DAILY PHOTO: Walking Amid the Big Guns

Taken in the summer of 2008 in Beijing at the Military Museum.

Taken in the summer of 2008 in Beijing at the Military Museum.

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba and John Stevens

The Art of PeaceThe Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

The edition of The Art of Peace that I read is divided into three parts. Part I is a brief biography of Morihei Ueshiba, who was known as Ō-sensei to Aikidō practitioners and other admirers. Part II contrasts the art of war to Ueshiba’s art of peace. Part III is a collection of aphorisms and brief statements outlining the art of peace.

Ueshiba is the founder of Aikidō, a martial art that was derived in part from Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu, but which is distinct from that art in many ways. (e.g. the lack of set forms and emphasis on randori.) Along with Jigorō Kanō, Gichin Funakoshi, and a few others, Ueshiba is one of the pioneers of gendai budō, modern Japanese martial arts that take as their primary aim non-bellicose objectives like sport and self-defense. This is in contrast to the koryū budō (kobudō) which evolved primarily for war fighting. In contrast to Kanō’s Judō, which was first and foremost a competitive sport, Ueshiba’s Aikidō offered a particular approach to self-defense that was purely defensive and in which movement was harmonized to the opponent’s actions so as to perpetrate the least violence possible.

The biographic portion of the book is intriguing, but on a few occasions drifts from biography to hagiography. I feel that the suggestion of supernatural abilities does a disservice in the telling of Ueshiba’s story. By all accounts, Ueshiba was an accomplished and highly skilled martial artist, and I would like to read a full biography of his life (a biography exists, but I can’t comment on how well written it is yet.) Given Ueshiba’s pacifistic views, it would be easy to dismiss him as a pie-in-the-sky idealist who had no idea of the realities of the world. I don’t believe that is the case. However, when the biography tells stories of god-like superpowers, it makes it hard to take the man seriously as a martial artist. Either Ueshiba was skilled as an illusionist / mentalist (a distinct possibility) or some of the stories were embellished to deify the man. The story that comes to mind is one in which Ueshiba voluntarily faced a firing squad and emerged unharmed due to either ninja-like or Hollywood vampire movie style actions. This story is attributed to one of his students, Gozo Shioda, who passed away in the 1990’s.

We may get an indication of the roots of this appeal to the supernatural in an early statement about Ueshiba’s childhood fascination with individuals like En no Gyoja and Kukai who are themselves attributed supernatural abilities in stories. Ueshiba is clearly a man of faith. He suggests life should be lived on basis of 70 percent faith and 30 percent science. Full disclosure: I’m more skeptical than Descartes, and obviously favor an outlook more firmly rooted in science and rationality.

Part two includes extensive quotes from Ueshiba himself. It contrasts the arts of war with Aikidō in mental and physical aspects. A core theme of the book is that the martial arts shouldn’t be about learning to die, but rather learning to live. Ueshiba criticizes the past Shoguns who used the art of war to control people. Ueshiba’s views on the purpose of martial arts are stated in this part. From a physical point of view, Ueshiba emphasizes the lack of forms in Aikidō (Bruce Lee echoed similar sentiments on this subject.) There is an interesting comparison of Ueshiba to swordsman and Zen master Tesshu Yamaoka (about whom John Stevens also wrote a biography.)

Part three reads like the work of an ancient yogi in places, and, in other places, offers the stern admonitions to train hard that one would expect from a martial arts teacher. A recurring theme is that the martial artist should purge himself of pettiness, be it in the form of being judgmental, materialistic, fearful, selfish, or malicious. He goes as far as to say, “Be grateful even for hardship, setbacks, and bad people.”

Another theme is that one should strive to be natural and to make one’s movement natural. Ueshiba’s advice in this book is about virtue and the mind, and rarely strays into the subject of physical tactics. It does offer a little advice about types of distancing, where one should place one’s gaze, the power of circular movement, as well as discussing technique in the abstract. This is not a criticism. There are other books to learn more about physical technique. However, one should be aware that if one would like to know what Aikidō looks like, this isn’t the book for you.

This thin book provided me with a great deal to think about. I’d recommend it for martial artists, as well as for those interested in the life of this extraordinary man.

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DAILY PHOTO: The Red Wall

Taken in the summer of 2008 in the Beijing Military Museum

Taken in the summer of 2008 in the Beijing Military Museum

 

DAILY PHOTO: Kochi Street Goats

Taken July 7, 2014 in Kochi

Taken July 7, 2014 in Kochi

On your visit to Kochi (Cochin) you’ll note a different mix of fauna than elsewhere in India. Urban bovines are rare, but roving flocks of goats roam the streets. Also, cats are much more prominent than in doggie-dominant Bangalore. I suspect the latter has to do with the large amounts of seafood that comes ashore here.

TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: How Sad for You

success-failA man once said to me, with evident pride, that he’d never failed a test of any kind in his life.

I guess he was expecting admiration, and must have been disappointed when I blurted, “how sad for you.”

But here is a person who has never stepped outside his comfort zone, who has no idea what he is capable of, and–moreover–he’s pleased as punch with that state of affairs.

DAILY PHOTO: The Writer’s Bookstore

Taken in the summer of 2011.

Taken in the summer of 2011.

My favorite store in Hungary. This bookstore is located at the corner of Andrássy út and Liszt Ferenc Tér in Pest.

BOOK REVIEW: Inside the Lion’s Den by Ken Shamrock

Inside the Lion's Den: The Life and Submission Fighting System of Ken ShamrockInside the Lion’s Den: The Life and Submission Fighting System of Ken Shamrock by Ken Shamrock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Inside the Lion’s Den is two (thin) books in one. The first, and longer, part is an autobiography of MMA fighter Ken Shamrock, and the latter part is a guide to his approach to submission fighting.

The first fifteen chapters form the biographical portion of the book. As is common in the modern biography, it doesn’t follow a chronological format. It begins at the height of Shamrock’s UFC career in the mid-1990s and introduces Shamrock and the Lion’s Den (his dōjō in California.) The book does, however, go back in chapter 3 and pick up with Shamrock’s childhood, beginning in 1969 in Savannah, Georgia. Shamrock had a suitably turbulent childhood to merit inclusion in the book. He lived with an abusive father and then a step-father unprepared for such a handful as Shamrock, before he ended up at the ranch of Bob Shamrock who would eventually become his adoptive parent and an important member of his entourage. Ken Shamrock had a raucous and—as is constantly repeated—rage-filled youth.

As might be expected of the biography of a fighter, one trained to psych himself up and psyche opponents out, the book can read a bit narcissistic in spots. Having said that, a fair amount of space in the biographical portion is devoted to topics beyond Shamrock’s fight career. There’s some space devoted to the development of UFC, but even more devoted to Shamrock’s fighters. There’s a chapter that follows a day of tryouts to get a slot as a Lion’s Den fighter. It’s entitled “500 Squats,” reflecting the fact that individuals must first do an insane number of squats as the first round of elimination during the tryouts. Later they’ll have to engage in sparring/rolling with legs burned out as an indicator of how the individual can gut it out. The book offers insight into how an individual goes about breaking into a career in Mixed Martial Arts.

An important theme of the biographical portion of the book is how Shamrock becomes less rage-prone and grows into an adult. This is both the result of the practice of martial arts and his familial relationships–most notably his spousal relationship. This is the human interest part of the story that centers around the man’s most prominent UFC accomplishments.

Perhaps the most important question one can ask about an autobiographical account is whether it’s accurate or not. There’s obviously an incentive to paint oneself in a more favorable light than an objective account might. There’s a professional co-writer of this book, Richard Hanner. One might expect that a professional journalist co-author would lend credulity to the work as that individual has a professional interest–based on reputation–in making sure the details are accurate. Whether Hanner’s presence lends credibility is hard for me to judge (he’s not a national name), but the work does read authentically. Shamrock, unlike politicians, admits many mistakes over the course of his life, and lets the reader know what his takeaway lessons were. Of course, as a public personality, there’s a lot that he couldn’t be duplicitous about if he wanted to, e.g. his fight record and details in the ring.

The last nine chapters are Shamrock’s guide to his submission fighting method. He covers a lot of ground from nutrition to advice for the day of a professional fight. Martial artists will not find a lot of groundbreaking information in this section, but rather will have to dig for nuggets of wisdom in the details. The submission techniques will be well-known to practitioners of judō, jujutsu, and submission fighting. The “crucifix” was the only technique I hadn’t seen before, and for all I know that one may be well-known to Greco-Roman / Pankration wrestlers. The photographs in this section are helpful in communicating Shamrock’s message, but are relatively sparse and small-format compared to the typical martial arts manual.

I enjoyed this book. Shamrock came across as an intriguing multi-dimensional character, and the manual offers a good overview and some important tips on subjects including nutrition, fitness, striking, grappling, and submissions.

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TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Smart TV Still Leads to Stupid

smartTVI learned the terms “hot media” and “cool media” during my weekend reading. These terms were coined by Marshall McLuhan, and don’t seem to have caught on outside of academia.

 

Hot media are information sources that are packed with data (often simultaneously transmitted to multiple sensory organs at once), and that require little or no interpretation or analysis on the part of the recipient. Television and movies are prime examples.

 

Cool media are those information sources that offer relatively little data, but which require the receiver to interpret, interpolate, analyse, and draw conclusions about the information they receive.  Books are the prime example of cool media.

 

There are people who proudly say, “I don’t have the time to read, but I only watch the Discovery Channel and Public Broadcasting.” If you think you’re getting smarter just like readers, you’re not. You’re still mainlining information, and the parts of your brain that have to exercise when you read (or otherwise take in information in an abstract form) are shut down.

 

 

I’m not suggesting one shouldn’t watch television, or that you can’t learn something from it. I’m just saying that if you don’t read, but try to educate yourself via TV, you are the intellectual version of this guy…

 

exercise

 

DAILY PHOTO: Under-Canopy Art Market

Taken on July 20, 2014 at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore

Taken on July 20, 2014 at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore

 

DAILY PHOTO: Royal Palace Chedi

Taken in October of 2012 in Phnom Penh

Taken in October of 2012 in Phnom Penh

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