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Singlets and Secrets is a must-read for martial arts practitioners. 

This first book in a new series by Joe Chianakas taps into the best and worst of the high school experience—both the fun, care-free bliss of being in your teens… as well as the awkward, uncomfortable, shortsightedness that comes with it. 

Joe Chianakas and Adam Bockler pose for a photo during a Singlets and Secrets book signing
Joe Chianakas and I pose at a Singlets and Secrets book signing in September 2023

Fourteen-year-old Aiden Rothe’s life is full of secrets, and his sexuality is only the tip of the iceberg. While his high school wrestling team views gay and strong as mutually exclusive, Aiden is determined to prove them wrong. It’s time for a gay athlete to take top prize… if only he wasn’t crushing hard on Mateo Hernandez, captain of the JV wrestling team and a major heartthrob. Locked out of the wrestling scene, Aiden finds an unlikely mentor in his English teacher, Lloyd Samuels, who introduces him to karate. When Aiden’s honesty about his sexuality backfires with some homophobic fellow students, Mr. S even steps in to protect him, creating a school martial arts club in the process. Once word gets around, there’s an exciting new challenge on campus—the championship wrestling team against a bunch of outsiders and underdogs. It’s the ultimate battle between the cool kids and the rebels. And for the main event? A showdown between Aiden versus Mateo. But can Aiden fight his first love and prove himself at the same time? Dripping with raw emotion, unexpected twists, and more than a dash of hope, Singlets and Secrets isn’t just more high school drama. It’s a deep dive into figuring out who you are and accepting it no matter what someone else may think—a heroic journey that speaks to the struggling teenager in us all.

My First Impression

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book.

When I went to a book signing Joe did to support him, he brimmed with excitement.

“It’s the book I always wanted as a teenager,” he told me. “It’s like the gay Karate Kid!”  

I was stoked for him, and I knew I’d read the book—I’d read and enjoyed his other writings, like Rabbit in Red. 

But, as a straight man in his mid-30s, I wasn’t sure I could connect to the experiences of a gay teenager in this book geared for young adults. 

Turns out I was wrong. 

I felt like I was back in high school again. 

For me, Aiden’s struggle was more than being gay in high school. It was about being different in a group… in high school. Being gay was how he was different, but not fitting in is a big no-no when you’re that age. 

Plus, I think anybody, regardless of age, struggles with being different in a group. We want to fit in. We want our peers to think we’re like them, and we fear what happens when we don’t. 

And, as we all know, hate crimes—including those against LBGTQI+ individuals—have increased, according to the FBI’s latest report

By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked. 

I instantly related to Aiden’s struggles to find himself as a teenager. 

And I instantly recognized the hate in the hearts of the book’s antagonists. 

Mr. Samuels

I want to hang out with Mr. Samuels. 

He strikes me as the person who doesn’t say much, but when they speak, you listen. 

Like Joe, I’ve met many martial arts people like Mr. S. who are calm, cool, and collected, but will shift to the next gear when needed, and fast. 

Mr. S. is the kind of guy who might’ve taught you everything you know, but hasn’t taught you everything he knows. 

The High School Experience

I could picture myself walking down the hallways of Aiden’s high school. 

Joe taught high school for a decade, so he knows very well the mind of a teenager and the ups and downs they navigate through their high school careers. 

I enjoyed the easter eggs throughout the book, especially that Mr. S’s room number was 208—the very same room number I visited Joe in for years. 

Everything about this book reminded me of my greatest memories from high school and my most awkward moments, making it totally relatable to me. 

Martial Arts vs. Wrestling

I could feel the animosity between the wrestlers and the martial artists. When wrestling was out of season, we were afforded the luxury of training in the wrestling room at our high school. 

But when wrestling was in season, we often had to scrounge up a workout area in the school. The wrestlers would start in the wrestling room, then find another place of the school to take over like a hallway or the stairs to do conditioning drills. I felt like I did karate in every nook and cranny of the high school except the bathroom. I know it was the wrestlers’ room, but it felt like mine. 

Just another example of how Singlets and Secrets felt all too real to me.

Final Thoughts

Read this book! 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager or an adult, Singlets and Secrets is a fun read. 

I’m glad this book is a series because the way Aiden’s freshman year ended, I have to know what happens to him during his high school years.

I can’t wait to see what Aiden does next. 

Adam Bockler

Adam Bockler is the head instructor for Metamora Martial Arts. He's practiced and taught martial arts for 20+ years, holds black belts in karate and tai chi chuan, and is also a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise.