Other Good Books for Kids (and Their Parents)

While waiting for my book to be released, I thought I’d tell you about some other good martial arts books for young people. But I’ve kind of struck out on my first two choices: It turns out they’re both currently out of print. Still—publishers sometimes revive a book if there’s a demand, so let me go ahead and tell you about the first of them.

EmptyHandBook2The Empty Hand: A Karate Word Book, by Rui Umezawa, is truly one of my favorites. It’s an attractive paperback with beautiful woodcut illustrations and large brushstroke kanji (Chinese ideograms) for the most important vocabulary and concepts of traditional martial arts. It’s exactly what the title says: a book of words. Each word or concept is given a one-page essay. There are twenty-eight—from What is karate? to What is rei? (respect). The author uses plain, straightforward language, and succeeds in making subtle Asian concepts quite understandable to Westerners. He also looks at how the modern kanji evolved from ancient symbols—giving insight into how the words came to have their meanings. In the course of this he conveys not just the vocabulary, but the deeper philosophical underpinnings of martial arts practice.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction (and anyone who knows me will see in the very first sentence why I love this author!):

When it comes right down to it, there should not be much talking during karate practice. Most times, you should simply go to class, work up a good sweat, then go home. While you are in class, you should listen carefully to your teacher and do as you are told. This is more or less what it means to study karate.

Nonetheless, there are times when instructions and explanations must be given verbally, and many schools choose to retain the original Japanese terms to refer to things relating to karate. Often students who have just started karate find the use of Japanese bewildering. This is a shame, because many Japanese karate terms have profound meanings, and being aware of their meaning can greatly increase your understanding of karate, especially if you keep them in mind during practice.

In martial arts summer camp this year, we copied some of the kanji from this book to make personal ink-stamps. This got us talking about the meanings of the words, and I hope it inspired a few of the kids to go back and read the book.

As I said, this book is out of print and hard to get. If you follow the link to Amazon you can have a look inside, but you’re probably not going to want to buy a used copy for $50! (The 1998 cover price is $9.95.) Still, if enough of you add it to your wish lists, or perhaps contact the publisher (Weatherhill, which is now part of Shambhala), perhaps we can get them to consider reissuing it.

–Didi

Do you have a favorite martial arts book for kids? Post us a note.

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