Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rory Miller's Meditations on Violence

A few weeks ago I had the distinct privilege and pleasure of being asked to review Rory Miller's new book, Meditations on Violence. I was really looking forward to this book. It got fabulous hype from every reviewer; one even went so far as to call it "life changing." Let me tell you, there is probably nothing that stands a greater chance of making me skeptical than being told that a martial arts book is life changing. Ok, so maybe if the author's title is something like, "10th dan shihan-dai soke jedi master" - maybe then I'd be more skeptical, but telling me that a martial arts book is "life changing?" Come on...
This book is nothing short of remarkable, truly informed, and inspiring. This is easily the best martial arts book I've ever read. Period. You simply must read this book and think about these ideas that Rory presents if you want to claim to be a martial artist.
In this book, Rory talks about the challenges that any martial artist faces when confronted with real, shocking, fast, close, brutal, violent violence. But let me tell you, through most of the book I was wondering if the author was talking about the weaknesses in my particular martial arts practices or if he was really talking about martial arts in general. It sure seemed that there were a lot of viable, experience-based challenges to arts like judo and aikido in there. But on the other hand, virtually every other page has some insight that verifies or validates our practices in aikido in particular.
This book is so rich that I figured to do several days of reviews about different parts of it. I will not spoil it for you, so go read it yourself. But Rory was nice enough to invite me to "tell him where he got it wrong" (as if I could invalidate his experiences), so here goes:

Get used to being hit, and get used to being touched, especially on the face. For various reasons, face contact between adults is loaded with connotations. Accidental face contact almost always results in both students freezing and can cause outpouring of emotional sludge. Criminals use this by starting with an open-handed strike to the face (called a "bitch slap") that has paralyzing psychological effects. (p118)

This is exactly right on every point. For this reason, our first technique that we learn in aikido (shomenate - palm to the face) is the most effective thing there is and sets up every other aikido technique in the syllabus. Tomiki supposedly stated that none of the stuff in aikido works unless you do shomenate first. And shomenate is extremely un-nerving to say the least - I have seen students reduced to inability to practice from simple face touching, and I have heard from one of my judo instructors of light-touch facial knockouts in randori. Touching the face can just make the mind shut down from psychological overload. When I got into a fight with a gang of kids in Birmingham, sure enough one of them opened up with a bitch slap that paralyzed me until my girlfriend's screeching managed to break my freeze.
This is just one of many examples of Rory's understanding of his experiences matching my understanding of mine. This sort of thing is found on a page-by-page basis in this book. Highly recommended. More review to come tomorrow...


  1. Pat, I have to second your opinion on this book. I have read it and it is an absolutely must read for martial artists. There is a huge difference between preparing for real world violence and living the dojo fantasy that unfortunately prevails in most martial arts schools these days. There are way too many schools that are giving away rank just to pay the bills and that is a dangerous trend that gives the students a false sense of confidence. Another great book on preparing for real world violence is Gavin De Becker's "The Gift Of Fear". It's not a martial arts book per se but it does deal with the mental side of violent attacks and how your fear is actually a gift that you should listen to.

  2. Hi, Pat! Great to have you reading my little slice of the blogosphere. I agree with everything you've said 100%.

    I have deBecker's Gift of Fear on order now - hope to get it soon.


  3. This is the first martial arts book that I have read that avoids both being full of spiritual mumbo jumbo and an immature rah-rah attitude about conflict. In other words, the author has already come to terms with the violence in his life, and isn't forcing the reader to walk that path with him.

    Mr. Miller is the real deal -- he's seen enough violence to be bored by it, but has been able to absorb it in a way that hasn't permanently poisoned his ability to be a real teacher.

  4. Dang it all but with having to pay for commercial lessons now my luxury purchases are limited. I already have to get a chin na book so it might be a while. Still this one looks right up my alley!

    I may use this post as an excuse to create a list of must-reads--perhaps at Amazon...

  5. It is a wonderful book. I didn't need to use my red pen even one time, which from me is high praise indeed. ;)


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