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Book Review - The Way of the Warrior

by Nancy Beckerman

The Way of the Warrior. The Paradox of the Martial Arts; by Howard Reid and Michael Croucher, 1991, Overtook Press

"When a master...faces an opponent he brings to the confrontation thousands of years of philosophical, religious and practical thought."

Authors Reid and Croucher begin their book with an investigation of the history of the martial arts. "One of the puzzles of the origins of martial arts is that they are spread widely through the Far East, but apparently have never been practiced in Europe."

There is a definite distinction made between the martial arts and war. A civilization had to be rich to allow for the development of professionals in martial arts, who must "'have time for practice and study, most likely in the court of a ruler." Likewise, in Greece. the "games" were considered religious festivals; war was suspended during the period they were played.

From the beginning, there was secrecy surrounding the martial arts. "The masters of old did not reveal their knowledge readily. To be allowed to share the techniques and wisdom they had accumulated during years of dedication was a privilege accorded to a select few."

The Way of the Warrior highlights the specific martial arts of lndia, China and Japan, with a chapter devoted to karate. The book is beautifully Illustrated with photos, drawings, and even maps. The philosophy behind the martial arts is described and its beginnings in Taoism and Buddhism traced. "The martial arts have an intellectual content. They embody sets of values and are based on specific views of the world and man's place within it."

About karate, the book says, "Absolute respect is expected in the dojo" and "the dojo is the sacred place where the human spirit can be tempered and polished." Further, "although mental training... teaches a student the absolute importance of not fighting, the body is meanwhile being built up into the most complex weapons system imaginable." A martial art... "is not a battle with an opponent, but a battle with yourself, with your own physical, spiritual and mental weaknesses." The authors describe a typical Japanese dojo, and a karate class, including the importance of the warm up, stretching, stances, and kicking, punching, striking and blocking techniques. Kata are then discussed, emphasizing "timing, focus, balance, economy and harmony of the breath, body and spirit."

Kendo, alkido, judo and ken-jutsu are included in a chapter devoted to modern martial arts in Japan, and mention is even made of women's participation. The martial arts are put into the context of today's world with its technological inventions and modern attitudes. "The martial arts, whose techniques can kill and maim, but whose philosophies cultivate peace, are today undergoing reinterpretation all over the world."

Regarding today's trends towards commercialism, the authors maintain that "despite the pressures, the great majority of the inheritors or the world's martial arts traditions treat their heritage with great respect." This well-written book is recommended as a delightful and informative account of the discipline we all are trying to develop!