Taekwondo a Path to Excellence by Doug Cook

“Taekwondo a path to excellence” by Doug Cook is an exceptional book for martial artists, not just those who practice taekwondo. The subtitle of this book is “Achieving Physical and Spiritual Enrichment Through Disciplined Practice,” and while Cook’s specific practice is the art of taekwondo from Korea, I believe much of what he writes is applicable to any martial art, regardless of style or country of origin. This is not a technique book, but rather a text that shares the author’s journey and how taekwondo positively impacted his life.

Through Cook’s journey, this book explores taekwondo and can stimulate others to explore their own martial art path. Yes, I do believe those who practice the Korean arts will enjoy this book the most. I personally do not do taekwondo, but my experiences with my chosen art of hapkido are similar, and when Cook wrote about his trips to Korea, it reminded me of my time in the Land of the Morning Calm. (Not to mention, it made me a bit homesick to return)

The book is divided into seven parts. Part One focuses on what taekwondo is. The author explains it as more than just striking and kicking, and I found myself agreeing with much, especially the importance of “Do.” The second part explains a bit of history of taekwondo, including a bit of Korean history. Part Three addresses becoming a steadfast practitioner of the art. I really liked this part and think most practitioners can relate the author’s message to their own practice, regardless of art. The fourth section of the book has some very good advice aimed at beginners. Since we are all beginners at some part of our art, this chapter is good for everyone, but especially those starting their journey. Part Five is more personal to the author regarding his students, colleagues, and experiences. I found it an inspiring chapter. Part Six is fairly short, but provides some wisdom regarding the economics of the martial arts, something anyone who wants to make their living by teaching must deal with. Finally, Part Seven, relays some of the experiences of the author on his training trips to Korea. Those practicing Korean arts that have not yet traveled to Korea may be inspired by this chapter to journey themselves to their art’s country of origin. As I mentioned, it made me think of my time there and made me yearn for my next visit.

This was an enjoyable well written book that prompted me to ponder my own journey in the martial arts. I think it is a valuable book for martial artists, especially those that practice taekwondo or other Korean arts. Definitely recommended reading for all taekwondo stylists.

Circle Change, a New Novel by Gabriel Busch – Book Review

In “Circle Change”, author Gabriel Busch attempts to fuse a love story with a profound tale of reflection and redemption. Luckily for the reader, he succeeds by connecting on several levels. Set against the backdrop of major league baseball dreams and aspirations, the novel has something to offer for just about any reader.

Make no doubt about it, “Circle Change” is a love story. What sets the novel apart is the allegories and layers embedded within the narrative. The recurring theme of love is prevalent on several key levels. The love of the game of baseball is something many fans can relate to and is an important setting for the story. The love between a man and a woman is a universal motif and firmly addressed. The love of the city of New Orleans is clear in the characters’ interaction between each other and the city in which they live. Most importantly of all, the novel fundamentally addresses the notion of self-love through introspection, grief, forgiveness and redemption. No easy feat but Busch seems up to the task.

The story begins with Traynor Hamilton, a minor league phenom pitcher in the Houston Astros organization fulfilling his lifelong dream (and destiny) to become a major league pitcher. Originally from the US Northeast, he toils for the New Orleans affiliate baseball team of the big league club and grows to love his adopted city. In the process, he befriends an older, wise mentor in the form of his friend Charles who is constantly espousing sage ideals and infusing Traynor with a zest for life. Upon seeing a beautiful woman outside of an art gallery, Traynor recruits Charles to assist in his quest to meet her. Once he is acquainted with Gracie, they fall in love not only with each other, but also with the city of New Orleans, with the notion of spiritual growth (attained through the practise of yoga) and with the idea of Traynor making the big leagues. And make the big leagues he does. Like any good morality play, tragedy befalls and sends the protagonist on a quest for answers, introspective reflection and, ultimately, redemption.

The novel leaves a great deal of things unexplained at its conclusion. This is clearly by design as Busch is ultimately challenging the reader to determine an answer to the question: Is redemption possible? One can seemingly be guided by others in the pursuit of this answer but ultimately Busch is telling us that we can only answer that question for ourselves. The reassuring factor lies in the knowledge that we are never alone in our journey. Be it friends, family or seemingly random strangers, our fellow companions in the human race share our experiences, grief, pain and love.

The novel has lofty ideals indeed and delivers on most levels. Numerous grammatical and punctuation errors have occurred in the digitization of the novel but this is a problem easily rectified. In regard to effort, Busch deserves an “A” for his delving equally into the worlds of baseball, love, joy, grief and loss as well as an almost supernatural turn to the story involving Native American culture and spirituality.

The style of the novel is heavily reliant upon conversation in place of detailed description and as such reads almost like a screenplay. This may be Busch’s intent as the story would play out very well on the screen. Regardless, Busch has positioned himself as an author with a unique voice with more stories to share. Time will certainly tell but his initial foray into storytelling with his debut novel seems to indicate he is well on his way.

Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus – A Review

I feel an initial warning is in order here. If you are merely thinking about getting into coaching – especially at something like the high school level – you may not want to read Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus.. It could scare you right into not coaching, and nobody wants that!

Seriously, though, the author talks at good length about what makes for a good volleyball program (not just a good team) and there are many facets to it. Thinking about it all as someone new to coaching could get a bit overwhelming.

The first section of the book is described as the Coaching Foundation. The two main focal points are coaching philosophy and communication. Coaching philosophy may be something assistant or apprentice volleyball coaches don’t need to worry too much about, as that will come down from the head coach, but for anyone running a team themselves it’s a major consideration. Since a large proportion of lower level coaches don’t have the benefit of starting as an assistant, that is likely going to cover most readers.Not only does Kus talk about developing a philosophy, she shares some tips for implementing it as well.

The second focus is communication – in all its forms. We’re talking player-to-player, coach-to-player, coach-to-coach, coach-to-parents, and any other line of exchange you can think about – verbal, written, and otherwise. Kus leaves no doubt about how important it is for the health of your team, your program, and yourself to make sure there is good, positive communication with and among all parties involved. Player and team motivation is part of that equation.

The second section of the book is Coaching Plans. Again, we’re talking about a very comprehensive look at the planning aspect of being a successful head volleyball coach. A lot of it concentrates on developing effective training plans, which no doubt will interest most readers considerably. There are a number of drills, games, and warm-up ideas included here.

Part III tackles the instruction of individuals skills. This is quite detailed in terms of looking at player mechanics with lots of suggestions for ways to address common issues and bad habits. This section is also supported by a number of drill ideas.

After the skills section, in a natural progression, comes two sections dealing with systems, strategies, and tactics. These feature a comprehensive look at both offensive and defensive systems of play and how to development them, as well as a considerable discussion of how to manage teams in preparation for and during matches.

The book wraps up with a sixth section which goes over evaluations – both players and program. Kus, as with all the other parts of the book, gets quite detailed in terms of both what should be evaluated and how you can do it.

As you may have realized by this point, this book is absolutely loaded. It’s not something you will breeze through in a few hours. That said, though, the writing is very direct well paced. I seriously doubt you’ll find yourself bored anywhere along the way, as can sometimes be the case in coaching books.

The bottom line is Coaching Volleyball Successfully is a fantastic book. It does focus a great deal on high school volleyball, but there are a lot of references to collegiate, Juniors, and youth volleyball as well, and much of the material can be applied across the board. If I were offering suggestions as to what a new or developing coach should read, this one would be right on the top of that list.