A teacher reveals insights learned from his lifelong martial arts involvement in this debut motivational guide.
Nguyen took his first martial arts class at the age of 4 in his native Vietnam while the country was still riven by war. “I wasn’t really there to learn to fight,” recalls the author in this volume’s introduction. “My dad just needed a place to put a curious kid who was asking too many questions—questions that could get my family in trouble.” While his parents covertly smuggled his older brothers out of the country, Nguyen learned to punch, kick, and meditate. After a few years, he fled Vietnam with the rest of his family, spending time in refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines before gaining entrance to the United States. In his new country, Nguyen continued his karate training, which helped him to learn English, hone his discipline, and—eventually—provide him with a means to support himself. In these pages, he takes readers through various lessons, pausing at each step to elaborate on the deeper meaning behind it. The bow teaches commitment, for example; stretching teaches negotiation. Each chapter combines practical tips—visualization, breathing, repetition, muscle memory—with illustrative anecdotes and explanations of how these skills are useful outside the dojo. (Internalizing the importance of flexibility in the gym can help students embrace elasticity in the rest of their lives.) Nguyen’s prose is calm and accessible, and his years of teaching shine through in his writing: “In sparring, the goal, rule, and lesson are all the same. Sparring is all about control. It’s simple. In sparring, your goal is to hold control, no matter the situation or how hard your partner hits you.” Control is a fitting descriptor for the author’s work: clean, organized, comprehensive, and rarely surprising. The book would seem to have limited utility for someone not in a martial arts class—or not the parent of an enrolled child, as Nguyen provides “For the Parents” sections in each chapter. But for those embarking on a martial arts education, the author’s words will help get their minds in the right place.
A useful and straightforward introduction to the practices and philosophies of martial arts.