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Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: Campfire Tales From Hell

Campfire Tales From Hell: Musings on Martial Arts, Survival, Bouncing, and General Thug Stuff
Rory Miller (ed.)
YMAA Press
Nov, 2013

Campfire Tales From Hell is an anthology of essays about martial arts, self-defense, and violence. The anthology was curated by Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence, Facing Violence), and contains a number of essays by familiar names (Marc MacYoung, Wim Demeere, Barry Eisler, and others) as well as a number of essays by new or unknown authors. The overall theme of the book is simply to share the wisdom that these writers have accumulated through their real world experiences, either as a competitive fighter, a violent thug, or a prisoner in a Japanese prison.

The Thing Itself

Campfire Tales From Hell is available in Kindle and paperback format. I bought the Kindle version. It was well-formatted, and easy to read. There's nothing but text here, so graphic displays weren't really an issue.

What's Inside

The essays in this book are broken up into six sections: Technical, Training, War Stories, Places You Don't Want to Go, Advice, and Philosophy. Each section contains a selection of essays that revolve around that section's theme. Generally speaking, the essays don't directly interconnect, unless they're by the same author ("Chop Ki" for example, revisits the theme of cults in several sections, and I get the impression that his work might have originally been a larger piece that got broken up. I could be wrong though.)

There's an "interlude" between sections two and three which is a piece of fiction by Barry Eisler, where his fictional character, John Rain, meets Marc MacYoung for a drink.

Campfire Tales from Hell enjoys both the strength and weakness that comes with any anthology presentation. The strength is that with so many different authors and writing styles, most people are bound to come across something they like. The downside is that with so many different authors and writing styles, most people are bound to come across something they dislike. It's a mixed bag, but what parts of the bag are good or bad will depend on the reader. I'm going to try and highlight some of the essays that I found interesting in here, but really, it will vary tremendously from person to person.

Section 1: Technical

This is a bit of a grab-bag section about different technical elements related to fighting and self-defense. I was intrigued by Bert Bruijen's discussion of the Historical European Martial Art that he studies, and really wanted more detail on the subject. MacYoung's "Talking to Cops" good Marc MacYoung--humorous, but with good information contained in the storytelling. Worth reading for just about anyone who might ever have to talk to a cop. So, anyone really. Drew Anderson's "Everything we know about PTSD" is a must-read for any instructor, especially for the info on psychological first aid (which I want to revisit and, again, learn more about.)

Section 2: Training

I've read some of Rory's writing about the distinctions between Teaching, Training, and Conditioning before, but it's always worth revisiting, and the essay here is particularly coherent. There's a huge article on board breaking in here that is probably excellent for anyone whose training includes that sort of thing (mine doesn't, so I can't really judge the article, except to say that it seemed pretty damn comprehensive).

*Marc MacYoung Meets Barry Eisler's John Rain

I haven't read any of the John Rain stories, and not that much of MacYoung either, so this kind of fell flat for me. It wasn't bad (honestly, I'm kind of curious about Eisler's work), but this just didn't engage me at all.

Section 3: War Stories

Kane's "The Sensei and the Hockey Dad" stuck with me for some reason. I think he repeats it in Scaling Force (which I'm reading right now). The rest were less memorable, though I couldn't quite tell you why.

Section 4: Places You Don't Want to Go

By far the most interesting section for me. I think this is the section with the most amateur writers, but honestly, that's part of what made it so interesting. I mean, you have essays about how to survive in a psych ward, a checklist for leaving an abusive relationship, and some musings about training in Antarctica? Absolutely fascinating stuff.

Section 5: Advice

Just three essays, all pretty solid. The one on leaving cults was most interesting to me, but they all had good info.

Section 6: Philosophy

Don Roley's "Learn the Old to Understand the New" was an interesting perspective from a practitioner of a Koryu on modern self-defense. Rory's "Where The Journey Ends" stuck in my head a bit as well.

Of course, this is just my perspective. Other readers will likely find different essays to be more or less valuable. Because of the wide variety of topics and presenters, most readers are likely to find something of value, but not necessarily find EVERYTHING of value.

Who Is This For?

Anyone who studies martial arts, self-defense (or both) will probably find some value in this book. It's certainly worth checking out.

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