Don’t recreate the wheel. You don’t know what you don’t know. If I can see farther, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants. Leaders are readers. I could go on and on. I think everyone can agree that the continued pursuit of knowledge, through books, videos, live teaching, etc., is essential to advance in any field.
Over the course of my 30+ years in martial arts, I have read several hundred books on various martial arts related topics. I have a large library in my office at my studio as well as at my home. I always have 4-5 books in the queue waiting to be read next. Knowledge is power. In order to reach your fullest potential as a martial artist, you must gain as much knowledge as possible.
Every so often, I get a student that has the same scholarly appetite for knowledge that I have. They always ask me for recommendations as to what books to read first. The following list are five books that I always recommend for martial arts students to read first. Regardless of rank, experience, or martial arts style, these books are paramount for the serious martial artist.
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Karate Do-My Way of Life by Gichin Funakoshi
Karate-Do My Way of Life by Gichin Funakoshi is a relatively short read that chronicles the life of the founder of modern karate. His childhood, his life as a young man in Okinawa, his struggles to popularize karate, as well as his unique philosophies are scattered throughout the book. This book is great for all martial artists, not just karate practitioners.
The Book of 5 Rings by Miyamoto Musahi
The Book of Five Rings was written by Miyamoto Musashi who is considered the best swordsman of all time. Musashi retreated to a cave as an undefeated samurai in 1643 to write this book; a sort of manifesto on swordsmanship, strategy, and winning. This classic book by Musashi beautifully relates swordsmanship to conflicts in everyday life. The Book of Five Rings will resonate with martial artists and non-martial artists alike with Musashi’s core teaching of mastery over the mind rather than technical prowess.
Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams
Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams is a really quick read but is very worthwhile. Joe Hyams trained under the guidance of legends like Ed Parker and Bruce Lee. Hyams uses his 25+ years of experience in martial arts to show how the application of Zen principles can help develop physical acumen as well as mental discipline. His book reveals how martial arts can dramatically alter the quality of life whether it’s self-image, work pressure, or competition. This is another great book for martial artists of all styles as well as non-martial artists.
Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee is perhaps the greatest martial artist of all time. In the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, we get a glimpse of his philosophy and mindset in developing his martial arts style. This is the only book on my list that contains technical material however Bruce Lee’s teachings are so effective and efficient that they can apply to all martial arts styles.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
This classic work by Sun Tzu was written over 2,000 years ago and still is applicable today. The Art of War teaches strategy by using the most powerful weapon of all time: the mind. This book is the basis of all modern martial arts and was used to train the most successful warriors in history such as Napoleon, Genghis Khan, and George Patton.
So, there you have it. If you are every stranded on a deserted island and can only choose five martial arts books, you know which ones to pick. I always welcome recommendations or feedback if you have a book or two which you feel strongly about.