Top 10 Martial Arts Books as Selected by Martial Arts Radio Guests

Just as we did with our recent post, Top 10 Martial Arts Movie Actors, we've compiled the book recommendations our guests to whistlekick Martial Arts Radio have made. With over 100 episodes, we had a lot of work. Through all the episodes, even though guests often recommend more than one book, we only had 38 recommendations. Following are the top 10, in reverse order. How many have you read?

#10 (Tie) The Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee

Listeners to the show may find it surprising that The Tao of Jeet Kune Do is tied for tenth place on our list, given the frequency that Bruce Lee is mentioned. The first of four books from the founders of martial art styles on our list, this book is an excellent view into Bruce Lee's mindset of martial arts. It was published after his death though most of the writings were from 1970 when he was injured and unable to train for six months. If you want to understand Bruce Lee or Jeet Kune Do, there's no better place to start.

#10 Kodokan Judo by Jigoro Kano

It's easy to forget the contributions that Judo, and the founder, Jigoro Kano, have made to the Martial Arts. One of the least mentioned martial arts on our show, this is completely contrary to some of Judo's early history. Martial arts belts come from Judo. Early on, Judo was a more practiced Martial Art in America. While this book isn't going to explain the marketing shift that sent Judo to the background, it's an excellent view into the foundation of a style. The second of our four founder books, this book is older than the other three. Judo itself dates back to 1882. Even if you're not a grappler, Judo's place in the martial arts landscape led to karate, taekwondo and other arts that we practice today.

#9 Bubishi: The Classic Manual of Combat

This is one of the most respected and mysterious books on the list. While there are plenty of modern translations, it's hard to say where the text originally came from. Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-ryu Karate, referred to it as "The bible of Karate." For many years it was a secret text handed down from teacher to student and was considered required reading for many of the masters that taught martial arts, including some mentioned here. It is possibly the most influential martial arts book of all time.

#8 Taekwon-do: The Art of Self Defence by Choi Hong Hi

In the controversial and storied history of Taekwondo, it's important to look at the evolution. This book, from General Choi, gives an excellent glimpse into Taekwondo (TKD) from the self-proclaimed founder [Note: That's a controversial topic and is best explained in Book #3]. Regardless of your style, opinions on General Choi Hong Hi or even Taekwon-Do, this is an appropriate read for any martial artist who appreciates history and mindset from pioneer.

#7 Success is Waiting: The Martial Arts School Owner's Guide to Teaching, Business and Life by Buzz Durkin

Many of the guests on our show run their own martial arts schools, which is known to be a very difficult undertaking. When the subject of how to operate a school comes up, this book is usually mentioned. If you have any desire to earn a living through the martial arts, even if it's not from owning or running a school, this book is a must read.

#6 Living the Martial Way by Forrest E. Morgan

With a subtitle like "A Manual for the Way a Modern Warrior Should Think" you might wonder if this is another Way of the Peaceful Warrior (a fantastic book that didn't make the top 10, and is based on mindset rather than physical aspects). This book has a strong consensus for it's message, which is about the value of developing spirit and considered a must-read by many.

#5 Karate-Do: My Way of Live by Gichin Funakoshi

Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan karate, didn't want to write this Autobiography, and waited until he was nearly 90 to do so. It's said this was out of modesty. This was not his only book, but it's the one that gives the best glimpse into who Gichin Funakoshi was and the way martial arts was practiced on Okinawa. 

#4 The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

Written around 1645, this book is much older than most on the list. The influence expands far beyond martial arts - business leaders and other professionals find the lessons to be valuable. The lessons in the book are intended to scale - to be applied to a battle that is between individuals or small groups or even large wars. We get to read about Musashi's duels and his use of two swords when convetion was to use only one. It's a book that many martial arts masters have learned from, and often recommend.

#3 A Killing Art by Alex Gillis

A heavily researched book, A Killing Art delves deeply into the history of Taekwondo. Some have reported that it changes their view on the history that is often taught in TKD schools. An honest and well-researched book, Alex Gillis does a wonderful job of taking the reader back to the founding times. He helps us understand the mindset of the people involved and objectively presents difficult information. We had the chance to hear from Mr. Alex Gillis on episode 106 of Martial Arts Radio, which further explains the book and how it came about.

#2 The Art of War by Sun Tzu

This is the oldest book on the list, dating back to the 5th century BC. Sun Tzu was a military strategist and this book covers military strategy and tactics. As with The Book of Five Rings, this text isn't simply appropriate for military officials; it's been lauded by everyone from business people to legal minds to martial artists. 

#1 Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams

One of the smallest and simplest books on Martial Arts ever written, it's almost surprising that it came in as our most-recommended book. Anyone who has read it, however, would likely say great things. Despite the simplicity of the book, the lessons are fundamental and, at times, profound. The short chapters make it a great choice for any time you need a bit of inspiration.



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