Martial Arts Books I–Coming Full Circle

Not long ago, I was writing some notes down and remembered the very first book of martial arts I ever read. I was in elementary school and borrowed a book on judo from the school library. The book was written for kids, and had a bunch of drawings in it rather than photos. It also talked about other martial arts, including aikido which had a picture of an old man flinging away an attacker in Jedi-like fashion. His hand held out in a “talk to the palm” matter and the attacker flying end over end. I remember the picture was pretty big. That, by the way, was my first experience with aikido, which to an eight year-old mind looked and sounded pretty cool.

Fast forward 36 years. I decide to see if I can find it. But the only thing I can remember is that book was kind of orange. I didn’t remember the author or even know if “judo” was part of the title. This was going to be a bit of challenge. Enter Of course, it wasn’t a new book, and was probably long out of print, but the resellers page was replete with image-less descriptions of judo books from the 70’s (after all, it had to come before 1977 when I was eight). After a few starts and stops, I hit upon “Judo: A Gentle Beginning” by Jeanette Bruce. The description said it was a judo book who’s premise starts with kid being bullied and decides to learn judo (sounds kind of familiar). But the kicker was the book ended with a description of other martial arts. Ah, the wonders of the Internet! I thought maybe this was it. Turned out copies of this book among the resellers was pretty low, a few bucks at most. So why not?

Of course, when I got the book, it didn’t look at all like what I remembered. For one thing, it still had the dust jacket (something the library removed), and it seemed strangely bigger and wider than what I remembered. But when I pulled away the dust jacket it was clearly the right book. The picture of aikido was smaller and the old man looked less like O-Sensei and more like a villain out of a chopsaki flick. But he still used the Force.

Coming full circle, seeing my first exposure to the martial arts (outside of those vaguely racist 60’s cartoon references), was kind of unnerving. I could see how far I, and the world, had come, but that also meant I saw how short a distance that really is.

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