I've often wondered why I'm driven towards karate and boxing. Based on Sam Sheridan's fine book "A Fighter's Heart," it seems I'm testing my gameness, enjoying purity of purpose, and examining my life and motives (and at 40, I may have also fallen short developmentally somewhere along the line).
On the surface, Mr. Sheridan doesn't appear to be the fighting type. He grew up in a relatively stable family situation, attended Harvard, and likes to write. But he clearly wanted more excitement from life than cranking out human interest articles at the local bistro. Instead, he joined the Merchant Marines, got into wilderness firefighting, and along the way was bit hard by the fighting bug.
To indulge and understand his compulsion, the author traveled the world to try his mettle in various full-contact martial arts: Muay Thai in Thailand, MMA in Iowa, jiu-jitsu in Brazil, and boxing in California. In addition to testing himself in these potentially harmful venues, he also wanted to seek out other seasoned fighters and trainers for mentoring and instruction. He even checked out animal fighting and action movie stunt work to broaden his perspectives. Finally, Mr. Sheridan concludes his book with an analysis of why humans fight.
I found his detours into the more obscure aspects of fighting quite interesting. For example, he briefly explores the internal arts by studying under a Tai Chi master and engaging in Buddhist meditation at a Thai retreat center. These segues rewarded him with a greater understanding of body mechanics and a sharper mental focus. He even discovered commonalities between the various martial arts, such as the relationship between shadow boxing and kata. Mr. Sheridan's foray into stunt work for actor Paul Walker to understand the lure of action movies was also intriguing. And I enjoyed meeting the many fighters, teachers, and other colorful personalities he encountered.
Despite its superb insights, "A Fighter's Heart" suffers from two shortcomings. First, Mr. Sheridan kept getting injured, so he didn't engage in formal competition very much. Indeed, his physical limitations often relegated him to the role of observer and hanger-on. Also, his journey into the seamy world of dog and chicken fighting was an unwelcome diversion. The sweetest pet I ever owned was a pit bull, and I hate to see them tear each other up for money. To be fair, he made some interesting observations about this darker form of fighting. But I could've lived without it.
"A Fighter's Heart" is not only a fascinating look into various martial arts (and a good travelogue to boot), it's also a window of understanding into why otherwise sane individuals try to hurt each other. After reading this book, I'm more aware of the internal motivations and external forces that drive me towards karate, boxing (and even motorcycle riding). I recommend it to anyone who's curious about his or her own compulsion to face off against someone in the ring.