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Martial Musings

A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century

by Robert W. Smith

Reviewed by Christopher Dow

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the writings of Robert W. Smith in the dissemination and development of the Asian martial arts throughout the English-speaking world of the mid-20th century. Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century, which was his last book and published a dozen years before his death, can be considered to have three aspects. Primarily it is a memoir, but it also encompasses extensions of some of his previous books on the martial arts by profiling a number of individuals who excel in their particular combatives, as Smith prefers to call them. And finally, it is an extended opinion piece on the state of the martial arts worldwide.

Robert William Smith was born in 1926 and died in 2011. In between, he was a CIA analyst, a martial artist, and perhaps the most important writer on the martial arts—certainly of his era, though several other writers, such as Donn Draeger, also produced significant bodies of work. But none of them enjoyed the exposure that Smith did. Following a stressful and poverty-stricken childhood, Smith took up boxing and wrestling in high school then joined the U.S. Marines. He was discharged after the end of WWII, went to college on the G.I. Bill, and soon after joined the CIA. All through this time, he retained his interest in boxing and wrestling, and the latter led him to take up judo.

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