There are three books that I have been reading/re-reading lately. Each of them deserves a post on its own (one of them already has), but for now I thought I’d err on the side of brevity and talk briefly about each one.
The first is a book that I’ve written about before: Stepping Off the Mat, by Rick Berry Sensei. How often have you met an instructor who has impressed you not just with their technique, but with their attitude toward life? How often have you liked at that person and said: “If only this person would write a book!” In this case, Berry Sensei did write a book, and it is one I continue to return to repeatedly. For those of you who train in aikido, I cannot recommend enough the opportunity to see aikido training through Berry Sensei’s perspective. And for those of you who train in other arts, this book will have equal interest, because Berry Sensei’s training began with traditional Tae Kwon Do. (You should at least check out the pictures he includes in the book!) As I probably have mentioned before: this is not a book you sit down and read in one sitting. Rather, it is something that you read in small chunks, then set down to think about for a while. This book is a rare instance in which we, as students, get to go inside the mind of a true martial artist.
Another book that I recently finished is Angry White Pyjamas, by Robert Twigger. This book is the true story about Mr. Twigger’s time in Japan, and how endured the nearly year-long intensive training at the Yoshinkan Aikido dojo; the same course that Tokyo’s riot police also have to take. A fair note of warning, however. I would not read this book in an attempt to gain a better understanding of aikido. In fact, no where in the book did I get a sense that Mr. Twigger even enjoyed aikido as a martial art. Rather, his aikido training serves more as a backdrop against which we can follow him through a period of time where, for one reason or another, he felt the need to test himself. I’d even venture to guess that most of the book is about the injuries he sustained from practice, as opposed to the actual training itself. No matter what art you study, I recommend checking this book out, simply for the opportunity to question for yourself whether this sort of “testing” really answers any significant questions about your character or personality.
The last book I’ll mention is In Search of the Warrior Spirit, by Richard Strozzi-Heckler. Now this is an interesting book. The premise is straightforward: back in the 80s, Mr. Strozzi-Heckler was asked to participate in an experimental program designed to see how training in meditation, aikido, and other alternative movement/thinking systems could improve the Green Berets. I’ll be blunt: I rolled my eyes at a lot of what was written here. There is a great deal of talk about “blending,” and “opening up oneself emtionally to the attacker” for my taste. It’s not that I disagree with what is being said, I just wish it were said differently. But where this book really gets my interest is when he shares conversations with the Green Berets in the course. Listening to them as they start to understand that there is more to efficiency than brute force, that constant movement is not a substitute for calmness–this is interesting stuff, and not something one would normally find while reading about the Special Forces. I was particularly taken by one passage, in which a Green Beret says that he has yet to feel truly tested. Not yet fully tested? And this is from a Green Beret? It gives one pause to think. Well, it gave me pause to think, at any rate.
So this was my bookstack for the past several weeks. If you have read or end up reading any of these selections, I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts.