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Top Martial Arts Books – My Favorite Reads

Far from an exhaustive list by any means, here are some of my personal top martial arts books. Keep checking back though, as I will add to the list over time. You can click on the titles to go over to Amazon to learn more about them. Also check out my list of top books on China.

The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts 

An excellently researched and refreshingly authentic book on the history of the Shaolin Temple and the development of Shaolin Kung Fu. This is probably the most important book a Chinese martial artist could have on their bookshelf.

The Sword Polisher’s Record: The Way of Kung-Fu (Tuttle Martial Arts)

Written by a Taiwanese Kung Fu Master, Adam Hsu, The Sword Polisher’s Record is a collection of short essays expounding various philosophical or cultural ideas behind Kung Fu. It is not a technique or style book, but captures the underlying spirit of martial arts. Highly recommended read.

Look Beyond the Pointing Finger: The Combat Philosophy of Wong Shun Leung

You’ve no doubt read Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do or The Tao of Gung Fu, but have you read the philosophy of one of the most influential figures in his early life? Wong Shun Leung was the top fighter at Ip Man’s school, and was somewhat of a mentor to Bruce Lee. In this book, the philosophy of Wong is discussed, through quotes and anecdotes, and as such I believe is just as important a read as Bruce Lee’s material – and not just for Wing Chun guys.

American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China

A must read for anyone coming over to China to train Kung Fu! While things have changed in China over the last twenty years, this book will really get you prepared for the craziness that is China! And its not even only for martial artists; I feel like this book should be on any China enthusiasts list. The writer was one of the first foreigners to train at Shaolin Temple in the early nineties, and his accounts of rural China at that time are both fascinating and hilarious.

Xing Yi Nei Gong: Xing Yi Health Maintenance and Internal Strength Development

Slightly different from the others on this list, this is technically a tutorial book. However, the reason I like it is for the excellent translation of old Xingyi manuscripts that makes up the first part of the book. It’s very rare to have access to this kind of material, even in Chinese let alone English! The history section is also one of the most complete on Xingyi that I have read.

Complete Wing Chun: The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun’s History and Traditions (Complete Martial Arts)

Wing Chun is much richer than just the Ip Man lineage, and this book is the only one that goes into detail explaining all the major lineages of Wing Chun, many of which you have never heard of, and are very different to the typical stuff you see in the west. If you like Sifu Sergio’s Youtube channel, then you will love this book.

Chinese Martial Arts: From Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century

The only book I really know of which discusses the history of martial arts right from the beginning. But this is no myths of bearded immortals, it goes into actual documented history of ancient Chinese military techniques, and how martial ars evolved over time.

Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey

The most recent book I bought on the list, this book offers translations of many important Chinese manuscripts into English. Excellent for those who don’t have access to Chinese language material.

Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence

Unlike most other self defense books that focus on technique, Roy Miller’s book is about the psychology of violence. Drawing from a lifetimes experience working in corrections facilities, Roy explains the mindset of a predator and how to deal with real world situations. I must read for any martial artist regardless of style.

The Water Margin: Outlaws of the Marsh: The Classic Chinese Novel (Tuttle Classics)

One of China’s “Four Great Classic Novels”, the Water Margin is focused on the Jianghu, or martial world, of the Song Dynasty. Much of the content of this great novel has become core to the folklore of contemporary Chinese martial arts. Three Kingdoms  and Journey to the West are two others that impacted the folklore.

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Tai Chi MMA Fight: Some Afterthoughts

In my last post on Tai Chi MMA, I discussed my opinions on the fight between MMA guy Xu Xiao Dong and Tai Chi guy Wei Lei. The video has gained a huge amount of attention on Chinese social media, with people asking the question “what is the value of traditional martial arts”. In fact, Chinese state news even covered the story, where they interviewed a senior member of the Chinese Martial Arts Association as well as a professor of martial studies from Beijing.

The overall gist was that pride has been hurt and face lost, all kinds of excuses are coming out. But the issue of what is the appropriate image for kung fu to be portraying in the modern world? Is it just about health and socialising as some have stated? Is it about reconnecting to cultural roots? I want to discuss my ideas in a more detailed way, particularly as my last article was just a spur of the moment thing.

In this video, I talk about how sparring is the the biggest thing in martial arts training that helped me overcome obstacles in my own life. I believe strongly that the greatest part of all martial arts training is self improvement. But self improvement and combat are not antithetical (if you haven’t read Bruce Lee’s works, then you should!). The relationship between combat and self development has been discussed as far back as the ancient Greeks, and has been written about in many Chinese and Japanese military texts. (Hagakure: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai for example)

If we are to develop ourselves fully as human beings, how can we fullfill our potential if we have never pushed ourselves to the edge of our comfort zone? The issue here I believe is that as modern day people we get too comfortable in our own lives, we dont “eat bitter” as the Chinese say. Once we become too content we dont push ourselves and egos grow. My teacher grew up in the Cultural Revolution, he trained his Praying Mantis Kung Fu in secret, while the country was falling apart around him. Moving on to the 80s, things stabilised, but people were still poor, and violence was very common. He grew up fighting, as did many males of his generation. There is a marked difference between martial artists of his generation and the younger ones.

My own answer to the question of the value of traditional martial arts is as follows. Most of us don’t live in a world of violence and turmoil. We don’t need to learn deadly techniques, weapon skills etc. But that doesn’t mean martial arts don’ have any value. As I said above, combat is one of the best methods of personal development, it is the only thing that pushes you beyond the edge of your comfort zones. Self defense is something we also need, and the confidence to know that should an altercation occur, we can handle ourselves easily. Sparring and other forms of combat training are a crucial part of martial arts, and challenges, done without ego or spite, are a good way to make friends. Visiting another school and exchanging skills in a mutually agreed environment is good fun, and allows for exchanges of skills to take place. The problem is that most Kung Fu people don’t spar, have never even been on the receiving end of a punch, and yet make big claims. I would like to see more Kung Fu people train for UFC and other competitive formats. Of course adaptations need to be made, but that doesn’t mean “not being true to your art”. It is doing the art a service. It also doesn’t mean getting rid of any traditions, it just means that people with the inclination to compete, can follow a certain road. This is not for everyone though.

Kung Fu has developed a bad reputation, mostly to frauds creating all kinds of scams, and as a good friend of mine says “good businessmen aren’t necessarily good martial artists, and vice versa”. The history of Kung Fu has also been askewed with myths and legends, and a lot of people struggle to seperate that from reality. A good book which clears up a lot of this is The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts.

So as a final thought, I think Xu Xiao Dong is doing a service to Kung Fu, and I don’t agree with figures like Jet Li, Cheng Zheng Lei and the Chinese Martial Arts Association shunning him. Regardless of what I think of him as a person, he is shaking things up, and I would love to see a good Kung Fu person step up and kick his ass. If this doesn’t get shut down by the Chinese government, then it’s only a matter of time.

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The MMA vs Tai Chi Fight Everyone’s Talking About

(I’ve since written a more in depth article on my thoughts about the situation here)

Here in China everybody is talking about this MMA vs Tai Chi fight. Basically Xu Xiao Dong is the father of MMA in China. Although he hasn’t actually had any fights per se, he is responsible for establishing the sport in China. He started attacking Tai Chi on social media, calling the majority of masters phoneys who can’t really fight. One man, Wei Lei, founder of Lei Gong style Tai Chi, took up the challenge, claiming he could get out of a reverse choke with just one hand. A fight was arranged, and Xu Xiao Dong flew out to Chengdu to fight Wei Lei. As you can see the fight was over very quickly. Now Xu is basking in his glory, and calling out more people. Chen Village and Wudang have been his main targets.

So, as a Kung Fu practitioner, what do I think about this situation? Well, I think it is really good for Chinese Martial Arts. In China, words like “master” and “high level” are thrown around way too easily. Almost any middle-aged man in white silks who has a half decent form gets called those words. Tai Chi is notoriously bad, as they make many mystical claims, their egos growing as big as the fantasies they live in. Sure, they can do some Push Hands tricks on cooperating students in the park. Its easy to say “the soft overcomes the hard” or “using four ounces to repell a thousand pounds” when the student is just tensing up on the spot as an examples of “hard force”. These guys need a reality check, while their egos are inflating on a daily basis, they are giving Chinese martial arts a bad name. This is not to say Tai Chi itself is inherantly bad, I have met some good practitioners, and Push Hands does have a lot of value IN THE RIGHT SITUATION. If Wei Lei had prepared himself to deal with the aggression of a real fight, I think his Tai Chi would have come into play once they closed the distance and got into grappling range. The problem arises when these people make big claims, but can’t back them up with real fighting experience.

There is tremendous value in genuine Chinese Kung Fu. I wouldn’t have packed my bags and moved across the world for ten years if there wasn’t. It was developed on the battlefield, refined by great generals, before being disseminated among the common people. Not only does it have excellent strategies and techniques for combat, but it is a holistic system for living, covering all aspects of life. The problem really, is how over the last hundred or so years, it has gone into a decline. There are still many people who can and do fight. My hope is that the recent events will bring them into the spotlight, the good guys will take up the challenge and the people who can’t fight, but make big claims, will take a long look in the mirror, and make some changes. This is a perfect opportunity for Kung Fu to move forward into the modern world, to embrace modern combat sports without losing its values.

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Some Tips For Planning Travel

Despite the nice instagram photos, travel isn’t always fun and games, and so I have listed a few tips for planning travel in the hope you can save some time and effort. This is by no means set in stone, but it is the way I plan all my trips, and any services mentioned are the ones I always use.

Choose A Destination

Pretty self explanatory really, but among my tips for planning travel, it is the most important one. There are so many awesome places in the world. Watch some Youtube clips, have a think what inspires you. Once you choose your destination, then you can start to really plan.

Buy A Lonely Planet Guide

Lonely Planet guides, you either love them or you hate them. Personally I love them. Whenever planning a trip, my first port of call is to consult a guidebook. Guidebooks give you a good overview of a country, dividing it up into regions and highlighting each regions features and sites. In the first part of the book, they will offer some recommended itineries, plus recommendations of regions based on your interest (shopping, hiking, culture, food etc). The key here isn’t to take the Lonely Planet as a travel bible, but to use it to get an overview and decide on your route etc. Browse Lonely Planet Guides Here.

Research Your Destinations Online

Once you have made a basic outline of your itinerary with a guidebook, its a good idea to search online for the regions you want to visit. Often you can find travel blogs, articles or other posts where people have written about certain sites, hotels or activities in greater detail than a guidebook can provide. A simple google search for your destinations will suffice. Sites like tripadvisor or wikitravel are good resources too.

Prebook Flights, Hotels & Trains

Don’t just turn up somewhere and wing it. I know a lot of people like the feeling of adventure that having no fixed plan entails, but the reality is you will just waste a lot of time and feel annoyed. Imagine getting off a bus after 10 hours through the mountains of southern China, only to have to start inspecting hostels to find a suitable place to sleep. If your trip is within China, then Ctrip is a great website for booking everything you need, whether domestic flights, trains, hotels, you can even get tourguides and drivers too. (visit here: Save on travel in China with Ctrip). Alternatively if you are travelling anywhere but China, I would recommend using something like Expedia or Booking.

Working Out Your Budget

OK, so now you have planned everything, you need to figure out how much it will all cost. This is why the resources above are so useful, because before even booking anything, you can begin to work out how much you want to spend, and find the appropriate price range of services. Once you have everything planned, just sit back and wait!