Martial Senses Training Manual
The Student Manual. Martial Arts at the age of 6. His training includes Karate-Do, Judo, Shorinji-Ryu, Kempo, Tai Chi, Ba Gwa, and Boxing under many.
1860s photograph of a “Chinese Soldier” with butterfly swords. Subject unknown, taken by G. Harrison Grey. Introduction This is my keynote address from the recent (Nov. 9-10th, 2017) conference on fightbooks held at the German Blade Museum in Solingen. A full report on this event is coming soon, but I am eager to share this with the readers of Kung Fu Tea. A Man and A Book As my colleague Brian Kennedy has noted, there is no subject more beloved in the world of kung fu fiction than the lost training manual.
Countless films, tv programs and wuxia novels have focused on the image of a lost (or better yet, stolen) book that holds the secrets to ancient fighting prowess. Heroes and heroines go to amazing lengths to procure such a book and to unravel its secrets. Both a source of knowledge and an outward sign of martial excellence, in the fictional world of the “Rivers and Lakes” such fightbooks can be the ultimate markers of one’s social status. Today I hope to reveal another example of a lost book that suggests a unique set of insights into the evolving nature of the Southern Chinese martial arts during the late Qing dynasty, a period in which many of the regional styles that we know today (Hung Gar, Choy Li Fut, Southern Mantis and Wing Chun) were coming into being.
Just as importantly, I would like to identify the previously anonymous translator of this text and discuss his role in shaping the public perception of the Chinese martial arts during the late 19 th century. Alfred Lister (?-1890) is basically an unknown figure in the martial arts studies community. If he is remembered at all, it is as a middling official in Hong Kong’s civil service who eventually reached the rank of Acting Treasurer and Postmaster General. Case 1537 Owner Manual.
What is not generally appreciated is that Lister, in addition to being a fine linguist, had a passion for Cantonese popular culture and “street literature.” His interest in the realm of gambling dens, opera theaters and public marketplaces brought him into contact with various aspects of the Chinese martial arts. This sparked what appears to have been the first sustained, multi-year, research project undertaken by a Western scholar into the realm of these fighting systems. Lister’s contributions to the 19 th century discussion of the martial arts have probably gone unappreciated for two reasons. First, some of his most important works were published anonymously in journals and newspapers as was fashionable for dilettante scholars at the time. In a sense we were never meant to know who produced these pieces. Second, Lister’s interests were not so much historical or technical, the genres most likely to attract the attention of modern martial arts students. He was not hoping to learn or teach these fighting systems.
His fascination was more anthropological in nature. By looking at the martial arts he hoped to understand both a unique aspect of Cantonese culture, and also to comment on universal patterns that he perceived in marginal individuals around the globe who engaged in similar behaviors as a way of producing social status. Due to Lister’s sardonic style, and his harsh judgments about the effectiveness of “Chinese boxing,” most individuals who have come across his anonymously produced works have seen them as a curiosity, but ultimately dismissed them as a typical product of imperialist 19 th century attitudes.
A deeper reading of Lister’s work reveals someone with a much more complex relationship with his environment. He had some interesting theories about the role of translation in facilitating cross cultural understanding, and was an early student of the sociology of the Chinese martial arts. And in all honesty, the sorts of individuals and practices that were common in the 1870s do not always reflect the image or levels of efficacy that modern Chinese martial artists wish to be associated with today. Yet perhaps Lister’s greatest achievement was his discovery of a short manual which he titled “The Noble Art of Self-Defence.” His partial translation and description of this work is invaluable to modern students of martial arts studies as it confirms the existence of a previously undocumented genre of fightbooks that were, by his account, commonly available at the time. Unfortunately, these pamphlets were treated as ephemera and, to the best of my knowledge, there is not a single surviving example of the genre.
If not for Lister’s discussion modern scholars might not know of their existence. Yet they have important implications for our understanding of the region’s fighting system and the evolution of its martial marketplace. Who was Alfred Lister Who was Alfred Lister? In many ways Lister’s story begins not with his birth, but with the British acquisition of Kowloon in 1860. Faced with the need to communicate with a vastly expanded Chinese community, the colony’s administration put in place plans to upgrade their civil service and institute training programs for talented young translators, chosen from the UK’s middle-class schools. The promise of a healthy salary and rapid advancement attracted several applicants and Lister was a member of the second class accepted into government service in 1865.
Unfortunately, the early years of Lister’s career were inauspicious. Rather than completing the promised training period he was rushed into several offices that put him on the front lines of the colony’s interaction with its Chinese residents, in both an administrative (harbor master) and judicial (justice of the peace) capacity. Early in his career we find records of him being involved with the first attempts to regulate brothels to stop infectious disease outbreaks. Later he caused a scandal which reached all the way to parliament when he wrote a report documenting the deplorable conditions in a Chinese charity temple what was used to store bodies and coffins waiting to be shipped home for burial. As Lister noted, not all of the residents of the facility were actually dead at the time they were dumped there, and his report on the conditions in what was actually a hospice led, more or less directly, to the creation of the first modern hospital for Chinese residents in Hong Kong. Lister’s writings (particularly his anonymous ones) suggest an individual who was quick to criticize his fellow administrators and the follies of the Western community in China more generally. While to modern ears his judgments of Chinese culture are harsh, period readers likely heard someone with too much sympathy to the Chinese population given his administrative responsibilities to the crown.
As such, it is probably no surprise that Lister’s career plateaued early and, as his obituary in the North China Herald noted, he died in 1890 with few friends. Still, that same obituary went on to remember Lister’s many publications as a younger man fondly. So what did Lister write? The short answer would be poetry.
Lister was both a talented literary critic and an amateur poet. And while this part of his writing does not seem to have anything to do with fightbooks, it is important to review because in his engagement with the translations of such noted sinologists as, Lister began to lay out his own theory of translation. That had an important impact on how he both translated, and transformed, the martial arts when presenting them to a Western audience. Lister’s first treatments of the martial arts also arose out of what might be considered more literary pursuits. In 1869 the Duke of Edinburgh arrived for a highly publicized tour of Hong Kong.
Lister was present at the Tung Hing Theater where the Duke watched two performances, probably as a translator. The first of these was a historical drama, but the second was a farce titled “A-lan’s Pig” whose plot revolved around such cheerful topics as compulsive gambling, domestic abuse and martial arts. Lister initially wrote a short summery of this kung fu comedy for a memorial book celebrating the Duke’s visit.
- by admin