Friday, November 13, 2009

Review: Me, Chi and Bruce Lee by Brian Preston

Try going out where little kids congregate these days and tell me how many short people you see wearing white pajamas, also known as martial arts uniforms. My children have never participated so my knowledge of the sport remains incredibly superficial. I've never seen a Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan movie. And Eastern philosophy doesn't tend to stick nicely in my brain (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is on the short list of books that actually made me want to poke myself in the eye with a pointy stick). So you might wonder why I would even think to pick up a book purportedly about martial arts.

But this is not an instructional book. It is an interesting and insightful book about author Preston's journey towards learning what drives martial arts, both traditional and modern, how people practice this sport, and the underlying philosophies behind it. He himself was a complete novice when the idea for this book popped up and he thought he could chronicle his own journey to a black belt. Only it wasn't as easy as it looked. After his own learning was derailed (or at least postponed), Preston examined the different disciplines, interviewed big names, and traveled to China to search out practitioners where it all originated. While Preston is respectful, he doesn't shy away from the problems plaguing the sport or some of the ridiculousness associated with it. He finds humor in his search and pokes gentle fun at himself during this journey. And what he learns about himself during his research is as interesting as the research itself.

Preston is quite thorough in his coverage although for the uninitiated, the differences in disciplines seem to be splitting hairs and are not necessarily particularly clear. And I'm not certain how this fault could be remedied in a book as it would probably take a video. Despite missing nuances that must certainly speak volumes to actual practicing martial artists, this was an interesting read and one that let me poke a toe over the threshold of a world in which I'll probably never have a part. I enjoyed my time visiting monastaries and temples, meeting Ultimate fighters, and learning in neighborhood martial arts schools and clubs.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for a review copy of this book although in the spirit of full disclosure, I actually bought the copy I read, not having changed my address after we moved and therefore some other lucky soul, perhaps the folks who bought our last house, was the lucky recipient of the free copy of the book.

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