Book Review – ‘Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul’ by Stuart Brown M.D.

I cannot recall how I came across this book but I think it was something I came across on social media referring to an article in National Geographic from December 1994. So I searched for and purchased said magazine and it is a great article on animals playing, fascinating in fact how different species such as a polar bear and a husky played together, go find and read.

Better still buy the book as its all in there too but without the fantastic pictures. To be fair Dr Brown is preaching to the converted with me. I love to play. Play is fun, it is a natural act but unfortunately many forget how to play as adult life takes over. In a world where the screen dominates and managed activity is all pervasive we have forgotten how to play creatively as we did as children.

Many children are also deprived of the opportunity for spontaneous play as they are ferried from adult supervised activity to adult supervised activity.

At our junior Ju Jitsu sessions the kids love to end with a game, it seems not to matter what the game is except the more chaotic the better. Play engages the brain and the body, when we train in the woods, what we call Wild Wednesday, the adults taking part in some pretty tough physical training are re-engaging with their younger selves as they crash about through the undergrowth, jumping over logs and throwing rocks.

Having grandchildren is fantastic, I get to be Mr Wolf or just ‘the monster’, I am on all fours as a horse for them to ride and they really love the rough and tumble and we had an epic water fight not so long ago. I love to play, to me Ju Jitsu is play, padwork is play, training is play, its how I express myself, I can lose myself in these activities and more importantly play with others.

I thoroughly recommend this book, the other night I was reading ‘Behave’ by Robert Sopolsky and was not surprised to see him quoting Dr Brown’s work on play. High praise indeed. Buy it and read it.

Review by Garry Smith.

Book Review – ‘Modern Samurai’ by Matt Stait

When Matt asked me to review his book I was unsure whether to. I had seen it advertised and it looked interesting but I had that much to do myself I did not think I would have the time. However, Matt kindly sent me a copy so I decided to read the intro and make my mind up. I read the intro and the first chapter and decided this was worth fitting into my schedule.

I am really glad I did as what appears to be a book about being on the doors is actually a piece of social history. I share Matt’s reservations about how the doors were run and how they are run now, I shudder when I see what pass for door staff sometimes now and wonder how the hell they cope when the shit hits the fan. As Matt states in the introduction this is not another hard man on the door reliving war stories, it is a huge collection of highly entertaining, often amusing, anecdotes told with a refreshing candour. There is no bragging, there are dashings of humility and many wry observations on the often weird manifestations of human behaviour both good and bad.

Some of the anecdotes remind me of the writings of Theodore Dalrymple as the descriptions of some of the meaner, nastier echelons of society are exposed for our benefit. Many people like to not see how despicably some people can act, how horrible and narrow their drug addled, alcohol and crime filled existences but for the person on the door dealing with these people is often unavoidable. It was refreshing how Matt obviously used soft skills when dealing with difficult customers but had the muscle and skill in reserve for when the softly softly approach did not work.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Modern Samurai and whilst I told Matt I might take 3 weeks to do so a bit at a time, I finished it in under a week as it was a really interesting read. In this book Matt paints vivid pictures with words, I saw the venues he described come to life, the characters too were well described and their attitudes, mannerisms and behaviour jumped off the page. I would recommend this book to anyone thinking of taking their SAI door badge, I almost did once and walked out on day 2 of the appalling training and looking at those training with me and realising I would not trust 1 of them to watch my back, especially the t****r doing the training. Not 1 of them had any grounding in the reality of violence.

So here is a glimpse into a world that existed but is rapidly changing, this is a great piece of social history and Matt is clearly a cool guy who I would really like to meet, buy the book, it will make you frown, it will make you wince but it will definitely make you smile, a lot.

Book Review: ‘Rules of Engagement: A Life in Conflict’ by Tim Collins – Garry Smith

This is an epic read and thoroughly interesting and entertaining in equal measure. As former head of the SAS and as commander of the First Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment he describes dealing with murderous terrorists in Ireland, the West Side Boys in Sierra Lone to the invasion of Iraq with clarity and some humour.

A compassionate man by nature he is also fiercely dedicated to achieving the mission he is set. He has a wonderful grasp of the importance of culture, religion and sets incredible examples of peaceful conflict management in some very frightening places where there is little respect for life from some people.

Tim Collins embodies the diplomatic warrior, his skill lies in using soft skills first and foremost but there is an iron hand ready to follow if that does not work. He has proved himself to be an expert negotiator and strategist but honestly discusses the things that went wrong. He clearly commanded the loyalty of his forces as those who lead by example do.

This book is a behind the scenes look at how modern war is waged, it is very different than what we see on the news. What struck me was the complexity of the operations and the scale of everything and yet Collins was still able to focus on the individual be it friend or foe. The book itself is epic in scale and gripping, a real page turner.

For me this was a great read. Tim Collins made a legendary speech to his troops as they prepared to cross over into Iraq, I do not have the original but here is a recreation by no other than the great Shakespearian actor Kenneth Branagh.

Collins is one of that rare breed of men who wears his heart, alongside the Union Jack, on his sleeve. A gentleman and a scholar.

Read the book, it is a cracker. This man should be Prime Minister but that is just my opinion.

Review by Garry Smith.

Book Review: ‘Wrong Fu’ by Jamie Clubb – Garry Smith

First let me make clear that Jamie and I have never met, we have corresponded and talked but not in person, and no money has changed hands. I have read, quite literally thousands of books, I am pretty widely read. I have reviewed many, many books, most I have enjoyed, some that have been more than that, ‘Wrong Fu is one of the latter’.

I edit Conflict Manager Magazine and work closely with a couple of the people mentioned in this book. I teach Ju Jitsu, I have graded to 4th dan and I run the Academy of Self Defence. I know my mMA and my SD are different creatures, there is a little overlap so I just about completely agree with the messages delivered in this book.

The amount of research and underpinning knowledge necessary for Jamie to write this is extraordinary. I was once an academic, I was immersed in a world where opinion was fine but needed to be based on evidence. Jamie draws on some fantastic sources and refers to many theoretical models to identify and argue against all the major problems that exist in the MA/SD world.

However, it is not a rant. This is an incredibly concise observation of some quite complex issues and fallacies, they need challenging and this book contributes to that process. I loved it. Like any great read I will let this swish around and return to read it again another time.

I am looking forward to Enter the Bull, (even though I have trained with Master Ken and did the tiger pose, I use the pic to make my students laugh).

Final point, when I took over the teaching of Ju Jitsu nearly 4 years ago the first thing I did was scrap the use of the ‘Sensei’ title, our students call me Garry. Stop the bowing, scraping and kneeling in rank order, we still bow with a nod but stood in a circle and make it clear we did this for fun, we are not warriors, failure is inevitable and should be embraced as much as success. We are growing steadily. The MA/SD world would improve more if people listened to Jamie Clubb.

Reviewed by Garry Smith.

Book Review: ‘Violence of Mind: Preparing for Extreme Violence’ by Varg Freeborn – Garry Smith

I downloaded this onto my Kindle some weeks ago along with 3 other books, 1 of them a novel. I had a weeks holiday coming up and I wanted to get some serious reading done, the fact that the week in question turned out to be something of a heatwave meant that whilst we did walk a lot, we sat soaking in the sun and reading a lot too, continuing into the cooler evenings after great food and whilst drinking good beer. Herefordshire is a beautiful place with beautiful scenery and wildlife, the combination of good things was spot on.

So VoM, well Varg is a friend and I really like his stuff anyway so I was really looking forward to reading it. I was not disappointed. He does not pull his punches, he holds no sacred cows and his experience flows throughout the book. I have long held the view and stated often in my training that I can teach the physical stuff pretty quickly, once the fundamentals are explained and inculcated in the student, teaching technique is not that difficult, learning it is. Its why we constantly revisit the fundamentals, however many times that takes, we do that. The difficult part, I tell all and sundry, is developing the mindset to put what is learned into practice, first in a safe environment, then increasing the resistance until the student gets a chance to validate if they can make it work.

Reading VoM affirmed much of what I know and do, that is always a pleasure, but, it also made me question a few things and reframe others. As I read VoM I had images in my mind of how we train and teach, reading VoM helped me imagine tweeks and changes we could make to get better so that our curriculum offer can evolve further.

VoM is unique due to Varg being unique. Very few in our business, whatever that is, have anything like his experiences or his extraordinary ability to articulate complex ideas and concepts without using technical jargon. In fact he shoots down, pardon the pun, those who hide behind jargon and pseudo sceince. The criminal mind is not our mind, we cannot truly think like fully socialised hardened criminals, but as instructors we have a duty of care at least to learn how they think and the harshness of the world their mindset is forged in. VoM exposes how those who teach art, who teach students that nice moves learned in a nice dojo with nice partners are about as much use in a fight against a violent criminal as a chocolate fireguard.

I know a little of this as I have hunted men, ambushed, hurt them, for fun. Lets stay with the book though.

Read this book and then reflect on how you train and if an instructor how you teach. Reflect very hard on what you teach. Do you, can you, explain to your students what they may come up against, what they will be dealing with, do you know yourself? If the answer is no or not sure, and the best tactic is err on the negative, get this book, read it once, leave it a while then read it again. The lessons are there if you want them.

For me my holiday is walking in the countryside with my wife and our little dog. Its about time together, good food and a few beers. It is also time to learn free from classes (thank you to my excellent cadre of instructors), time to read, reflect, learn and move forward. I was really looking forward to reading VoM, to say I was not disappointed is an understatement.

Footnote; The morning after I read VoM I read an back article from The New Scientist callec Circuit Training for the Brain by Teal Burrell.


In a fantastic article she uses a concept, proprioception (look it up you muscle memory cavefolk lol), that I had first read in VoM the day before, needless to say, Varg had it bang right.

Reviewed by Garry Smith.

Book Review – The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights, and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature’ by Richard Conniff.

Another oldie I finally got around to reading and another goodie. The whole book is very interesting and entertaining and Conniff mixes some incredibly complex human motivations and funny anecdotes to make his points. He quotes Sapolsky and Ekman quite a bit, unavoidable as they are out front in their respective fields, and whilst he does not mention Navarro and Haidt there is clear overlap.

I really enjoyed the use of primatologists research findings and observations throughout and am now a source of entertaining monkey stories for my grandchildren. On a more serious note there is good science explained clearly, I particularly found the thought on ‘The Right Hand Man (or Woman). From a conflict management perspective the physiology of dominance contests was fascination, I knew quite a bit of this anyway but here it is really well presented.

Upon completion I found it confirmed my business and social practices, I am pro-socially dominant and bi-strategic.

Bi-strategics use prosocial techniques by reciprocating favours, offering help without being asked and they build alliances. However, I am not averse to coercive behaviours to get my way, yep, no more Mr Nice Guy if being a Nice Guy fails.

This is a book where reading a chapter at a time is a great strategy although I did get carried away a few times. It is a topic that I am thoroughly fascinated with so it is not surprising I am recommending it. If you are only going to read 1 book on why we behave as we do, then for now, this is a good source. The thing is I suspect if you read it you will want more.

Reviewed by Garry Smith.

Book Review – ‘The Templars: The Rise and Fall of God’s Holy Warriors’ by Dan Jones

You may wonder why I chose to review this book for Conflict Manager magazine, probably not if you have read my article in this edition. First let me tell you how I got this book.

We have all our kids, partners and grandchildren round for the day a week or so before Christmas and have a big party. We have a Secret Santa and this book was my gift from Santa this year (technically last now).1

I took it on holiday with me and read it in sunny La Palma in the Canary Isles. It turned out to be a gripping read, a real page turner. The Knights Templers were formed in 1119 to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, they took oaths of chastity, obedience and poverty, they saw themselves as God’s holy warriors.

This book expertly charts the rise to a position of tremendous power, influence and wealth of the order to its demise a little over 200 years after they were founded. The book uses a multitude of evidence from original and secondary sources both Christian and Muslim to chart the vast conflicts and power struggles of the time in Europe, north Africa and the middle east with Jerusalem at the heart of it all.

The scale and level of brutality is epic, conflict of incredible scale is beautifully described as are the levels of butchery, betrayal and valour. I have read other material on the Templars and can say with confidence this is the very best I have read.

Anyone interested in the clash of civilisations between fundamental Islam and the west needs to read this to get a well researched historical context. There are a long list of themes that this book touches on, religion is the obvious one, politics the next but if you think identity politics is new, you might find this tells you otherwise.

So a big thank you to Secret Santa.

1 For those who do not know Secret Santa works as each person buys for one of the others, in our case up to £25, a gift but the receiver does not know who bought theirs.

Review by Garry Smith

Book Review – ‘Extreme Adventures at the Highest Temperatures on Earth’ by Ranulph Feinnes.

I read this whilst on holiday recently in the Canary Islands where it was fairly hot for the time of year. To be fair I have been to some incredibly hot countries and experienced extreme temperatures so I can feel some of what Ranulph Feinnes writes about.

I will admit he is one of my heroes and I have read a lot of his books so I am a little biased. I really enjoyed reading it, its a tremendous collection of stories, some are recreated from previous books and articles. I do not see this as a downside as this time Ranulph goes into much more detail and the Kindle version, which you can read on a laptop too, was free.

The main focus of the book is his time attached to the Sultanate of Oman fighting Marxist rebels. I have read a little of this before but this time with much greater depth into the social and political conditions and how cultures, language and diet are affected by heat. This is true when he describes how he and his companions recreated the journey up the River Nile, another epic expedition fraught with a huge variety of dangers all associated with the heat.

If you want examples of resilience and determination, Sir Ranulph Feinnes has this by the bucketful, it was a compelling read and excellent for a holiday read on the sunbed soaking up the sun. Working and training in heat presents tremendous problems and I learned some interesting ways of minimizing the affects that I did not know before, Like anything else they are obvious when you read them, learning from the environment we are in and what lives there, flora and fauna, is more the territory of my colleague Toby Cowern but there are a couple of gems in this book.

The writing style is at times a bit swashbuckling but I understand why that is having read a lot of his books, there is humour here too as some of the worst encounters with disease, giant insects, snakes, crocodiles and the rest also often have a funny side.

Reviewed by Garry Smith

Book Review – “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert Sopolsky.

WOW, this is some read, I read the third edition of this and it has been substantially revised. Sopolsky is an incredibly interesting person himself and as a professor of neurology and a primatologist he occupies a unique position in academia. Make no mistake I am a huge fan of his work, I have his new book ‘Behave’ sat waiting to be read.

Written with an interesting sense of humour this book introduces the reader to some incredibly interesting medical research and practise. I have been using certain items from this book into my teaching and cortocorticoids is now my new favourite word.

The emphasis is on stress and there is a wealth of information on how the body and in particular the brain reacts to stressors. Trust me and go get this book, work through it slowly one chapter at a time. Take weeks not days to read it, let the information seep into your subconscious.

As I worked my way through the chapters I could see my friends and family and some of their problems appearing from within the pages. Frighteningly I recognised a few things about myself and how I deal with, react to stressors, trust me I learned some valuable lessons and will modify some of my behaviour as a result.

As I write this review there is a radio debate in the background on the health effects of poverty and the discussion is almost word for word out of this book.

I highly recommend this book, it is an incredibly enlightening read.

Reviewed by Garry Smith.

Book Review by Garry Smith – Emotional Intelligence; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman.

I finally got around to finishing this book; it has been on my bookshelf for years, unread and therefore unloved. Not any more, I really enjoyed reading this and it is on my highly recommended list.

Goleman draws on a vast amount of research to put together a thorough explanation of how we function, or not, using our emotions. He explains some very complex processes using excellent analogies, yes it is now dated as it was first published in 1996 but having just watched an intriguing documentary on psychopathy, everything in that programme was covered by Goleman 20+ years earlier.

He explains how genetic predispositions can then be shaped by environmental factors and how we experience socialisation to shape who we become and how we interact with others. I suppose the scary bit is when you sometimes realise you are reading about yourself but it really does help you to understand why some people are as they are, including those you love.

I have to say I am now hooked on learning more and more about how the brain works, its architecture and function, the chemicals it produces and what they do. I have already started to use snippets from the book in my teaching self defence, I keep it simple as students do not need the detail, just the headlines, and it is an instructor’s duty though to immerse themselves in the detail so that they can fully understand their subject.

I firmly believe that striving to gain as much useful information, not just cramming it for cramming sake, is for myself an intellectual necessity, it is a hunger I have to feed. I suppose I was already a believer in emotional intelligence, I long ago realised the problems with measuring intelligence with IQ tests, I guess that is why it lay on my overcrowded bookshelf for so long.

Do I regret not reading it earlier, yes and no, everything has its time and I think I am still learning and will never stop, I try to be the best person I can be, I sometimes fail and now I have a better understanding of why, maybe I can fail less in future.