January 26, 2006


The Warrior Mind: Ancient Wisdom from the Martial Arts for Living a More Powerful Life.  By Jim Pritchard with Sharon Lindenburger. AMACOM. $14.95.

     The notion that some sort of ancient wisdom holds the key to modern life is scarcely new.  To cite just one example, scores of business books have been written to show how to use Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in modern commerce.  Self-defense and conflict-resolution teacher Jim Pritchard, a black belt in several martial arts, argues in The Warrior Mind that six mental aspects of martial arts provide the key to facing both professional and personal modern challenges.

     Pritchard distills martial-arts awareness into six principles: 1) Attentive curiosity – slow down and observe the situation calmly.  2) Undulation – move in a relaxed, flowing way, either physically or psychologically, whether to build strength before striking physically or to muster mental resources before tackling a tough problem.  3) Clear intent – focus on when and how to act.  4) Grappling – use the energies of your mind and body to defeat whatever is blocking you.  5) Rolling waves – persistence and the will to succeed.  6) Whirlwind – an explosion of energy into carefully targeted action.

     Pritchard’s presentation smacks of a standard you-can-do-it rah-rah self-help plan – which may not be surprising, since he is a motivational speaker.  Like other formulaic approaches, this one has potential if you happen to find it congenial; it is neither better nor worse than other ideas about paying attention, developing focus, leaning how to handle obstacles, and using the necessary techniques to accomplish your goal.  Pritchard and coauthor Sharon Lindenburger, a health and fitness journalist, deserve credit for explaining the approach in simple, straightforward language, and trying to show how it can help in everyday life situations: “You could look at anger as a relief valve for anxiety. …You can easily go very quickly from anxiety to anger and then to the expression of anger. …[It is better for you to] gain awareness of the feeling, accept the feeling, just let it be there, [and] choose not to act on it unless there is a clear reason for you to do so.”

     The implementation difficulty of The Warrior Mind, as of other one-size-can-fit-all self-help plans, is that everyday life does not appear in a convenient package that gives you plenty of time to select an approach and implement it thoughtfully.  Visceral reactions, many of them learned by the time we are in kindergarten, can be undone and rewired, but this is a long, difficult process, not the simple “you can do it” one that Pritchard implies.  Furthermore, some of the advice here, though unexceptionable, is also not very helpful.  How many more times do readers need to be told that exercise and improved nutrition are good for them?  How often have books explained that relationship problems stem from not paying close attention to a partner’s wants and needs?  Discussing those problems in “rolling wave” terminology ultimately does nothing new to solve them – unless, that is, you are predisposed toward martial-arts thinking already.  If that is the case, The Warrior Mind may be helpful in showing how to apply such thinking to events outside the martial-arts sphere itself.  But the book offers no significant new insights, and will be of little interest to those not already interested in the mental side of martial arts.

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