Sunday, March 6, 2016

5 out of 5 Ninja Stars for "The Chinese Martial Code"

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book from the publisher for review purposes

Title: The Chinese Martial Code
Written By: A. L. Sadler Annotated Notes and Foreword by Edwin H. Lowe
Publisher: Tuttle
Format: Hardcover with Jacket
Page: 190
Cover Price: $16.95 $11.87(US)

    I'm familiar enough with Sun Tzu's the Art of War, and in fact have owned 6 or 7 copies of different translations with and without annotation.  Everyone who is in martial arts has probably heard of the book, and gotten some pieces of the "fortune cookie" wisdom that is in the book.  That is a disservice to Art of War. This book does a couple of things different.  First off it includes other strategies of War books, and it includes an overall idea of how Art of War fit into the Chinese thought patterns of government then and now.  It also makes some compelling arguments on why these texts are in fact MORE relevant now than in anytime in recent history.


    This book contains the Chinese and English translation of three books of Chinese military thought as well as two lengthy introduction chapters which I'll get to in a minute.  The Art of War by Sun Tzu should be a big enough name that I shouldn't have to talk about that one much.  The other two were new to me.  The Precepts of War by Sima Rangju and Wu Zi On the Art of War were included to develop a more complete idea of the thought patterns going on at this time in Ancient China.  The first introduction chapter was divided into sections. The author argues the relevance of these books in today's post-modern military world.  He makes an excellent point, but I'll let the reader come to their own conclusions.  The second part of the first introduction goes through the three classics and describes the histories and stories of the men who wrote them.  The second introduction chapter dealt with the story of A. L. Sadler, an Australian Professor who probably did the second translation of Art of War into English, and probably the first of the other two classics.


    To be honest, I've read Art of War in numerous incarnations, so that wasn't as big of a draw to me.  What I found really interesting was the introduction chapters.  I enjoyed the argument of why a world with a post-modern military force would to understand the thoughts on combat of a Chinese general from a couple millennia ago.  They make the argument that today's wars are not being fought over power and territory, as they have been in the Western World for the last thousand years, but are being fought over differences of ideology which is actually closer to the more tribal military that was in place during Sun Tzu's time.  It also explained to me, how War and warcraft is part of the continuum of statecraft.  How war is a tool of the state.  If any of the other versions of Art of War had explicitly said that, I missed it completely.  In that way it was an epiphany of a sort.  I'll definitely look at global conflicts in a new light as part of reading this book.
    I also enjoyed the history of the the original author, A. L. Sadler.  I always figured that since the West has had contact with China for such a long time (been watching Marco Polo on Netflix) that we've had some translation of Art of War around for a long time.  It surprised me that the first translation into English came in the 1900's, with Sadler's being the second and more influential translation coming in 1944 due to the war with the Japanese.
    The translations of the three classics are well done, and because I've never read the second two books I got a lot out of them, but to me, they kinda took a backseat to the arguments and history of the introduction chapters.


    I really don't have any cons for this book.  There is nothing I would add, subtract, or change.  The book is dense with information.  It's not a before bed read, but again, that's not what it's intended for.


    Although the translations were done over half a century ago, the language is still very appropriate, and doesn't seem to try to add to flowery prose, except what is naturally in the original writings themselves.  I've had versions of Art of War where they try to modernize the meaning of the phrases, and it looses some of its timeless qualities because of that.  As I stated, I learned a lot and had a change in my view of the world.  What more could you ask for in a book?  For that, and the other reasons I listed above, I'm going to give this book (the first that I can think of) a full 5 out of 5 Ninja Stars.  It's not just another translation of Art of War.  Rather that just say "Everyone reads Art of War, so it must be important" it takes the time to explain how and why it is important.  Mr. Lowe obviously has a large amount of respect for both the original authors of the classics, and for the translation done by Mr. Sadler.  


  1. OT: Get ready for Pac-Man's upcoming bout against Timothy Bradley with this stacked new assortment of Manny Pacquiao sportswear

  2. Thank you so much for this wonderful and kind review, some 8 years after it was published! I am particularly grateful for your comments about my introductory chapters about classical Chinese strategic thought, the relevance of pre-modern Chinese strategic thought in the age of post-modern war, the classical strategists Sun Zi, Wu Qi and Sima Rangju and their translator, the Japanologist, Arthur L. Sadler who did his work during the Pacific War, in order to 'know the enemy'.

    1. Thank you for this book. I enjoyed the biography/ethnography at the beginning.