Thursday, January 15, 2015


by Phillip Starr

For many martial arts enthusiasts, their kata are little more than formal exercises that they must endure and memorize only because their instructor insists on it. For others, they are something of a mystery; they have been told that these routines contain a wealth of information but they have no idea about how to extract that knowledge. Thus, my fourth book, “Hidden Hands.”

Frankly, there's so much to be learned from the traditional forms that I wasn't sure how to begin! I really had to sit down and organize my thoughts on the subject. The importance of the forms can't be understated. As I said in the book, the forms are the “books” that contain all relevant information about a given martial arts system. Too many martial arts enthusiasts have simply never learned how to “read” these “books” and to make matters worse, the information contained in these abstract texts is frequently layered. That is, what appears to be one thing is actually another and that can give birth to yet another layer of information. Once a student has learned to read, she must learn to “read between the lines.” Not only that, but some forms contain coded information; the advanced practitioner has to learn how to decipher it and apply it to certain movements in the form. How could I possibly explain these things in words that would be readily understood?

And so I began with my outline, trying to select movements from forms that are practiced in karate and taekwondo. Naturally, I included some material from (internal) kung-fu sets as well. I wanted to make sure that devotees of these different martial disciplines could all make good use of my book. This led to an argument with my editor concerning the cover of the book. I had photos of people performing taekwondo, kung-fu, and karate postures...but the publisher insisted on a cover showing a nice-looking Eastern gal in a taijiquan pose. I warned 'em that prospective readers who practiced karate or taekwondo would overlook the book, thinking that it was geared primarily towards kung-fu enthusiasts. And I still believe I was right. But they stuck with the cover they wanted...

By the time the book was completed, I felt that I'd done the best job that I could do. I'd covered the subject of forms that originated in China, Okinawa, Japan, and Korea. I'd also been brutally honest about the development and practice of such forms. The book wasn't intended to spoon-feed the answers to my reader's questions about their forms. Rather, it was intended to teach them certain principles so they could do it themselves!

One reviewer was upset that I hadn't figuratively taken him by the hand and shown him all of the possible interpretations of the various movements presented in the book. He had no idea what he was asking for. To do that would have required a dump truck load of more photos and a couple of hundred additional pages of text! Instead, I presented instructions on how to break down forms (from virtually any system) and then left it to the reader to do the work himself. Apparently, he wasn't up to the task.

Mastering a single form is a lifetime achievement. For those who want to learn more about authentic martial arts, it's essential that you master the language and read the books. “Hidden Hands” will show you how to do just that.