I’m a sucker for martial arts books. My shelves are full of guidelines for systems I will never have the chance to study, by masters past and present whom I will never have the chance, or sometimes the desire, to meet. There’s even a book about using taiji to run better.

Martial arts books fall into a few categories. The ones most people look for are the ones I think of as “How To Wave Your Hands Around” books. They describe the motions of forms and styles, often finishing up with short bios of famous teachers and cryptic translations of old sayings. The more interesting ones go into the mechanics: “How to Wave Your Hands Around With Intention.” It is endlessly fascinating to see how two movements can mean and do such different things with different intentions behind them. Is it a strike or a throw? However, lists of this kind of jing and that kind of jing are not always interesting reading since you really need an in-person teacher to show you how to unlock meaning and hidden moves within a form. The third category is philosophy, which is the difference between martial arts and fighting. You probably have these books on your shelves, too. Each of them has its place. I’ve quoted from one or another of them extensively in my writings, since each can be the source of great inspiration.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading a book that reaches multiple categories and beyond, Researches of Martial Arts by Jonathan Bluestein. Mr. Bluestein is an exponent of two traditional Chinese martial arts, Xing Yi (internal) and Piguachang (mostly external) and uses his understanding of them to launch into an expansive, thoughtful exploration of the “why” behind traditional East Asian martial arts. Waving hands? A little, although it is not the main focus. Intention? Yes. Internal and external power? Yes, although he thoughtfully disagrees with the traditional classifications. Open hand forms and weapons? Yes. History and philosophy and interviews with masters? Yes. More than that, he touches on what most martial artists are secretly looking for: the keys to unlock hidden aspects within our systems through deep and authentic practice. That kind of serious practice can be reflected in our lives off the mat, too. Mr. Bluestein understands that martial arts are not only about fighting.

For those who are looking for more than the “how to” of martial arts or negotiating strategy, Researches of Martial Arts is worth the read.