Review: ‘The Principles of Unarmed Combat’ by Mark Jacobs

Some discovered MMA when they turned on Spike TV and saw a reality TV show where the cast beat each other up. Others discovered it when they overheard someone at the gym talking about how Brock Lesnar could kill anyone in the cage. And still others, like myself, discovered it when it intruded upon the world of traditional martial arts. Yes, traditional martial arts – the world of dojos, starched gis and Bruce Lee’s “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do”. It’s a world many an MMA fan fled like a combative sport refugee, and yet it’s a world that still exists, kept alive by the inquisitive collective mind that hungers for the answers to such martial questions as “What works in a fight?” and “Hold on, is this kata going to get my ass kicked?” Well, Black Belt Magazine columnist Mark Jacobs tackles those questions and more in his new book, “The Principles of Unarmed Combat”, which, like the author, straddles the MMA and traditional realms and puts the “martial arts” in mixed martial arts.

Clocking in at 352 pages, the Principles of Unarmed Combat would be an apropos textbook if colleges taught fighting for credit. It literally covers it all – striking, grappling, movement, defense, strategy, psychology – and Jacobs approaches each topic with a thorough analysis and in-depth description of the “how” and the “why”. How deep does Jacobs go? Let’s just say that on his acknowledgments page he thanks everyone from “Judo” Gene LeBell to various doctors to a professor in engineering at Cooper Union. The closest thing I can compare the Principles of Unarmed Combat to would be “Mastering Jujitsu” by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher, which is one of my all-time favorite instructional books, so consider that high praise.

Jacobs has been writing a column for Black Belt for four years, and has been a practicing martial artist for over thirty. We’ve run into each other while covering everything from Bellator to Strikeforce to underground full-contact kung fu tournaments, so I reached out and asked him what inspired him to write this book.

“The Buddha talked to me through a burning makiwara,” he said (note: he was joking). “Also, being sort of analytical, I’d always been given to breaking down and examining what I was being taught and being a writer had always thought about putting down my findings in a book. When you do martial arts for a long time, you hear a lot of conflicting information on what works and doesn’t work. I always felt there should be some objective way of examining this stuff to determine what works, what doesn’t work, why, and what the exceptions are. Since there was not a lot of objective, scientific stuff out there, I finally decided to write it myself. It’s basically the book I wished I could have found to explain things to me when I started out in martial arts.”

How has working for Black Belt helped? “It provided me with a lot of contacts and access to different top martial artists and instructors who I was fortunate enough to get to interview in-depth and pick their brains on various technical topics. As much as anything, that’s why I keep writing for Black Belt. I get to meet a lot of really interesting martial artists.”

“Interesting martial artists” is also a phrase that pretty much describes Jacobs’ next project, although when I asked him to talk about it and used the term “crazy martial arts people”, he corrected me. “Perhaps ‘crazy martial arts people’ is not the best way to refer to it. I still need access to the crazy people, after all. Maybe something like ‘interesting, unique and sometimes strange characters and sub-cultures that populate the martial arts world’.”

Anyway, if your bookshelf contains such tomes as Saulo Ribeiro’s “Jiu-Jitsu University” and Anderson Silva’s “MMA Instruction Manual”, then you’ll want the Principles of Unarmed Combat.

Buy it, read it, love it.

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