As a martial arts master and dedicated student of almost 20 years now, I like to think that I’ve been around the block. While I consider my journey far from over, I can say with pride that I’ve both fought and trained on both sides of the Pacific in both western and eastern martial arts and have had the rare opportunity to see and experience firsthand a lot of the things my martial compatriots on the home front only dream of. As a function of that however, that also means that I’m not easily impressed. It seems as though, year after year, I have to work a lot harder to find those rare teachers and sources of knowledge that can give me the same mind-expanding experience that got me into martial arts training in the first place.
One great resource I have found for answering this call however is a book called “The Philosophy of Fighting: Morals and Motivations for the Modern Warrior” by fellow Tokyo-based martial artist, Keith Vargo. In effect, the book is a collection of essays from the first 10 years of Keith’s career as a writer for Black Belt Magazine’s “Way of the Warrior” column. While Keith comes from an MMA background himself (he is a former All-Japan shootboxing champion, and the only foreigner to have ever received a black belt from Tokyo’s infamous Takada dojo), the topics covered in each essay seem to be as wide as the world of martial arts itself ranging from treatments of obscure martial arts and masters in the Philippines to martial arts fatherhood.
Additionally, as each essay is only a few pages long, it is a book that can be read in bite-sized segments. For myself, this means being able to take in an essay during a brief 10 min. train ride and then being able to go about my business with a bit of food for thought. I also enjoy it because the girth of Keith’s experience covered in his essays reminds me that there is still a lot that I don’t know about the world of martial arts. It’s a pleasure being able to read intelligent, thoughtful (and often introspective) analyses of both MMA / No-holds-barred Fighting and Traditional Martial Arts all in one source that is small and light enough to carry with me everywhere.
As much as I love reading about and discussing martial arts, I oftentimes I hear the same pro and con arguments reiterated over and over again, and it feels rare that I hear something that is truly eye-opening anymore. Yes, the new Krav Maga way to escape a shirt grab is brilliant, but so were (and still are) the Hapkido way, the Aikido way and the Karate way. Yes, MMA is commonly considered the strongest ‘ring style’ of martial arts, but before that, so was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and before that so was Muay Thai and Boxing.
What seems rare these days are people who appreciate the scope and girth of martial artistry and who look beyond their own styles (and their own egos) to find ‘the underlying form’ that we can all relate to. In every essay, Keith delves into what it really means to be a modern martial artist, explores why it is that we do what we do, and using everything from psychology to historical texts like the Bhagavad Gita brings light to those things that we as martial artists all know, but have probably never really thought about. Regardless of one’s martial background or fighting experience, this is a book I would highly recommend.