"The Shotokan Karate Bible: Beginner to Black Belt" by Ashley P. Martin. A Review

The Shotokan Karate BibleThe Shotokan Karate Bible by Ashley P. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I'm always looking for ways to branch out. Therefore I was quite pleased to find and delve into the classy 222 page paperback "The Shotokan Karate Bible: Beginner to Black Belt 2nd Edition" by Ashley P. Martin, Chief Instructor and Grading Examiner at Just Karate of Cambridge, UK. The material is visually pleasing, glossy, colorful, and instructive.

After mapping out a brief history and lineage of Shotokan Karate, the author then gives the novice karateka a run down on the basics of uniform, stances, punches, kime, Japanese commands, and grading examinations. Once the reader has completed those chapters, then the next sections work the practitioner through the necessary subjects for each belt level. Martin covers basic forms, appropriate katas with a few applications sprinkled in, one-steps, and kumite. The pictures are clear and crisp, with short explanations and instructions next to each photograph. The first appendix tackles the grading system for every belt level with a simple set of usable charts. The second appendix works through each kata, from kihon to bassai dai. It is set out in a way to show the whole kata in a visually directional format.

The highlight of the book is chapter eleven which addresses kata application. The author recognizes that the basic level of application, omote bunkai, is not very satisfying as it simply sticks with surface details of the kata; "low block, high block, punch, etc." Martin then discusses a second level of application, ura bunkai, which delves deeper into how each move has multiple uses. Next he points out a third level where blocks, for example, can also evolve into strikes and joint locks. The author photographically delves into examples of this third level from various katas to make his point: kihon, heian shodan, heian nidan, heian sandan, heian yondan, heian godan, tekki shodan, and bassai dai. Beyond the basic information in the book, chapter eleven may well be what makes this book most valuable.

The only real weakness becomes obvious when attempting to follow the katas and learn them. The practitioner will need to have a personal instructor to figure out the arc line of blocks, grabs, kicks, stances and punches. The photos simply don't - and can't - show all of the finer details. The other option is to use the book in conjunction with watching a good instructional video, such as "Shotokan Sensei" on YouTube. The book is ultimately an outside-the-dojo supplement to actual instruction.

"The Shotokan Karate Bible" is a useful and valuable volume that will make a good addition to any martial arts library. Karate instructors of whatever tradition should obtain a copy to use as a reference, since many of the kata stances, strikes and blocks are very similar and the applications in the book will broaden out your instruction. I highly recommend the book.

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