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by Joe Hyams
Book review by Peter Leitch
Unlike many books written about the martial arts "Zen In The Martial Arts" was authored by aprofessional writer, giving the book a uniquely human and readable appeal. But this book's realbeauty is more what is written than how it's written.
With humility and taste, Mr. Hyams touches on some of the most fundamental aspects of the study of martial arts. Topics such as ki, control of emotion, mushin, patience, proper breathing, focus, and the ever popular "empty cup" metaphor are all given scrupulous attention.
The book is divided into twenty-eight short chapters, each chapter beginning with an artistically inspired photograph of related subject matter. At the end of most of the chapters is a short maxim, and whether of ancient Chinese, Japanese, Indian or contemporary origins, these few simple words have profound relevance to even the novice martial artist.
The author illustrates the ancient philosophies of Asia with real-life situations in and out of the dojo. In this way he brings to life an understanding which might otherwise be incomprehensible to most western minds.
At the time of writing Joe Hyams had studied many different forms of martial arts including fencing, Jeet Kune Do, Wing chun, Kenpo Karate, and Aikido. Obviously his book should appeal to a wide range of disciplines, but he seems especially predisposed to Karate-Do.
Hyams leaves out descriptions of specific techniques except to illustrate a point, instead concentrating almost solely on Zen principles and the more abstract sides of the martial arts. As a result, this book is an important complement to any library of "how to..." martial arts manuals.
Bruce Lee is featured in a couple of the chapters in a very understated way. This gives the book some immediate appeal to anyone who has seen "Enter the Dragon" or "Fists of Fury". However, the image of Bruce Lee the reader is left with is unfamiliar and refreshing. He is portrayed very much as the teacher and friend, not the movie star legend.
This book is one I would highly recommend purchasing. It can be read and re-read dozens of times, each time some new thing gleaned from the carefully chosen words. The maxims are an added bonus, and never lose their appeal; it is difficult to choose a favourite, but I can quote one (a Samurai maxim) that has often stuck in my mind:
"The angry man will defeat himself in battle as well as in life."