Reviews by Lee Wedlake
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Blood Rites by Barbara Ehrenreich
Steve White told me of this book. The subtitle is “Origins and History of the Passions of War.” I found it to be an easy read with some interesting perspective. The author is not an anthropologist, and being outside the discipline she asks questions that the professors may not want to ask.
I have always looked at fighting as being war on a small scale, so this was intriguing. She writes about where war came from and why. The historical, sociological, psychological and cultural aspects are addressed, as are gender considerations. Her take on how humans did a role reversal from being prey to becoming predators and proposing why we acted out sacrifices while wearing animal skins is quite interesting. The progression from sacrificing animals to humans leads us down a fascinating path to the changes that account for much of warfare tactics today.
She notes the comparisons in European and Oriental societal development (knights and samurai), the rites groups will take their young men through on the path to becoming warriors and how changes in warfare altered the structure of society and the position knights and samurai held (guns did that).
If you’re interested in why we fight, I think you’ll find some insights in this book. While the academics may not agree with some of her thinking, for us as martialists, I believe it’s worth the time to read.
Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone
You’re probably wondering why I’d recommend a book on magic for a martial artist. Stone was studying to be a physicist and got into magic. He’d been introduced to it by his father, rather in passing, as a child. But a seed was planted and it took root when he was in school. I recommend the book for a couple of reasons.
What the author has done is describe what we go through as we progress in the martial arts, with all the setbacks and accomplishments. He writes of his inspirations, his mentors, his failures in competition and his quest to be better at it.
What I think will be of much interest to you is what he found in his research about what makes magic “work”. I have found that magic is much akin to the arts in that we surprise people (“how did you do that?”) and we regularly use deception. His experiences drove him to work with researchers and what he found and presents in the book is fascinating. He describes how the scientists have figured out how the brain processes information and fills in a picture from a lot of incomplete information. I see this as useful in understanding how we work our techniques and why, since the same principles are in play.
Incidentally, I found that there are many martial artists who do magic. My student, Marc Sigle, recommended the book and he’s one. There’s even a course offered in Las Vegas on magic for martial artists. I’ve written that many martialists are also musicians, so I see a relationship.
Anyway, I got the book for under $10 in hardcover from Amazon. ISBN is 978-0-06-176621-3
Extreme Fear, The Science of Your Mind In Danger by Jeff Wise.
The meaty stuff is in the section called “Counterattack”. Mental activity gets divided into two categories; reflexive and reflective. The reflexive is the automatic and the reflective is the conscious. The first is fast and the second is slow. This was mentioned earlier in the paragraph about out built-in, multi-layered alarm systems. He ties in willpower, how it eats energy and that force of will gets harder as fear increases. Habituation, getting used to things, is a tool in combating fear. The more you see something, the easier it is to handle. In kenpo, we see punches and kicks coming all the time. The variety of self-defense techniques habituates us and increases the probability that we’ll respond appropriately. Mr. Parker told me that if I’d seen something before, chances were better that I’d know how to handle it because it wasn’t a complete unknown. That was part of his reasoning for the wide variety of martial arts he allowed to be demonstrated at the Internationals. The other part was entertainment.
Keeping things simple helps to combat the tendency to “lose your mind” under stress. Parker kenpo may seem complicated but its Master Key principle and an understanding of the margin for error concept are in line with the simplicity required. This book states that the first thing to do is accept there is a crisis. It’s exactly what Ed Parker said. However, what gets people hurt or killed is denial. Read the article I wrote on Normalcy Bias.
I encourage you to read this book as an excellent overview of the manifestations of fear, the systems affecting and controlling it and what you can do about it.
The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood
This book refers to another I recommended entitled Deep Survival by Lawrence Gonzales. Over the years I’d come across some of the subjects addressed in this book but couldn’t find the reference again, so I was happy to find them here. One, in particular, is the chapter on luck. I’ve mentioned it in seminars and conversations and Sherwood goes into some detail on the research. Luck has been found to be largely a product of attitude and actions, qualities we try to impart to our students.
He writes about survival stories and interviewed the survivors to see what they think were the keys to living through the events. He finds researchers all over the world working on determining if there is a formula to figure out who lives or dies (there are). He writes about the will to live, resiliency, being prepared, why people freeze in bad situations, how faith affects survival and much more.
Sherwood has also created a website with stories and more. In it you can take a survivors test to see which of the five types of survivor you are. I am a Thinker. Interesting test.
This is one of those books that’s worth reading twice. If you’re interested in hearing what a man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge has to say, get it.
Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery – Eric Franklin
I was given this book by a student. We had been talking abut co-writing a book on functional anatomy for the martial artist when he was given it by his son whose Ba-Gua teacher uses it as a text. It’s written for dancers but don’t let that stop you. The drawings get the point across easily and the text on such things as how your brain works to get you in motion are invaluable for instructors. Everyone I’ve shown it to wants a copy.
Meditations on Violence – Sgt. Rory Miller
The subtitle is “A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence”. I like this book a lot and highly recommend reading it. While I don’t agree with some of his statements I think any practitioner would do well to read it. Much of it is in line with the thinking presented in other books listed here such as On Combat, and refers to them as source material. Sgt. Miller is a jail guard and martial artist. This colors his approach in that many LEOs think only they know real violence. Keep that in mind and enjoy the prodding he gives your thinking process even when he insults martial arts instructors who have never been in a fight.
The Demon’s Sermon on Martial Arts – Issai Chozanshi, translated by William Scott Wilson.
This rather odd title is a translation from an old Samurai text. It was written by a samurai who had seen battle, unlike the author of Hagakure. It’s a collection of parable-like stories that communicate essential martial arts precepts and concepts in the Japanese tradition.
The Shaolin Grandmaster’s Text
I really didn’t know what to think when Marc Rowe mentioned this book to me. I was not expecting to find what I did when I got it. If you’re looking for a book on Chinese martial arts with an emphasis on history and philosophy that’s easy to read, this is it. I was pleasantly surprised. Want to know what the difference is in Buddhism vs Taoism? How about some background on the Shaolin temples and how they look at the temple as it is today? Get some insight into why some systems teach their art by the season and how the do their ranking system and why. Yes, there are some technical points in there and they are handy in describing differences in systems. If you’re serious about your arts and have a library you’ll likely want to add this to it.
Zen Body-Being by Peter Ralston
The subtitle is “An enlightened approach to physical skill, grace, and power.” Ralston won the kung-fu World Championships in 1978, which, as he points out, gave him some credibility. It’s a bit repetitive but he gets his points across and gives some concrete methods for achieving what he says works. Much of it I agree with, having discovered these things independently. He says, “Question what is true.” I’d found this to be quite helpful in my journey and was glad to see it here.
His analysis of principles, the descriptions of techniques to help one make very fine discrimination of movement possible, and his background in Zen contemplation make for a book with lots of helpful information for those who want to go deep.
The Book of Martial Power by Steven Perlman
This book starts with an introduction by a man who teaches a Japanese system and he mentions the fact that the alphabet has only 26 letters but they can be rearranged. This sounds very familiar…
It’s a great book. In fact, the author relates the story Joe Hyams told in his book, Zen in the Martial Arts, about Ed Parker teaching him to “lengthen his line”. He states more than once that this was a pivotal principle in developing his skills.
Speaking of principles, he and I agree that what works for you also works against you in his chapter on the principle of principles. Perlman also covers control, power, triangulation of the body, efficiency, and much more.
While I have not even finished it yet, I highly recommend it. Marc Sigle turned me onto it while I was in Germany. By the way, Marc has one of the most impressive martial arts libraries I’ve seen.
The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
The subtitle of this book reads “A journey in the pursuit of excellence”. You may have heard about Josh but don’t realize who he is. There was a movie made years ago entitled Searching for Bobby Fischer, and the subject was Josh. He was a teenage chessmaster of world-wide repute. This book is of interest to both chess players and martial artists because Josh went on to become a world champion tai chi push hands player.
This book is so good it should be required reading. If you want some wonderful insights into how the student preceives and processes instruction from their teachers, how it affects personality, outlooks, actions, ego and what winning and losing do, READ THIS BOOK. I could go on but it speaks for itself that when a man can becme a world champion in two disciplines, he has something worth lsitening to.
Dr. Rowe brought this in for me to read and stated it is a life-changing book. I believe that it will be for many.
On Combat by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
This book follows Grossman’s book, On Killing.
Like others on this list, it is one of those books that grabs you and although you want to keep reading, you need time to digest the information first. He has expanded and updated information from his first book and added more information on realistic training.
His chapter on preparation is especially good, and raised the hair on my neck when I read it. There are excellent points in there about not only readying yourself but your loved ones for a bad situation.
The information on school killings and how reducing children’s exposure to violent media lowers instances of aggressive behavior is especially significant, keeping in mind how much attention to bullying there is these days.
I can go on and on about how much I like this book. I’d call it useful and inspirational. You can buy it on Amazon or, better yet, get the autographed copy on his site, www.killogy.com. When I read the names on his Board of Advisors at the back of the book I was pleased to see names I was not only familiar with and whom I respect, but also people I had worked with in the past. You need this book.
Infinite insights into Kenpo Vols. 1 through 5
Ed Parker produced one book a year in this series starting in 1981. He normally released them in August, in time for his International Karate Championships in Long Beach, California.
I was in Pasadena to train with him in 1980 when he gave me the rough manuscript for what was to become Volume 2. Originally, he explained to me, he was going to write one big book. But he decided against that. What he was doing was showing his black belts what he was working on and getting their opinions. The he would incorporate elements of those discussions into the books. He used the term ‘more pregnant’ with information to be added. I experienced this process first hand with the Vol. 2 manuscript. We discussed maneuvers and when I suggested vaulting as a method, he got excited and exclaimed “And then you can hurdle!”. When the book was published, there it was in print; vaulting and hurdling as maneuvers. No wonder the books got longer since he did this with many people.
I was flattered when he mentioned my name in the acknowledgements of the books. Then he asked me to photograph the forms to be used in the books. I shot every movement in the forms from Short One to Long Three. He corrected items along the way, we re-shot them and finally he was satisfied. Then he decided instead to use Edmund Jr.’s line drawings of me. And that’s how I came to be included in Vol. 5. Two of my black belts, Jim Lowell and Joe Kowalik are also in one volume. They were in California on vacation and stopped by the Pasadena studio to see Frank Trejo. They needed bodies to shoot pictures for the book and voila!, there they are. To top it off one day at his home he says to me “How would you defend the system?”. I gave him my answer , he tells me to write it down and that he is going to use it as the foreword to Vol. 3. That’s my claim to fame relative to the books.
The first and fourth volumes are considered to be the easiest to read. The histories in Vols. 1 and 2 are excellent. Four has some great information on zone theory and five gives a bit of insight into the forms. Although not complete and containing some inaccuracies, these books are the best references a Kenpo practitioner can have.
Secrets of Chinese Karate and Kenpo Karate, Law of the Fist and Empty Hand by Ed Parker. I came across these books in the early 70’s. In fact, I have a copy of Secrets in paperback and it cost $2.25. I have one in French too. These two works provide insights into how his mind worked. You can see the development of the art and the start of his categorical breakdowns here. These are a necessary part of any collection.
I met a Shotokan practitioner in Illinois who told me that Kenpo Karate was the first karate book he ever bought. It lit his interest for the art but he could not find Kenpo. So he took Shotokan and eventually achieved his black belt.
In Secrets, you’ll see the Two Man Set, also called Black Belt Set. It’s incorrect in the book. When I asked him why, he told me he published it that way so if someone came into a Kenpo school saying they knew the set and did it that way, it would tell an authorized instructor that the person learned from the book and not a legitimate instructor. That is a key to understanding Ed Parker and why he did some or the things he did.
Ed Parker’s Guide to the Nunchaku
This and a book originally called The Medical Implications of Karate Blows were a result of Ed Parker’s requirement for his black belts to write a thesis to rank to Shodan.
This book is interesting because he had some pretty cool ideas on how the Nunchaku should be used. I had him teach a Nunchaku seminar in Chicago. Frank Trejo was with me that weekend as well. Mr. Parker did something we’d never seen before and we both whipped our heads around to look at each other. He was full of surprises. The book also has some vintage photos of Huk Planas and Larry Tatum. Ask Huk about doing the book.
The Woman’s Guide to Self Defense by Ed Parker
It seems to me many male instructors pass this one by. There are some interesting variations on standard techniques. One or two moves from the Staff Set are also inside. the drawings of the bad guy are a hoot, looks like Mr. Clean found the dark side of the force.
Living the Martial Way: A Manual for the Way a Modern Warrior Should Think by Major Forrest Morgan
The traditionalists speaks! This practitioners breakdown of what makes a warrior tick, the differences between doctrine, strategy and tactics and the value of kata help make this book a winner.
Hopefully, you’ll read a description of your instructor within.
The Tai Chi Book: Refining and Enjoying a Lifetime of Practice (YMAA Book Series, 32.) by Robert Chuckrow
An unusual book in that it does what it says it will do. i.e. it answers questions for the novice and advanced students. It’s a good insight into TCC’s how and whys. This is a book Kenpo people should be familiar with as it illuminates a lot of subjects regarding internal arts from a practical standpoint. Strong points are on how to be a student and what a good teacher does. Chuckrow parallels my thinking.
The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
Gavin de Becker’s work is outstanding. If you are a student and especially if you are an instructor teaching women’s self defense classes, read this book. Our work has been superficial in relation to de Becker’s analysis of what fear does and how our society affects our natural fear mechanism. The appendices are very useful since he pretty much outlines everything in a cogent manner.
On Killing by Lt. Col. David Grossman
When I told John Schenk about this book and how I could only read a little at a time, he made an interesting analogy. He related it to candy and how you can only really enjoy a little at a time. There is so much information in this book, it’s hard to put it down but also hard to absorb all he has to say in any given chapter. it is a fascinating mix of psychology and history, all, of course, related to what human beings go through when they kill other human beings. This is a must read for serious instructors.
In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets by Richard Heckler
I found this book the same time I found On Killing. I picked it up first, then saw On Killing. I put it down, thinking I was only buying one book that day. Then I saw Grossman quoting Heckler in his book so I bought them both. Heckler’s insights into the modern warrior and himself as he went through the process of teaching this course provided a lot of food for thought.
Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century by Robert W. Smith
This book is a must-read for any long-time martial artist. Novices will get something out of it as well, more so if they do some prior research into the styles, systems and people Smith refers to. I was particularly interested in much of it, as I have a background in Judo, having studied in Chicago, as Smith did, and he mentions many names I am familiar with. His Tai Chi background is of the same family system as mine, as he studied with Professor Cheng, who taught my teacher, Tom Baeli. Once again, many of the players mentioned are familiar to me.
Smith is opinionated, often refreshingly so. For example, he rips Bruce Lee’s reputation to shreds, and in turn, describes two “American warriors” he discovered in an unlikely place.
His ideas on rituals, belts and traditions are worth taking the time to read. There is a gem in every chapter.
If you don’t know of Robert W. Smith, he is known as one of the foremost writers and practitioners of martial arts, certainly so in the U.S. He wrote for some of our nation’s biggest newspapers as well. Reading this book is time well spent.
Moving Toward Stillness: Lessons in Daily Life from the Martial Ways of Japan by Dave Lowry.
Mr. Lowry has been a regular columnist in Black Belt magazine since the mid-Eighties. I enjoy reading his work, although I admit to being a sometime reader of the magazine itself. This book is a compilation of 45 of his articles, all written about an aspect of traditional Japanese martial art, but maybe more importantly, about living. His chapter entitled” Excess Baggage” should probably be paid much attention by both teachers and students. I was given this book by one of my brown belts, Alex Herrera, and was discussing it with one of my black belts, Frank Triolo, who lived in Japan. Frank said the Japanese can take the simplest, everyday action and define it and how and when it should be done in excruciating detail. Keep that in mind, it gave me a new perspective. Frank also told me to read the Hagakure, The Book of the Samurai. I enjoyed this book and read it twice.
The Leadership Lessons of the U.S. Navy SEALS : Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results by Jeff Cannon and Lt. Cmdr. Jon Cannon. I read almost the whole book on a flight back from New Hampshire, where I had been given the book by Steve White. It is written for corporate people and, as such, makes comparisons between the military and corporate worlds. Those may not necessarily applicable for small school owners but there are lots of ideas and techniques in there for just those owners/instructors. Martial arts means war arts, and that is our heritage. In that respect we have a military-like structure in our schools. But we don’t always have military-like commitment from the students. We need to modify and his suggestions work in that way. Sections on Goals, Organization, Leadership, the “Thundering Herd” and Maintaining contain interesting lessons like “Define Mission Success”, “Even a Circus has a Ringmaster”, “Make a G..D… Decision”, “Your Own People Are Your Best Recruiters” and “If you need to scream, you need to practice”. I’d rather have read this than “7 Habits of the One-Minute Man”. (Yeah, that’s a joke.)
Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
“It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon.” This excerpt from the first chapter is just a taste of what lies within this small book translated by William Scott Wilson.
Tsunetomo addresses the philosophy of the samurai as it relates to death and dying, honor, upright character, leadership, even yawning and manners. To a warrior, it offers much to learn about living and dying correctly. To a scholar, it presents views of the samurai philosophy that are, I think, in direct contradiction of philosophical concepts I have learned in the Chinese martial arts. It was not a quick read for me, having given me much to think about regarding these contrasts.
” At first putting forth great effort to be sure you have grasped the basics, then practicing so that they may come to fruition is something that will never stop for your whole lifetime. Do not rely on following the degree of understanding that you have discovered, bit simply think, “This is not enough.”
Traditions: Essays on the Japanese Martial Arts and Ways by Dave Lowry
The subtitle is Essays on the Japanese Martial Arts and Ways. Even if you don’t do a Japanese art you will appreciate what Lowry has to say in this follow-up to his Moving Toward Stillness. This is another collection of his columns written for Black Belt magazine.
I especially liked the chapters entitled “Move from the Hips” and “Don’t play around”. The first relates to being centered, and how the Japanese use the term to describe cowardice. It contains an interesting comparison of Eastern and Western concepts of a strong body, one being the inverse of the other. In the second article I mention I think the perception of karate as play is well addressed and will be appreciated by instructors.
Of course, there is much more to this book, and it’s one you’ll re-read.
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Lawrence Gonzales
One of my black belts, a paramedic/firefighter named Bill Damewood loaned me this book. It is a lot like On Killing in that there is an awful lot of information offered in a small space. It’s classified as a nature book but should probably be under psychology. There is extensive information on stress reactions and how the brain processes information with and without stress. The author attempts to explain why some people survive and others don’t in a variety of situations. If you are familiar with the basics of stress reactions and how training influences them, and accident chains, this book takes it a step or two further. If you are not this will be an eye-opener. It’s an interesting read and guaranteed to make you think. The author is a pilot as well, something I related to, as he used many examples from aviation.
Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge By Bruce Siddle
Every instructor should have a copy of this. It is a textbook for courses he teaches to law enforcement/military/bodyguard types. Very good explanations of survival mechanisms, training methods, psychology of training and surviving. I’ve used this for instructor training and for pilot safety briefings.
Encounters with QI, Exploring Chinese Medicine by Dr. David Eisenberg with Thomas Lee Wright.
I have a student named Marc Rowe who studies tai chi with me. He’s a retired MD and is fascinated by the art. He loaned me this book. As it turns out, the doctor who wrote the forward, Herbert Benson, wrote on the effects relaxation and meditation have on health and healing, and Marc referred to him often in our conversations. Benson influenced the author and motivated him to study Chinese medicine in China.
This is a very even-handed account of his experiences there in China. He views things with Western skepticism, evaluates what he saw and felt, and passes that information on without prejudice. He saw and experienced some of the same things I have, which he attempts to qualify and quantify in the Western tradition, and basically says there is something to this chi stuff.
He could easily have written this as a medical text but this is an easy read for laymen. His case studies and descriptions of the people he met and places he worked at, lived in, and visited, impart a good feel for the paradoxes of internal v. external, Eastern thought v. Western, and the seemingly impossible things that occurred.
Read this book if you are studying or teaching an internal art. The insight into significant cultural differences, especially regarding the Chinese health system and how it compares to ours (They’re reversed, you know. We pay the doc when we’re sick, they pay him when they’re well and don’t when they get sick because he didn’t do his job.), and this may provide you insight into why they structured their art the way they did.
The Healing Mind by Dr. Paul Martin.
There is a quote in here that I really like from psychologist Richard Totman. “Take anything that is either nasty, expensive or difficult to obtain, wrap it up in mystery, and you have a cure.” It sounds like a working toward a black belt to me. As instructors we deal with many different types of people and most of them come to us looking for a change in their lives. We need to make ourselves familiar with the mind/body connection beyond what we teach in the classroom. This book addresses that connection in easy to read but tremendously informative chapters.
A seminar participant recently asked me what I’ve been reading. When I said it was a psychoneuroimmunology text he didn’t know what to say. But this book is not “high-brow”, I think you’ll get a lot out of it.