Review of From the Minds of the Masters

Jerry Figgiani. From the Minds of the Masters: The Inside Thoughts Tips and Techniques From Modern Karate-do’s Best and Brightest. New York: Create Space, 2015. Pp. 218. $25.00.

Book review by Sensei David S. Hogsette, Ph.D.

This new book from Sensei Jerry Figgiani is a significant addition to the on-going discussions of how traditional karate contributes to the contemporary martial arts scene. Instead of proclaiming his own views about Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu, Sensei Figgiani allows many of the leaders in the tradition to speak for themselves and for the martial art they study, love, represent, and teach. I appreciate this polyvocal approach to the subject, and the reader has much to gain from this book, be he/she a beginner or an experienced karateka.

Moreover, the last section is particularly important to the progression of traditional martial arts, because it ironically brings us back to the early roots of karate, revealing that what we have come to recognize as “traditional karate” is not necessarily truly traditional. That is, Sensei Figgiani reviews significant historical information that allows us to think more deeply about the relationships between kata, kumite drills, and civilian combat or practical self-defense. In this contemporary, market-driven martial arts context, people are (rightly and understandably) fascinated with mixed martial arts. Sensei Figgiani explores various ways that Matsubayashi and other traditional karate systems were at their core and from their inception based upon many different styles, thus being one of the first “mixed martial arts” systems. The intellectually honest reader will gain much from this discussion, and it will open his/her mind to fresh re-interpretations of kihon, kata, and kumite drills that rediscover the ways in which these aspects of training are actually interconnected. Kihon is self-defense, kumite drills involve more than strikes and kicks, and the kata actually do teach us how to fight using grappling, throws, and joint locks, in addition to strikes and kicks. We will embrace these realities only if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

In short, this book is an important contribution to the new efforts of traditional martial artists to understand what traditional karate is truly about. I highly recommend this book.