As some of you may know, as well as obsessing about fencing, I have also practiced a few unarmed martial arts, taking in five styles of Karate, some Feng Shou Chuan, Chi Shou, Shuai Chiao, Aikido, Tai Chi, Xing Yi, Bagua and Jujitsu. My current focus is on submission grappling (MMA without quite so much in the way of being hit) and, since I’d like this blog to occasionally reflect more than just the writing side of me, I thought I’d post some related book reviews. Six of them at once, in fact, since the same sorts of concerns and points tend to show up with all these things.
Those questions come down essentially to three questions. First, who is the book aimed at? Second, what is the quality of the presentation like, and in particular, given that it’s a field that tends to use ghost-writers, how effective is the writing? Thirdly, how useful is what’s on offer in terms of the techniques being shown? So, keeping that in mind, let’s crack on.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Renzo Gracie and Royler Gracie with Kid Peligro and John Danaher, Invisible Cities Press, 2001): Those in the know will be aware that there is really only one surname that matters in BJJ circles, and the authors here have it. This book is designed to be a reasonably broad guide to techniques of the jujitsu variant their family founded (and its variant spelling), and it largely succeeds in that. The volume is well presented, divided up into clear sections according to the difficulty of moves, and features lots of clear photography. It’s a good place to start for any BJJ practitioner, though the lack of space perhaps means that it doesn’t go as deeply into some areas, such as the butterfly guard, as I would have liked. Since it’s ten years old, there are also a few more recent ideas that don’t get much attention, and there’s almost no emphasis on the no-gi game, with perhaps a few too many collar chokes for my taste, but it’s a solid foundational text. Though I’m told that Saulo Ribero’s Jiu-Jitsu University covers more.
The Ultimate Guide to Submission Wrestling and Killer Submissions (Both Mark Hatmaker with Doug Werner, Tracks 2002/2003): These come from a very different background, focussing totally on the no-gi side of things and using techniques taken as much from catch wrestling approaches as from jujitsu. I’m told there has been some controversy over the extent to which Hatmaker represents ‘authentic’ catch wrestling, whatever that means, and over whether he has produced enough competition winners to justify the attention, but our focus here should be on the book, and not on that. It’s what I can get from this that matters. On that front, there are certainly some interesting submissions presented, with an emphasis on ‘double wrist locks’, neck cranks, and foot locks that you don’t find in most Brazilian texts. Several of the holds are intriguing enough to add to an arsenal, while there are several variant positional ideas and escapes that could come in usful. That said, the presentation isn’t that great. The quality of the writing is quite poor, both structurally and in terms of explanations, while the photography isn’t really clear enough to learn from. I prefer the first volume to the second, despite the latter’s focus on submission chaining. I think that the broader base and more immediately workable ideas make it by far the better of the two.
Mastering the Rubber Guard/Mastering the Twister (Eddie Bravo with Erich Krauss and Glen Cordoza, Victory Belt 2006/2007): Eddie Bravo is one of the more interesting figures in the no-gi jiu-jitsu world, and his 10th Planet system is very popular. His wrestling based submission ‘the twister’ has won him numerous matches, while his ‘rubber guard’ refinement of the traditional position of controlling someone with your legs gives you a great position to attack from (and also looks very impressive, which is, I’ll openly admit, the reason I first tried it). If these books were just focussed on two techniques though, we might all feel a bit short changed. Yet they don’t. Instead, each serves as a core component of a book talking about Bravo’s entire top game, including back mount and mount ideas (for the twister) and bottom game, including half guard and escapes (for the rubber guard). I think the quality of the photography and writing in these volumes is very impressive, while the moves provide some unusual, but highly effective, options. My only slight warnings would be that neither is a book for someone without at least some grappling fundamentals, while the rubber guard book is due to be updated shortly.
The X Guard (Marcello Garcia with Erich Krauss and Glen Cordoza, Victory Belt 2007): A book from most of the same people as above, setting out another unusual guard game, and with one of the biggest names in the sport behind it. What’s not to like? Only two things, really. First, the photography. Although full colour, I found the plethora of angles slightly counter productive, as it was hard to keep track of which photo followed on from which. Secondly, although it does what it says, after reading books of the breadth of Eddie Bravo’s, one that just teaches the X Guard and the butterfly guard feels a lot more restricted. It’s notable, for example, that there’s nothing here on Garcia’s phenomenal skill in taking the back. His techniques in doing so (and a couple of X Guard moves) actually get more attention in Bravo’s work. So, where those two books might revolutionise someone’s ground game, this one will probably only improve one component of it.