March 3

Book Review: Oldman’s Bubishi by Mark Cook

I’ve just finished one of the most interesting martial arts books that occupies a place on my bookstand – Mark Cook’s Oldman’s Bubishi: An Introduction to Bunkai From Karate’s Kata.

Oldman’s Bubishi is an illustrated look at the Pinan / Heian katas, starring Oldman as the protagonist – a caricature, almost, of the author/illustrator himself – and his unnamed opponent.

While Shuri-ryu, our style of karate, does not formally teach the Pinan katas, many of the movements are similar to the Tai Kyoku exercises standardized by Gichin Funakoshi. The pattern for each is mostly the same, resembling an I or an H drawn out on the floor.

There are a few reasons why I like this book so much.

1. Hilarious Illustrations

It seems almost every other martial arts book out there has pictures showing what a would-be attacker and a would-be defender could be doing in any given scenario. As it well should. It’s much more effective – for me, at least – to see how a self-defense maneuver goes from step A to step B to step C, rather than read descriptive text.

Mr. Cook offers pictures, but they’re his own unique illustrations. First he demonstrates the individual movements of the kata, and then he shows what total to be dozens of applications from the moves in each of the five katas.

I like that Oldman often has sly grin on his face while his opponent lies in agony at his feet.

Oldman's Bubishi sample page2. Oldman Wants to Avoid Confrontation

Though it’s not called out anywhere, Oldman is seen a number of times in each illustration with his hands up, as if he’s saying he doesn’t want to fight.

He’s smart for several reasons. First, Oldman realizes the importance of nonverbal communication. We don’t need a bubble quote to see that Oldman wants to avoid the confrontation. Second, I suspect Oldman knows witnesses are present, even though we only see Oldman and the bully. By putting his hands up, witnesses can see that Oldman was not initiating the fight.

Most martial arts books only focus on the technique itself, and not what led up to the technique. This book is a bit different, as it shows that Oldman is trying to get out before things get bad. (Spoiler alert: things always get bad in this book, and Oldman always wins.) Even if it’s not explicitly mentioned, I love that this aspect of the dilemma is included.

3. Mark Cook is a Nice Guy

Unlike the majority of authors in my library, I met Mark for the first time in September at an Iain Abernethy seminar in Kansas City earlier this year. I remember getting something out of my bag the first night of the weekend when he introduced himself to me. While we didn’t get to work together that weekend, he was very friendly and I hope we get to practice with each other at a future seminar.

Oldman’s Bubishi is available for $24.50 if you live in the U.S., or $36.41 for anyone outside the States.

December 27

Book Review: Tai Chi Qigong by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

If you’ve ready any of my reviews here or here, you know that while I consider karate my primary art, I’m a sponge when it comes to gathering information about other styles of karate or martial arts in general.

In my last review, I explored qigong for the first time. I’ve practiced tai chi chuan for more than three years now, but qigong – or chi kung – is an element that is rarely covered in our class.

Tai Chi Qigong: The Internal Foundation of Tai Chi Chuan begins by covering the basics of qi, or chi – I’ll use qi because it’s the convention in the book. I would hazard a guess that most of the first chapter is the same as Dr. Yang’s Simple Qigong book. Either one will give you a decent primer on qigong. The only new stuff – for me, at least – in this book’s first chapter was covering a brief history of tai chi chuan, or taijiquan.

The key part of this book for me was the second chapter, which talks about yin and yang – the root of tai chi chuan.

Dr. Yang writes that the qigong series in this book are based on the theory of yin and yang: two opposing forces that must balance each other. “If the balance is insignificant, disaster will occur,” he says. “However, when these two forces combine and interact with each other smoothly and harmoniously, they manifest power an generate the millions of living things.”

By understanding this, he says, you’ll have a better idea of what you’ll accomplish in your practice.

He discusses still and moving meditation, breathing, mind and movement, and ways to classify tai chi chuan.

The third chapter brings together a number of pictures displaying how to perform the series he mentions. I personally find these chapters less useful than the theory sections since I would much rather learn movements from a live interaction or, at a distant second place, via video. I think there are many intricate movements we miss out on my trying to practice techniques from a book.

Luckily, there is a companion DVD.

If you’re interested in learning more about this book or about martial arts in general, leave a comment here or shoot me an email.

Resources:

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in order to review it.)

December 3

Book Review: Simple Qigong Exercises for Health

Several weeks ago, a student raised his hand in class to ask me what I knew about energy and chi. I warned the class, saying that I had no formal background in chi cultivation, but explained I had been reading a book in which the author discussed chi throughout his 300+ pages in The Power of Internal Martial Arts and Chi: Combat and Energy Secrets of Ba Gua, Tai Chi and Hsing-I by Bruce K. Frantzis.

In it, Mr. Frantzis tells a story at one point about feeling confident in his sparring ability against one of his teachers, only for that teacher to lodge energy in between his shoulder blades. He says the chi required several months of extensive massaging to relieve.

Needless to say, after reading that, to concept of using chi has seemed almost mystical to me. Since it was hard for me to wrap my mind around that idea, I sought out other ways to learn about it, and happened to come across a copy of Simple Qigong Exercises for Health: Improve Your Health in 10 to 20 Minutes a Day. I’d hoped this would help explain chi to me a little better. (Note here: Chi, qi, and ki are all the same thing. Chi kung is also the same as qigong. For the purposes of this review, I will refer to it as qi since that is how it appears in the book.)

For somebody who’s entirely new to qi, I would recommend this book.

“Qi is the energy or natural force that fills the universe,” Dr. Yang writes.

Three types of qi exists: heaven qi, earth qi and human qi. All of these energies must balance, according to the Chinese. Otherwise, we experience natural disasters – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes – and disease, among other things.

The bulk of this book focuses on the Eight Pieces of Brocade – both sitting and standing versions – exercises developed in China nearly 1,000 years ago by Marshal Yue, Fei in order to improve his soldiers’ health. Yue, Fei is described by Dr. Yang as “a great scholar of the Chinese classics… a brave and shrewd general who skillfully defeated the enemies of his country.”

By using the pieces, Dr. Yang says you’ll activate “the qi and blood circulation in your body, helping to stimulate your immune system, strengthen your internal organs, and give you abundant energy.”

Not only does he explain the theories involved in qigong practice, but he even has pictures to illustrate how to do the actual sets of exercises, plus an extensive glossary and index to help you find what you need.

If you’re like me, though, you’ll probably want the DVD. I’ve found books to be great for learning philosophy and history, but not so great for actual technique.

Resources:

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in order to review it.)

April 2

Do The Work To Achieve a Black Belt

A black belt is a white belt that never quit, according to the popular saying.

But how do we get there?

Do The Work

I could just end this post there.

Do the work.

Those are the only three words needed. You’ve got to do the work to get to black belt.

But in the interest of explanation, I want to delve a little bit further.

Do the Work! book cover

Do The Work!

I work in marketing for a relatively young company that is striving to attain a certain goal this year. This goal, though not impossible, will be difficult to achieve unless everybody is doing their part on the team. In other words, doing the work. Our CEO bought us a book called, coincidentally enough, Do The Work!, in which he hoped to inspire us to dig in for a long next several months in order to reap the benefits later on.

“Great story, Mr. Bockler,” you’re saying yourself. “But what does this mean to me as a martial artist?”

You Must Conquer Resistance

In order to do the work, author Steven Pressfield talks throughout his book about Resistance, “always lying and always full of (expletive).” Resistance, he says, is elicited by “any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity.”

Sounds a lot like working toward a black belt, doesn’t it?

Some common stumbling blocks we encounter as we work toward that next goal:

“The requirements are overwhelming.”

“I don’t have time to practice.”

“I’m not in good enough shape.”

So, what are we to do?

Just Do The Work

Pressfield identifies a few ways we can wrestle Resistance to the ground.

Stay stupid – “We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.”

Be stubborn – “When we’re stubborn, there’s no quit in us.”

Blind faith – “Our mightiest ally … is belief in something we cannot see, hear, touch, taste or feel.”

Passion – “Fear saps passion.”

Friends and family – “Only two things will remain with us across the river: our inhering genius and the hearts we love.”

Becoming a black belt is not easy. It’s like getting your a diploma from grade school, high school or college. It took you a long time to get there, and you had many tests – both literal and figurative – along the way, except the education just begins when you get that “final” reward.

Like everything else, if you want it bad enough, it’s yours. You’ve just go to do the work to get there.

Just remember: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Take your first step today. Join your first karate class for free this Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the Metamora Community Center.