Arts & Events

Book Review: 'A Coward's Guide to Self-Defense--Combat Tactics for the Thinking Person,' by David I. Marshall

By Ken Bullock
Friday March 23, 2012 - 01:08:00 PM

"Intensive martial arts training had gradually led me to a point of deep and painful recognition, pulling me toward the unexpected but undeniable: All the styles, systems, concepts, techniques, mindsets, myths, opinions, raging debates, and dear God, let's not forget secrets, don't necessarily work. At least not the way they've been advertised." 


Bay Area martial arts instructor and Pilates student David Marshall, in an easy-going, often witty, conversational little book (about 70 pages), considers self-defense ... but not the set-ups seen in movies, video games--and, yes, martial arts competitions. He's talking about the street, about what goes on--or could happen--day to day, anywhere and everywhere, outside the studio or the ring. And he's speaking to the self-confessedly unskilled as well as to students of the art. 

With true geniality and wit, Marshall muses out loud on any number of situations, the good and bad calls (which, depending on circumstance, can almost be interchangeable), the tactics both learned and improvised, and the vigilence and aplomb that maybe will render all of the rest unnecessary. 

"Most people are simply not fighters, which is both good and bad depending on the circumstances." From the "typical street confrontation," to being accosted by armed attackers, crazies and other not-so-typical situations, Marshall offers a series of reflections and some advice, not so much a how-to guide. "Choosing your Battles," "Signals; Reading People," "Hands On--Unconventional Tactics," "Ethics," how to use what you've got, including your voice--and your mind ... these are the subheads in what amounts to a conversation with the reader on something unpredictable, almost imponderable. 

It's a refreshing approach--and it's only let-down is, when finishing, like any good book, the reader wants more of what's been given. Hopefully, there will be more--the very nature of 'A Coward's Guide ... ' begs for a column, a talk show, something even more personable by an engaging writer on a difficult, seldom broached subject--at least, seldom broached in the humane, admirable way Marshall chooses to discuss it. 


'A Coward's Guide to Self-Defense' (Left To Write Books) available for $12.99 from