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Most people can point to one event or person that marked a turning point in their life. I can name both. It was at the end of a college PE elective class during the second semester of my Junior year at the University of Georgia. I'd missed "Intro to Karate" offered the first semester, but the grad student instructor had said it'd be easy for me to join in.
It hadn't been easy, but I had started to think maybe I liked Karate. Three days before finals, I was introduced to a grad student sensei named Wayne Van Horne, who taught Sakugawa Koshiki Shorinji-ryu Karate-do (http://www.wiredaemons.com/shorinji/index.html). This was the true start of my journey in the martial arts, and eleven years later I have come to understand one definition of the Japanese term "On": a debt that can never be repaid to the one who gives; it can only be repaid through giving others what you yourself have been given. With that said, here are seven (of many) books, mostly related to the martial arts of Japan and Okinawa, that have helped me grow in my appreciation.
My copy of this book (it's been in print since 1960) has the original burlap cover. It's absorbed a lot of sweat from countless perusing while riding the
bus home after long sessions in the dojo. More a technical manual of karate
than a philosophical treatise, Nishiyama and Brown present techniques and terms
clearly and efficiently, and even after forty years, its excellent photography
keeps it one of the best "show and tell" karate books being published.
are several translations of this classic, written in 1643 by exceptional swordsman and
Japanese cultural hero Miyamoto Musashi. Each one has a "flavor", but
the overall messages in the text remain timeless. This is required reading for
any martial artist studying a Japanese art, and recommended reading for
martial artists in general. It is brutally pragmatic, scientifically aggressive,
decisively ruthless, and great. No wonder it's also essential reading
for businessmen around the world.
was one of the first books I ever read about the Samurai Code, and I can still
recall scratching my head in confusion. "Where is all the the stuff about fighting?"
I wondered. I kept reading. By the time I was finished I had completely
reevaluated what I thought a warrior should be. Though softened by turn of the century Victorian values ( it was written in 1899) I still
recommend this book as an introduction to the finesse and ethics of Bushido.
the past 10 years I've owned several copies of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind:
I just can't resist giving it away. In fact, my first copy was given to me by
a karate sensei who recommended I "not read it cover to cover, but instead read
whichever chapter I happen to open." I still follow this advice, and it never
disappoints. For me to go on and on about how this book inspires me, yet keeps
me grounded would miss the point, so I'll simply pull a favorite quote: "Without
any intentional, fancy way of adjusting yourself, to express yourself as you
are is the most important thing."
Morihei Ueshiba was dubbed "King of Soldiers"
for his skill with the bayonet and hardworking character while enlisted in the 37th regiment of the Fourth Division in Osaka.
Ueshiba (called O Sensei by aikidoka) wrote Budo in 1938 when he was 55, during the period most consider his physical
and mental prime. This was the only manual for which Ueshiba personally posed
for the technique photos. For anyone interested in learning aikido, and for
those who have practiced all their lives, this book is invaluable. Much has
been taught in the name of aikido; start with the best.
This one's on my table right
now, and though I'm only halfway through it, for
any karate-ka or kung fu student it's definitely worth reading. Like in his previous book, Zen Shaolin
Karate, Johnson uses his knowledge of martial arts history and Chan/Zen
Buddhism to make convincing arguments for viewing seemingly common techniques
in a whole new light. Students of karate-do will be especially interested in
Mr. Johnson's expositions on the Naifuanchin/Naihanchi/Tekki Katas; as a student
myself, I keep putting the book down and going over the kata I thought I knew
O Sensei taught the art he began developing in the 1920s, growing and refining it until his death in 1969. He had many Uchi Deshi (senior students) throughout that time, and many of them left to teach aikido on their own. Mitsugi Saotome was one of O Sensei's final Uchi Deshi, and his aikido reflects the last, graceful teachings of O Sensei. I have had the pleasure of attending two of Saotome Sensei's seminars, and was profoundly impressed by his skill as an instructor and the beauty of his spirit. And at those seminars I took ukemi (was thrown to the mat) more times than any sane person would endure. It was glorious.