Book review: The liar, the cheat, the thief by Maija Soderholm

Last time I saw Luo he gave me Maija Soderholm’s new book to look at. Since then I have bought a copy for myself.

The subtitle of the book is deception in the art of swordplay, which give a better idea of the book’s content.

The first section of the book contains a history of Maijia’s study with Sonny Umpad, a legendary escrimador and martial arts character, interlaced with a lucid explanation of martial arts and bladed principles. Sadly Sonny passed away at the age of 58 in 2006.

Maija writes with simplicity, tenderness and humour as she shares anecdotes in an attempt to illustrate the ways that Sonny could hit without being hit. Sonny managed this not so much by being smooth and fast (which he could be) but by understanding how to set people up. How he did this is the essence of the book, observation and acting to deceive the opponent. The principles she draws out in this way cover some really important but often forgotten ideas of martial arts.

from anglerangetiming.comThe biggest part of the book is a series of drills that Maija has put together to teach the principles. Again these drills are not just explained, but often illustrated with an anecdote of Maija’s
experience with Sonny.

Maija offers a series of downloadable videos to show the drills – yes I’ve bought this too. Maijia describes the drills as a jigsaw puzzle, each individual piece may not show much, but once they are put together they create a readable image. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle this set of drills is not fixed, it is likely to evolve in time as Maija receives feedback from personal students and reader of the book.

I do not like a lot of martial arts instructional videos. They are often woodenly scripted, or over dramatic. The videos of the drills are shot very simply, and Maija talks as clearly as she writes, demonstrating a real knowledge that allows her ad lib spontaneously according to what happens as she plays withe her partner. There is a refreshing lack of ‘something to prove’ or martial arts fancy dress while you get to see the dry humour that the book contains. The image above is a screenshot from one of the videos. The movement itself is fluid and natural. Here is a clip of Sonny teaching Maija.

I have not watched all the drills yet, but I can already see the big picture emerging. This is also a reflection of my learning preferences, I tend to favour principles and the big picture to details. I realise that details are vital and even more that the understanding that I receive from watching is not all the same as what I’m likely to understand from doing and experimenting. This is one of the deceptions of the youtube era ‘I’ve seen so I understand, what else can I look at now?’

As I mentioned here I do not have a lot of knife-blade experience, so perhaps this second blade oriented review is the opening of a new chapter for me. It could be my age – stronger and faster seem more and more like a dead end to me. The contents of this book have much practical value, and while I look forward to investigating the weapons drills I can already see how they can be applied to aspects of empty handed work, and how aspects of what Maija describes are integral to martial artists who’s skills I admire.

The skills Sonny developed were about not dying at the hands of an opponent, which is a very different mentality from ‘winning’ a fight. However unpleasant, or underhand this may seem from a purely sporting ‘display of strength’ standpoint, I think this surviving is basic common sense.

Deadly conflict aside I can see that in learning these skills there is also immense opportunity for fun – like 3D poker which brings all aspects of gesture and expression into play, or stand up comedy with knife cuts taking the place of punchlines.

If you like what you read here you can find out more here including a link to the book on amazon