In the interest of full disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes.
Title: The Secret Art of Derobio Escrima: A Martial Art of the Philippines
Author: Dan Medina
Publisher: Tambuli Media
I've been reading several books on the martial arts of the Philippines to broaden my horizons as I had only a vague inclination of what they were. They also have a similar feel to the art I've just started Pencak Silat. As I take a hopological approach to my academic studies of martial arts, I have to have a cultural context to put the art. The martial art by itself doesn't make as much sense until you know more about the culture and traditions that birthed it. This book does a good job of starting with that cultural context and then going into the how and why of the techniques.
This book is divided into 8 chapters. The first one deals with the history of one particular school of FMA called Derobio Escrima. It starts with stories of how Mr. Medina's teacher's teacher learned Escrima and how Escrima was passed down to himself. It also takes an honest look at the what the author calls the "supernatural" aspects of Derobio Escrima. The short second chapter deals with the weapons that are employed in Derobio Escrima. From there is goes through the setup of the basics, including rank structure, or this particular Escrima school. The rest of the chapters then build up through more and more complex ideas and movements what I assume are the basics for the school.
I have to say, the part I liked the most was the first couple chapters of the stories of the past masters. I really enjoyed the tales of the exploits of people who actually had to use their arts for survival situations. Whether or not the tales are 100% accurate is almost inconsequential. I study aikido, and the tales of O-Sensei are of legendary status as well.
In the second chapter, dealing with the weapons, I really appreciated the pictures showing the different types and varieties of the weapons. That may just be my geekdom coming out, but I spent more time that I should have staring at the pictures trying to determine which weapons were which, and imagining how they would feel to swing them.
The techniques section of the book was well written, and was filled with loads of pictures. Enough to actually follow what the movements are supposed to be. That's a good thing, as a lot of books (though they've been getting better in the last decade or so) have pictures that seem to jump around, or really only make sense if you know what the movements are (which kinda defeats the purpose of them).
My only negative might be the limited usefulness of the book. If you are in an Escrima, other FMA, or something similar, then I think this would be an extremely useful book. At the very least for looking at another school's thoughts on martial arts. However, if you are a karateka, or a BJJ guy, I don't know how useful the technique part would be.
My rating scale for books is based on a three part matrix concerning ability to present information, enjoyability of reading it, and (for the purposes of this blog) usefulness to all martial artists. The first two characteristics for this book are both very high. The only downfall is who this book is aimed at. I don't think it is meant to be a "hey here's how to use Escrima in YOUR art." book. It is a record and exposure of a specific school of Escrima. As I said, if that is your chosen art, then this book is right up your alley. All of that being said, I'm going to give this book 4 out of 5 Ninja Stars. The beginning chapters about the history and the weapons were the part I got the most out of, but I really do feel that with a skilled and dedicated partner, the techniques in the rest of the book could be studied, and learned to a certain degree of competency.