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Summary (for those who won't read to the end):
1) For those seeking a plain-language, down-to-earth, frank, no pulled-punches, English-language explanation of how to develop powerful punches, kicks, and throws as derived from and as taught in the Chinese traditions, this is the book!
2) For those from any fighting system who are simply trying to understand the “internal” martial arts better, either intellectually or physically, or both, this is the book!
3) For those already involved in any of the internal Chinese martial arts but want an English-language explanations of what the heck is going on, this is the book!
Although I truly appreciate this book and highly prize and highly recommend it, I fully realize the book isn't for everyone.
You will not magically develop great and powerful strikes by reading a book. You will not be convinced that by perfecting your internal self that you will be able to generate far more external power. Not everyone believes in, is exploring, is learning what the “internal” of internal martial arts really is. Those who simply believe in brute force answers to fighting and self-defense questions, this book probably won't change your already set minds. You and I both know you are tough and you can kick ass already. You don't need the book and it probably won't do anything for you. The book wasn't designed to try to convince this group. The only thing that convinces this “show me” group is feeling the power. I too had great deal of difficulties in believing how much power could be generated in such short distances. I had great deal of difficulties in believing how much power could be generated by the Russian Systema ballistic strike. I had searched high and low to find a school with such mastery just to take one of those powerful hits! That was my only way to know if this stuff was real. Getting dropped inside a couple inches moved my acceptance closer. But it wasn't until I could do it, did I become a believer. A believer that there is something quite real and powerful about the real-deal internal masters and their ability to externalize the power with incredibly powerful strikes. This book helped me to better explain it, but only after I had felt the power first. If you are like me, go find a real master of an art like Russian Systema and get hit by the master.
At 213 pages of no-bull information, explanation, and work to go practice, this book is the real deal.
I've read it twice already and no doubt will dig deeper and conduct the recommended practices over time, and incorporating the ideas into my own personal style and practice. I think nearly everyone will get more than they paid for out of this manual. If you got all the way this far reading what I have to say, you have interest in the subject, just buy it and learn what you will.
I have decades of martial arts practice in a number of traditions including “new” systems but virtually no background in Chinese arts except for a short dabble in Tai Chi, yet this book met the need I was searching for and then some! Now having the tested and proven ability to strike with great power, I was searching for the words to explain the how and the why. Sometimes the level of power defies logical explanation. It messes with my head that I and a few others can develop that much power; This book to my rescue.
The author explains the training the body, especially the core, improvement of how you hold your body while fighting, and how to focus your entire body in an orchestrated manner so that every movement contributes to the strike, and use of the breath. This is really no different than all the exercises and drills done in so many Asian traditional arts and especially in the Russian Systema that I am now practicing and teaching. The problem out there is that many schools and systems don't adequately train the core strength in the kind of rotational effort required to create great torsional energy. Many also overlook the tendon strength required. Mr. Starr covers all that well.
The focus and detailed explanations of body alignment, structure, and breathing were precisely where I was in my own self-actualization of power. I re-learned in-depth recently that without body alignment and structure, you have little power and few options to fight and if you can take those elements away from your opponent … In Russian Systema we say it's all about breathing, structure, movement, relaxation (controlling tension only where useful).
In my own analogy, of developing power, is comparing power in cars. A car's engine horsepower is of little use if much is lost in spinning wheels or inertia, drag, or mechanical losses. What matters is how much it moves the car. What matters in martial arts is how well it delivers desired effect and affect on the opponent. The book addresses delivery of energy. Human power-delivery losses can include many things such as: isometric counter-opposing muscles resisting the striking power, poor posture preventing energy to move efficiently through the body all the way to the striking fist, and even emotions. Mr. Starr explains quite well the many details to deliver the power efficiently.
The non-Chinese artist must have an open mind when it comes to the style, the time, and the order suggested. He's not wrong but it may seem a bit over-stated and some might think that his Chinese way is the only way but that's what he's writing of, so it's to be expected.
Some, especially those enamored with modern UFC, MMA, fighting styles may not appreciate this book. For one thing it takes a long time. Most “modern” MMA fighters tend to discount “internal” entirely and are willing to prove it with their fists. I think Mr. Starr does a good job in bringing internal down to earth. If approached with an open mind, all can benefit and increase their power in real fighting applications. Because the author's background is in the traditional Chinese arts, he will show their stances and training methodology. You don't need to adopt the complete stances, that may appear awkward, but just adding small changes suggested in this book to your structure to whatever you already know, you will improve your striking power. If you incorporated some of the suggested exercises, your core will be strengthened, again adding to your striking, kicking, and throwing power. Additionally if you follow Mr. Starr's recommendations for form structure and strengthening, you are more likely to avoid injuring yourself. If you already know all that, then this book should be a validation.
I am a lifelong martial artist, having begun at age 4 under my father. Now 58 years later, I have been able to develop great power in my strikes, kicks, throws. I didn't study Chinese martial arts but came about my knowledge of internal arts by a more circuitous route. Suffice it to say I understand how to develop Jin, I just never knew the Chinese terms, methodology, nor explanation. Having read Mr. Starr's book, now I do better understand the Chinese method of thinking, explanation and application.
I bought the book to help me intellectually understand what I can do. There are virtually no English-language books on the details of how and why it works. I was searching everywhere for an intellectual understanding of the power I felt. It is here in this book.
Buying up every book from Amazon on the topic of internal power, I have an impressive library. Each book provides some pieces and parts of explanation. Many authors seem to rush through a layman's explanation however and quickly resort to what the way they were taught. Most were unable to explain the development of power in plain English very well. It is possible they don't fully understand, but instead just repeated what their instructors told them. Mr. Starr does understand, he gets it and does a good job explaining.
He does an exceptional job in de-mystifying the “internal” martial arts. There is no magic and he says that flatly.
If any area this book is slightly short is in explaining the energy part and visualization parts of Jin. I hunger for more. The qi, Ki, or whatever you wish to name it. I found the internal energy, specifically the ki concepts addressed somewhat more deeply in other books on other non martial topics and in other disciplines such as Reiki and in Robert Bruce's Energy Work.
The chapter on “reverse breathing” was a huge boost to my Russian Systema practice! I was repeatedly instructed to allow the breath to lift and to move your body. I never felt it until I read Mr Starr's book and applied the principals of reverse breathing. Then I definitely felt moved by my breath! Thank you Sir!
The term “engaging” was fascinating! In Russian Systema we breathe into our entire bodies empowerment of various types. In many systems I've seen and felt making a part of the body stronger to resist a blow. In Russian Systema there is also a phrase “making heavy”. Seems we can empower our bodies through clear intention and the body “powers up” those areas in defense, as required. I have felt it, seen it, not that mystical.
I liked his thoughts on the kata sanchin that I leaned in my GoJuRyu practice. Mr. Starr says it was originally intended to make your body more engaged, full, heavy, empowered. Very interesting indeed!
The exercise section is quite similar conceptually to our Russian Systema exercises. Very interesting. I am a believer in their value.
The Chinese concept of Song is definitely at the core of Russian Systema relaxation, so this too was a useful validation for my own work.
His cautions are the voice of experience and of wisdom. I have developed so much power that I ripped the muscles off the bone of my own arm. He says you must release all the energy in the strike. I am living proof of the downside risk. Pay attention to his wisdom and try to internalize the meaning and apply it to your practice.
Mr. Starr does a nice job with definitions of terms and clarifying the confusion of the various terms used to define power. He also makes clear that just having pretty form isn't necessarily the path to develop real fighting power. I think we can all agree. I too see a profound lack of understanding of how to generate big power at most martial arts schools in the USA today.
Overall, this is the best book I have found to date to help Western, English-speaking martial artist understand the Chinese Eastern martial arts approaches to the development of and the concepts of powerful strikes and kicks and throws. There is no magic here, just work, proper work.
It will become one of my “mandatory reading” books for my own students.
Systema Colorado Springs
Borrelli Self Defense