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Book Review: “When Buddhists Attack: The Curious Relationship Between Zen and the Martial Arts” by Jeffrey Mann and Patrick McCarthy

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 08•12

When Buddhists Attack: The Curious Relationship Between Zen and the Martial ArtsWhen Buddhists Attack: The Curious Relationship Between Zen and the Martial Arts by Jeffrey K. Mann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“When Buddhists Attack” is an excellent examination of the complex relationship between different forms of Buddhism, focusing on the more mainstream and accessible “Zen Buddhism” and martial arts.

Naturally, this is a rather esoteric subject, and one might expect that this book is geared toward an audience that is already at least somewhat familiar with the subjects of either Buddhism or martial arts. Not so. Mann and McCarthy do a wonderful job of laying a thick, solid foundation for his readers. The author explains his own connection to the topic, which is something I’ve always felt goes a long way in making an informative, nonfiction book engaging and accessible, adding a personal touch that readers can appreciate. He discusses the basics of Buddhism, and then the different forms it takes, from the conservative Buddhist forms to the more commercial, accessible and easily recognized Zen Buddhism (and how it differs from our common social perception of it, what with $19.99 Zen gardens with motorized fountains that you can buy at Target).

He delves deeper into his chosen subject, Zen Buddhism, and explains it in detail, including quotes and stories from its main texts and most revered practitioners, as well as his own experiences in Buddhist monasteries, studying, for example, the fine art of sitting. (I’m entirely serious, and not at all mocking him or the concept – the discussion on sitting was one of my favorite parts in the book because I never really appreciated just how much went into the simple act.)

And then the author delves into his thesis: the complex, intricate relationship between Zen and the martial arts. It’s a thorough examination of the intersection of two seemingly contradictory ideologies, but upon reading the book, it becomes quite clear that they actually fit together in a seamless way that may seem counterintuitive at first glance.

When Buddhists Attack is an excellent examination of the relationship between one of the world’s most popular ideologies, and martial arts. McCarthy and Mann have crafted an engaging, accessible, and yet still thoroughly scholarly work.

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