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Zen in the Martial Arts
Review by Bob Hubbard

Cover: See below
Title: Zen in the Martial Arts
Author: by Joe Hyams
Publisher & Date : Bantam Books; ; (July 1, 1982)
Type: Paperback
ISBN: 0553275593
Price: $6.99 US

Was this book useful? Yes
Would you buy it again? Yes
Would you buy more books from this author? Yes
Did you need previous experience? No

I had this book recommended to me a while ago and finally picked up a copy. It was a very interesting and pleasant read. Written in 1979, it names a virtual who’s-who in the arts of that era. A few of the ‘names’ mentioned include Bruce Lee, Ed Parker Sr. and Bong Soo Han.

A few things this book is not:
This is not a book with ‘Mystical Secrets’. In it you will not find techniques or forms.

It is not a ‘how to’ guide to finding Zen. It is a simple telling of one mans lessons learned through out several decades of study in the arts.

This is not a complex read. The writing style is friendly, like chatting with someone over a cup of tea. Easy to read, each chapter is short, focusing on one particular moment in time, and the wisdom gained from it.

Its not a thick book with complex theory, or formulas for meditation. One could easily work through this book in a week of short 5-minute breaks from the day’s headaches.

It is a simple book, with the complex lessons left for the reader to find in the simple stories of friends and teachers of his past. Others have criticized this book for its lack of complexity, but that lack is what makes it an excellent introduction and motivational read.

Through out the book, Mr. Hyams has sprinkled antidotes and quotes from various sources. One of my favorites comes from Lao Tzu, author of the “Tao Te Ting”. It is, Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment.” It is little nugget of wisdom, sprinkled throughout that truly makes this a joy to read.

Each chapter contains a simple truth. The story about the ‘empty cup’ is there, as is the application of it in one of the authors’ private lessons with the late Bruce Lee. During one of those private lessons, Bruce Lee also learned something valuable about time from one of the authors’ associates.

Long time students will easily recognize the names of their old mentors, and smile as they read stories they had forgotten. Young students can also benefit from the rare insights shared so willingly by the top names of the day. Lessons that transcend time and are there for us to see again, and learn from.

All in all, I found this book to be a welcome addition to my bookshelf. It is a great pick-me-up for the days when I feel down, or start to question both my goals in the arts, and in life itself. It will be read regularly I expect, with new insights appearing each time.

At under $7 US, this is a definite addition for any martial artists library.


Bob Hubbard is an administrator of the popular martial arts sites and He is president of SilverStar WebDesigns inc., a web site design and hosting company specializing in affordable solutions for martial artists. A student of all the arts, he is currently studying Modern Arnis. More of Bob's articles can be found at Please contact Bob if you would like him to review your martial arts product.

Originally Printed July 2003 MartialTalk Magazine

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