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Five books worth reading for martial arts fans this holiday season

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Covering a wide variety of topics, from trauma to nutrition, these books make a great gift or a great read

Mike Tyson “Undisputed Truth”
Mike Tyson live on stage, performing “Undisputed Truth”
Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images

There is something about the short days and long nights of winter that make reading particularly appealing. And of course, books make great presents for the holiday season. For one thing, they’re easy to wrap. For another, they typically come in at a pretty doable price point. Finally, what is better than the gift of knowledge or a story you may remember for the rest of your life?

1.) The Godfather of Grappling by “Judo” Gene Lebell, Bob Calhoun, George Foon, and Noelle Kim — Few people have impacted so many in the world of MMA. Growing up in Los Angeles with a mother who was a famous wrestling promoter is a recipe for an interesting life, and LeBell’s has not disappointed. He is still inspiring people today. For example, LeBell’s run in with a young Bruce Lee influenced Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. Above and beyond the Tinseltown flash, LeBell is a 9th Dan in both jiu-jitsu and judo. As a stuntman and coordinator, he has worked on over 1,000 films and TV shows. In 1963, he fought boxer Milo Savage in one of the first true mixed martial arts contests—contested in Savage’s hometown. LeBell won, and the violent crowd threw bottles and chairs, and a man tried to stab LeBell as he exited the arena. The Godfather of Grappling takes readers on a tour through the life of one of the most fascinating of MMA’s founding fathers.

“Changing Hands” - Los Angeles Premiere
The man himself, “Judo” Gene LeBell, pictured at The Happy Ending Bar in Hollywood in 2010 at age 78.
Photo by Brian To/FilmMagic

2.) Beyond the Bars: From Prison to the Podium by Chris Luera and Michael Oropollo — Everyone loves a story of triumph over adversity, and Chris “Tatted Strength” Luera’s journey from criminal to athlete is an epic tale of overcoming intense trauma. Born into a family torn apart by drugs, crime, and murder, Luera served multiple prison sentences before finding a new way of living in the gym. He discovered he had a talent for calisthenics, and left the violence of the streets behind in favor of a life spent as a motivational speaker, athlete, and author. While many people may have an amazing story, not everyone is good at telling it. As it so happens, Luera has a gift for prose, and his autobiography is a fast and gripping read.

3.) The Fighter’s Kitchen: 100 Muscle-Building, Fat Burning Recipes, with Meal Plans to Sculpt Your Warrior’s Body by Chris Algieri — Whether you’re a fighter or just wish you looked like one, good nutrition is fundamental. The Fighter’s Kitchen aspires to not only make healthy eating enjoyable, but also to provide an education on the process of eating toward specific goals. Chris Algieri is a former kickboxing champion and boxing champion, with thirteen years of experience in the ring. He currently holds the WBO Light Welterweight belt and serves as Stony Brook University’s Head Performance Nutrition Coach.

Chris Algieri before his boxing match with Manny Pacquiao
Photo by Anton Tabuena

4.) Jiu-Jitsu University by Saulo Ribeiro and Kevin Howell — First published in 2008, this hefty tome—it comes in at 368 pages and three pounds—offers readers a foundational understanding of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Written by six-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion Saulo Ribeiro, it details over 200 techniques and prides itself on being a pragmatic training manual. The book features easily understood illustrations and photographs, explains common mistakes and remedies, and offers information pertaining to every stage of a martial artist’s evolution.

5.) Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson and Larry Sloman — This book is a hard read, and not just because it somehow manages to capture the way Tyson speaks in ADHD monologue. It is hard to read because Iron Mike has had an absolutely brutal life, and he pulls no punches in this autobiography. In the end, the authenticity of the voice and the story make the effort worthwhile, and Tyson’s sense of humor is present throughout. Undisputed Truth is also noteworthy as a turning point in Tyson’s life. The book led to a Broadway show directed by Spike Lee, oddly enough, and has served as a catalyst to a healthier Tyson in general.

“Mike Tyson UNDISPUTED TRUTH - Live On Stage” At MGM Grand In Las Vegas
Mike Tyson performs his one-man show “Mike Tyson UNDISPUTED TRUTH - Live on Stage” in Las Vegas, 2016.
Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images