Thursday, October 1, 2009

Me, Chi, and Bruce Lee

Brian Preston’s book – subtitled “Adventures in Martial Arts from the Shaolin Temple to the Ultimate Fighting Championship” – is an enjoyable journal of sorts. It’s comparable to Matthew Polly’s “American Shaolin” in that it’s about a wimpy westerner who trains in the martial arts and provides some insightful writing regarding the history and culture. It’s rather different, though, as Matt Polly was a young man at the time he trained, and he specifically trained in a Shaolin school for about a year. Preston, however, is a mid-lifer who starts learning a style of kung fu in Canada, and does some dabbling in Tai Chi, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, visits China for a couple of weeks, talks to a UCF fighter, and eventually settles on training Bagua in his backyard.

Overall, I think that Preston’s research into the arts he discusses leaves something to be desired. And his status as a pot-smoking, pacifistic journalist (who may be going through some sort of mid-life crisis and really only took up martial arts because his publisher told him that they should capitalize on the kung fu craze caused by films like “Kill Bill” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) does not exactly make him look like an authority on the subject.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book because Preston visits some Wudang schools, as well as the actual Shaolin Temple, meets Royce Gracie, and talks to UFC fighter Jeff Monson. He also talks a bit about Bruce Lee, both positively and negatively, so at least his opinion is balanced. Unfortunately, his first master and master’s master seem to be crazy kung fu bullshitters in a lot of ways.

I would suggest it if you’re just looking for an entertaining read and know enough about the subject already to not take Preston at his word. If you’re new to the martial arts, or looking for something definitive, then read something else.

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