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5 Important Books on Martial Arts Not Often Talked About

Open book on the table

Growing up, did you often hear that you’ll grow up to be like the people you surround yourself with?

That advice is something that is stuck in between the ears of many of us and yet, it has more depth than many at first notice. First, yes – it is important to bear in mind the company we keep. If we surround ourselves with high quality people, we often unconsciously elevate ourselves to the same level of excellence. Of course, the unfortunate opposite can be true if we carry the company of lazy and sloven folks.

Here’s where it gets tricky however. We don’t just assimilate to the people we hang out with on the weekends. We assimilate to our environment – the media we consume, the thoughts and words we entertain, and the places we frequent.

To send our improvements into hyperdrive, we have to take stock of what we are unconsciously digesting and ensure it is high quality and aligned with what we desire.

With that being said, it can be so hard to find the gorgeous treasure of helpful information when there is so much to sift through out there in the wide world.

Breathe. Wipe the worried sweat off of your forehead. I’ve got your back!

Listed below our five written resources you can delve into to kickstart the elevation of your environment.

Black Belt Mag Articles

Sword and Brush by Dave Lowry

This book is something of a modern classic – the type of book I would recommend for every martial artist, regardless of where their style originated.

The book starts off by covering the mentality of what makes an art, the history of both the blade and the calligraphic art, the evolution of the poetic mentality in Japan, and the cultural backdrop of feudal Japan.

Following the introduction, the book dives into forty-two Japanese concepts, each chapter consisting of one to three pages.

Despite the short length of the book, you can tell that each concept was well researched and understood.

Even the most complex concepts, the ones which easily could have had a whole book dedicated to them, felt as if they were an appropriate size. Each page’s prose is amazingly concise and no chapter feels rushed. Each chapter cuts right to the heart of the matter, wasting no words to give you a crash course into the creation and purpose of the character.

Every chapter is headlined by the Kanji character(s) for the martial art concept, illustrated in both the sōsho style (the artistic and quick drawn “cursive” writing style) and kaisho style (the modern style of writing that is standard nowadays).

Following the calligraphic art, the book delves into the philosophical, cultural, and historical roots of each martial art concept. Despite the book’s usage of Japanese terminology and intention to relate primarily to Japanese arts, a good martial artist will be able to easily find the relation of each lesson to other culture’s arts.

The book often goes beyond the literal translation, delving much deeper instead into the picture the character is trying to impart on your mind. Sometimes the chapter will simply be a descriptive read on the radicals comprising the characters. Sometimes it is something more, however, such as a parable about a master teaching a senior student how to help his younger classmate gain more benefit from his training.

The bite-sized chapters make for an excellent morning meditative read, a five-minute session that will give you something to ponder for the remainder of the day.

Refining Jin by Philip Starr

It is an absolute delight to see quality instruction on the internal martial arts written for the public. Author Phillip Starr has an engaging style of writing that communicates his high level of knowledge in a fun manner. Few people attempt to write professionally on the details mentioned in Refining Jin and fewer still can do it successfully.

Refining Jin takes the smart approach to imparting skills; Phillip Starr gives you a few basic movements and builds on them each chapter. This method allows for tacking on many details of how to move your body without seeming overwhelming.

Refining Jin finishes by showing common places within the three popular Neijia where you can apply the ideas mentioned. That’s not to say that you can’t apply these ideas in any other martial art styles however. Act like a scientist and explore your style. After reading the book, I’m sure you will be able to look back at your martial art and find places to incorporate what was written.

Black Belt Plus

Research of Martial Arts by Jonathan Bluestein

Jonathan Bluestein’s Research of Martial Arts is an impressive compendium of martial arts theory, discussion, and overall knowledge.

The beginning of the book states that everything written between the covers has meaning. After finishing my first read-through, I have to concur—the prose of each chapter feels very purposeful and guides you into thinking deeper about its contents. The amount of heart stuffed inside the large book is enormous!

Jonathan Bluestein’s Research of Martial Arts presents many different approaches the various arts take to applications and training and treats them all fairly. While you can tell he has preferences and deeply enjoys the Eastern Internal arts, you can also tell he doesn’t disregard an idea simply because it is occidental or External.

Case and point, at times you can read a passage about Taiji principles and theory and the next passage can point you towards studying the works of security specialists such as Gavin de Becker.

The contents of Research of Martial Arts are akin to something you may hear in a personal session with a modern master, the type of info rarely found in published works.

Philosophy of Fighting by Keith Vargo

Keith Vargo’s Philosophy of Fighting is a very unique treasure to add to the book collection. The book itself is a compilation of the many “Way of the Warrior” columns Vargo has written for Black Belt Magazine. Topics range from psychoanalysis of the warrior ideal, Hindu epics, Balintawak history, no-holds-bared fighting tournaments, and much more. Even as a short read with fewer than three hundred pages, there is plenty of information to indulge in.

As should be expected from a compilation of magazine columns, readers get a deep dive into the author’s unadulterated mind. This makes for a very engaging read. Transforming the written words on the page into something akin to a conversation between two martial art classmates.

When you read the author’s words, you realize something extremely important; he is a passionate and appreciative martial artist quite like you. Even if you don’t have the same interest in sport combat that Vargo has, his passion is infectious, pulling you into the pages regardless. Beyond that, the depth of which he examines everything brings to light many ideas all martial artists can benefit from hearing.

Martial Art Drills

Ninja Fighting Techniques by Stephen K. Hayes

Simply said, this is a book dedicated to understanding yourself and, by that introspective glimpse, understanding those around you. This is to know the conflicting and complementary aspects of who you are so that you can better communicate with those around you. These tips apply whether you perceive the person in front of you as your enemy or your ally.

Ninja Fighting Techniques segments into three pieces. The first segment gives you a brief overview of what to expect as you delve deeper into the book. The two chapters that compose it give readers a glimpse into the principles the book founds itself on: being a positive warrior who can protect that which is truly important, the Japanese view on the Classical Elements and their connected differences, and the many ugly faces violence and aggression can take.

The second segment contains chapters for each of the five elements in Japanese philosophy as well as their corresponding tactics. The five classical elements in Japan, known as the Godai, are recognized as Earth (地 Chi), Water (水 Sui), Fire (火 Ka), Wind (風 Fu), and Void (空 Ku).

Author Stephen K. Hayes takes each of these elements and puts them on full display for the reader. The elements show in emotions, tactics and interactions, attitudes, and even postures and movements. The applications of the Godai extend from daily living to a life-or-death struggle.

The third segment is dedicated to the overall protection against violence and human ugliness. While the preceding segments focused on cultivating the ninja mentality and how to utilize it best, the final segment focuses on how to maintain and keep that noble spirit alive.

This is a book on how to live a better, healthier, and safer life by following the principles of Japanese philosophy and ninja ideas.

~There you have it. Five must-reads for every martial artist.

It is said that a good book can transform decades into days, funneling the ideas accumulated by others over a long period of time into your brain with the flip of a page.

Are you ready to seriously upgrade? Time to open up a book and transform your world!

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