Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Walk the talk - review of Rodney King's book

Today I’m writing about a strange book…or better said, reading it was a strange experience for me. See, I have been familiar with the name and work of Rodney King (just in case – we’re talking the renowned martial art/fighting instructor from South Africa) and his no-nonsense approach and clear presentation of his creative kickboxing and clinch material, developed as Crazy Monkey Defense program, was very appealing to me. Rodney has all the traits of an excellent instructor: he knows his material and curriculum inside-out; has good eye for seeing what needs to be worked on with his students; knows how to bring a point across efficiently and succinctly; his students demonstrate those qualities in their own performance. For a few years in mid-2000’s he was among my Top10 video instructors out there.

And then, something happened. At some point, King changed his “game”. He started using the term clients instead of fighters/students, and stuff like life performance instead of functional skill etc. In short, the entire paradigm turned a bit too corporate sounding for my taste. Yet, his training material remained top notch, so I kept my eye on what he has to say. This year, he published a book titled Full Contact Living. Preparing You for the Martial Arts of Every Day Life. 

book cover
Uh-oh…so now it started sounding new-agey, too. Life coaching and things of that sort. Still, Rodney was teaching good and practical, hands-on fighting stuff all the time, so I read the book. At first I was confused – there was plenty of excellent info, albeit packed in a language that is not particularly inviting to me. The focus of the book is on the mental training and preparation, be it fighting or other situations that require performance under stress, and that is fine, I did not expect the book on how to punch and kick in the first place. No, it was the writing style that threw me off. Where was the “good ole’ high-speed low-drag” Rodney King?

And then it dawned on me! I read through his preface again, as well as other articles, interviews and blogs on the web to see what is going on. Admittedly, I had usually concentrated on the man’s technical and tactical material, while neglecting his background and philosophy (yes, shame on me). Once giving his story a bit of thought, it became obvious why he wanted to do away with a lot of his earlier ways of doing things. OK, but how did Rodney end up where he is now? Illumination no.2 – not being in any of those “action” professions, such as military, law enforcement etc., he is actually much more in line with his martial teaching than the majority of us.

You see, the phrase “martial arts as the way of life” is a much (ab)used and thrown around, with glaring inconsistencies between one’s training and daily practices. In that regard, King has actually taken the steps to really put his fight training experience in this daily life, and being that he lives in a modern social-economic paradigm, like most of us, this new approach actually makes a lot of sense. The vocabulary in use is adequate for the book’s intended targeted reading public, so even if you (like me) do not necessarily perceive yourself as a member of that public, there is still a lot of good stuff to be gained, but just understand that the literary style may not suit you. Then again, Rodney has put out a manual, not a novel.

Finally, to the contents of the book. After presenting the readers with his background (which gives the man substantial authority on the subject), Rodney divides his presentation into seven components – six principles and one meta-principle, given in a logical and pertinent order, even if they all work together.
1.      The wabi-sabi of peak performance is about what to strive for and how to keep sight on the objective and act on it, without getting lost in what could be distracting details.
2.      Buddha mind, warrior body deals with the ever important topics of focus and presence of mind, the crucial aspects of trying to achieve anything.
3.      Body attitude maters shows the often neglected interrelationship between body and mind in a fairly practical fashion, with some very good advice on how to improve in that domain, and this may be of special interest for the people actively competing in combat sports.
4.      Surf the edge of chaos could be my favorite chapter, as it pertains to the widely misunderstood way of dealing with change and thriving in the environment that may otherwise be intimidating to many.
5.      Exhale-take charge of your breath gives you the deceptively simple tools to facilitate the changes we are trying to accomplish, particularly in all sorts of performance under duress.
6.      Roll with the punches underlines that we all have to deal with setbacks and less than ideal circumstances, occasional failures and hiccups in our quest for whatever it may be, and how to deal with it.

Finally, the meta-principle of becoming an IGAMER fuses all the previous ones and discusses how in this case the whole may be greater than the simple sum of its parts. This is the section that glues all the pieces of your model together.

Again, I assume quite a few of my readers might be less than happy about the writing style in the Full Contact Living, but if you understand it as the packaging, you may still end up liking the contents and substance it has to offer.