Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Watching Your Back

Watching Your Back: Chinese Martial Arts and Traditional Medicine

Copyright Date: 2005
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Watching Your Back
    Book Description:

    The term "martial art," like the title,The Art of War,has a dissonant ring. To associate art, that sublime expression of the human spirit, with the enterprise of maiming and killing seems almost profane. Similarly, the martial arts have long been associated with traditional medicine. But, how can the art of healing ally itself with the art of killing?Watching Your Backapplies Daoist notions of wellness and survival to reconcile these apparent paradoxes and unveil the origins and rationale of the unexplored symbiosis of Chinese medicine and the martial arts. It discusses the applications of Daoist philosophy and its practitioners, explains how creative arts are simultaneously conserved and advanced within a traditional Chinese lineage, and clarifies the differences between the separate, but parallel, martial and military disciplines.

    Drawing from history, philosophy, medicine, linguistics, and the realities of combat, Dr. Schmieg convincingly describes how early proponents of Daoism responded to sociopolitical events in China to shape a unique martial arts tradition and how this ancient system evolved into modern combat forms. Throughout he makes ample use of entertaining anecdotes taken from his years of study under a Daoist physician scholar and "old school" boxer. Written with both the layperson and scholar in mind,Watching Your Backexamines the full spectrum of the martial arts while demystifying its philosophy and debunking its myths, and thus brilliantly reveals the true majesty of the ancient Chinese art of self-defense.


    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6553-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Chinese Romanization and Pronunciation
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    As we languidly listened to the fan beat back the oppressive tropical heat, the doctor casually asked me, “So how would you guard your back?” I had studied various martial arts over the previous ten years, and my instructors had often addressed this topic. Nonetheless, I was taken a bit off guard. Thinking quickly I replied, “Well, you could use the light and watch shadows to see if someone is sneaking up on you. You could use your ears.” Warming to the topic I added, “You could look at reflections in windows as you walked along…. You could appear to...

  6. 1 The Rectification of Names
    (pp. 7-22)

    The greatest difficulty facing any author is the problem of meaning. While I hope that each reader will immediately understand the content of my words, I realize that the passage of time, individual experiences, and the shifting sands of nuance may distort my meaning. Many words of all languages have several fundamental meanings (denotata), as well as numerous associations or overtones (connotata), which may not always be consistent. For instance,Mathew’s Chinese-English Dictionary¹ defines the characterluanas “disorderly, reckless. To confuse.” Yet an alternative translation is, “To bring about order. To govern.” So translation may become a challenge of...

  7. 2 Survival
    (pp. 23-53)

    The Daoist concept of survival is subtle. Survival does not imply merely clinging to life, since life and death are inevitable consequences of one another. Rather, survival is an evolutive succession in which all things ceaselessly proceed through changes that allow them to retain their sameness, their “individuality.” An orderly procession will present an illusion of sameness, for nothing is the same as it just was, while a disordered procession dispels the sense of sameness and assumes the appearance of something else.

    The inability to appropriately respond to change is the hallmark of a diseased organism. According to Daoism, a...

  8. 3 Obscurity
    (pp. 54-74)

    Keng-sang, a student of Laozi, having mastered the secrets of thedao, went off to live in the remote mountains of “Zig-Zag.” The people of Zig-Zag recognized his talents and wanted him to be their leader. He adamantly refused, but his students insisted that he assume leadership.

    Master Keng-sang said, “Come nearer, my little ones! A beast large enough to gulp down a carriage, if he sets off alone and leaves the mountains, cannot escape the perils of net and snare; a fish large enough to swallow a boat, if he is tossed up by the waves and left stranded,...

  9. 4 Intent
    (pp. 75-99)

    The Daoist principle of the interrelatedness of all things is the basis of the high Chinese disciplines, which all share a compulsion to unify and a distaste for dissection and division. According to this principle, a thing can exist only when the conditions for its existence are present. These conditions include the innate desire to live and the means to promote and protect life. This provides the moral justification for the martial arts, which simply elaborate the innate human capacity for self-defense. They are a means for humans to identify, enhance, and protect the conditions essential for their being. The...

  10. 5 History
    (pp. 100-131)

    In this chapter I will discuss how the underground current of Daoism nourished the civilization of China and transformed the Chinese combat arts. I am not a trained historian, and it is not my intention to reconstruct the details of thousands of years of Chinese civilization. Rather, I will describe how Daoist philosophy responded to sociopolitical developments to create a uniquely Chinese martial tradition. Because historians have not usually distinguished between the primary traditions and their derivative offshoots, there is a paucity of direct academic references to them. Furthermore, since the transmission of these disciplines is oral—person to person,...

  11. 6 Martial Versus Military
    (pp. 132-141)

    The radical social and political developments of the Zhou period reconfigured the social position and function of the martial arts. In pre-Zhou times martial skills were the tools of warfare. Combat was conducted among the noble elite, while the peasants were relatively peripheral to the action. This changed as the expansive political systems that emerged during and after the Zhou period drew more and more participants into the affairs of the state, which was increasingly represented by layers of bureaucrats and officials. The organization of the military increasingly mirrored this political structure. Decisive combat was no longer the duty of...

  12. 7 Japanese Comparison
    (pp. 142-155)

    While the martial arts styles of China, Korea,¹ and Japan might appear similar to a complete outsider, even a novice martial artist will immediately recognize that they differ not only in “look,” but in “feel.” The differences among them are not simply the result of geography, strategic necessity, or the predominance of an imported style, but are also the products of different philosophies and metaphysics. Social behavior is not so much shaped by external impositions and influences—which are often shared among different cultures—as by the various ways that people organize and respond to their perceptions. The Daoist worldview...

  13. 8 Myths and Fallacies
    (pp. 156-176)

    In the preceding chapters I have attempted to describe the metaphysics of the high Chinese martial arts and demonstrate how they are integrated within the elegant unity of Chinese culture. As I wrote this book I became acutely aware of the vast gulf between traditional language and philosophy and the popular parlance and assumptions of the modern martial arts, which are marked by a naive and undisciplined recitation of myths and fallacies.¹

    Many, many times, Dr. Xia warned me not to criticize, so I approach this chapter with considerable trepidation. The study of the martial arts requires such an immense...

  14. 9 Succession
    (pp. 177-186)

    People often associate the martial arts with both Daoism and Buddhism, which is understandable since they are superficially similar and often use the same terminology. They each describe and prescribe ways that humans can affect the conditions of their existence. Buddhism and Daoism both recognize a gradient of human capability and provide guides and guidelines for the less experienced or the less capable. Yet despite numerous similarities, there are also important differences between the two.

    Buddhism presents a model of evolution with enlightenment, or buddhahood, as the end goal. The word “Buddha” originally referred to the reality underlying all things...

  15. Appendix 1. Cosmology
    (pp. 187-196)
  16. Appendix 2. The Chinese Dynasties
    (pp. 197-198)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 199-226)
  18. Index
    (pp. 227-234)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)