Two recent books:

First, Joker by Brian Azzarello. This is the first version of Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker to appear in comics (that I know about, anyway–I only read trades). It’s a creepier, uglier Joker (just look at that cover), but I don’t know if it’s all that much scarier than previous versions. It recasts him as more of a gangster than comic book villain, but what should I expect from a crime writer? Aside from the bullshit setup, it’s solid work and interesting stuff (I found I couldn’t put it down), but when I reached the end I found myself vaguely dissatisfied.

Second, there are a lot of books out there about Winning A For-Real Fight, and many of them are filled with specific tactics and annoying macho puffery. Well, Rory Miller had been a martial arts student for many years before becoming a casino bouncer and then a prison guard. He had a “fight-a-day” job in which he tried to apply the lessons learned in the dojo to real-life violence.

The result of those lessons are here, in Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence, which I read because of a recommendation by David Hines. Miller talks very clearly about the way violence takes place–the context of it, the execution, the mental state a person enters when they’re attacked, the mental state of the person doing the attacking. He also talks about the way certain martial arts training is pure fantasy and how dangerous it can be.

Even more interesting is one topic he touches on several times: self-imposed limits–people who believe they don’t have permission to behave rudely to alarming behavior. People who believe they could never win a fight. People who feel they must respond to a challenge to their authority. People who want to appease authority figures. People who think fighting will be like sparring.

As an author who writes about violence, the clear descriptions of the mental and emotional states reinforced and deepened my understanding of the processes of physical conflict. I’m also grateful for the way he talks about breaking through artificial limits, which I’m going to apply to my life globally. There are so many ways I box myself in because of what I believe about myself…

This isn’t the time for that discussion, though. It’s something to think about and you might find it useful, too.

Anyway, I’m not interested in martial arts training (I’ve tried it more than once and it’s not for me) and I thought this was a fascinating, thoughtful book. I didn’t agree with everything here, but this is rich, fertile soil.

Highly recommended. Thank you, David.