Zen in the Martial Arts Book Review
Zen in the Martial Arts is another one of those little books that slipped under the radar…
Originally published by Joe Hyams in 1979 this short and concise 130~ page book contains a wealth of information on mindset, zen and living a good life from a decades of training martial arts under the greats, including Bruce Lee.
I stumbled upon this book while browsing in a second-hand book shop on the opposite side of town, you probably won’t find Hyams’ book in your local bookstore but you can pick it up on Amazon.
Zen in the Martial Arts literally contains no filler content, with many similar (more recent) books comprised of 300 – 400 pages with a large portion of filler, irrelevant stories and content that is in no way actionable, this little gem is a breath of fresh air.
Think about it, 25 years of experience in training martial arts around the world under celebrated masters such a Bruce Lee and Ed Parker compressed into 130 pages of clear, concise content.
For less than the cost of a couple of cups of coffee you’d be hard pressed to find a better investment!
Key Point Summary
Zen in the Martial Arts is comprised of a number of short chapters, each focusing on a specific zen principle that Joe Hyams was taught over the course of 25 years.
You’ll find an image, examples and actionable tips with each principle (along with some great ancient quotes and maxims!)
You Must Empty Your Cup
We’re often too cocky, our mind is full of our own ideas and speculations… there can be no further learning when your proverbial cup is full.
When learning a new skill or craft put your ego and knowledge aside and learn.
A full cup will continue to overflow when more liquid is added – this is your egotistic mind.
Empty your cup, be prepared to absorb and soak up new information and skills from the master, like an empty cup storing water.
This is the absolute key to successfully acquiring new knowledge and skills.
Understand Mastery Takes Time
Mastery in any skill, be it martial arts or computer programming takes time, a long time.
Proficiency comes from constant work, but mastery can only come from deeply focused work over a long, long period of time.
If you’re constantly focusing on the end product, looking at the clock wondering how much longer it’ll be until you’re a master in your chosen discipline you’ll never get there!
You must focus on the process, not the end-state product.
Bill Gates locked himself in a cubicle from age 20 to age 30, working on building Microsoft, this titan of a company didn’t appear overnight! During what has been coined those ’10 dark years’ Bill Gates did not take a single day off, he wasn’t constantly checking the clock, wondering how long it was until he’d achieved mastery and massive success… he enjoyed the process and the rest is history.
The Moment Is All You Have
You cannot have boundless physical or mental energy if you’re constantly living between the past and the future.
You must seize the moment with focus, you must be present at all moments.
There are no regrets in the present, only in the past.
By constantly thinking of the future you begin to dilute the present.
Building a business, learning karate, reading a book… all of these things require immense focus in the now.
You cannot expect to succeed in any of these endeavours if your energy and focus are anywhere other than in the current moment.
Limitations Can Be Advantageous
As Bruce Lee said we cannot learn anything new until we accept ourselves with our current limitations.
We must accept the fact that we’re capable in some directions and limited in others, only then can we work on further developing our capabilities (building on strength, not patching up weaknesses).
Bruce Lee for example had one leg significantly shorter than the other, rather submit to what may be considered a disadvantage he turned this around and began to use it as a strength – adopting the distinctive stance and style of kicking he did.
“I accepted my limitations for what they were and capitalized on them.”
Spend Time, Don’t Waste Time
Time is the most precious commodity we have, we cannot buy additional time, nor can we get a refund of any time we wasted.
As we get older we slowly begin to realize that time is the only thing we have left…
To spend time is to pass it in a specified manner, e.g. training martial arts, reading or having an intellectual conversation with firends.
To waste time is to expend it thoughtlessly or carelessly – caught up in gossip, eating junk food or watching pointless television shows.
Be Patiently Impatient
Most people are impatiently patient, they’re eager to get take the first move but then they go no further…
You must do the opposite.
Take your time to ensure you’ve got the perfect moment, then relentlessly go all in.
When a problem arises be patient in seeking a solution or opening, then fully commit yourself to the solution or attack that you see is advisable.
Inhale Deeply To Conquer Anxiety
99% of the population does not know how to breath correctly, they take short, shallow breaths.
Deep, controlled breathing evokes calmness, confidence and strength.
Inhale deeply into your belly, then slowly breath out – don’t only breath into your lungs – breath into your belly!
My Top Highlighted Quotes
“When you lose your temper, you lose yourself—on the mat as well as in life.”
“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.”
“The mind is like a fertile garden,” Bruce said. “It will grow anything you wish to plant—beautiful flowers or weeds. And so it is with successful, healthy thoughts or with negative ones that will, like weeds, strangle and crowd the others. Do not allow negative thoughts to enter your mind for they are the weeds that strangle confidence.”
“Softness triumphs over hardness, feebleness over strength. What is more malleable is always superior over that which is immoveable. This is the principle of controlling things by going along with them, of mastery through adaptation.”
“A man who has attained mastery of an art reveals it in his every action.”
“Those who are patient in the trivial things in life and control themselves will one day have the same mastery in great and important things.”