Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My martial arts reading list

A Photo of the Martial Arts Book on a Corner of my Bookshelf
As my readers know, I was sidelined from working out this fall. This left me with time for reading. And being a man of limited interests, a number of the books that I read were about the martial arts. (Also, I watched some martial arts films but that is a different post.) Here's my thoughts.

One, life goes even without nightly workouts. I like going to the dojo and I missed it. I also like staying home and reading. All things in their season.

I read two books that focused on Mohammed Ali, American history, and boxing. King of the World and What's my Name, Fool?. What's my Name, Fool? by David Zirin is a highly political (radical left perspective), amateurishly written, and only for those who want to know about sports and political and social history in America. I read it cover to cover and enjoyed it. The idea of sports stars as rich role-models, which we take for granted today, is less than a hundred years old. One of his views is that sports gives the poor a chance at stardom either directly or vicariously which conceals how exploitative and destructive the system is to the masses. An extreme view. In contrast, King of the World by David Remnick is great and is my pick of the group. If you are only going to read one book, you should read Remnicks. It covers both Ali's amazing history and our own amazing national history as the two unfold together. Note that some of it is the same history covered by Zirin but Remnick is a better more-balanced writer. Rrankly, the truth is so strange, there's no need to exaggerate.

Rope Burns is a collection of short stories by F. X. Toole, one of which is the basis of the hit Clint Eastwood film: Million Dollar Baby. The stories show the sordid side of boxing; the corruption, the has-beens and never-weres, the trainers, and the overall sad pattern of exploitation, disappointed dreams, scams, cheats, fixed matches, and life-wrecking injuries. It's very well-written and painful to read. I think I finished it but reluctently.

On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates. She is considered a great literary writer and the book is considered the classic book on boxing. If she wasn't, I'd be tempted to say that the book was written with an excess of the romantic and metaphoric and psychological. It's a series of essays by someone in love with boxing both for it's own sake and for what it represents. Much talk of the "primal nature of two near naked men fighting before a chearing crowd"; the fact that boxers ultimately are fighting against a mirror image of themselves (ie all struggles are internal); that writers and boxers train in private but ultimately, display their finished product in public for either humiliation or vindication; and that fighters, like all men, strive to be viral potent men but that in the end, we all fail and die and are forgotten.

A Fighter's Heart by Sam Sheridan is "One Man's Journey through the World of Fighting." Sam joined the marines after high school then went to Harvard, graduating in 1998. He trains in the muay thai camps in Thailand, works on his BJJ in Rio, and trains MMA in the US. He's an extremist who even spends time checking out illegal dog fighting in the US to see if their concept of heart is the same as for human fighters.

Becoming the Natural by Randy Couture, I haven't read yet.



BBat50 said...

WHAT? No comments! On average, each post gets 2-3 comments. I've left this one up at the top for a full week and there's zero comments. Has nobody read anything of interest? Any comments on these books?

Anonymous said...

The classics are always worth reading and re-reading: the book of five rings, the art of war, on war by Clausewitz (more about war than the martial arts per se but any book about conflict and strategy should be of interest to a student of the Ma), tao of jeet-kune-do. Hagakure or any decent work on Bushido will always captivate my interest.

Anonymous said...

The one book where the man checks out "US Dog Fighting" made me sick, and I had to get off. I believe there is an evil in people who participate in training these dogs, and the ones that enjoy the bloodshed. A Human Being has the decision to train and participate. The animals are forced by brutal means, and there is absolutely NO REASON for this CRUELTY! Not mad at you, just to read that makes my blood boil! I do enjoy your website though, and admire the dedication you have to becoming a Black Belt...and beyond. I just turned 52, about to get my Orange Belt, and are also dedicated to become a Black Belt. Peace