Five Books

As you can understand, writing an article that will in some way help or possibly influence your training is a difficult task to take on, especially for someone as simple as me.  With this in mind I’ve decided to take the easy way out by listing five books that have directly influenced my training.

Taijutsu is an art of “doing.”  You must do it to learn it, long term physical training on a regular basis is essential.  Watching videos, reading books and talking about it will not, unless coupled with physical training, improve your movement within this art.  That said, I do believe that media and talk do have a place within the training.  In many cases, when approached from the right direction and at the right time, they has a way of opening doors to areas of your training that may have been previously unaccessible, as opposed to instilling intellectual knowledge about the subject of the art separate from training.  At least this is my experience.

Unfortunately the timing of the reading or talk or video and its connection to your training is crucial.  Both teachers and students should be patient and not underestimate the value when considering this.

As you can understand, writing an article that will in some way help or possibly influence your training is a difficult task to take on, especially for someone as simple as me.  With this in mind I’ve decided to take the easy way out by listing five books that have directly influenced my training.

I could list more but space and time can be confining for someone of my ability.  I’m not going to list out the specific changes that have taken place within my training as a result of reading these books.  I feel this information should be given directly when and if the time is right, or not at all in many cases.  Bottom line, our experience is separate and I wouldn’t want you to manufacture a false experience or understanding simply because you have intellectual knowledge of mine.  After all, we are learning an art.  I will also say that I have no doubt that many of you have already read at least a couple of these books and they may or may not have had direct influence on your training.  For me these are gems that I have picked up and read again and again.  If you’ve read them and put them aside, I urge you to take them up again.  If you haven’t read them, maybe try something new, the timing may be right. 

zen_way_to_the_martial_artsThe book that has had the most direct impact on my training is Taisen Deshimaruâ’s perfect The Zen Way to the Martial Arts.  This is quite an obvious pick, but because of the impact it’s had on my training I didn’t want to leave it out.  If you’re unfamiliar I urge you to invest the time and money in this book.  Only 120 pages, most can devour it in one sitting, but for me it will be a lifetime read.  Here is a quote from the introduction, a beautiful piece in itself written by George Leonard:

Master Deshimaru tells us of three stages that are common to Zen and the martial arts.  The first, shojin, is the period of training in which the will and conscious effort are involved, and which generally takes some three to five years of diligent practice.  In Zen, this first period culminates with the shiho or transmission.  The second stage is the period of concentration without consciousness, after the shiho.  The disciple is at piece.  In the third stage, the spirit achieves true freedom.

u_g_pThe rest of the books I will put in no specific order.  But I will begin with Masaaki Hatsumi and Ben Cole’s Words of Consequence: Understand? Good. Play! Again, an obvious choice but a worthy one.  I can open this book at any moment and find perfection and beauty.  More importantly, it continues to impact my daily training.  It’s a hard one to find if you don’t already own it.  Last I checked copies go for around $300 to $400 on ebay and may be going for more now.  It’s well worth the investment.  It would be great if Ben did a second run or pushed out a paperback, but don’t hold your breath.  In the meantime your training is ticking away. So find a copy of this book and refer to it often.   With respect here is a piece of Soke Masaaki Hatsumi’s forward:

This is not a book for which I alone will thank Ben, this is the kind of book for which buyu all over the world, and all people desiring significant books as human beings, will be thankful.

I think this truth says it all, for me this book is the written embodiment of Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.

direction_of_play Next I have The Direction of Play by Takeo Kajiwara.  This book might not be for everyone, but I am speaking of my own direct experience.  I love to play Go, a true martial art in itself.  As with Taijutsu I am not that good and quite a slow learner.  An amazingly complex game that takes two minutes to learn, but can take a lifetime of study only to play at a rudimentary level.  As with other martial arts, kyu and dan ranks are awarded.  Go is so difficult that there are pseudo ranks to help keep newbies straight.  I am not so proud to admit that I’ve made it to the grand rank of 11th kyu, not even white belt.  Anyway, this is not about Go, but this book that had a direct influence on my Taijutsu training is.  Within the book we find a complex breakdown of positions and how individual stones influence the battlefield or the two bodies of stones as a whole.  I do want to say that I’m not really recommending that you run out and buy this book if you have no understanding of Go.  It is advanced in the sense that it assumes you have played several games and you understand what it means to win and loose both individual conflicts and wars on the Go board.  I will also add though that your Taijutsu may be helped, as mine has, by learning and playing Go on a very basic level.  Here’s a quote from the author’s introduction:

In Go each stone, whether it stands alone or with others, is invested with a power all its own.  Naturally, that power acts in a certain direction depending on how all the stones on the board interact.  Accurately pinpointing this direction and finding the right move to match it means having a sense of direction, an intuitive skill that is vital for real strength.

first_kyuFirst Kyu by Sung-Hwa Hong.  Another book about Go which was originally written in Korean, then later translated into English by the author.  English not being his native language, the book does seem to lose some feeling along the way, but the story is great.  A fascinating look at ranking within the Go world and the world of martial arts as a whole.  I have no quote from this book or long explanation, instead I will simply say that in martial arts everyone has an individual interpretation of rank, whether it be in giving, receiving, teaching, comparing or understanding — rank matters.  This story examines this point inside the Go world and beyond.

novice_to_masterLastly I have Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity by Soko Morinaga.  This is Morinaga Roshi’s autobiography which centers on his own difficulties with simply relaxing through life and getting out of his own way.  An engaging and funny story that stopped me in my tracks.  Here’s the first paragraph from Morinaga Roshi:

If I were to sum up the past forty years of my life, the time since I became a monk, I would have to say that it was an ongoing lesson in the extent of my on stupidity.  When I speak of my stupidity, I do not refer to something that is innate, but rather to the false impressions that I have cleverly stockpiled, layer upon layer, in my imagination.

That ends the five and my humble list.  Thanks so much for taking the time to read.  I will leave you with another quote from Morinaga Roshi:

And as I have mentioned, when I end a lecture, I often ask everyone to please forget everything I have just said.  But nonetheless, it is my earnest desire that this clumsy narrative be a stimulus that may, in some way, help you to lead your own life…

Hoping I can help, and happy reading.

— Rob

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