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Book Fight Like a Physicist: The Incredible Science Behind Martial Arts (Martial Science) by Jason Thalken (2015-11-07)


Fight Like a Physicist: The Incredible Science Behind Martial Arts (Martial Science) by Jason Thalken (2015-11-07)

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    Jason Thalken(Author)

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Review Text

  • By Bernie Gourley on February 5, 2016

    When I saw this book’s title, I imagined a bloodied and battered Poindexter in a bow-tie--a professorial type dying in a puddle of his own bodily fluids as he calculated the Bayesian probability of winning given that initial beating. After all, physics is a highly cerebral activity, and being cerebral in a fight is a certain path to a beat down. However, Thalken makes a good point with his explanation of the title (and the book’s theme.) He’s suggesting that one use tactics and techniques that are supported by evidence and rooted in a sound understanding of the science of combat—as opposed to mindlessly doing whatever your sensei tells you or--worse yet--just muddling through on a combination of instinct and ignorance. In short, be skeptical, but inquiring. It turns out that there is a time for a fighter to be cerebral, but it’s when they are making decisions about how to train.The book is divided into two parts. The first part explains how classical mechanics can help one to be a better fighter. There are four chapters in this section that deal with center of mass and its crucial role in a fight, the differences between high momentum and high energy strikes and how each is achieved, differences in circular versus linear paths and where the advantage in each lies, and what simple machines (i.e. levers and wedges) can do for a fighter. This section is what one would expect from such a book. Unlike the second section, which deals largely with sport fighters, the advice on offer in the first section is as applicable to those involved in self-defense or other real world combative situations as it is to fighters in the ring.The second section examines the issue of concussions and brain damage in some detail, including consideration of the degree to which gloves and headgear do—or don’t—make one safer. The reader gains great insight into the mechanics and neuroscience of a knockout. While the majority of the section offers advice for those engaged in combative sports, the last two chapters take a bit of a turn. The first of these two deals with the myths perpetuated by Hollywood—which, let’s face it, is the source of most people’s information on what combat is. Debunking the notion that a person who gets shot is always and everywhere instantly incapacitated is a central theme this chapter. The last chapter deals with the issue of pseudoscience in the martial arts, and the insanity of believing one can defeat an opponent with chi (also qi, or—in Japanese Romanization--ki) or mind power alone. These last two chapters seem like a turn from the main theme of the book, but they do stay under the umbrella of the martial arts through a scientific lens.While this is a book about science, it’s readable even for an educated non-scientist. All the math is put in boxes that the reader can opt to skip, or to follow, depending upon his or her comfort level with equations. There is no complex jargon, nor any incomprehensible concepts. The physics is largely high school level Newtonian mechanics.Diehard believers in the supernatural or pseudo-scientific conceptions of the universe should be warned that this isn’t the book for you unless you like your sacred cows flame-broiled. You won’t learn about chi (qi) in this book except to be reminded that it’s a make-believe concept.I’d recommend this book for those who are interested in how science can be applied to the martial arts or human movement more generally. It’s short, readable, and offers some interesting food for thought.

  • By C. SPAETH on February 29, 2016

    For the first author listed on "Adaptive Design of Excitonic Absorption in Broken-Symmetry Quantum Wells," this book is surprisingly light-weight, 155 actual large-print pages padded with mostly unhelpful diagrams. The first chapter is devoted to the information on center of mass every student learns on the first day of judo class. What is surprising is there is so little information on throws throughout the rest of the book. The student of this subject should invest in Jigoro Kano's quintessential Kodokan Judo.No, Thalken spends the larger part of this glorified pamphlet to striking. There are a few interesting analogies between body parts and simple machines and an early shot across the bow to the proponents of chi (something like spirit in English). Thalken speculates that chi was first articulated because early practitioners essentially didn't know better. Considering the sheer complexity of the musculo-skeletal system, you can imagine how shallow this discussion becomes. It seems to me that chi is a placeholder for the drive that causes martial artists to devote their lives to an art that is irreducible to scientific bromides and which leaves their bodies bruised and broken on a daily basis. Or in other words, chi is the spirit that Thalken's strikes are meant to break down in his opponents.But this is what I expected when I picked up the book at the library. I had simply hoped for a greater density of useful information. There is a discussion of brain injuries in sport which centers on injuries caused by rotation of the spine. However, it is disappointing that a PhD in physics, then conflates this horrible type of injury with effective striking, which he tries to clarify is not appropriate for training sessions. There is little emphasis on high value targets, the kind of knockout points that can be observed in Muhammed Ali fights and the recent Roussey vs. Holm fight (it wasn't the broken jaw that put Roussey down). Many of these targets correspond to acupuncture points, another concept that doesn't neatly fit into Thalken's worldview, if we can call it his. We are "biological robots," so all we need to become better fighters is Euclidean/Newtonian physics, or so I suppose.I am inclined to agree in the importance of head gear and padded gloves in sparring. I also agree with him that resisting armed thugs may be a safer idea than complying in a survival situation. The last section of the book is dedicated to the kind of case-by-case debunking that James Randi was best known for. I don't doubt that many martial arts demonstrations are highly exaggerated, but why must Thalken, Randi, and those dedicated to the materialistic religion of Naturalism consistently make the fallacy of composition about studies which are mentioned only superficially to prop up Thalken's confirmation biases? Martial arts is irreducible to lab conditions and exists firmly in the messy real world. Take Thalken's advice, be skeptical of all cherished beliefs including those which try to strip the deeper meaning from martial arts in the name of science. Remove the spirit from martial arts at the risk of reducing time-honored kata and martial Ways to a Jefferson Bible of mechanistic dance. And in the true spirit of science, follow the example of Galileo, not believing anything until you conduct your own experiments.As for the book. Take a couple hours to skim the material at your local library. That is all it will take. Don't buy it. $16.95 will get you a few classes at a local gym where you can explore for yourself.

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