PART 1: Reading Material
Tao of Jeet Kune Do [by Bruce Lee]
The classic is published by Black Belt Books, but that’s not why it’s first on the list. It’s first because it contains so much good stuff — we’re talking technical material, training advice, philosophical points and even what you might call spiritual guidance — that it begs to be read by practitioners of all arts. Once you do that, chances are you’ll find yourself returning to it regularly for answers to questions that pop up. Word to the wise: Go for the New Expanded Edition because it has numerous improvements Shannon Lee wanted to incorporate. And consider getting the e-book. The search function enables you to key in words like “rear hook” and instantly find everything Lee wrote about it.
RELATED! Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method: The Complete Edition by M. Uyehara: Also from Black Belt Books, this is the perfect companion for the Tao. Written by a close friend of Lee’s who also happens to be the founder of Black Belt magazine, it’s a hardcover composed of the four original volumes of tech talk — with bonus material by Shannon Lee and Ted Wong.
Karate-Do: My Way of Life [by Gichin Funakoshi]
Part history, part philosophy, part personal experience, this work by the founder of shotokan has served as the gateway drug for countless people who went on to a lifetime of martial arts training. It’s not about karate technique; it carries a deeper message, one that’s sure to inspire even experienced practitioners of other styles.
RELATED! Shotokan’s Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins by Bruce Clayton, Ph.D.: The author lays down a fascinating explanation of the development of karate as used by royal bodyguards in Okinawa. If the text is sold out when you look it up on the website of your favorite bookseller — inventory moves quickly — consider opting for the e-book.
The Book of Five Rings [by Miyamoto Musashi]
Perhaps the world’s most famous samurai, the author fought his first duel at age 13 and went on to engage in more than 60 battles before he turned 30. When he was an old man — by the standards of 16th-century Japan, anyway — Musashi decided to record all he’d learned for future generations. You’ll enjoy working your way through the five main sections: the Book of Earth, the Book of Water, the Book of Fire, the Book of Wind and the Book of Emptiness.
RELATED! Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams: This book is popular across the arts, which is not surprising when you consider that the author trained under Ed Parker, Bong Soo Han and Bruce Lee. Its continuing appeal is a testament to the timeless nature of the life lessons Hyams conveys.
Combatives for Street Survival [by Kelly McCann]
The author, a Black Belt Hall of Famer, poured his heart and soul into this no-holds-barred look at real violence and the most effective ways of stopping it. McCann serves up everything a martial artist might need to fill in the gaps in his or her traditional training to make it more street oriented.
RELATED! The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker: Our community has been raving about this book since it was first published. It drives home the message that when it comes to staying safe, there’s plenty you can do before the first fist flies in a fight.
The Art of War [by Sun Tzu]
This classic dates from more than 1,600 years ago, and it’s as relevant now as it was then. In fact, you probably already know a few of its gems like “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Read it for more snippets of warrior wisdom that are guaranteed to expand your mind.
RELATED! The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba: Another bestseller, this book comes from the founder of aikido. He was a man known for his spirituality as well as his technique, and that shines through in his words.
The Complete Master’s Kick [by Hee Il Cho]
A lot of technique books are mere lists of moves taught in a given art. Not this one. The author, a member of the Black Belt
Hall of Fame who’s regarded as one of the world’s best kickers, dissects the most common kicks and teaches them in detail. Note that the techniques are not geared for scoring in competition; they date from the days when taekwondo was a pure fighting art.
RELATED! Fumio Demura’s Karate Weapons of Self-Defense: The Complete Edition: Demura’s five classics — covering the nunchaku, tonfa, sai, bo and eku bo — are collected in one volume. Whether you practice for personal development or competition, you’ll benefit from owning this. Even if you’re not into kobudo, you’ll appreciate learning about these ubiquitous weapons.
Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts [by Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith]
Although a bit dated, this cross-cultural look at the world’s martial arts presented all the information that was available before the internet came along. It no doubt inspired many readers to hit the road and see for themselves what was being taught in remote regions like Mongolia.
RELATED! The Way of the Warrior by Howard Reid and Michael Croucher: This book also is guaranteed to foster wanderlust. The authors examine the indigenous martial arts of a variety of nations with an approach that’s more about history and cultural anthropology than fighting technique. It makes for an enjoyable read.
The Complete Michael D. Echanis Collection [by Michael D. Echanis]
When they were written, the three books that make up this volume — Basic Stick Fighting for Combat; Knife Self-Defense for Combat; and Knife Fighting, Knife Throwing for Combat — proved very popular. For a variety of reasons, the last title was removed from circulation and sold only to military and law-enforcement members. When the publisher finally realized that it was unfair to withhold self-defense teachings from the public, the entire collection was released.
RELATED! The Filipino Martial Arts as Taught by Dan Inosanto: Out of print and hard to find, this is an early classic from the Black Belt Hall of Famer and pioneer in the Filipino fighting arts. It offers a different but equally valid take on blade fighting than the Echanis book does.
The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu (Judo) [by H. Irving Hancock and Katsukuma Higashi]
The grappling moves taught here date from before 1905, when the book was first published. Interestingly, the majority are stand-up techniques even though “judo” is part of the title.
RELATED! The Kyokushin Way by Masutatsu Oyama: The subtitle of this one, Mas Oyama’s Karate Philosophy, reveals why it’s a timeless text. When one of history’s toughest karateka talks, all martial artists should listen. Sadly, it’s been out of print for some time, but it’s worth buying if you get a chance.
The Complete Ninja Collection [by Stephen K. Hayes]
It’s been claimed that the six Ninja books written by this Black Belt Hall of Famer constitute the best-selling martial arts series in the world. They’ve been wildly popular since the 1980s, which is why they were updated and merged into one volume. Even those who don’t harbor illusions of being a ninja will enjoy its insight on the martial culture of Japan.
RELATED! Warrior Odyssey by Antonio Graceffo: This modern-day work from a Black Belt contributing editor recounts the author’s experiences learning martial arts in numerous nations in Asia. It offers insights on a life most of us can only dream about.