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Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence Paperback – Illustrated, June 1, 2008
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“It's the real thing!” -- Steve Barnes, author, martial artist
“A fresh voice writing from the trenches on the realities of real fighting. Listen to him!” -- Loren Christensen, 7th dan, Police Officer, author
“One of the best books on self-protection ever written! Outstanding!” -- Iain Abernethy, 6th Dan, World Combat Association Chief International Coach, author of Mental Strength, Throws for Strikers, and Karate's Grappling Methods
“A stark look into the real world [of violence]. Highly recommended!” -- Robert Carver, 6th dan, USMC Ret.
"...required reading for all serious martial artists, law enforcement officers, security professionals, and anyone else who might have to deal with violence in some capacity. illuminating and very likely lifesaving as well." -- Lawrence A. Kane, martial artist, author of Surviving Armed Assaults, co-author of The Little Black Book of Violence and Scaling Force
From the Publisher
(Sponsored by USA Book News)
FINALIST for Book of the Year Award: Body/Mind/Spirit, 2008
(Sponsored by ForeWord Magazine)
- Publisher : YMAA Publication Center; 1st edition (June 1, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 202 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1594391181
- ISBN-13 : 978-1594391187
- Item Weight : 11.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.13 x 0.52 x 9.13 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #92,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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While it’s important to have safety in a training environment and, therefore, true violence must be prohibited (simulated, but not carried out), it’s important to understand violence so that one can prepare one’s mind for it and train oneself to recognize various types of violence so that one knows the best approach to avoid a bad outcome. One doesn’t want to end up wondering “how could this happen” as one is bleeding out on the ground as martial artists from a range of styles have experienced. I’m not saying martial arts aren’t valuable, and I don’t think Miller is either (he’s long practiced them, as have I.) While martial arts may not prepare one perfectly for a violent conflict, they move one in the right direction. The only real downside is if one allows oneself to be deluded into thinking one is going to roll through waves of enemies without a scratch like Jet Li or Steven Seagal on the silver screen. That’s why it’s important not only to read such a book as this, but to give serious thought to changing the narrative that plays out in one’s mind about the nature of violence so as to move it away from movie / sport fighting towards an approach that is most likely to get one and one’s loved ones out alive.
The book consists of seven chapters, plus front and back matter. The first chapter introduces two matrices as ways to frame one’s thoughts on the conflict. The first, the tactical matrix, looks at different types of attacks one might experience (eg. surprise ambush through preemptive attack) relative to allowable use of force (can one legitimately injure or kill one’s opponent?) The second, the strategic matrix, considers the various types of combative endeavors (e.g. self-defense, duel, sport, combat/military operations) and there goals, approaches, and dangers.
Chapter two is entitled, “How to Think,” and the emphasis is on “to think.” The central lesson is to not take ideas on faith, particularly ideas about the nature of violence from people who haven’t experienced it—particularly when those ideas seem to run counter to reality. Because violence is such a rarity, it is a subject for which there is a great disconnect between expertise and experience. (i.e. Chances are your plumber has unclogged tens to thousands of drains, but also that the person teaching you knife disarms has never been in a single knife fight.) The chapter considers the various fallacies and how they can be resistant to destruction. Emphasis is given to understanding your goals, making them realistic, and having a pragmatic path to achieving them. The take-away quote is, “Do not let yourself be crippled by something that only exists in your mind.” The chapter ends by looking at decision-making at the speed of a fight, which is pretty quick.
Chapter three gets to the heart of the subject, violence. It differentiates various types of violence, and considers the context (setting, timing, and the nature of the interaction) in which violent interactions take place. Much of the discussion revolves around what Miller calls the “monkey dance” -an attempt to exert dominance that often escalates into a fight. This is differentiated from predatory violence that demands a different approach. This section also addresses the neurochemical cocktail that gets shot into one’s system and the effects that it typically has—which is a leading cause of events unfolding differently than expected.
Chapter four describes the various types of individuals with whom one might find oneself engaged in a violent altercation. This is an important topic because the path to a best outcome varies depending upon the nature of the criminal, and so one’s ability to differentiate types of predator and to know how to best deal with each is as essential a skill as knowing the technical nuances of a punch or choke.
The fifth chapter examines training approaches, and how the typical martial arts education leaves one with blind-spots and built-in flaws. The chapter begins by looking at the many ways in which martial arts make modifications from realistic conditions in order to be safe. Most martial artists realize that they are training techniques or drilled responses into their subconscious so that their bodies can respond automatically--without the need for [slow] conscious thought--during a conflict. However, there’s a further assumption that the unrealistic parts of that movement (e.g. slowness or avoiding vulnerable targets) will go away under real life conditions. In an earlier chapter, there was a discussion of the fact that attacks are usually faster, harder, at closer range, and more surprising than expected (Miller calls it the four basic truths), and this chapter considers some ways that one can prepare for those realities.
The sixth chapter considers how one can make self-defense work. It should be pointed out that this isn’t just about how to engage in the fight, but also how to stay out of a fight or get away from it as quickly as is possible. There’s also a discussion of set rules for determining when one must fight. This is the type of notion that one must think about ahead of time, because one can’t expect to think clearly once the adrenaline has been dumped into one’s system. The remainder of the chapter explores how one is most likely to get out of an altercation alive once the fight has become inevitable.
The final chapter delves into the question of what comes after the violent encounter. This is also a subject on which many martial artists have unrealistic notions. If one survives in an unheroic / ungraceful way, one may have guilt or dismay about how imperfectly events unfolded. On the other hand, say everything works out for one, but one kills the predator. Most people seem to think that this won’t be troubling, because it was justified. This misses the fact that there are many traumatized soldiers who were also completely justified, but if you aren’t a hardcore psychopath, you aren’t wired for killing.
I found a lot of valuable food for thought in this book. The author includes many stories (sometimes funny and sometimes disturbing) that help to make the lessons memorable and poignant. Tables, charts, and the occasional photograph are used to illustrate points as well.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s concerned about violent altercations. If you’re a martial artist who has no such concerns because you think you have a lock on it, then you probably doubly need this book.
Rory Miller does a pretty good job of trying to teach the reader about violence, what it does to the mind, the body, and spirit. He's careful to show that even when one emerges victorious from a confrontation, there are still major consequences one must face. The book is not just philosophical, however, and it is filled with Miller's real-world experiences with the violent, the predatory, and the mentally ill. The author has experience in working security, corrections, and in studying martial arts.
That said, he doesn't try to add a veneer of Eastern Mysticism over everything he does, acting as if he's some kind of guru, which can happen a lot in these kinds of texts. Many "self-defense experts" seem lost on a Steven Segal kick, where they're as obsessed with proving their own toughness and bad-ass bona fides to the reader as they are offering helpful advice or admitting their own faults in the hope that the reader can learn from them. Rory Miller checks his ego on Page 1, and provided you're willing to meet him halfway, you'll learn something, regardless of your own level of experience with violence. Recommended.
Top reviews from other countries
It is down to earth but also IMO, literature, but non fiction, it is also valid but strong bitter medicine, for those interested in 'spirituality' and self improvement.
He also shows how sometimes, wierd amazing things do happen in hand to hand fighting, even if we can't fully explain them.
NLPers note, this is how you really generate tachipsychia, (slow time distortion) and it ain't by hypnosis, or by doing things in your head, and it ain't pretty. but it works, its called training with real danger - not a how to manual though.
It could be IMO a source of comfort for anyone who has been assaulted, robbed, raped and wants help in coming to term with what happened, and with their own responses and self recrimination ie 'why didn't I fight back?'
For me it reminds me that when I was training in kung fu I could see that it was unhelpful for street attacks where people don't step then punch, but instead get in close then punch or whatever, but somehow still believed in the kung fu.
This book discusses this issue a lot.
Best book on anything that I have read for years
This is part of a trilogy of books (by different authors) I would advise anyone interested in violence, its causes, effects and perpetrators, to read. The other two are Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker and Homicide by Wilson & Daly.
The subject matter is delivered from mainly a personal perspective – that is to say Rory Miller uses incidents in his own experience to demonstrate how the theories work, and how they sometimes do not. However at no point does this become a “look at me” book. His examples are often counter-examples where things did not go at planned and he is very honest in admitting the gaps in his experience. So you will not end up being irritated by a smug author.
The book will change your perception of the world – or perhaps rather shift it. The chapter on predators is probably the most eye opening sections of the book. His advice to go to public places and scan for individual who would appeal to predators and those who would not. How to they hold themselves? How do they move? It is both a chilling and fascinating exercise.
We do live in the west in the safest of times and the chance of encountering violence for most people is vanishingly slight. But if it were to happen this book might just give you a nudge, a second of action, that may make a massive difference. If nothing else the author give a fool proof mantra to follow:
“Its better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than die.” [p136]
Over the years I have read many different books, studied a wide range of different styles and watched more videos than I can remember. I gradually came to two conclusions and didn't like either of them, nor will you. 95% or more of what you learn is useless in a real fight, and there is no secret method, style or technique that will guarantee survival, never mind make you unbeatable. Most styles work very well in the dojo or tournament setting but would you buy a book on origami so you could service your own car?
When I was about 10 years old I realised that the only sure way of winning a fight was to be faster and nastier than the bullies and then they left me alone. I forgot this simple truth in my quest to be better than Bruce Lee but I was never much good at high kicks due to my own physical limitations and two finger press-ups make you good at press-ups, not fighting.
Instructors never bothered to inform me that film fights are meant to look good and engage the viewer, and are about as far from reality as The Force. Most demonstrations of techniques seemed to be to prove they were better than their ookai. They all pedaled the myth that the ultimate warrior will fell his opponent in an elegant and stylish manner to the applause and admiration of the onlookers. Get over it. If a technique looks good then, in my view, it is probably no use in reality. One of my senior students was recently criticised at a grading for "being scrappy" although his techniques were effective. Scrappy? Have you ever been in a street or bar fight that wasn't?
Turned up Saturday lunch time & i had finished it by 3 that afternoon.
If you are a martial artist then i believe this book is of genuine service to you. Rory Miller has to utilise acts of force in his day job & teach these attributes to others. There is a palpable air to this book that what is being discussed is real & valid
Confrontations are not as the average martial arts practioner believes them to be. they are nasty, brutish, quick & surprising. Mr Miller talks us through some past experiences & provides insights & observations on violent incidents.
The book deals with the mindset, situation & aftermath of a violent assault & I think covers more ground than the usual self defence related material. Mr Miller's real life role (Now training U.S. armed forces in theatre, according to his blog) adds substantial weight & realism to the topics he discusses.
I found this book to be a real gem & will look forward to any new work with interest.
Rory, been reading the blog for a few months, excellent & bought this off the back of it, best wishes & you take care.