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Book Review of: The Shaolin Workout

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Review of The Shaolin Workout, by Sifu Shi Yan Ming

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, 4th Degree Black Belt, Kung Fu

The subtitle of this book, "28 Days to Transforming Your Body and Soul the Warrior's Way" appeals to the standard American desire for instant results. And it's true that anyone who isn't in good shape physically will see startling results by applying himself (herself) diligently to the program provided in this book. Even people who consider themselves in good shape are likely to be pleasantly surprised after 28 days on this program.

That subtitle is really a teaser. What Yan Ming (hereafter called "Sifu") teaches is more a way of being than a 28-day program. So after 28 days, what's next? As Sifu would say, "More chi! Train harder!"

I began my own education in the martial arts about eight years after Sifu began his, so one thing we share is a long-term perspective of the martial arts. An important principle in martial arts is that to conquer the enemy in front of you, you must first conquer the enemy that is in you. The enemy in you the one that doubts you and undermines your confidence.

Sifu is the personification of this teaching made real. As pointed out in the book, you can see his confidence even from a distance. He not only exudes confidence, he helps build it in others. This, also, is they way of the warrior.

While Sifu is listed as "the author," that is not exactly the case. The book contains text written by one or more other person(s). You can tell, because that text has a different voice from the core of the book. Some of that text is helpful, but some of it is annoyingly gushing. In future editions, that next needs to be toned down a bit.

True training

This book provides one way to fitness, but not the only way and not--in my opinion--the best way. It's a way that harkens back through the ages, long before most of today's fitness options existed.

I want to caution the reader to understand this is a true martial arts workout. It is not some dancer dressed up in Chinese outfits showing you a few moves and stretches. Don't confuse this with any of the pseudo workouts being passed off as martial arts training. Dancing around to martial arts moves is one thing. Sifu's martial arts training is quite another.

Some years ago, a friend showed me her new workout routine. This consisted of following Billy Blanks tapes. I was not impressed. That workout was not comprehensive and did not address either proper muscular  development or correct range of motion. It was different, and it was energetic. But it was also incomplete. I think if you go to Billy Blanks' Website and then compare his photo to one of Sifu, you can render your own opinion on this (for that matter, you can compare my photo to that of Billy Blanks)

Sifu's program isn't some new-fangled designed to sell videos. He's passing along a tradition that goes wa-a-ay back. Real warriors depended on this very training to develop their bodies for real combat. They didn't have the methods and equipment taken for granted today. Sifu reveals a complete training program. But take care--it stresses development for a particular type of athlete. That may not be the development you personally desire.

For example, I personally decided to stop training for splits. I used to be able to do them in every direction, but now cannot do them. I traded this flexibility for stability--especially in the joints. I wanted to be a different kind of athlete, so I changed my training.


The book, while very good, does contain a conceptual error--as expressed on pages 35 - 37. This stems from an old myth common in many martial arts clubs, studios, and schools. They myth is that working out with weights makes you slow. Actually, working out with weights properly makes you faster. I won't belabor the "explanation" in the book, other than to say it's been proven wrong, it defies what we know about exercise physiology, and it flies in the face of standard practice in sports training.

Coming across this egregious error so early in the book could turn readers off or leave them feeling confused. If I did not know of Sifu's reputation, I would have stopped reading the book right there. So, I'm addressing it for those readers who may not know of Sifu. Don't let the erroneous information confuse you--just ignore it and read the rest of the book.

There is a reason why every pro football and pro basketball team uses weight training. And there is a reason why Shannon Sharpe, a star NFL player well-known for his heavy weightlifting program, has speed and power that awe other football players. I will balance this by saying incorrect weight training will make you slower and that most people who go to gyms haven't a clue about how to train. But please don't extrapolate from the results those people get and assume those same results occur for knowledgeable weightlifters. They don't.

Good, nonetheless

A future edition of this book needs to leave out the erroneous statements about weight-training, as well as the pseudo-scientific "explanation" for that assertion. The authors need to stick to what they know, rather than diminishing the book in this way. The reader should not infer from these 2 and a half pages of error that there is anything wrong with the rest of the book--there isn't. What Sifu presents is accurate, and it's quite valuable.

Except as noted, the content of this book was exceptionally good. I expected as much, given the name on the cover. And I was not disappointed.

This book is a must-read for anyone engaged in the martial arts. You may choose to follow the exercise program, or you may not. Either way, you can benefit from the pearls of wisdom that frequently appear throughout the book. And, for anyone who has failed at one fitness program or another--try this program for three months and see if you want to keep going with it.


What I didn't expect--what surprised me quite pleasantly--was the look of this book. Most martial arts schools that are any good run on shoestring budgets. This reflects the counterculture nature of the martial arts, in general. Unless the school is a "designer arts" school that basically makes its money from a complicated array of belts, promotions, contests, etc., the instructors don't dare quit their day jobs. Most martial arts schools reflect the monkish "low budget" way of life.

Sometimes, a particular instructor becomes quite well-known and serves as the expert for someone to ghost-write a book. The book invariably contains poor photography (mixed in with the few good photos they could afford to have taken), and it's hard to make out what's really going on in those photos. To reduce production costs, there's extensive use of black and white.

Back "in the day," we were delighted to see stick figure drawings--these were more illustrative of moves and technique than the photographs. In contrast, the photography in Sifu's book was outstanding. Period. Not just for a martial arts book, but period. Hats off to Bob Scott, In addition to their technical quality, these photos show the photographer understood the subject.

Because of this, and because of Sifu's obvious desire to produce a book worth buying, reading, and referring back to, any ordinary person can understand and apply what's being taught in this book. This workout does not require any special equipment or special clothing. It requires only that you set aside the time to do it. That's an investment worth making.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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