“BRAIN TRAINING”- Best Wing Chun Mental Training/Mindset Books 2020

Ah, the dream of discovering the ancient scroll containing all of the secrets to mastery…sorry to burst your balloon but let me clue you in on a secret I found out a long time ago: shit don’t work that way, Grasshopper.  It’s all about the hard work, and mental training is no exception.

The real secret to training, skill and mastery is simply this: techniques provide the foundation but mindset and mentality make all the difference between using those techniques successfully or unsuccessfully.  Having been training since 1994 and exclusively in the Wong Shun Leung (WSL) system of Wing Chun (Ving Tsun) since 2002, I have compiled in my personal library a list of the best books on mindset and mentality relating to Wing Chun and self defense.  Each of these books satisfy all of the criteria I feel is essential in a valuable resource that you should make use of and have at your disposal.

When one begins training in any martial arts system or style, in our case Wing Chun, the first type of books he/she looks for are always “technique” or “how-to” books.  Makes sense; you want to know how to do things so it stands to reason that looking for books to teach you a skill set is a natural thing- and it is.

A funny thing happens, though.

As you get more secure in your abilities and understanding of the art, you realize that successfully applying Wing Chun for self-defense and personal safety, or even for full contact sports like kickboxing or MMA, is much more about proper mentality and mindset than it is about learning more physical “techniques.”

3 Key Factors That Must Be Addressed In ANY Self-Defense Book

In order for a book to make it into my personal collection as one of the best books on the mentality and mindset aspect of Wing Chun for self-defense, 3 factors must be addressed:

  • The ideas presented in each book are clear, concise and easy to understand.  I find this a necessity, as self-defense is at heart a black-and-white business.  If you want to ponder and think all day, buy a Sudoku book from the local WalMart checkout line-just give me shit I can use and apply TODAY.
  • The principles and key points of each book are illustrated via anecdotes and several specific examples.  I find that this way of learning via “storytelling” helps link the subject matter to your own personal training routine.  Put another way, teach me about physics and kinetic energy by rattling off so-and-so’s theorems, complex formulas and six-syllable words and I’ll fall asleep. Tell me a story about how you and a buddy were playing pool and when you shot the cueball to break, the 6 ball jumped the table and hit him in the balls, and I’ll remember the lesson on kinetic energy till the day I die.  Get my point?
  • There is a clear plan of implementation suggested by each author to begin using these ideas in everyday life.  This is a biggie; in today’s fast paced world, I like things that lay out the progression for me-I have niether the time nor the patience to draft my own “30 Day Mindset Mental Training Challenge” or something like that on a dry erase board or a journal.  The more I have things to follow along with, the easier it will be for me to integrate into my daily life.

I have read many, many martial arts and self defense books over the last 20+ years-only a handful of which dealt with the mental side of things, which I know to be the missing link to true self defense proficiency and fighting skill.  The following are the best books on mental training for Wing Chun, self defense and personal safety out there.  Make use of them and make your mental edge that much more sharp.


The Gift of Fear – Gavin De Becker

If there could be only one book I would have to recommend on self defense and personal protection it may just have to be this one.

Author Gavin De Becker, a security expert whose clientele list reads like a “Who’s Who” of the rich and famous, addresses the topic of “fear,” specifically the true sense of fear, which is a deeply ingrained instinct we have to serve us.

This book explains why we have “gut feelings” about certain people, places and things and why we should listen to them.  He provides several case studies as to violent crimes and the warning signals that preceded them.

The section on proper adherence to fear vs. apathy or hyper-vigilance is worth the price of this book ten times over and many of the stories, while disturbing and tragic, not only illustrate the need to heed our body’s fear mechanism but also teach that the will to survive is always stronger than the want to kill.

We live in a world with bad people and those bad people do bad things.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are doing, any one of us could find ourselves face to face with one of these folks.  If we do, our training better have had  prepared us to deal with such a threat to not only our lives, but the lives of our families, loved ones and everyone around us.

This book should be required reading for everyone.

Protecting the Gift – Gavin De Becker

This book is specifically geared towards parents of children, pre-adolescents and adolescent teenagers.

Every parent worries; that just comes with the territory.  What de Becker does in this book is apply the lessons set forth in his other book, The Gift of Fearto the dynamic of being a parent.

Again, this should be required reading for all parents out there, as well as godparents, aunts,uncles and anyone else who cares about a child, pre-teen or teenager in his or her family.

I have recommended this book countless times to students of mine who have children.  It does an excellent job of aligning why they train martial arts and self-defense with the emotional investment of being a parent.  If not addressed, these 2 sides can actually hinder one another.  Once they are both aligned, however,  the results one seeks in self-defense skill comes quite quickly as the issue of motivation is put in proper perspective.

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning To Kill In War And Society –Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

This was the first of the “killer instinct / mindset” type books that I happened upon back in around 2002.  Once I started reading I couldn’t stop and polished it off in about a day.

A detailed look at how humans are wired specifically against killing one of our own species, the methods used by militaries to gradually break down that ambivalence and the effect that such training has on those who have been desensitized to killing or who have killed as they re-enter society.  It also discusses the effect of media such as violent movies & video games on the youth of modern society.

The section on how killing at different ranges (long range via missile or bomb, shooting range,  bayonet, sword, knife and finally hand to hand) affects the brain and its’ lasting effects has stayed with me since I first read this book back in 2002 and has shaped my own approach to training techniques like eye gouges and throat strikes by knowing to address the mental aspect of inflicting such damage on another human being.

A fascinating look at how the human mind resists the urge to kill and what happens when that resistance is bypassed, both in action and repercussion. Lt. Col. Grossman is a West Point graduate and former United States Army Ranger.

On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace – Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

One thing that should be a part of every self defense training program is the physiological effect of a threat, attack, situation, etc. in all three phases-before, during and after.

As I have said time and time again, this is where 90% of those teaching “self defense” fall flat on their rumps…they do not address this issue.   Lt. Col. Grossman presents a very thorough and complete account of what the act of combat does to the physiology of a person’s body.

Anyone who thinks that should they be attacked they will easily pull off an 18-move self defense technique sequence should shut their mouth and read this book.  If you neglect this aspect of training you are quite simply and without exaggeration asking for bad stuff to happen.

Facing Violence: Preparing For The Unexpected – Rory Miller

My favorite author on all things self defense is this man, Sgt. Rory Miller. A former soldier, corrections officer and civilian security contractor in Iraq, he has a weatlth of personal experience to draw from and moreover is a practitioner of traditional martial arts, so he can both see the benefits and challenges to such training.

In this book he addresses 7 aspects of any complete self defense training program. This entire book is dripping with value but having a background such as his makes him uniquely qualified to look at a self defense encounter from all vantage points, especially the often overlooked legality aspect.

If you are the type of person who thinks that if someone attacks you with a knife that you are justified in disarming them, stabbing them 79 times and then running over them with your car while claiming “self defense” click this button. Order the book. Do not leave your house until you have read it.

The Little Black Book of Violence: What Every Young Man Needs To Know About Fighting  Lawrence A. Kane & Chris Wilder

I remember when I was 16 a bunch of friends and I went joyriding late on a summer night through a notoriously rough south side area of Chicago that we didn’t have the first clue about.  Well, one thing led to another and I ended up eating a beer bottle right across the nose and mouth.

When I got home I expected sympathy from my parents-which I got, until I told them where I was.

“WHAT THE  F*CK WERE YOU DOING OUT THERE?!!” was the extent of their compassion.  Now I understand why.

This is a book I wish I had read at 16.  Geared towards young men, this is nonetheless an invaluable trove of info or everyone in understanding the dynamics of young males and violence.  Simply put, if you are going to go to a place where young males congregate, accept the fact that there is a much higher probability that bad things will probably happen there.

The underlying theme is recognizing that fact and not being there through awareness and should you find yourself there, avoiding conflict as much as you can. Remember, lots of young men = posturing = aggressive behavior = bad things.

**One noteworthy aspect of this book is that both authors are traditional martial artists, which brings a perspective to this subject that I as an instructor and practitioner of both a traditional martial art and a reality-based close quarters system picked up on immediately and could relate to easily, which helped my comprehension of the material presented significantly.

Meditations on Violence: A Comparison Of Martial Arts Training And Real-World Violence – Rory Miller

This is my favorite book on martial arts out there.

In recent years it has become popular to downplay the traditional arts’ effectiveness in favor of things like MMA as well as ridicule the traditional arts as being unrealistic for self defernse.  To be honest, most traditional martial artists are to blame for this by clinging to blindly following whatever they are taught as “gospel truth” regarding self defense.

This book lays out the benefits and pitfalls to avoid for the martial artist as it pertains to the reality of violence and real-world self defense.  This book is one of the best books I have ever read on the subject of martial arts and self defense, hands down.

A quote from this book sums up his position perfectly: “Listening to average martial artists talk about real world violence is like listening to 10 year olds talk about sex.”  Wow.  Sooooo true.

The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment– Thaddeus Golas

I stumbled upon this book in an old Waldenbooks (God, how old does THAT Sound?) back in 1998.

I dug the title-I mean, hey, I’m a lazy guy, and I also like the whole David Carradine Zen monk achieving enlightenment kind of thing so I bought it…and promptly had no idea what the hell he was talking about.

After re-reading it several times I finally start to get it.  This is a more esoteric and a bit “out there” book, clearly not written for skull cracking and eye gouging self-defense.  That said, in its own way it answers the question of being able to be ruthlessly violent and 2 seconds later be happy and peaceful.  The answer isn’t obvious-but it’s there.  Look for it.

Thick Face, Black Heart – Chin Ning Chu

A modern approach to Lee Zhong Wu’s obscure work Thick Black Theory first published in 1911, the late Chin Ning Chu masterfully applies the concepts of having a “thick face” and a “black heart” (they aren’t at all what they sound like) to life, approaching each day as a warrior ready to do battle with whatever challenges and obstacles one faces.

What appealed to me most was that this philosophy is very practical and down to earth, making it easily applicable to life (just like Wing Chun).  If you have had enough of “positive thinking” books that tell you to think it’s sunny outside when it’s raining, pick this up.

It outlines an easily understood and highly effective approach to all areas of life and most importantly to me, it stresses that you do not need to change anything about yourself to begin implementing this philosophy, just like in self defense you start with where you are and use what you’ve got.

For life, self-defense and combat you would be hard pressed to find a better guide to proper mindset and mentality, as it’s lessons are cloaked in everyday application making it much easier to reinforce day to day.  I love this book and will continue to read an re-read it.

The New PSYCHO-CYBERNETICS – Maxwell Maltz, MD and Dan Kennedy

One of the biggest areas neglected in the training programs/regimens (be it in forms/katas, combat sports and especially for being able to call upon your skills should you ever have to for the purposes of self-defense, personal protection and the safety of yourself and your loved ones) for the majority of folks out there who train Wing Chun lies between their ears.

This has been the biggest challenge of my journey and has also provided me with the biggest revelation as to what was missing from my own Wing Chun toolbox, and it has to do with the self-image.  Sparring, for example, is rooted in confidence and positive self-image.

Now this may sound a little “out-there” and a bit New Age-y but it is actually THE biggest shortcut to skill proficiency and being able to apply and call up your skills on demand and conquer any FEAR or HESITATION that keeps you from performing at your best, whenever and wherever you need it and I got news for ya-doing another round of forms or knocking out another dummy set doesn’t fix it.

Anyone who doubts this need only look at the fields of sports psychology and peak performance for any field and the exercises they employ have all been influenced by this book, which is affectionately referred to as the “granddaddy” of all mental training resources.

No joke, this is one book to get and read over and over.  As I have said in prior posts and above, next to no books listed here are ‘Wing Chun” books-simply because they don’t address what I know to be lacking in most folks’ training.  I don’t need a half dozen books to show a friggin’ bong sau; I need stuff that I can learn and apply to my end game.  This is THE one book I know that showed me how to do exactly that.

I almost want to put a warning on this one: the lessons are so simple and easy to read that the depth and power of them may go unnoticed after the first or even 2nd read.  This is one  book that is best read and re-read for the rest of your life-seriously-so that the ideas become part of you; it is only then that they can flow through you out to your life and your training.

There You Have It

As I stated at the beginning of this review, the biggest hole in our fight game is the mental aspect.  Far too much emphasis is placed on physical techniques and “how-to” sequences that too little attention is given to cultivating the most potent weapon in your arsenal; the most dangerous secret to anyone who attacks you: your mind.

For all the book out there, not only Wing Chun but for self-defense, fighting and personal safety, far too many address the physical aspect only; certain gems like the ones listed above address the mental game and the right mindset one must be in to successfully protect oneself and apply the techniques of Wing Chun in a ruthless and barbaric yet surgically precise and dispassionate manner.

Their messages come across to you so clear due in no small part to:

  • Their frank and clear, concise yet almost blunt discussion of the reality of combat
  • A plethora of real-world examples and stories to illustrate their principles in a way that makes it easy for you to remember
  • Suggestions laid out for how you can begin making use of their suggestions immediately

Once your mind is dialed in and your mental game is wire-tight, you become like a missile, locked onto its’ target.  They can zig and they can zag but once you’re dialed in you’re not stopping until you achieve your objective and obliterate the obstruction.

Conclusion: What It’s All About

I find it equally frustrating, perplexing and tragically comedic that in today’s day and age there are people who still believe that the answer to senseless violence against oneself is through talking and “diplomacy.”  These folks are probably too educated for their own good and sheltered by the politically correct education system so I’ll go easy on them lest they need to see a sensitivity counselor after reading this, so all I will say is what is needed is not  tables and send those sick,  twisted souls back to hell where they belong.

The ONLY way to answer aggression once all options have failed is to have a mindset and mentality strong enough to accept the situation for what it is and to be able to conjure up an almost orgasmic sense of pleasure in inflicting physical punishment on one’s attacker…and then being able to de-escalate one’s mind into a balanced and nonviolent state just as quickly as it escalated to one of sheer aggression and ruthlessness.

This requires WORK and study, so make use of these resources and make your abilities that much stronger to come home to your families at night, or to keep them safe from those depraved cowards wishing to do people harm.

This is a simple choice-you don’t have to like it but you do have to choose.  Are you the hammer or are you the nail?  The books listed above will make sure your mind is as sharp as the weapons you can employ via your techniques.  Let the other guy worry about fear and hesitation…’cause once he’s made the choice to attack you, he’s getting everything that’s coming to him.


Train Smart, Stay Safe

Sifu Bobby

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