No Holds Barred: The Complete History of Mixed Martial Arts in America by Clyde Gentry III, 2/5
Relentlessly packed with names, dates, dry facts and endless acronyms, this book is about as appealing to read as the world’s longest Wikipedia article (a comparison that could be considered a compliment if you account for the fact that it was written before Wikipedia even existed). The author has performed an impressive amount of research, including a jaw-dropping 125 interviews, but unfortunately seems completely incapable of telling a story, even when equipped with firsthand knowledge of the dramatic events and larger-than-life personas associated with the history of MMA. His blow-by-blow descriptions of classic fights are excruciatingly boring and he somehow sucks all the life out of even the most amusing or astonishing anecdotes. Adding to the faults of the original edition is a half-assed update written 10 years later that sees the clumsy addition of multiple-page “sidebars” (literally marked with bars) that completely disrupt the text’s already inadequate narrative flow, two off-focus chapters tacked onto the end, and multiple references to himself awkwardly as “this author” that made me grind my teeth every time they assaulted my eyes. In the preface, the author mentions that this book was supposed to be the first in a series that “never happened” and, after reading it, there is no question why.
Why I read it: A gift from my dad, accompanied with the warning “it will probably be terrible.”
A Fighter’s Heart: One Man’s Journey Through the World of Fighting by Sam Sheridan, 3/5
Sheridan put a lot of blood and sweat into this appropriately self-deprecating foray into the world of martial arts, which sees him train Muay Thai at the Fairtex camp, MMA with Pat Miletich of UFC fame, BJJ with Brazilian Top Team, tai chi, and boxing with Virgil Hunter and Andre Ward, before veering off-topic for a unsettlingly positive take on the sport of dog fighting and finally ending a bit lamely on a Hollywood set. While Sheridan is a thoughtful and competent writer, he is by no means an insightful one. I found it frustrating that he rarely achieved more depth than a men’s magazine article would, despite being surrounded by legends and, as a paid writer, enjoying opportunities beyond the reach of the average amateur fighter. Still, it was an entertaining read and could have been unimaginably worse if written by a less enthusiastic personality.
Why I read it: Jake from the gym recommended and lent it to me.
The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, translated by William Scott Wilson, 5/5
It is absolutely stunning how relevant this book remains to today’s students of combat sports, though it was written almost 400 years ago for Japanese swordsmen. I recognize so many of the techniques and concepts that Musashi describes from my own kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA sparring experiences. In fact, I believe such review and recognition is likely where this work’s main interest and value lies–I certainly don’t feel able to learn subtle martial arts concepts from a book (certainly not from a picture-less book!), but it is fascinating to see what I have learned from my coaches and through experience reflected on the page. Perhaps this is why the ever-practical Musashi ends each lesson with a comment like “You should make efforts in this,” or “You should practice this well.”
Why I read it: I came across Musashi’s “21 Rules of Life” online, read a bit about him and remembered that though I had given my brother a beautifully illustrated copy of The Book of Five Rings many years ago, I had never actually gotten around to reading it myself.
This memoir of an American college dropout who transforms from bullied to badass by studying kung fu with Shaolin monks in China is a fun read, if a little bit less interesting, less believable and dirtier than the author’s later book Tapped Out.
[Why I read it: I enjoyed the author’s other book a lot.]