Donnerstag, 19. Dezember 2013

[English] Book Review: Blind Zen (Stefan Verstappen)


Blind Zen, tells the story of how a blind woman's efforts to learn self-defense led to a unique experiment to adapt martial arts and eastern philosophy to develop new skills and increase self-confidence for the blind and vision impaired. This book includes descriptions and scientific explanations of the unique Zen inspired exercises that anyone can learn and provides a fresh new approach and exciting possibilities to improve the quality of life of the vision impaired. Includes 23 practical easy-to-learn exercises that teach how to [...]

This book left me with rather mixed feelings. It is oversimplified, frequently rather prejudiced, sometimes condescending, often inaccurate, but there are also some interesting concepts in there. The numerous quotes of wisdom range from Lao Tse to popular American TV shows. As a book for sighted instructors on how to deal with a blind person I found it more than questionable. As a book for blind people, it seems, shall we say, debatable. And while there are certainly some useful things in there, the overall impression remains rather negative.

The book as such feels extremely superficial: a wild und rather unconnected mix of traditions, concepts and techniques, everything is mentioned, very little is really explained, and often the actual queus are missing, so that the uninitiated reader may have trouble to find the next step. For example, when talking about balance and breath, an extremely important subject for blind people, a more thorough explanation of breathing techniques and the gravity center may been useful, perhaps together with an introduction to the subject of Chi, which is considered by many to be the core of all this.

The self defence aspects in the book are certainly a matter of point of view. Looking at them as a means to give a scared woman confidence has obviously worked, at least for this one woman, and at least for the moment. The claim of having taught this woman how to defend herself against a serious attacker however is simply ludicrous (no disrespect, Sensei). And some of the techniques displayed are downright dangerous - for the defender much more than for the attacker.

It's also interesting how this martial arts expert, when asked about weapons, teaches a blind student Ken and Jo (don't tell me you ever go to the saloon without your sword), but never mentions handbags, keychains, or the cane itself, which may be pretty useless to beat somebody (it has a hell of a reach, though), but it still can inflict a lot of damage. It also alluded me how the author arrived at the "obvious" conclusion, that blind people can't use pepper spray - except perhaps in light of the risk of having it taken away and used against oneself, in my humble opinion a risk worth mentioning when discussing the use of weapongs in self defense.

I also find it noteworthy, that while the author claims experience with blind people in general, we never seem to hear of anyone except his text-book student Susan. And if we believe his description of this woman at the time she made contact, she was barely able to function at all as a blind person, despite a decade of blindness. According to the author, this woman in her thirties was hardly ever leaving her house, was suffering from anxieties and some pretty serious phobias, couldn't go shopping, was shuffling her feet when walking and simply toppled over when unexpectedly left standing by herself.

If she actually was the only one, it may explain the authors rather deplorable notions about blindness and what it does to people. And in case said author happens to read this, here's a clue: Susan is (or was) not a prototypical blind person. For reference, check the literature. Or check Youtube. You'll be surprised, what most blind people can do, even if they weren't taught martial arts or eastern philosophy.

As for his "how to live life as a blind person" lessons, some of them were nice, but none were new, no matter how proud the author is of his little excercises. I couldn't help but think that Susan would have been a lot better off asking people who know about these things, e.g. trained O&M instructors. There actually is a lot more to this than the author seems to believe.

When it came to battling Susans phobia of fire, this "expert" really went off his rocker. Instead of teaching Susan to distinguish between real dangers and imaginary ones, and how to handle both, he taught her a regime emphasizing the possibility that any room in her house could break into flames at any given moment for no apparant reason whatsoever. Phobias need to be handled with more care and more intelligence than that.

All in all I can't recommend this book. Not because it's all bad, but rather because there are much better books teaching you both "how to be a more capable blind person" and "how to work with blind students". As for the audio book, the quality is pure amateur, low sound quality with lots of funny noises and a reader who seems to be imaginaing addressing a group of retarded children, which doesn't improve the overall impression.

And if learnig self defence is what you're after, which is not the same as learning martial arts, forget about books for now and have a chat with a certified local instructor. And if you happen to be in Germany, start with Ju Jutsu (not Jiu Jitsu, in Krautland there's a difference), since that is all about self defence from a practical point of view, with trainers following the paradigm of realism and experience. They won't teach a blind person, or anyone else for that matter, "Karate chops" more likely to break your fingers than ever really hurting your attacker, promise.

"Blind Zen" in the Audible Webshop

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