it’s been a while since my last post. this is a strange time in our life indeed. a bizarre mixture of great change and upheaval alongside mind numbing monotony. at times it looks like time itself has stood still and then all of a sudden one realises that whole months have gone past.

it is a period characterised by many changes, many unpleasant, but some that could benefit us and as such we might want to maintain even once this pestilence is vanquished. one such change born out of necessity is online social interaction. we resorted to meeting online in order to continue training and later on we formed a discussion group fondly called “the armchair karateka” in which we discuss various aspects of karate.

our last online session took place last saturday and the chosen topic was books about karate and martial arts. in this post i will cover the various titles we discuss.

the first book we reviewed was Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger. the book tells the story of a brit who lived in japan for a while and decided to take up a martial art and chose aikido. the book tells through very vivid descriptions about the arduous training regime he endured and life in japan in general. whilst it doesn’t give much insight into the mechanics of aikido nor martial arts in general it is a pleasant and worthwhile read that tells the story of one man’s journey. the edition i read has the tagline “a normal bloke becomes a deadly weapon” which gives the allusion that at some point in the book there will be a story of a confrontation where the hero’s skill is tested, however that never happens. neil revealed that his edition features a different tagline reading “an Oxford poet trains with the riot police”, which is much more accurate in describing the main theme of the book.

next neil reviewed Karate Stupid by sensei Scott Langley. in karate stupid scott langley tells his story of attending the JKA instructors’ course. the main theme of the book is in a way similar to the one above with the differences being that on the one hand the book is about karate and shotokan karate in particular, but on the other that Robert Twigger is probably the better writer. the release of the book ultimately led to scott langley and the JKA parting ways as they were unhappy with they langely’s portrayal  of the course and the association by extension.

after that neil produced some DVDs from his extensive library including titles by sensei Frank Brennan, sensei Richard Amos (WTKO), sensei John Bruke (specialises in bunkai), and the late sensei Hirokazu Kanazawa (SKIF). from there we discussed the benefits and scope of learning from video especially in the current circumstance. the general consensus was that the lack of feedback was a major drawback.

next richard, who also practices aikido, presented Aikido – the Tomiki Way by Neil Saunders. the book provides a brief introduction about aikido, but is mostly a technical manual of aikido techniques.

from there, combining the two topics – aikido and videos – i talked about the youtube channel of an aikidoka who trained for 14 years until he realised it did not live up to its promise of and effective self-defence system and so made the transition into MMA. whatever you think about aikido or martial arts in general it is a very honest and inspiring personal story of a person with tremendous integrity.

that led into a discussion about practical self-defence at which point neil produced two books by Rory Miller: Meditations on Violence and Facing Violence. Rory Miller worked in the US correctional system and had to face a multitude real life violent situations that informed his approach to developing effective strategies for dealing with such circumstance, which also cover legal and psychological aspects.

we then went into discussing a plethora of self-defence issues and fighting systems including Israeli Krav Maga, Russian Systema, and ultimately discussed the karate concept of “one punch, one kill” and whether it holds true. at this point neil produced a book with the promising title of Shotokan’s Secret by Bruce Clayton, a book that pertains to reveal the hidden origins of shotokan karate and the secret therein, a book that neil admitted to never finishing.

next richard introduced Autism and Martial Arts by Dr Sandra Beale-Ellis, which is a martial arts guide for people on the autistic spectrum aimed at students, parents and instructors. the author is a 6th dan karateka and holds a degree in education with a focus on autism. richard also presented Ki and the Way of the Martial Arts by Kenji Tokitsu, which explores the cultivation of one’s inner energy (ki).

i then presented a book recommended to me by neil – the Sports Gene by David Epstein. as i have only just started the book i cannot give a full review, but its tagline of “talent, practice and the truth about success”, is reflected well in the opening chapter. the book examines what really contributes more towards success – talent or practice.

from there we talked about zanshin and whether it was merely experience gained through training as opposed to some kind of unique intuition which is divined in the dojo. we also discussed how training can engender behavioral changes that in their own right make one less likely to become embroiled in a fight.

finally neil present The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. neil described it as “not a comfortable read”, but one that “would change the way you think”. the book discusses the importance of tuning in to our innate primordial sense of fear in order to avoid dangerous situations. neil summed up his review with “buy it. read it.”


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