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More Nothingness than Being
A Book Review of “Martial Arts and Philosophy” by G. Priest and D. Young (eds) By Chuck Lewis

This book, “Martial Arts and Philosophy: Beating and Nothingness,”

(Open Court, 2010), edited by philosophers Graham Priest and Damon Young, has been sitting unread gathering dust, so for my spring cleaning I finally got a look at it. That was a mistake; I should have just thrown the book out.

In my opinion this book is terrible, just utterly terrible, and if I was to mark it as a thesis, it would get an F, no an F minus, and need to be rewritten and resubmitted. That is my hash belief, and now I will justify it.

Their book is largely a group of academics carrying on about the novelty that they have a dual identity: Superman during the day, teaching boring as shit courses on philosophy and logic etc. (mostly Anglo-American analytic philosophy; see for a critique from the inside:

But, then at night, one or two times a week, they put on their white pajamas and get down and dirty, making kicks and punches with their soft tootsies and hands, in their Clark Kent identity. Did I get that right? Sorry, but I doubt very much that any of the main dudes have had serious life-and death fights. Too much of this book is just: “look at us super smart philosophers. Wow, we are hot, wank, wank.” They, in their arrogance, even have a list of injuries they have received; nothing out of the ordinary. James has had more injuries than all combined, and more serious too, as have all of us serious combat fighters:

As a lifelong unarmed combat trainer in the practical school of self-defense, I believe that any serious philosophy of the martial arts book should look at the main debates in the field. Even within their classical East Asian framework, philosophers should have devoted a considerable portion of the volume to Bruce Lee’s critique of classical martial arts and his view that all such systems are limited. Western philosophers would know this as the problem of theory choice, and one would have expected that philosophers who in their professional activities deal with competing logical and philosophical systems would have immediately have confronted Bruce Lee’s critique, made primarily in “The Tao of Jeet Kune Tao.” But, their book has only a passing, superficial, mention of Lee on pages 40 and 43.

The bulk of the text deals in one form or other with the moral issue of justifying training in the martial arts from a Buddhist perspective. It seems to be a big thing among these philosophers to be a Buddhist. Why the fuck should anyone else care about that? Fuck Buddhism and fuck the Buddha. No disrespect meant, of course, and I am sure that the Zen folk would agree; if you see the Buddha, kill him, as Zen master Linji (founder of the Rinzai sect) said.

However, my main complaint is that the entire approach taken by these “we are so cool” philosophers, ignores the basic occidental approach to the martial arts, even though some concluding papers on what they take to be Western martial arts are included (chivalry, a short essay on boxing, and fencing). Nothing here on the practical self-defense schools that existed since the Greeks, running through to the masters of the Middle Ages (e.g. only a passing mention of George Silver, p. 211), through to Rex Applegate, William E. Fairbairn, Professor Bradley Steiner:

and of course, James LaFond. Not a fucking mention of a whole school of thought! For that reason alone, I aware the book an “F.”

Consequently, for all of these reasons, I award this book the final grade of F minus. I would not give such a grade to books that I merely disagreed with. But, this book ignores massive areas of knowledge that should not be ignored. If the book was restricted in its title to “East Asian Martial Arts,” then I would have no problem, but the aim of the book is to be comprehensive, and for philosophers, there is no excuse.

I suspect that the editors, while being good professional philosophers (whatever that means), and no doubt skilled in their particular system, lack a comprehensive worldview of the martial arts and unarmed combat. For example, there is a chapter on use of the stick in self-defense, and the author plugs for this because being a Buddhist, he thinks that sticks are less deadly than blades, so more in the Buddhist line. Hell, even with a double-edged sword, one can strike with the flat of the blade, and with a single edge, the non-sharpened side. And, some sticks are more deadly than blades anyway (huge clubs for example), and certainly in the hands of someone like Miyamoto Musashi and James LaFond. Thus, we find the claim that Musashi had used sticks (actually a carved boat oar on one occasion) in duals because, “the bokken more readily permits one to win without killing or maiming.” (p. 164) Musashi though, did kill on many occasions using wood weapons, probably more effectively than with this katana:

In this age of specialization, one does not get to be an expert by studying some topic or area of activity for a few nights a week. One needs to be devoted to the activity, living it each day, training relentlessly, putting in thousands of hours. On needs to be blooded, facing people in real world confrontations, not just in the dojo. I do not see any of the academic contributors being great street fighters, especially the feminists, and surviving on the streets requires more than a slick tongue and political correctness.

I hereby will burn this book when the cold season comes again to the wind-swept planes of my home Wyoming, using its pages as kindling. Where in the hell did I get this book anyway?

Winter of a Fighting Life: A Kinetic Memoir

Being a Bad Man in a Worse World

Fighting Smart: Boxing, Agonistics & Survival

Twerps, Goons and Meatshields: The Basics of Full Contact Stick-Fighting

Add Comment
BobMay 8, 2018 11:18 PM UTC

Here's a summary of the book. The entire work is to be found floating out there in the ether.

Serious philosophers hand over the wallet and hit back with the pen.
BobMay 8, 2018 11:11 PM UTC

If memory serves me well, CUNY philosophy professor Michael Levin was inspired to write "Why Race Matters" after suffering several muggings at the hands of fleet-footed "youths" (prof's a runner, knows his stuff). Here's an amusing summary by the SPLC. They flip between condemning him as a "white supremacist" and an ethnic Jew who dislikes blacks. A difficult ploy to pull off without looking disingenuous.
LynnMay 8, 2018 9:03 PM UTC

I believe this should be tagged "To the Point."

Very funny, as usual!