The Sword Polisher's Record

Hsu, Adam
204 pages, $16.95

The first word that comes to mind when reading The Sword Polisher’s Record is "tireless": the author, Adam Hsu (Hsu Ji), is a thoroughly tireless exponent of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts. From the first page to the last, in this book of 44 collected essays, ShihFu Hsu employs a multi-dimensional technique, discussing the art from every conceivable position, addressing countless arguments, and employing every attitude from humor to deadly seriousness. The message is very clear: the Traditional Chinese Martial Arts will disappear if we don’t recognize and save them.

But the book is more than a political outcry. It is also a textbook of the rarest variety, the kind that both poses questions and gives answers. No matter the stereotype of old masters who dole out snippets of information to their poor, horse-stanced students; there is nothing miserly about ShihFu Hsu’s work. In clear prose, he outlines a range of topics that will guide anyone, from the newest beginner to the most advanced teacher, if only he or she will just pay attention and study.

His treatises on usage, 360 awareness, mind-learning vs body-learning, and the overall differences between modern and traditional kung fu, among many others, are emphasized over and over again, building a consistent view of Kung Fu. He is harsh on fakers. The book develops thoughtfully, from articles dealing with general Kung Fu history at the beginning, to the more theoretical in the middle, finishing with an overview of martial arts today and tomorrow.

If there is an editorial criticism, it is that some of the pieces are too short. There is a feeling that, just as he is developing an argument, the word limit is met and the essay ends. This, of course, is due to the fact that these were short articles reprinted from magazine columns. Still, one yearns greedily for more.

Then, there is another, more troubling aspect. The book, as a whole, raises problems that are not easily answered, or even approached. These have to do with the basic question of being a martial artist: who is, who isn’t, and who should be. Theoretically and practically the book is excellent; but there is also an underlying feeling that, maybe, no one in America will really be able to do it, to get it. Several hard-working practitioners have already expressed to me that, while they agree with Hsu’s analyses, they feel that they’ll never be able to work hard enough or long enough to contribute to the art that they love.

Who is a martial artist? This is a question that begs to be answered in this book, but is not specifically asked. It is a difficult question for anyone involved in this long-term struggle to keep alive a tradition that always threatens to disappear. It is certainly something every serious student who reads The Sword Polisher’s Record will put to himself or herself at some point.

This is a book that should be on every martial artist’s shelf, taken down often for reference. It is a book that should be discussed: with colleagues, with instructors, with fellow students. It is a book to be read more than once. And ShihFu Hsu’s diligence and dedication, along with his intelligent and insightful analyses, should be admired. But the martial arts are living arts, and any reader who makes the mistake of swallowing whole the contents of the essays, will not be contributing to the ongoing process of martial history. This is a crucial time, with no room for discouragement. Read it and think.

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