My Top 3 Favorite Martial Arts Books

Reading books can cut your learning curve in half. 

Human beings are unique in their ability to learn from the mistakes of others. Regarding the learning ability of humans, Richard Dawkins said that "survival machines that can simulate the future are one jump ahead of survival machines who can only learn on the basis of overt trial and error. The trouble with overt trial is that it takes time and energy." Are you actively trying to learn from the mistakes of others? 

Books are one of the best ways to "simulate the future" because you are quite literally downloading information from greater minds into your brain. While reading, you get a sense for how the person might have thought and how they liked to express themselves. You're syncing their thoughts closer with your own. 

There are many Technique books in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that will teach you everything from Closed Guard sweeps to Heel Hook transitions and I believe those are in a different genre than what many are searching for in a martial arts book. In this article, I will share some of my favorite books regarding martial arts philosophy, lifestyle, and history. Learn from some of the greatest in the martial arts: 

EUR 12,99

1. The Zen Way to the Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru

Master Deshimaru was the last surviving student of the last living Samurai. Written in the 1920s, The Zen Way to the Martial Arts was written by the students of Master Deshimaru to ensure his wisdom was passed down through the generations. 

This is an exceptional book if you want to learn about old-school martial arts philosophy. Learn how the Samurai lived, thought, trained, and how they approached teaching and thinking about Judo, meditation, and traditional martial arts. 

 

 

 

2. Judo Heart and Soul by Hayward Nishioka

The first book about the martial arts I ever read, Judo Heart and Soul is filled with knowledge from Black Belt Hall of Fame member and Multiple time Judo champion, Hayward Nishioka. In this book, Mr. Nishioka shares insightful stories, metaphors, and practical training surrounding Judo. If you are looking for deep meaningful lessons combined with old-school approaches to training, this book is for you. 

My first Judo coach told me to read this book over and over again until I memorized the words. I tried my best ;) I still have that first copy and I flip through the book all the time. Each page provides new insights. A must read!

3. Falling Hard by Mark Law

EUR 18,99

Judo is the father of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and one of the most effective martial arts in the world. In the book Falling Hard, by Mark Law, receive a richly detailed look at the history of Judo. You will learn the stories of all the greatest champions in Judo and also read about how the best teams in the world structure their randori sessions, strength and conditioning, and lifestyle. 

Mark Law also provides some relateable struggles as he jumps into the sport of Judo. A middle aged author when he starts, Mark falls in love with Judo and tells his story of how Judo has started changing his life. 

This One Weird Trick Will Get Anyone to Start Training Jiu-Jitsu and Change Their Life for the Better

Have you ever tried to convince a friend to come with you to Jiu-Jitsu?

Oftentimes, I’ve found that people are extremely excited when you tell them about the idea.

“I’ve always wanted to try that stuff”

“I trained for a few months with some friends and loved it and I’ve always wanted to check out an actual academy…”

“I’ve been looking for a fun way to lose weight…”

For me, the rush of satisfaction and genuine happiness for that individual is immediate. I’m so thankful that this person is about to gain some or all of the benefits that I have received from the martial arts. Usually, after this conversation, we part ways with a promise to reunite at practice later that day/week.

Many of you know what happens next: the person never shows up to the practice they guaranteed they would attend. The next time you see them, maybe at work or your usual hangout spot, they start things off when an apology and something along the lines of “Man, my kids were going crazy that night…” or “My back was hurting and I decided it was best to take it easy…”

I used to get so disappointed. At times, I even got frustrated or a bit angry.

Why does this happen? I’d try so hard to get friends, family, coworkers, and everyone in between to experience the joys I’ve received from martial arts. Doubts emerged about why no one ever showed up: Was I being too cultish? Was I too intimidating? Too eager and friendly? Every so often, someone would sign-up but, most of the time, people would either never arrive or come once and never return.

It used to make me downright sad.

Then, later on, after some early disappointments, I turned to the dark side. My mood about these situations changed:

“Jiu-Jitsu is only for the strong!”

“You’ll either find a way or you’ll find an excuse!”

Etc. Etc.

Nowadays, I’ve settled somewhere in the middle at what I believe is a happy medium.

To harken back to some of my old posts diving into the deep waters of philosophical thinking, there’s a line here that must be navigated:

 

“Please come to Jiu-Jitsu, I’ll do anything!” -------------------------------------------- “You’re Making Excuses”

 

On the one end, we have the person who I was at the beginning: Willing to do almost everything in my power to entice my friends and coworkers into a life contract with the gentle art. On the other end, we have the individual who thinks all their friends and coworkers are making excuses, weak, not worthy of this incredible art, etc. etc. From my experience, I became this person by valuing myself too highly and placing too much emphasis on my own purpose for Jiu-Jitsu which I incorrectly exported onto everyone else.

That requires us to ask the question: What is the purpose of Jiu-Jitsu? Ask that question to 10 different BJJ practitioners and you’ll receive 10 different answers.

“Self-defense is the number 1 priority…”

“I want to win tournaments…”

“It helps me overcome depression and lose weight…”

“Let’s all have fun!”

So on and so on into forever…

What is one thing these have in common? Self-Improvement.

People want to become happier and more fulfilled.

So, going back to our line, neither end of the spectrum is going to help that individual become happier or more fulfilled… If I try to pressure/guilt that individual into attending a practice, I’m probably leading them along a path that they never wanted in the first place. Maybe they are coming out of a supposed obligation to me? Perhaps BJJ is something they want for themselves but they need some more time to prepare before making the pledge to join. If I pressured them into coming earlier than they’d like, it’s forcing them to jump-start their plan for their life.

I hear you from the dark shadows of the BJJ underworld:

“They just need to toughen up and make the jump! That’s what I did and it worked for me! Things will work out great!”

You might be correct for 50% of those people. The other 50%? Lost to the BJJ community.

More importantly, lost to their own goals for their own lives (at least for the moment).

In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote about getting people to do things that you want them to do. In a gross oversimplification of his wise words, I will summarize: Find out what that person wants for themselves and then help them achieve that thing, rather than helping them achieve whatever it is that you think they should do. Forcing your own wants on someone is not nice, wise, or an effective way of accomplishing goals.

Back to the line, if I act all high-and-mighty and talk about how excuses are for the weak, I’m not understanding the legitimate excuses that someone might have for not wanting to take this step. Maybe they’re scared? Maybe your gym is a bit intimidating? Maybe they asked for help during the warmup and no one showed them how to shrimp?

So what is the best way? What is the one weird trick that will get people to join Jiu-Jitsu and change their lives?

I think the secret is cultivating empathy and understanding the reasons for why someone might not want to join your (or any) Jiu-Jitsu school.

When someone new walks into the gym, does everyone introduce themselves to the new person or are they greeted with silence?

What assumptions did that person have about the gym before walking in? Were they led to believe that it is a beginner-friendly environment when, in actuality, every class begins with 20 minutes of sparring?

I could go on forever but the point of this article is not to discuss how to make a BJJ gym environment more beginner friendly (I don’t even know if I have the credentials to write that article) but instead to suggest that you take the time to understand what the individual wants before pushing your own BJJ-oriented agenda onto that person.

Remember, most people are looking for some sense of greater fulfillment and happiness. Perhaps they will find that Jiu-Jitsu is not for them? Maybe they start Olympic Weightlifting, get jacked, win a bunch of tournaments, go the Olympics, set a world record, and make tons of money? Maybe they decide that they think martial arts are too violent and they go-on to study philosophy (a very noble calling) and write the next great philosophical work of the modern era.

Hypothetically, if someone comes into your gym, signs up for six-months, and decides to leave after 6-months to pursue some other calling… Did you fail? I don’t think you did because you helped that individual to understand themselves, find fulfillment on a deeper level, and better define their own goals (well, hopefully).

To summarize, try to understand people’s goals for their own lives, help them achieve those goals, and, if those goals include Jiu-Jitsu, provide a friendly and helping hand. If their goals end up not including Jiu-Jitsu, don’t be sad. After all, we are all just beings of nothingness that will eventually go back to the realm of the spheres… But that’s a topic for another post.

 

Receiving the Purple Belt from Professor Jaro Koch in Szczcecin, Poland

Candidates

The next presidential election is coming up. The nation is suddenly divided across all these different political figures who always appear seemingly out of nowhere every election cycle.

Maybe I’m an ignorant young adult but I had never heard of most everyone on the election ballot before they announced their candidacy. John Kasich? Carly Fiorina? Even Bernie Sanders, seemingly a frontrunner, was previously unknown to me. Again, maybe I am just unaware as to the happenings in politics.

Where do these people come from? Why do they always seem to have such a strong and, oftentimes, controversial personality?

Donald Trump has been making national headlines since he announced his candidacy by making all sorts of controversial and ridiculous statements. Likewise, Hillary Clinton is criticized for having a seemingly un-relatable personality. Chris Christie is often mocked for his over the top aggressive statements.  So on and so forth.

Oftentimes, one of the pros for a candidate is that they appear to be a “normal person”. I have heard plenty of friends and coworkers say “I like Marco Rubio, he seems to be a normal guy” or “Bernie Sanders seems like someone with whom I could relate”, etc. When President Obama was elected, his calm and seemingly normal personality won over many voters. Likewise, Bill Clinton seemed like a fairly normal and very relatable person. Ronald Reagan is also praised for his personality and almost grandfather-like identity.

What is going on with these candidates such that normalcy is a prized value?

It is important to remember that politicians are not like the average person. They are far from average.

To become the President of the United States or even get somewhere close, a person has to be somewhat crazy. Of course, we are all crazy but these achievement demands a special type of ambition and drive. To get close to becoming the President of a country, a person has to be extremely ambitious, well-connected with all sorts of lucrative people, and they have to be interesting. Indeed, candidates who seem boring are often pushed out of the election race.

This is why relatability is so important. A candidate has to be a special sort of person to possess the drive, ambition, connections, power, and bravado necessary to reach this level while also maintaining their normalcy, sanity, and connections with everyday folk.

However, the candidate who can either trick voters into believing that they are that special person or, best of all, actually truly BE that unique individual…. This is your winner. 

Refining an Idea

What is the best way to refine an idea once different theories and ideas have been developed? Oftentimes, once a theory has been discovered and defined, it is necessary to continue to refine the idea by putting the idea through trials.

What types of trials?

Well, I have found one of the best ways is to think “what would someone opposed to this idea say to me if we were having a conversation?” This is a great exercise because it helps to cultivate empathy, understanding, and an ability to take different sides in a debate. This is one of the first tests you should apply to an idea whenever deciding a course of action.

For example, John is trying to decide whether his favorite restaurant is Chipotle or Panera.  John thinks his favorite restaurant is Chipotle but he needs to be sure. He thinks to himself “what would someone who loves Panera have to say about my decision?” That person might say that Panera has a great selection of soups that Chipotle doesn’t offer. John thinks “hmmm good point, but I don’t personally like soup very much”. Next, John imagines the other person saying “But John, you’ve never tried Panera’s soup!” John then resolves that he will try the soup at Panera next time he’s around the restaurant.

John has identified a hole in his theory that he needs to fix before he can move forward. Through this process, John can try to strengthen his position by identifying weaknesses.

Obviously this is a simple example but, through using simple means, we can understand more complex ideas.

Let’s take this to another step: Syrian refugees.

John thinks Syrian refugees should not be allowed into the United States. He thinks they are a risk to American national security. Using the skills he learned when dealing with restaurants, he decides to think about what his opposition might say. John imagines someone saying “John, have you met any Syrian refugees?” to which John would be forced to concede that he has never met an actual Syrian refugee. The opposition might answer and say “How do you know if they’re dangerous if you’ve never met even one?” John begins thinking about answers but realizes that the best way to answer this question would be to volunteer his time at a local organization that works with refugees. After a weekend of volunteering at a local non-profit helping recently settled Syrian refugees, John has strengthened his belief system and can now hold a debate from a more enlightened and educated position.

Take note that, in many cases, plugging holes in your ideas involves physical action. In many cases I have found that the hole in a belief results from not having experienced an aspect of the opposition’s argument. By taking action and having that experience, theories and ideas become stronger.

Does this solve all problems? Definitely not but it can help to identify weaknesses in your ideas and theories. Once identified, the holes can be plugged and the theory can be made stronger.

 

The Real-Life Equivalent of the Sith vs. Jedi Debate

Star Wars is in the air. Once again, World culture celebrates a new installment in the Star Wars saga.

One of my favorite aspects of Star Wars mythology is the philosophical differences between the Jedi and the Sith. Close inspection of the differences between the two belief systems raises questions about the ideal lifestyle for human beings to pursue.

 On one side of the argument are the Jedi, a stoic and monk-like order of warriors who respect peace, order, and a rigid compliance to a discipline that values avoidance of emotional attachments. Jedi are peacekeepers, advisors, enforcers of justice, and wise teachers of philosophy. They resemble ancient Samurai in their warrior skills while also embodying values held by monks, priests, and religious devotees. Jedi forbid their followers from romantic relationships and discourage fear, anger, and all extreme emotions. Jedi are kind, just, and completely in control of their emotions. Jedi are the heroes of the galaxy and their efforts to serve the people they protect can be exemplified.

SIth are the exact opposite. Sith encourage their followers to give in to their emotions and not regulate their feelings. The first line of the Sith code reads “Peace is a lie, there is only passion”, a far cry from the Jedi philosophy. While Jedi defend the galaxy from chaos and seek to uphold justice and order, Sith exist to throw the galaxy into disarray for their own personal gains. In the Sith philosophy, is there anything to be admired? I would argue that the Sith thirst for knowledge is a valuable trait. While the Jedi shy away from dabbling in forbidden realms of learning, the Sith encourage their followers to pursue any information that would give them more power. Sith followers are often seen traveling into ancient tombs to retrieve artifacts (usually holocrons) that have some forgotten information. Although the Sith pursue this hunt for information to an extreme end, often hurting others in the process, their passion is to be recognized.

But what about emotions? Are the Jedi correct that emotions are bad? The Jedi resemble the Stoic brand of Hellenic philosophers. These individuals taught that humans should strive to be constantly in control of their emotional state. The Stoics encouraged discipline, complete self-control, and a life of serving others. Ultimately, the Stoics believed that virtue was necessary for happiness. If a person had virtue, then no ill circumstance could stop that person from having a good and fulfilling life. Furthermore, the Stoics were in touch with nature and taught that their followers should respect, understand, and nourish the natural world in an attempt to improve their own virtuous selves. Jedi respect nature and attempt to live a virtuous life, free from negative emotions such as fear and jealousy. In Episode I, Yoda teaches that fear leads to anger and must be avoided as it will ultimately lead to the Dark Side of the Force. Yoda’s words resemble the teachings of the Stoics in their pursuit of virtue and ultimate happiness.

The Sith resemble the Epicureans, a different branch of Hellenic philosophers who taught that life is to be enjoyed through the senses. Epicurus, the founder of Epicureanism, taught that pleasure was the greatest and most divine happiness. In order to cultivate pleasure, Epicureans were taught to live modestly and gain knowledge of the workings of the world. Through the following of this path, Epicureans believed that one could even avoid physical pain and feelings of fear.  Epicureans believed that people should seek enjoyment and not avoid temptation. Similarly to the Sith, an Epicurean might encourage giving into emotions, feelings, and physical desires. Also resembling the Sith, the Epicureans pursued knowledge of the workings of the world, ultimately believing that the gods, physical matter, and other constructs of reality were all constructed of atoms. The Epicureans had an acute understanding of the concept of atoms after pulling from Democritus, a much older philosopher who first theorized that the world could be composed of smaller constructs. Similarly, the ancient Sith would dive into ancient texts and old tombs in search of the knowledge possessed by older and more revered Sith lords. Through this pursuit of knowledge, both the Sith and the Epicureans cultivated their personal reality into its strongest and most powerful form.

Who is correct?

Well, as with many cases, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. The Samurai/Monk philosophy of the Jedi is extremely admirable. It is important to have self-control and become a person who embodies the virtues of peace, justice, patience, and other qualities that are typically encouraged within society.

However, it is probably not necessary to be completely devoted to avoiding emotional attachments. The Jedi forsake romantic involvements so as to not make themselves weaker or somehow inappropriately attached to other people. The Sith forsake this notion and encourage their followers to pursue any romantic desires that come their way. As a normal person, it seems acceptable to allow oneself to fall in love, develop romantic attachments, and develop strong feelings for a romantic partner. Does this make a person weaker? Well, if it did, it would be worth the chink in the armor. However, most would argue that romantic relationships have the power to make a person stronger than they were before.

Perhaps it is easier to be devoted to one side of the argument? For example, the Jedi are able to completely forsake all temptations by dismissing them as wrong, avoidable, and demeaning to the Jedi cause. The Sith give into all emotions and do not pretend to have any inhibitions in their behaviors.

I would argue that it is harder to live somewhere in the middle. The middle ground is filled with all sorts of grey areas that need to be navigated to have a balanced life. When you exist on one side of the spectrum, you can easily dismiss or accept those things that your belief system says is acceptable.

When you live in between the two spectrums, one has to develop their own beliefs about issues and decide, for themselves, what is morally acceptable. Trial and error follows and the individual may go through some tough and challenging moral issues. However, at the end, I believe these trials are necessary to build a strong character and a well-established person. 

 

Black and White Thinking

From my perspective, one of the most destructive forces in creative processes is thinking in blacks and whites. Everywhere in America, there are examples of black and white thinking surrounding and confusing a huge amount of issues.

For example, gun rights.

Generally speaking, on the far left, the view is that gun rights should be restricted. People should be prohibited from owning guns.  No guns should be allowed due to their inherent danger.

On the far right, the thoughts are that as many people should be armed as humanely possible. Arm the teacher, arm the kids, arm employees, and, obviously, have multiple guns at every home.

In the media, it often seems as if these are the only two options available to the American public. Often, in conversations, people seem unable to differentiate between the above two positions and anything else in the middle.

This process stifles creative thought.

Instead, issues should be seen as such:

Arm Everyone ------------------------------------------------------------------- No Guns

All that area between the two issues is up for grabs. Oftentimes, politicians and thinkers are in fact arguing for somewhere in the middle. However, they are attacked and their arguments are reframed such that they appear to fall on one end of the extreme spectrum.

For example, President Obama might argue for tighter gun regulations to prohibit citizens with mental illness from owning guns. The conservative media might reframe this argument and say “Obama wants to disarm everyone”. When presented with the facts of what Obama actually said, they respond with “This is the first step! Obviously his final plan is total disarmament and this is the first step towards that end state”.

There are obvious logical fallacies with this line of reasoning, but people fall for this every day!

All over the world, there are issues in every aspect of society that fall prey to the black/white thinking practiced by humans everywhere.

Examples include the Police (police are either racist criminals or holy saints), drugs (drugs are either harmless or terrifyingly dangerous), war (inherently evil or completely heroic), and conspiracy theories (never true or always true).

What about all the middle ground? All the complexities that lie in between arguments? Polarizing different issues causes many of these complexities to be lost.

Oftentimes, the solution to a problem is probably somewhere in the middle. Going back to gun rights: the solution is probably not total disarmament or a higher influx of guns. Perhaps a good solution would be government controlled distribution of weapons through federally issued gun licenses. This process could resemble drivers education. Citizens could enroll in a lengthy course where they learn about shooting, gun safety, weapon maintenance, and engage in discussions about the ethics of gun use. Once they graduate the course, citizens receive their license to own a gun.

This process runs fairly smoothly when it comes to receiving a driving license. Why can’t the same process be used to reduce gun violence?

All of this is to illustrate that a good answer could be found in between both sides of the argument.

 

 

How to Debate an Idea

Debating can be hard.

People’s feelings get hurt, issues become confounded, and arguments get lost in a void of confusing and conflicting ideas.

What’s the most effective way to argue?

First, understand that, in most cases, arguments concern whether an action or activity is right or wrong. Is a person/state/actor morally justified or not justified in pursuing a course of action? I suggest that the best way is to find two opposing ideas surrounding a subject.

Examples are key! This is the fun part about arguing and discussing ideas: you get to be creative.

For example, John and Betty are wondering as to whether killing is morally wrong. To seek the truth, they come up with two opposing examples: in one case, Betty kills John in self-defense when he tries to kill her. In this case, Betty seems totally justified in killing John. In another case, Betty hatefully kills John after he makes a bad joke. In that case, obviously, Betty has committed a terrible crime.

Now, the hard part comes in, imagine a line with each idea on either side:

 

Hateful Murder ----------------------------------------------------------- Self-Defense

 

Where does, say, killing during war fall on this line?

What about this case: John attacks Betty on the street. Betty defends herself and knocks John to the ground. John was knocked out cold but seems to be coming back to his senses. Betty has a moment to run away. However, Betty decides to not take any chances and she shoots John a few times in the chest. Just to make sure, she shoots him a couple times in the head too. What about then? Morally OK?

The point is not to debate killing, which is for another post, the point is to describe how people can debate ideas.

This methodology makes arguing ideas easy and much more fun.

To summarize:

Step 1: Define your question. For example, is killing wrong?

Step 2: Create two opposing examples.

Step 3: Use more examples to narrow in on your target question.

Step 4: Debate and decide!

Enjoy! 

Is it Wrong to Break a Promise Made Under Unclear Circumstances?

Bob After not Quitting his Job

Bob After not Quitting his Job

Promises are given special weight. If a person promises to do something, they are looked upon with scorn if they fall through with their promise. It is seen as dishonorable to break a promise. But what about a promise made before one has all the information? For example, Bob signs a contract to work for Jeff for 3 years. Bob begins work and, six months into the job, realizes he can’t stand the office environment. Under normal circumstances, Bob would quit the job and search for a different employer. However, due to the contract, Bob has promised that he will continue the work for another 2.5 years.

Is Bob wrong to break the contract?

This brings up a similar question: are contracts the same as promises? By signing a contract, are you promising to do something? Is it stronger than an average, verbal, promise? Weaker?

What if Bob married Jeff? Six months into the relationship, he finds the relationship incompatible. Is he wrong to divorce and break the promise?

Is breaking a work contract different from breaking a marriage contract?

If divorce is wrong, it would seem that breaking a contract at work is also wrong. Obviously, divorce seems like it is justified under certain circumstances. If the spouse cheats in a relationship, hardly anyone would fault the cheated spouse to divorce the cheater.

 If a person is getting cheated out of money by their office, they are justified in breaking the contract under legal terms.

On the other side, if a spouse has an argument with another spouse, it seems unfair for one to divorce the other. Arguments happen in relationships and, generally speaking, can be worked out. Likewise, if an employee has one bad day at work amidst a month of otherwise good days, it seems irrational for them to bail on the contract.

So when is it justified to break a contract? At what point is it OK?

I suggest that it is justified to break a promise/contract whenever it seems as if there is a trend of bad performance with no hope for improvement.

If Bob and Jeff are able to work through their differences, it seems unfair for Bob to quit the contract he signed with Jeff, despite work being horrible. However, if Bob is justified in believing that things with Jeff will not improve (i.e. he has made attempts to improve the environment and has been met with hostility or failure), then he seems justified in breaking the contract.

If Bob and Jeff are married and Jeff is always demeaning towards Bob, with no hope for improvement, then it seems as if Bob is justified in a divorce.

What do you all think? Comment below with your opinion regarding when, if ever, it is OK to break a promise.