BOOK REVIEW: Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method: Advanced Techniques by Bruce Lee & M. Uyehara

Bruce Lee's Fighting Method: Advanced Techniques, Vol. 4Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method: Advanced Techniques, Vol. 4 by Bruce Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book presents a collection of Jeet Kune Do [JKD] techniques, JKD being the martial art developed by Bruce Lee to rectify what he believed were fundamental problems in martial arts, such as: elaborate techniques that have little chance of working in actual combative situations and ignorance of large swaths of the combative domain (e.g. grapplers ignoring striking, and strikers ignoring grappling.) Interestingly, Lee has come to be viewed as a herald of the mixed martial arts (MMA) movement. That said, this book exclusively focuses upon a small collection of hand-strikes and kicks.

There are a few principles that recur throughout the book that are key to JKD and are where the value of the book lies. First, there is a focus on feints to trigger a reaction, the technique being applied as the opponent is reacting to a false attack. Second, the avoidance of complex and compound attacks whenever possible in favor of simple and direct tactics (if they will work.) Third, the use of direct, linear movements to stop attacks in progress.

The downside of this book is the author’s penchant for long, over-extended kicks. Lee emphasized the importance of speed, and speed would be essential for many of these techniques to have practical value. The reason one doesn’t see such techniques (as a fighter’s “go-to” tactic) much anymore is that the kicker’s foot has to travel a couple / few meters while the receiver only has to move centimeters to be offline and in position to catch the kick and dump the kicker. Ergo, one tends to only see widespread use of such techniques in Tae Kwon Do, where the rules and culture support huge kicks.

I learned a lot from reading this book, and I particularly value its emphasis on simplicity and avoidance of convoluted methods. That said, I think the reader needs to see the book as representing one stage in an evolution of martial arts.


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Jo-Ha-Kyū [Free Verse]

Eye-to-Eye.

circling
&
jockeying for position,

playing with the distance
through subtle shifts,

then testing the distance,
engaging in exchanges

Thrust - Parry - Retreat - Repeat

moving faster,
the interval of exchanges 
ever shortening

then --
in one instant --

it's done.

BOOK REVIEW: Enter the Dangal by Rudraneil Sengupta

Enter the Dangal: Travels through India's Wrestling LandscapeEnter the Dangal: Travels through India’s Wrestling Landscape by Rudraneil Sengupta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Enter the Dangal offers a fascinating discussion of the sport of wrestling in India, be it the dirt-pit Kushti variety or on the mats in the highest stage the sport has to offer, the Olympics. Sengupta offers a glimpse into the fully formed subculture that exists around akhada, live-in wrestling academies. We see India’s wrestling world through both the tradition- and virtue-oriented training grounds that produced greats like Gama and Sushil Kumar, but the book also takes forthright dips into the darker reaches of the sport.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part both provides background and tells the story of one of the most profound experiences of modern Indian wrestling, Sushil Kumar’s match for the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics [he took silver.] The second part explores the long wave of the rise and fall of Indian wrestling, and the third part takes the reader back to the golden age of wrestling, telling of the international matches of Gama and the movement by some Indian wrestlers into both the legitimate and staged wrestling domains of Europe and America.

There are two discussions that I found particularly intriguing. First, there’s the matter of women entering this all-male domain. Historically, not only did women not wrestle, mothers and sisters didn’t even go to the akhada to see their son’s and brother’s training. Second, the book answers an interesting question: why is India such a non-contender in the Summer Olympic games? [India falls between Uzbekistan and Ireland for total Summer Olympic medals, not even making the top 50 – which, for a country of its size and talent pool across a range of body types, is pretty dismal performance.] The answer is rooted in patriarchy, corruption, and downstream problems resulting from those problems (i.e. lack of best practices vis-à-vis sports science and poor facilities.)

I found this book to be compelling read and would highly recommend it for those wishing to learn more about wrestling in India.

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BOOK REVIEW: Training and Conditioning for MMA ed. by Dias / Oliveira / Brauer & Pashkin

Training and Conditioning for MMA: Programming of ChampionsTraining and Conditioning for MMA: Programming of Champions by Stéfane Beloni Correa Dielle Dias
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Release Date: September 15, 2022 [It may already be out in some formats and markets]

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This book provides an overview of fitness building for Mixed Martial Arts athletes. It covers program design, athletic assessment, nutrition, exercises and conditioning practices, and injury prevention methods. On the positive side, it’s not only comprehensive, but – also – presents some of the best and latest methods in combative sports training based on sound scientific research. On the other hand, the book does assume a certain level of understanding of sports science, and it gets pretty deep in the weeds with respect to technical detail and to scientific and specialty jargon. If one doesn’t have such background, one may find some of the content (particularly the early chapters) a bit daunting. That said, it offers an excellent reference for those who are interested in methods and sports science not just for MMA, but for combative sports, in general.

The book uses color photographs throughout. I found the photos to be clear, well-sized, and well-lit. While there is definitely an attempt to keep the number of photos to a reasonable level, they do offer multiple angles where necessary and – generally – give enough pictures to make the action clear. There are also tables after each of the methods sections to give a handy summary of sets, reps, and scheduling suggestions for various exercises. In the early chapters, the ones that convey more technical content, there’re charts, graphs, and diagrams as needed. There’s an extensive bibliography, though it should be noted many if not most of the references are not in English. (The team of editors and contributors is large and international.)

This book offers an excellent reference for coaches, trainers, and athletes. While it does get quite technical, it’s great that it offers insight into cutting edge science and training methods.


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BOOK REVIEW: Scientific Self-Defense by W.E. Fairbairn

Scientific Self-DefenseScientific Self-Defense by W.E. Fairbairn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Fairbairn was a fascinating character, and I read this book largely out of historical curiosity. He was on the Shanghai Police force, where he was regularly involved in physical altercations. Then, during the Second World War, he taught close-quarters combat to Allied nation commandos. While this book is a self-defense manual (and, as such, is technique-centric,) it’s interesting to see what Fairbairn came up with when building his own self-defense system (which he called “Defendu,”) taking a background in Judo, Jiu-jitsu, and other martial arts and applying it to practical self-defense situations. The book includes a mix of techniques for countering grappling and weapon attacks as well as holds, take-downs, and some stick and truncheon techniques. There are a number of specialty items thrown in such as binding an opponent.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for individuals interested in learning self-defense. This isn’t a challenge of Fairbairn’s qualifications, which were impressive both on paper and in terms of real-world experience. There were three things I disliked about the book as a self-defense manual. First, Fairbairn did not seem to be a believer in the “don’t let your ego write checks you’re not willing to cash with your body.” He’s not much of an advocate for running away screaming, even when the situation would allow that option. To be fair, most of Fairbairn’s students were police officers and military personnel – i.e. not individuals with the same range of options as a civilian. Secondly, the book is loaded with statements about it being a “simple matter to do ‘x’” along side pictures of ragdoll (passive) opponents, and this could build a fatal misapprehension of what will happen against an opponent who is resisting and applying counter-techniques. Finally, a major point of building a self-defense system is to weed out the techniques from martial arts that are too complex for an individual who isn’t training daily and who isn’t used to commanding his body under intensely stressful situations. Therefore, one avoids complex techniques, or ones that require a high degree of precision. It’s hard to justify including techniques such as juji-gatame (a ground armbar technique that is challenging to apply, but especially as it’s demonstrated – i.e. from a standing takedown.)

If you want to know more about what was being taught in the early twentieth century with respect to self-defense based on jiu-jitsu, the book is interesting. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for those interested in knowing more about self-defense.

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DAILY PHOTO: Indian Weapon Display

Taken in September of 2017 at the Government Museum of Bangalore

Ma-Ai: The Ideal Interval [Free Verse]

there is a ma-ai

-- an ideal interval --

the perfect gap
in space & time
& space-time

there's a ma-ai:

between setup and punchline
&
between punchline and laugh

between inhalation 
&
exhalation

between listening
&
speaking

between receiving
&
countering

between swinging
&
hitting

too rushed and momentum
is smothered

to slow and momentum
dissipates

there is a ma-ai
for all things that move.

BOOK REVIEW: Shang-Chi, Vol. 1: Brothers & Sisters by Gene Luen Yang

Shang-Chi by Gene Luen Yang, Vol. 1: Brothers & SistersShang-Chi by Gene Luen Yang, Vol. 1: Brothers & Sisters by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This five-issue story arc tells the tale of an intra-family battle for control of the Five Weapons Society, a kung fu dynasty that dates back at least to the Boxer Rebellion. With the patriarch deceased, sides form behind Shang-Chi, on the one hand, and Sister Hammer, on the other. While close as young children, Shang-Chi and Sister Hammer grew up separated, and could not have turned out more differently. Shang-Chi (aka. Brother Hand) has been reluctantly drawn into the conflict by virtue of his being the “chosen one,” and by having the support of Brother Sabre and (to a lesser degree) Sister Dagger. Sister Hammer has raised an army and is bent on taking over the dynasty by whatever means necessary.

So, this is one of those stories that’s not about a purely good hero against a purely evil villain, the latter needing to be completely destroyed, but rather it’s about the need for catharsis and reconciliation. But that doesn’t keep the comic from being loaded with action. We also see a protagonist who experiences a change, which is a story convention that is often jettisoned in the action genre. Shang-Chi must move past his reluctance, and embrace his role in the family.

I found this comic to be compelling and worth reading.


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BOOK REVIEW: Karate Science by J.D. Swanson

Karate Science: Dynamic MovementKarate Science: Dynamic Movement by J.D. Swanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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When I picked up this book, I did so with the hope that it would be to striking as Jiichi Watanabe’s excellent book “The Secrets of Judo” [now sold as “The Art and Science of Judo”] is to grappling. That didn’t turn out to be the case. If Watanabe’s book has a fifty / fifty split between science and judo, Swanson’s book is about 80 percent Karate manual and 20 percent science. It’s a fine book about karate techniques, but if you want to understand biomechanics and how to optimize your movement, I think you can do better (particularly, if you would like insights that apply beyond Okinawan Karate.)

The book had two failings, keeping it from living up to its potential. First, it didn’t use graphics as well as it could have to help the reader visualize what is being said, or to point out the subtleties under discussion. Second, it generally presents the science at a shallow level. I’d been pleased to see that there was a chapter on breath, because I think that’s one of the most important and under-discussed factors in any system of movement (martial or otherwise.) However, I was disappointed to see that there wasn’t much to it besides some philosophizing about ki-ai.

There were a few valuable tid-bits here and there, points about which the book adds to one’s scientific / bodily understanding. The best example of this is probably the discussion of Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP,) which is where the book most shines with respect to offering some food for thought.

If you study Okinawan Karate and are looking for discussions about the difference between how various schools perform techniques, this may be the book for you. However, if you’re expecting some science in a book entitled “Karate Science,” I suspect you can do better.


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BOOK REVIEW: Transforming Trauma with Jiu-Jitsu by Jamie Marich & Anna Pirkl

Transforming Trauma with Jiu-Jitsu: A Guide for Survivors, Therapists, and Jiu-Jitsu Practitioners to Facilitate Embodied RecoveryTransforming Trauma with Jiu-Jitsu: A Guide for Survivors, Therapists, and Jiu-Jitsu Practitioners to Facilitate Embodied Recovery by Jamie Marich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: March 15, 2022

This book proposes that jiu-jitsu can be beneficial and therapeutic for those with trauma-related conditions (e.g. PTSD,) and it offers advice and insight to martial arts teachers, therapists, as well as trauma survivors considering jiu-jitsu. I’m curious to see how much merit these ideas prove to offer. By that, I mean neither to insult the bona fides of the authors, nor even to foreshadow skepticism. What I am saying is that this proposition isn’t one that’s been studied thoroughly and systematically. [The authors acknowledge as much. They’re at the vanguard of an idea here.] Therefore, the good news is that the book is bleeding edge, but the bad news is that it’s based largely on anecdotal evidence and the application of tried concepts to an untried (and quite unique) domain.

On one hand, few activities can teach one: breath control, now-centric living, command of emotions, and increased comfort with being in close proximity to people (who may seem physically intimidating) like the martial arts. Those all feel like positive features for a trauma survivor, and some of them (e.g. breath control) are addressed extensively in the book. On the other hand, the way martial arts teach one to keep one’s focus in the moment is via the pressure of an attacker – defender dynamic. If one is triggered by intense, seemingly aggressive activity, that’s hard to reconcile with the nature of the martial arts — which should always be safe but do necessitate a certain degree of intensity to mentally prepare students for a combative experience.

As I read through the panoply of challenges that might arise – from inability to train with someone who looks vaguely like one’s attacker to not being able to be experience a mount (one of the most fundamental jiu-jitsu positions) – I often had the feeling I’d have in response to a book entitled, “CrossFit for the Severely Arthritic” [i.e. not all fine objectives work together.] The authors do discuss alternatives like private lessons and specialized workshops / classes, but those are more realistic solutions in some cases others. (i.e. I feel that few of the dojos I’ve been in could afford to offer the range of classes for special demographics that are mentioned [workshops, probably.] But there’re only a few hours a day one can hold classes that people who can afford to attend aren’t working, and paying rent on a larger space on the amount that can be earned from those few hours a day is daunting enough.) If you can attend special trainings for trauma survivors, the book’s guidance all seems quite workable. But, otherwise, I had to wonder to what degree one could accommodate those with these needs without losing those who feel they benefit from the existing approach. [e.g. Many dojos I’ve been in used a rotation scheme so that everybody trained with everybody else, and in virtually all there was an expectation of a certain level of decorum and discipline of behavior on the mat — e.g. not wandering off in the middle of practice, not holding side conversations, and not picking / choosing what techniques one will / won’t practice. (All of which, were activities mentioned that could happen in the trauma-sensitive school, and all of which I feel I benefited from having trained out of me.)]

There was a tremendous amount of useful information in the book. How to recognize an individual has been triggered. How to best respond. It’s certainly worth reading for those reasons alone, and – maybe – they’re onto something.

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