BUILDING YOUR “SELF DEFENSE SUCCESS LIBRARY” The Top 5 Self Defense Books You NEED On Your Bookshelf 2020

What “secret weapon” do all successful people in any skill have in their homes? I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with LIBRARY.

I am a firm believer in having and building a “success library.”  Anyone who is successful at a certain skill – be it cooking authentic Italian food, playing the saxophone or repairing lawnmower engines- more than likely has quite a few books on the subject.  Training Wing Chun for the purpose of developing and applying simple, effective and practical self-defense skills is no different.

After sifting through my extensive collection of books I have compiled a list of the top 5 best books on no-frills self defense out there.  The books listed on this review are those I feel have the proven to be the most useful and valuable to myself as a Wing Chun guy, specifically as it relates to integrating my Wing Chun training into the matrix of simple, effective and practical self defense, thereby making Wing Chun work for me as a system of pure combat and fighting skills.

Bridging Gaps & Finding Missing Links

Note that next to none of the books listed here are about Wing Chun directly; rather, they address all of the areas I feel are missing from most folks’ training (as they were from my own) to really own the art and make it serve you in the only way that matters: applying Wing Chun for combat and in defense of yourself, your family and your loved ones.

In my opinion, if you are not approaching your training in this way, fine-just be prepared to sign away any sense of security when it comes to using this stuff in a real situation.  I can’t reinforce this principle of continuing education any more except to say that if being able to use and apply the art of Wing Chun to real-life, self defense scenarios you would do well for yourself by picking these up, really giving them a good read with your undivided attention, begin at once to start applying what you have learned into your personal Wing Chun & self defense training regimen.

2 Non-Negotiables To Any Scenario

Always remember the following 2 “golden rules” and let them guide your training light a beacon from a lighthouse:

  1.  In any self-defense encounter it’s only YOU and what YOU CAN DO to save yourself and your loved ones.
  2. Wing Chun only works if YOU do.

Stick to these and you’ll go far in your training, Grasshopper.

As a bonus, once you have them you can refer back to them anytime you like, which is exactly the point of amassing as library on any subject.  Always remember that no successful person’s library is ever complete but no one ever became successful without one either, so get started on creating yours today.

Now that we have all of the prefaces and formalities out of the way it’s time to deliver the goods, so here are my top 5 “go-to” reference books for both proper (and by proper I mean in the “truest combat essence of the art” sense) Wing Chun and close-quarters self-defense training.

In the immortal words of Ryan Seacrest, “dim the lights and here we go…”

My Personal Top 5 Books on Wing Chun and No- Bullsh*t Self-Defense

Look Beyond the Pointing Finger: The Combat Philosophy of Wong Shun Leung  –  Sifu David Peterson

This is my “go-to” book for all things Wing Chun related.

I literally have this book on my dresser next to my bed and reference this book nearly every day in one capacity or another.  Wing Chun is a traditional martial art, but as practitioners of the Wong Shun Leung (WSL) system of Wing Chun know well,  it is first and foremost a deadly combat and protection-based art.

As Wong Shun Leung himself said, “if you’re not attacking the attack, you’re not doing wing chun correctly. ”

Wong himself was no stranger to no-rules fighting and protecting his life in the street; he went undefeated in some say hundreds of bare-knuckle challenge matches on the rooftops and alleyways of Hong Kong as well as surviving countless street attacks, complete with knife scars all over his arms to prove it.  Any way you look at it, this guy knew what he was talking about re: combat and self-defense.  This book gives anyone interested in the fighting arts a glimpse into his mindset and mentality and in doing so, provides the reader with pearls of wisdom on every page.

The author, David Peterson, is not only one of the most talented exponents of this art and a private student of the late Grandmaster Wong Shun Leung, but is very gifted at transmitting Wong’s philosophy in such a way that all can understand his words-and make use of them in their own practice.

I have re-read this book countless times and will do so until it falls apart…at which point I will promptly order another copy and start all over again.  I promise you, your understanding of both the Wing Chun system as well as how it is to be applied to the life-or-death nature of TRUE self defense and personal protection will expand each time you read it.

Anatomy of a Streetfight  Paul Vunak

Paul Vunak is a direct student of Dan Inosanto (Bruce Lee’s handpicked successor to propagate his personal art and system of Jeet Kune Do) who has focused his particular area of expertise in the realities of streetfighting.

Paul holds the rare distinction of being one of the very few civilians to have been contracted by the United States Naval Special Warfare Command to train U.S. Navy SEAL teams as their exclusive instructor in hand to hand combat for over 3 years (it is noteworthy to mention that they sought out and approached Paul to instruct their SEAL Teams, not the other way around-call me a bit presumptuous but I think you’d have to be a card carrying bad-ass to get that phone call).

Vunak refers to his personal approach to combat as the R.A.T. System, which is an acronym for Rapid Assault Tactics.  The streamlined and direct nature of this method seamlessly integrates into the Wing Chun system since the reality of personal defense is based on the concepts of simplicityefficiency and directness (sound familiar?) and all of the techniques in the system’s small repertoire can be found within the Wing Chun framework.

This is a small book, not a lot of pages to it, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not worthy of being read or made use of.  The info it teaches is easy enough to understand and comprehend, simple to integrate into your own practice and reinforce through your Wing Chun training and a perfect complement to both bridging the gap  from training to application as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the gross motor skills behind the more intricate motions of the Wing Chun forms and drills.

All of Vunak’s products approach training from an all-inclusive approach to the street, addressing both physical and non-physical aspects of any street encounter which is something that most instructors and systems do not do.  Any way you slice it, a resource like this cuts the learning curve for application of Wing Chun to the street down. Way down.  Waaaay down.  I know ’cause it’s cut mine down.

 Kill Or Get Killed Col. Rex Applegate

I first came across this book around 2002 after hearing of its’ reputation as a “classic” in the field of close-quarters combat (CQC) and military self defense and how it is still in use by the US Marine Corps as a text on shooting, self defense and military tactics.  The author, Col. Rex Applegate, is a legend in the military CQC/tactical world, having trained the OSS (forerunner of today’s CIA) in hand to hand combat to “dispatch” the Nazis in Europe.

I two-day shipped it and was more than a little disappointed when I first got it, since it seemed, well, old.

After reviewing it some 14 years later through more refined and discerning eyes I have come to the conclusion that it rightfully deserves the title  of “classic”- however, for purposes of self-defense the section on hand to hand is a bit light (which makes sense, as there are other aspects to the book).  The techniques are very basic- which I like- but where I think the book shines is in its’ totality.  This is a book for warriors; it addresses all phases of combat-gun, knife, club, hand to hand-which in turn reinforces the mindset which the book is named after: kill or get killed.

This is the acknowledged predecessor and prototype for the present-day Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), and the validity of this book need only be judged by the fact that this book was directly responsible for an untold amount of US Servicemen returning to their families after World War II.

Is it outdated in certain areas?  Perhaps-but the hand to hand section sure ain’t one of them.

Just as someone cannot get the full depth of a literary classic like Crime and Punishment by reading the Cliffs Notes version or an “Idiot’s Guide to Dostoyevsky” the historical relevance hammers the principles home and serves as flat out validation of its lessons.

The lessons on close-quarters self defense and hand to hand combat integrate seamlessly with the Wing Chun system, since any technique designed to hit the vital targets of an enemy.When you read this book you know that many brave men used its’ lessons, killed their enemies with their  bare hands and came home in one piece.  Yep-that works for me.

Get Tough! Maj. William E. Fairbairn

Another classic self-defense text on my bookshelf is this one, GET TOUGH! by Maj. William E. Fairbairn.

Fairbairn was a British Royal Marine and Director of the Shanghai Municipal Police Department in the 1920’s and 1930’s, where he developed hand to hand combat methods for his officers to use against the rampant criminal element in such a dangerous port city notorious for murder and robbery.

During World War II, Fairbairn taught Allied Commando units hand to hand fighting, one of whom was an American officer Rex Applegate who would later bring Fairbairn’s methods to US Forces and author the book listed above, Kill or Get Killed.

Much like Applegate’s book this is a classic however I feel that for hand-to-hand self defense Fairbairn’s book far exceeds Applegate’s.

First, this book is only about self defense, not military tactics.  The pictures are larger and easier to follow along with.

There is no “fluff” in this book-all simple, workable and usable techniques; very matter of fact.  You could tell it was written by a Victorian era Brit!

I love the subtitle to this book  which sums it up and it says it all: You Don’t Need Brute Strength-WITH YOUR BARE HANDS YOU CAN BEAT THE MAN WHO WANTS TO KILL YOU.   There’s really nothing more to say about that.


Here’s a fun fact for all you history buffs out there: Fairbairn was one of the creators of the iconic Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, shown below.

This knife is currently still in use by British Commando units and in fact can be seen in the logos and insignias of Britain’s elite SAS (Special Air Service) and SBS (Special Boat Service).

Insignias for the British Special Air Service (left) and Special Boat Service (right), both of which utilize the Fairbairn-Sykes tactical dagger.

 BECOME A WALKING WEAPON!  A Cheater’s Guide to Simple Skills, Practical Tactics and Other “Dirty Little Secrets” of Self-Defense You Can Learn, Use and Apply TODAY – Robert Bartkowski

This is my modest contribution to the field of no-frills, practical and effective self-defense educational material.

In line with my mission of aligning my chosen system of Wing Chun with the realities of any self-defense encounter, all of the concepts and principles are straight-up 100% Wing Chun while the techniques themselves, which are not only found in Wing Chun but in all other traditional arts as well, are performed in the spirit, style and intensity of the World War II military systems of close quarter combat (CQC).

This system of streamlined self defense skills, strategies and tactics can be seamlessly integrated with any style of martial arts since the techniques themselves are universal but can also serve as a stand-alone reference to instruct the raw beginner.

Non-physical aspects such as mentality & mindset, emotional reactions, psychological training, harnessing your killer instinct, weapons training, developing functional fitness-it’s all touched on in here.

If I may say so myself, my background in both traditional and reality based arts makes for an easy read for traditional martial artists out there who are looking for something to supplement their existing style or system, not abandon it as well as the non-martial artist looking for a concise, simple and easy to read system designed to guide the raw novice from total unfamiliarity to combat proficiency in basic, gross motor skill motions that are easily leaned & applied.

If you currently train in Wing Chun or any martial art system or style, this guide will help you unlock the combat moves within that respective style so that you and your students gain a fuller understanding of the art you practice while maintaining its’ rich traditions and identity.

There You Have It

Each of these books listed has one thing in common-they have made my Wing Chun better by addressing the sole purpose as to why Wing Chun was founded.  They are easy reads, and the lessons contained in each one are simple to learn, easy to perform and will stay with you long after you finish each book-but by having each one on your bookshelf you can return to them any time you wish to clarify a point, principle or technique whenever you need to.

That is why they have been staples on my bookshelf for years and it is why I now encourage you to do the same.  In doing so you, your loved ones and students can only benefit.

Wing Chun is about fighting, plain and simple.  It is up to you to constantly seek ways and means to refine your practice of the art so that the system of Wing Chun works for YOU, not the other way around.  As my sigung Grandmaster Wong Shun Leung said regarding Wing Chun training, “be the master, not the slave!” 

The only way to break the chains of bondage to any system or style of martial art is through education and self-exploration, not by adding more and more uselessness but by refining and testing the system through hard, dedicated practice.  These books give you the raw materials.  It is up to you to apply them to your own training.  Have at it.


Train Smart, Stay Safe,

Sifu Bobby

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