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Warrior Dreams: Martial Arts and the American Imagination Hardcover – 30 Jan 1994

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"This book represents an example of the potential power imbedded in scholarship freed from the unimaginative and ritualistic stodginess of conventional research protocols. It clearly demonstrates the way in which this emerging scholarship can be both personal and intellectual, practical and conceptual. Although much of the book is situated within a feminist context, it should not be thought of as a volume just for women educators. As a man, I found it engaging and relevant to my own experiences as a teacher, scholar, parent, and student of education. Like the authors, its audience will be a diverse collection of individuals. I recommend it for preservice and inservice teachers, graduate students in education, sociology, and womens studies, school administrators, and academic researchers."-Jesse Goodman, Associate Professor Indiana University

About the Author

JOHN J. DONOHUE is Academic Dean at Medaille College, Buffalo. He is trained as an anthropologist and also holds a black belt in karate. He is the author of The Forge of the Spirit: Structure, Motion, and Meaning in the Japanese Martial Tradition and is coeditor of The Human Condition in the Modern Age.

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If You Want a Book that SAYS something About Martial Arts... 10 Feb. 2003
By C. J. Hardman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This volume goes far beyond the usual regurgitations we hear in the martial arts world. Author John J. Donohue takes what is perhaps the deepest look yet in print at how and why our society understands and perceives martial arts as it does. I will relate a few concepts here from each of the eight chapters of the book. The author's thoroughness and inclusiveness have made it impossible to touch on all of the topics which he connects connects in each chapter. The majority of the author's practical Martial arts studies have been in Japanese arts, so Japanese terminology is used in most circumstances (definitions offered, glossary in back too). This should not be construed as a bias _against_ non-Japanese arts, but instead as the author admission of the limitations of his own experience. It does not in my opinion, impact the ideas he imparts, which go beyond where an art may have originated and probe concepts most combative arts possess. Donohue manages to put concepts that we've known existed into words--and he does so skillfully.
In chapter 1, "A Warrior Dream", Donohue considers mysticism in the martial arts, writing, "An overly mystical approach to the martial arts is usually symptomatic of a lack of familiarity with them on the part of Western observers. (11)" He links the quest for self-definition to a sense of accomplishment through acquiring skill, and the exploration of the mystic. The second chapter, "Form and Function: Martial Systems in Cross-Cultural Perspective", Donohue examines combative and martial practices in cultural perspective. He takes for his examples among others, the expansion of the Zulu as a result of their innovative military system, Josephus remarks on the extensive training of Roman soldiers as cause for their success, and the tendancy to teach soldiers in modern military forces basic yet efficient training, touching on how technology has lessened the dependence on hand-to-hand skills for survival on the battlefield.
In the next chapter, "The Asian Martial Arts: Just So and Just-so Stories" Donohue shows that the ways in which martial arts are interpreted are the result of many factors. He offers a brief history which covers the development of martial arts in Japan and China, and then the relation between moral and mystical belief in martial arts, and prevailing religious/philosophical practices of the cultures in which they developed such as Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Discussed in-Depth are the notions of Ki, Haragei, and Mu-shin, etc... Chapter four "Martial skills, Marginality, and Moral Force: Mythic Dimensions in the image of the American Warrior" seeks to explain why martial arts are so popular with Americans, and how they fit into the myth of the rugged individual as competent fighter. He shows that most films which cater to this genera contain similar elements meant to suggest to the viewer the independence of their main characters. An interesting chart compares "Shane" with "Lethal Weapon" and "Above the Law".
"Training, Adaptation, and Elaboration: The American Dojo" is the fifth chapter, and deals with heirarchy, organization, rank, and structure...and the lack of those things in some cases. Chapter six, "Mystery and Mastery: The Added Dimension in the Martial Arts" concerns itself with the reliance on mystical and quasi-magical explanations of qualities such as Ki by many American martial artists, and how many prefer Asian combatives because they possess this dimension. Chapter Seven, "The Search for a Center" tackles the idea of conforming to the norms of the martial arts group in dress, behavior, and practice. The last Chapter, "Wave People", covers the diversity of meaning that can be found in the symbols of martial arts.
The insights offered by John Donohue in this book put my practice in a new perspective. There are different ways of seeing and experiencing martial arts that go beyond variations of style or nationalistic flavor. For a deeper understanding of what we're doing and why we're doing it, give this book a try.
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