Books about fighting.
December 8, 2012 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Looking for good, critical books and resources on martial arts and fighting. I prefer them to be academic enough to have survived peer review, but will take what I can get. Anything martial arts related would do, I'm interested in understanding martial arts and fighting in a more general sense.

I'm specifically interested in the history of martial arts or western fighting styles. (I've got experience with a bunch of western and asian styles, and find them all interesting in their own ways.) Right now, I'm also interested in understanding karate.

It's a general question though, I'll take anything. I would like to avoid books that uncritically rely on rumour or legend. So many of the resources for martial arts seem to boast that their particular style is far superior, and accept legend like it's fact. I don't need that. The more rigorous the better.

Suggestions? Hell, other media suggestions welcome too, if there are some fantastic documentaries, video clips, journals, essays, or whatever... let's hear it. Thanks.
posted by Stagger Lee to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Bruce Lee - Jeet Kune Do

Gives you a great overview of his art, it's development, principles and techniques ... and itis a fantastic read besides :)
posted by Presentnapper at 8:44 AM on December 8, 2012

Best answer: check out the offerings at Blue Snake Books
posted by jammy at 9:32 AM on December 8, 2012

Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women's Self Defense is really good.
posted by spunweb at 10:48 AM on December 8, 2012

Best answer: For a historian's critical perspective on Chinese martial arts, Stanley Henning is the man. Start with his Ignorance, Legend, and Taijiquan article (PDF).

On Western martial arts, I am not familiar with anything examining boxing and wrestling from a historical or critical perspective, but Michael Poliakoff's Combat Sports in the Ancient World was a fun read. It's mostly about Greek and Roman boxing, wrestling, and pankration.

I am told, but cannot verify, that Dan Inosanto (student of Bruce Lee) did a solid job deconstructing traditional Asian arts from a critical perspective in Absorb What is Useful.

For a primer on how to be critical of martial arts, Gillian Russell's Epistemic Viciousness in the Martial Arts (PDF) is a fine choice, as are Straight Blast Gym / Matt Thornton materials (such as this YouTube and others from that tape).

For history of karate, I recommend Patrick McCarthy, Tetsuhiro Hokama, and the slightly more gullible and biased Mark Bishop. For writings on Japanese arts in general and judo in particular, check out Donn Draeger (along with Ishikawa) and Isao Okano (along with Tetsuya Sato), though these are less historical and more on the culture and practice.
posted by daveliepmann at 2:11 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Karate-do: My Way of Life by Gichin Funakoshi (the man largely responsible for the popularization of karate in the 20th century) is an interesting autobiography and worth reading. I wouldn't read it uncritically, by any means, but Funakoshi is an absolute pillar of modern karate and understanding his background and thinking offers a lot of context. He's written several other books that actually describe or teach karate, but it sounds like the bio is closer to what you're looking for.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:28 PM on December 8, 2012

I found this book to be an interesting and lengthy history of fencing.
posted by loriginedumonde at 5:40 PM on December 8, 2012

You can search Google Scholar for articles. This study about the injury rates in various martial arts disciplines looks interesting, for example.
posted by MsMolly at 5:50 PM on December 8, 2012

Response by poster: There are some really good answers here, I'll check out everyone's suggestions. Thanks.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:09 AM on December 9, 2012

I forgot to mention the absolutely superb Kennedy & Guo. Their books Jingwu and Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals are top-notch histories of Chinese traditions.

If you end up liking Poliakoff, you might enjoy Gardiner's more general Athletics in the Ancient World.

Finally, I forgot to mention that each of McCarthy's books varies wildly in the amount of history versus the kata-photos they contain. His Bubishi, though slightly too believing of wacky traditions and too interventionist in its interpretations of moves, is one of the more history-oriented. It focuses on the Chinese/Japanese/Okinawan connection during and just before the development of karate.
posted by daveliepmann at 8:47 AM on December 10, 2012

Best answer: The Science of Takedowns, Throws and Grappling for Self Defence by Martina Sprague has some excellent reviews if you're interested in the technical aspects of such things.

So far as alternate media I'd recommend a couple of other resources. I appreciate that you may not consider them "peer reviewed" but I think any reading of either of the following recommendations will absolutely show you that the individuals concerned take their training and teaching extremely seriously. Mick Coup's Core Concepts Forum has a great deal of archived material from the man himself. It's about as solid a point of view as you will see relating to what the reality of fighting is within the MA/SD community. A lot of the archived material are essentially high quality essays from Mick where he provides not just clearly thought out and well reasoned responses to any questions asked but also the benefit of years of thought and practice. I honestly cannot recommend it enough.

Steve Morris is also one of the most naturally gifted martial artists of all time and whilst he does have quite the chip on his shoulder about many things in TMA he is still, without doubt, absolutely phenomenal at what he does. Neither Mick nor Steve deal in BS and both have stellar reputations both online and in the real world.
posted by longbaugh at 3:17 AM on December 31, 2012

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