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.