The War of Art: recommended read

Most of you are asking yourselves the same question right now. “Did he just make a mistake? Did he mean Sun Tzu’s The Art of War? Does he know how dumb this makes him look?” No, no, and maybe. The Art of War certainly should be on your bookshelf, along with other martial arts classics like Zen in the Martial Arts, A Book of Five Rings, Karate-Do: My Way of Life, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, etc. These works have all been very inspiring to me but I expect most of you have read some or all of them and they certainly do not need my recommendations.


However, in martial arts circles, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is far less known, having been written primarily for an audience of struggling writers and artists. I was given this book due to my interest in art but immediately saw that it addressed the same issues of motivation that I write about when it comes to solo martial arts training. Like my post Doing the Work, the writer sees immense benefit in creating a regular routine and applying oneself without regard to the outcome. Pressfield labels “Resistance” as the central obstacle to accomplishing goals, as you can see in these excerpts from the book, found on his website:

“I get up, take a shower, have breakfast. I read the paper, brush my teeth. If I have phone calls to make, I make them. I’ve got my coffee now. I put on my lucky work boots and stitch up the lucky laces that my niece Meredith gave me. I head back to my office, crank up the computer. My lucky hooded sweatshirt is draped over the chair, with the lucky charm I got from a gypsy in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for only eight bucks in francs, and my lucky LARGO name tag that came from a dream I once had. I put it on. On my thesaurus is my lucky cannon that my friend Bob Versandi gave me from Morro Castle, Cuba. I point it toward my chair, so it can fire inspiration into me. I say my prayer, which is the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, that my dear mate Paul Rink gave me and which sits near my shelf with the cuff links that belonged to my father and my lucky acorn from the battlefield at Thermopylae. It’s about ten-thirty now. I sit down and plunge in. When I start making typos, I know I’m getting tired. That’s four hours or so. I’ve hit the point of diminishing returns. I wrap for the day. Copy whatever I’ve done to disk and stash the disk in the glove compartment of my truck in case there’s a fire and I have to run for it. I power down. It’s three, three-thirty. The office is closed. How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.”

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t and the secret is this: it’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

Replace the word “writing” with “training” and you will find this book a great read and a must for every martial arts library. He has also written a follow up which is on my list to read titled Doing the Work (sound familiar). Pressfield writes in a loose and engaging style that is fun to read. He is also not afraid to repeat content in the way any teacher might repeat a lesson that needs to be driven home. Read some of this book before bed and I promise it will  be harder than ever not to train the next day.

For those with real procrastination issues, consider this excerpt, also found on his website:

“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

Interestingly, Pressfield has written some more obvious “martial” literature including The Warrior Ethos, Tides of War, and Virtues of War. He is obviously very interested battle, internal or external, and the mindset it takes to win. If any of you have read these books, I would love your comments. And if you have any other “non-obvious” book recommendations for martial artists, throw those out there as well. Sometimes a good read is just what is needed to fire you up and get you back in the dojo.

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