignettes/factoids for twenty pages. It is one of the most complete accounts I’ve seen outside of books devoted to martial arts history, though it grows somewhat sketchy toward the end. Do I believe everything? No. But I don’t disbelieve, either. I’ve read a great many histories of the martial arts, and most generally agree on the same main points that Lee covers. Also, I’m not a martial arts historian, nor have I made a comparative analysis of the many and sundry historical accounts, though that might be interesting work for another day.
For the moment, we’ll go on to the second chapter of Lee’s book, which summarizes the important points of the art of kicking. Kicking, he says, is important in both hard-style and soft-style martial arts, though some particular styles are more suited to or take more advantage of kicking. And while the legs are less flexible than the arms, they are far more powerful. Speed, he says, is paramount.
Next, he discusses vital targets and how to hit them. This is pretty standard fare for this sort of material. Finally comes his course on leg manoeuvres, which shows fifty different kicks against one or more opponents. He says he’s left out the fancy stuff in favor of kicks that are practical and easy to learn. So, for the next eighty pages, and with a variety of kicks, Lee pummels shins, knees, groins, faces, abdomens, heads, and any other target worth kicking. Most of the kicks are launched from a standing position, but he does include kicks from the ground. A few of the manoeuvres are sweeps, throws, and trips rather than kicks. If these moves are “practical and easy to learn,” then I’d hate to see the fancier stuff.
Lee’s text ends after he covers the fifty kicks, but the book goes on for nine pages of advertisements. The first, amusingly enough, is for Lee’s Liniment—basically da dit jow, which was generally otherwise unavailable at the time in the United States. I guess by the time you’d kicked your way through the book, you’d need a bottle or two of that liniment to take care of your bruises and sore muscles. Ads for three of Lee’s other books follow, then comes an ad for an 8mm film of Lee performing tai chi. That makes him an innovator in using film/video media to illustrate martial arts movement, right alongside William C. C. Chen. Ads for the Hong Kong Acupuncture Research Centre end the book, showing the organization’s structure and course offerings. You can read more about this aspect in "Mass Marketing the Martial Arts."
I can’t really criticize the content of this book, though it seems slightly pointless. It’s all about kicking and sweeping, and most martial arts forms have both of those built into them. So, unless you’re a professional martial artist who needs to know a lot of different kicks, etc., or you just love kicking, it’s probably better to spend your time practicing those elements in your own form than perusing photos of somebody performing a bunch of kicks. But, hey, the specific applications might give you an idea or two, so all is not lost. I will say this, though, in closing: This book was in serious need of a copy editor. I can accept one or two typos slipping through during the editing process, but it seems like not a page of this book goes by without one or more errors. Proofread, folks.