During my lengthy life as a Martial arts fan I have seen many films and read many books on the subject. Not just the usual reference books and instruction manuals but action-adventure novels, purely for my own entertainment.
One of my first loves is Westerns both films and books and as a young man in the 70’s I read all the westerns I could lay my hands on. So imagine my surprise when in 1975 I found a paperback Western called Sloane by Steve Lee a western with obvious comparisons to the Kung Fu TV series of the early 70’s.
In a style similar to the then popular Edge Westerns Sloane was a man on a mission of revenge!
Young Tod escapes but he is trampled by a horse and left for dead. Found by one armed Kung Fu Master who nurses him back to health and goes about teaching the boy Kung Fu! Instead of the fastest gun in the west Sloane becomes the fastest fist and over the course of three books exacts his revenge on the circus.
Quite a different type of story, not the revenge, that’s the core of almost every western novel, but the Kung Fu and the circus enemy. Knowing that Sloane would have to fight a Clown, Strongman, knife thrower and other such people. Throw in an angry Chinaman with the same skillset who pops up to challenge our hero now and again.
Many years later I would read an E-Book called Sage by Bob Wood another Kung Fu Western story that centres on John Coulter Sage a cowboy turned sailor who is shipwrecked on the island of Okinawa where a Buddhist Monk befriends him and teaches him to fight and think! Not the usual western but an intelligent and well written story. Thoroughly enjoyable romp.
Back to the 70’s.
Anyone remember Victor Mace?
Well he was the hero of a series of violent Kung Fu action-adventure novels by a chap called Lee Chang. Mace is a Shaolin trained outsider who comes to San Francisco to visit family he has there. Unknown to him his family are caught up in the local mobs machinations.
Others in this era were K’ing Kung Fu: Son of the Flying Tiger, Jason Stryker,Martial Arts Master and lots of others featuring Various spies and Ninjas. As my reading tastes improved with age I discovered Marc Olden.
In the early 80’s I happened upon a book called Giri – roughly translated to mean duty or obligation. Written by Marc Olden, the hero Manny Decker. The story of Giri follows a Japanese serial killer terrorizes New York, opposed only by a karate-savvy cop.
In the dojo, Manny Decker learned that training, focus, and cold discipline could make a man more dangerous than any weapon. His skill with his fists was useful in the US Marines, and served him even better afterwards, as a cop walking a tough New York beat.
Since he became a detective, Decker hasn’t found much use for his hand-to-hand skills, but his mental toughness has proved invaluable as he navigates the narrow line of an Internal Affairs investigator. Keeping an eye on other cops, he has found, means risking his life inside and outside the precinct house.
Decker also knows that a mastery of karate can be used for evil as well as good. Investigating a corrupt security company, Decker finds himself on the trail of a psychopathic killer who can snap a windpipe with one chop of his palm. Only karate can stop him, and when the final confrontation occurs, karate is all Decker will have.
A simple story by the sounds of it but there is much more, especially the tournament at the end of the book. This is still my favourite Martial arts action-adventure novel above all others.
Olden went on to ride the Kung fu craze with a series of similar style novels with great titles. Dai-Sho, Gaijin, Oni, Sword Of Vengeance, Kisaeng, Krait and Ghost. There were others but these were the only ones I was interested in at that time with their Martial arts theme/hero.
Nicholas Linnear was the Ninja (The character for Ninja on the cover inspired me to have it tattooed on my arm). These stories were amazing. Mysterious, subtle and sexy, the characters were so lifelike they were almost real. The books had an international flavour as each chapter moved from country to country and city to city and past to present.
To my mind they were sophistication on a page! No disrespect to the other authors but these were a cut above. The Lustbader novels I read at that time were: The Ninja, The Miko, The White Ninja, The Kaisho, Jian and Shan. There are a few others in the series but nearly 40 years later I have yet to catch up.
The premise was that Shang was the son of the Legendary and ageless master criminal Fu Manchu. Shang had joined the British Intelligence Service to help take down his evil Father. He was very much based on Bruce Lee and the early stories borrowed a lot from Enter The Dragon.
Over the years my love of this style of book petered out as other reading interests and life took over. Sometimes one of these novels would come into my possession such as Shibumi by Trevanian and the sequel much later, Satori by Don Winslow.
What’s interesting about Shibumi is that the hero, assassin Nicholai Hel uses a form that incorporates anything he can lay his hand on as a weapon. Some of my favourite stories, though tongue in cheek and still a guilty pleasure today are the Destroyer novels by Sapir and Murphy. These are pure fun and escapism.
A quick overview:
Remo was an honest cop who was framed and given the electric chair. He was reborn as an assassin for a secret agency called CURE that would deal with the threats to the USA that no other agency could handle. The fun starts when he meets his trainer Chiun, a Korean who introduces Remo to the source of all Martial arts. Culture clashes ensue, great stories and Chiuns mysterious past life. So good!
Warren Murphy later co wrote a couple of novels with his wife worth reading. The first of the two being the Grandmaster.
Later series I dipped into were The John Rain novels by Barry Eisler featuring assassin for hire Rain who was Japanese/American and an expert in Judo.
While the Martial art may not seem as exciting as say Karate or Kickboxing, Judo is one of the oldest forms and a highly trained Judoka is very deadly indeed. These are brilliantly written stories and very entertaining. The last modern Kung Fu novel I read was Sensei by John Donohue.
Special mention must go to a book I found years ago when in hospital for something. I had found a bookcase and nothing had grabbed my attention. An old paperback with no front or back cover stuck out. Across the top of the page was the name of the author: Yablo Yablonsky!
So intrigued by the name I decided to read it and it was great!
The book was called Jaguar Lives. Years later I saw the film starring Karate world champion Joe Lewis I think. Okay film but even better book.
There are many more books in this genre that I have read but my memory over the years has become somewhat selective.
I am sure that many of you have read these action-adventure novels but if you are like me I love to dwell in my reading history and will seek out books that I once had as a young man.
In fact I recently re bought Giri and am just waiting for the right time to read it all over again.