Bloody Elbow Book Review: Ken Shamrock's Beyond the Lion's Den

I had a very pleasant surprise last week at the used bookstore when I came across a copy of Ken Shamrock's Beyond the Lion's Den: The Life, The Fights, The Techniques co-written with Erich Krauss. I was aware of the book when it came out in 2005, but that was before I realized that MMA training manuals were so much fun to read, even for a non-training duffer like myself.

Since making that discovery, I've devoured the entire Victory Belt books catalog, but this book came out before co-author Krauss formed his own publishing company so I had missed it.

It's a real treat to read for anyone who's a fan of Ken Shamrock, Japanese pro-wrestling, shootfighting, the WWE or MMA history. Shamrock retells his autobiography in the first third of the book and it's very interesting. Shamrock came up through a hard-scrabble child-hood and struggled to find his way in the world before becoming a pro-wrestler in Japan. It's especially interesting to hear Shamrock's telling of the founding of Pancrase and its then-revolutionary "real fighting" approach to pro-wrestling. He also discusses his legendary UFC career, his time in the WWE, PRIDE and his return to the UFC.

As always with Shamrock, it's frustrating to read of his many bad decisions that cost him big victories. These include his decision to sit out the final of UFC 3 because Royce Gracie was hurt and had dropped out of the tournament, and his reluctance to use a submission hold to finish Brian Johnston in the first round of Ultimate Ultimate 96 because the fans wanted to see "explosions", resulting in Ken breaking a knuckle before finally choking out Johnston. Happily the narrative ends with his UFC 48 win over Kimo Leopoldo and spares the reader the subsequent decline and fall.

But the real value of the book is the technique section. Whatever you may think of Shamrock's MMA career post-age 40, there is no doubt that the man is a storehouse of MMA knowledge and he shares much of it with Krauss and readers in this book.

More in the full entry:

I've said it before, but even for those who don't train, reading training manuals can dramatically improve your understanding of the sport and appreciation for the tactics and strategies you see inside the cage and ring. Shamrock's book is no exception.

Shamrock lays out his approach to striking, take downs and ground fighting in 213 pages illustrated with sharp color photos and step by step break downs of each move. His striking section is solid, but nothing you couldn't get in a dozen other books.

The take down section is quite interesting if somewhat brief. While he has unique approaches to the single leg, double leg and ankle pick, it's the "Sunset Flip to Hammer Lock" move that is completely mind blowing. It's a counter to execute when you're caught in a guillotine choke that involves slamming your opponent backwards and then rolling over into side mount for the hammer lock (kimura). From there he follows with several other unique moves, including two variations on the flying Leg Scissors -- one of which he pulled off against Don Frye in PRIDE.

He also runs through some nice "wall" take downs that are especially applicable in the cage. This is the kind of technique you see used in hundreds of fights, but almost never see broken down in a manual.

The ground fighting section of the book is the real meat though. Running over 120 pages, Shamrock breaks down his approach to ground grappling step by step, position by position. It's very interesting as Shamrock clearly thinks of grappling very much in the positional terms popularized by his rival Royce Gracie. There are sections on top guard, bottom guard, side mount, back mount, and mount.

But the content of those sections reflects very much the catch wrestling style that Shamrock learned from Masakatsu Funaki, his mentor and the founder of Pancrase. Shamrock runs through the standard arm bars and triangles (and even the omaplata) of BJJ, but he also shows off a plethora of moves that are clearly derived from the catch wrestling tradition -- tons of heel hooks, several knee bars, the knee block, several foot locks (one he calls the "Pro Wrestling"), a "Half Boston" calf slicer, lots of hammer locks (aka the Kimura), key locks and a nifty rolling knee bar.

One thing I was disappointed with is his failure to break down his trade mark Achilles Lock, but that's a forgivable oversight given the plethora of holds he does share.

All in all, Beyond the Lion's Den: The Life, The Fights, The Techniques is a worthy addition to any MMA library.

Co-author Erich Krauss has also done books with Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira,Randy Couture, two with B.J. Penn, Karo Parisyan, Marcelo Garcia, Dave Camarillo, and Anderson Silva plus two with Eddie Bravo and I've enjoyed them all.

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