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MMA Travelogues: The Cauliflower Chronicles & American Shaolin

MMA Travelogues: The Cauliflower Chronicles & American Shaolin

Continuing on yesterday’s theme, here’s another couple of books which could be among your best options for an unusually slow summer weekend in the fight game(s). Hoping to kick back and enjoy a little sun with a good book? Or maybe just read about a place that’s getting some sun, at least… while getting a martial arts fix? Read on.

Here are two more books with themes of both travel and martial arts.

First up is Cauliflower Chronicles by Marshal Carper (Victory Belt Publishing, 2010). Like BJJ Globetrotter, this one’s more of a jiu-jitsu journey than a MMA one, but MMA plays a prominent role in it.

Carper is a 20 year old lad from Pennsylvania who struggles to secure a blue belt in jiu-jitsu (and get over his first girlfriend) in a five month stretch at BJ Penn’s Academy in Hilo, Hawaii. The trip is something of a rite of passage for Carper, who describes himself a “self-admitted geek,” trying to get out of his shell and spend some time with his MMA hero.

The results are mixed. I really enjoyed Carper’s wide-eyed look at island life, and his account of his early days of adjustment at the academy are good, too. He’s particularly engaging as he laughs at his own experiences with injury (including a staph infection), some dating mishaps, and Hawaii’s unique race relations. But (perhaps predictably), the talented young author also loses some focus as the book goes on, with long passages about social interaction that don’t really go anywhere. Less predictably, his hero Penn doesn’t actually show up a whole lot.

It’s not a 100% success, but Cauliflower Chronicles is a fun, quick read and I hope to see more from its author.

On a jiu-jitsu podcast earlier this year, Carper mentioned that American Shaolin by Matthew Polly (Gotham Books, 2007) helped inspire Cauliflower Chronicles. It’s another in the genre… kind of.

In 1992, a restless Polly, following his junior year at Princeton University, drops everything to travel to China, where he spends two years living with Shaolin monks. Polly dreams of doing anything as well as the Shaolin monks do kung-fu. By the book’s end, he learns that his real goal was to love anything as much as a Shaolin monk loves kung-fu.

The two books share similar themes (coming-of-age, far away from home, living in the martial arts) but it seems the stakes are much higher at every turn with American Shaolin. It also has the benefit of being written later in the author’s life. Polly not only had more writing experience, he had a few years to place his experiences in better context.

Polly struggles hilariously with language and culture, immersed in the rapidly changing China of the 90’s, at once commercialized and communist, both obsessed and disdainful of the US. But most interest to MMA fans may be the passages where the author switches from more traditional forms instruction of Shaolin to sanda, a kickboxing style which includes throws and takedowns. Polly ends up using his skills in both a street challenge and a sanda tournament.

Polly’s is a polished performance, engaging from start to finish, and even with its marginal relevance to MMA, I’d recommend it for anyone.


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