September 2021 Book Survey

In September 2021, I (Richard) started a new reading plan. I prioritized print books that have been on my shelf for a while, or those that I had read decades ago. The result is this month's book survey, which lacks a coherent theme compared to previous months. I will return to theme-based surveys once I read the print titles sitting in my library


This month's survey includes several books on Bruce Lee, a few books on famous judoka, and a mix of other excellent titles.

The Secret Power Within: Zen Solutions to Real Problems, Chuck Norris, 1996

The first title, The Secret Power Within: Zen Solutions to Real Problems, has been in my library for 25 years, but only while reading it the second time did I recognize that there is little chance Mr. Norris wrote this book himself. While Mr. Norris credited his ghost writer, the famous Joe Hyams, in his first book, The Secret of Inner Strength: My Story (1988), he appears to have stopped that practice beginning with this book. Some cursory research indicated a friend of Mr. Norris named Todd DuBord may have begun his ghost writing career with this title.

Nevertheless, this book is interesting for its early mention of the Gracie family. Published in 1996, three years after the UFC began in November 1993, it was unusual for established martial artists like Mr. Norris to acknowledge the influence of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. While others denied its applicability, pioneers like Mr. Norris, Dan Inosanto, and Burton Richardson began training, all earning legitimate black belt rank.

This book is only of interest to those MHT readers who are big fans of Mr. Norris.

Bruce Lee: The Evolution of a Martial Artist, Tommy Gong, 2014

I will admit up front that I did not have high expectations for Bruce Lee: The Evolution of a Martial Artist. MHT is no stranger to books by and about Bruce Lee. This title by Tommy Gong delivers surprisingly solid content in a superior format. Although readers can buy this title in Kindle format, and I would love such a copy for research (as shown on the MHT Wish List), the 8 1/2 x 11 inch print is a joy to read. 

Black Belt Communications published my edition of this book in 2014, with endorsements by Linda Lee Cadwell, Shannon Lee, and the Bruce Lee Foundation. Besides Matthew Polly's 2018 definitive biography Bruce Lee: A Life, this may be my new favorite Bruce Lee book. It's potentially better than Tao of Jeet Kune Do, in fact. 

This appears to be the first family-endorsed book that explicitly credits the many philosophical influences on Mr. Lee, such as Jiddu Krishnamurti in chapter 5. The book properly attributes the poem popularly known as "The Man Who Thinks He Can" to Walter Wintle (1905) on p 208. As Mr. Lee had reproduced this poem on his personal stationary, it would have been easy for other authors to just give Mr. Lee credit. Well done!

Chapter 6 may contain my favorite technical material. It offers full-page side-by-side comparisons of techniques from three different Bruce Lee eras: Seattle, Oakland, and Los Angeles, via instructors Taky Kimura, Allen Joe, and Ted Wong. This is just brilliant content.

Finally, I also want to point readers to Appendix B, which talks about Mr. Lee's famous library. While the appendix doesn't list every book, it does offer topics, book counts, and some authors.

This is one of the two must-read books in this month's post.

The Bruce Lee Story, Linda Lee, 1989

I bought The Bruce Lee Story in the mid-1990s but did not read it until last month. I had previously read Ms. Lee Cadwell's previous 1974/1975 book The Life and Tragic Death of Bruce Lee. I really like the sweet, joyful cover of this title. The book is well-written and personal, with great black and white photos. One of my favorites on page 60 shows Bruce practicing with Dan Inosanto, who is wearing a white gi with an American Kenpo Karate (Ed Parker style) patch. Guro Inosanto was a Kenpo expert prior to joining Mr. Lee. 

The book does include the usual family biases and interpretations, as might be expected. For example, p 128 mentions "the red Porsche Bruce had purchased in California when we [the Lee family] couldn't really afford it," plus a "gold Rolls-Royce Corniche on order." Page 129 then states "Bruce never placed much importance on material possessions." 

Overall, I liked this book, but it's probably not a must-read.

The Legendary Bruce Lee, Jack Vaughn and Mike Lee, 1986 (10th printing, 1994)

Black Belt magazine and Ohara first published The Legendary Bruce Lee in 1986, and I bought my copy in 1994. This is a collection of articles of various quality. Some are dubious, with comments like "he [Bruce Lee] had inherited a tint of German blood from his mother, who is three-fourths Chinese and one-fourth German." Actually, according to definitive research by Mr. Polly, Mr. Lee's mother was 1/2 English, 1/4 Dutch-Jewish, and 1/4 Han Chinese, making Mr. Lee 5/8 Chinese (1/2 from his father and 1/8 from his mother) and 3/8 Caucasian (from his mother). 

My favorite material in the book appears in part IV, which offers commentary by stars and students like the late great Jim Kelly. I thought it was interesting to read on p 151 that the late Wally Jay said that Mr. Lee "demonstrated judo throws at my dojo."

This book is only of interest to dedicated Bruce Lee researchers.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for the Street, Burton Richardson, 2020

This new book by Burton Richardson is now on my all-time favorite list. I regard it as the companion book to Mr. Richardson's course of the same name available at BJJ Fanatics, which is also amazing. 

Basically, everyone who is more of a "martial scientist" will want to watch Mr. Richardson's video and read this book. Mr. Richardson shows how to adapt popularly taught and practiced BJJ for scenarios involving multiple opponents, edged weapons, firearms, blunt weapons, and other threats not found in the dojo. 

I liked his focus on testing every technique against full resistance and his overall "directness" approach. One example is "pin the knife arm to the ground." Another is "block the attacker's other hand to prevent switching the knife to his free hand." 

I bought my copy directly from Mr. Richardson, who was kind enough to autograph it. I recommend you do the same while copies are still available.

Kimura: The Triumphs and Tragedy of One of Judo's Greatest and Most Controversial Judo Champions, Christopher M. Clarke, 2015

I bought Kimura: The Triumphs and Tragedy of One of Judo's Greatest and Most Controversial Judo Champions because I wanted to learn more about one of the most famous judoka of all time. According to this book, Kimura Masahiko (1917-1993) was a 1st Dan by age 15, 2nd by 16, 3rd by 17, 4th "in high school," and 5th after high school, around age 18. Consider that when complaining about kids with black belts! Of course, it is unlikely that anyone else has a saying like:


which apparently translates as something like "No Kimura in front of [or before] Kimura, no Kimura after Kimura."

This book tries to capture what it could about Kimura, but it's not a must-read. I did like the note that one of Kimura's instructors, Ushijima, sometimes trained with a wooden dagger in his belt (p 28), although that is a quote from Stevens' book Way of Judo:

"Ushijima was as extreme a competitor and coach as Hatta. Ushijima was born in Kumamoto, where there was more jujutsu than judo. The jujutsu style was extreme—there was no such thing as a draw. The match went on until one of the competitors gave up or died. Some matches were fought with a wooden dagger kept in one’s belt. If you pinned your opponent, you could mimic cutting off his head with the dagger. Ushijima’s judo was the same: “Attack, attack, attack.”

Mr. Clarke retells the story that Kimura was a fan of attacking the groin in street fights, and bore the title "Master Groin Squeezer!" Mr. Clarke repeats the false mythology that Helio Gracie was a sickly child who learned jiu-jitsu by watching his older brother Carlos teach, citing the Valente Brothers' web site as a source.

The Legend of W.E. Fairbairn, Gentleman and Warrior: The Shanghai Years, Peter Robins, Nicholas Tyler, Paul R. Child, 2004

I sought out this book, The Legend of W.E. Fairbairn, Gentleman and Warrior: The Shanghai Years, when the publisher offered it at a discount. Readers should think of this book as the first of a trilogy. The second follows this note, and the third is not yet published. The book examines the early life of the famous combatives instructor W. E. Fairbairn (1885-1960). 

If you really want to know most everything that is known about Mr. Fairbairn and this period in his life, I highly recommend this book. While the book in places could benefit from tighter editing, the authors' dedication to sources and history is commendable. It has so many neat stories, such as evidence that Mr. Fairbairn demonstrated weapons disarms as a judoka for the visiting founder of judo, Kano Jigoro, in Shanghai in 1928. In fact, prof Kano signed Fairbairn's 2nd Dan promotion certificate. Note that there is no "twelfth dan," as was indicated on p 102.

This book also helped me understand how Mr. Fairbairn's books related to one another. For example, the UK title All-In Fighting is the US title Get Tough! Similarly, the UK title Self Defense for Women and Girls is the US title Hands Off! Also, the 1926 book Defendu appeared again in a modified form in 1931 as Scientific Self Defense. Chapter 6 has plenty of material on these issues.

No Queensbury Rules: Fairbairn & Sykes, Fathers of Modern Close Combat (1940-1942), Paul R. Child, Nicholas Tyler, and Peter Robins, 2017

No Queensbury Rules is the sequel to the previous title. The authors ship this book with a few replacement pages, due to problems with the printer. Otherwise, this book is excellent. It makes powerful use of original research and primary sources. I really liked where the authors noted what evidence existed to support various claims, and which had little or no substantiation. For example, chapter 3 mentions there is no documentary evidence that Eric Sykes served as a sniper in World War I.

Speaking of Mr. Sykes, this book offers plenty of material about him as well. This book provides lots of original photos from the authors' private collection. Beware the fake quote attributed to Galileo on p 211. See this Tweet for details. 

The bottom line is that if you liked the first volume, you definitely need to buy this book, preferably from the publisher.

The Toughest Man Who Ever Lived,  Nori Bunasawa and John Murray, 2003/2018

I bought print and Kindle editions of The Toughest Man Who Ever Lived about Maeda Hideo (Mitsuyo, Conde Koma, 1878-1941) simply because there is so little in English about the man who many believe started the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu revolution, primarily via the Gracie family. I originally bought the print edition from the authors (#286 of 374), but also purchased the Kindle version once I saw that they had cleaned up the digital edition.

Despite the authors' clear enthusiasm for their subject, there is no way I can recommend this book to MHT readers intent on serious research. The authors state that this book is "not, then, a pure biography. It's a carefully fictionalized account... we've taken a few liberties." There is no way to know if what the authors write has any grounding in reality. 

In places, what they write is demonstrably false, probably due to relying uncritically on Maeda's writings. For more on that, see these two articles.

For example, they repeat the myth that a Japanese judoka confronted and dominated a wrestler who was supposedly 6'9" and 320 pounds, in front of then-President Theodore Roosevelt. However, Joseph Svinth's 1998 article Professor Yamashita Goes to Washington states:

"[O]n Thursday, February 23, 1905 the President arranged a private match between Professor Yamashita and a middleweight catch-as-catch-can wrestler named Joseph Grant. In a letter to his son Kermit, Roosevelt described the outcome:

Grant did not know what to do except to put Yamashita on his back, and Yamashita was perfectly content to be on his back. Inside of a minute Yamashita had choked Grant, and inside of two minutes more he had got an elbow hold on him… [Still,] Grant in the actual wrestling and throwing was about as good as the Japanese, and he was so much stronger that he evidently hurt and wore out the little Japanese." (emphasis added)

The only trustworthy material in this book might be the straight quotation of newspaper articles.

Itosu Anko: Savior of a Cultural Heritage, Joe Swift, 2019

Itosu Anko: Savior of a Cultural Heritage is another book that might only appeal to dedicated researchers. Refreshingly, the author does not fall for what he calls the "two creation myths of Okinawan martial arts: the so-called 'weapons ban' of Satsuma and the theory that all Okinawan martial arts are of purely Chinese origin" (p 30). In fact, author Joe Swift argues that karate was more influenced by Japanese sword arts like Jigen-ryu, at least after 1609.

The writing is clear and well-documented, differentiating among oral tradition, documentary evidence, and the like. Pages 163-263 are almost all translations of original sources, including a commentary on Itosu's famous ten precepts on pages 252-263.

I did not like the demonstration of certain kata that relied on odd photo conversions into lightly-drawn images, especially with dot-patterned walls in the background. I also did not care much for the six (!) forewords and the "postscript," which was really a seventh foreword in disguise. I've seen these "endorsements" in some other Japanese art texts before, so perhaps it is a cultural consideration.

Martial Arts: A Complete Illustrated History, Michael Finn, 1988/1991

I obtained a copy of Martial Arts: A Complete Illustrated History via inter-library loan after seeing it cited elsewhere. Immediately the content in the front and back flaps sounded alarms. The author claims to have "38 black belts in 10 disciplines." Oh my. There are also zero sources and no bibliography. This basically means readers cannot rely on this book as a source for any other research.

However, the content was not that bad, especially for 1988. On page 14 the author posits that stories about Bodhidharma could be fanciful, and offers other so-called "myths and facts" about Chinese martial arts on p 37. However, without sources, we cannot be sure of the foundation of his claims. 

There is also an entire chapter on "ninja" (ugh) and the book lists Aikido, Karate, Iaido, and Jodo (Jodo, not Judo) as "martial sports."

Although this large hardcover coffee table book features many beautiful color illustrations and photographs, I cannot recommend it for MHT readers.


It should be clear that my must-reads from September are Tommy Gong's Bruce Lee: The Evolution of a Martial Artist and Burton Richardson's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for the Street

Stay tuned for another book survey in about a month!

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