Updated: Nov 25, 2019
Here are my top ten book recommendations for martial artists. These books cover classical budo, martial arts philosophy, strategy, and even modern mindset research. You will not find a 'how-to-karate' book in this list. To train your body, hit the dojo floor. These books will help cultivate the mind. This is the recommended reading list for dan candidates. The list is in no particular order.
Bubishi, The Classic Manual of Combat: translated with commentary by Patrick McCarthy - Excerpts of this classic are a must-read for all karate students. It is for good reason that the original publication of this book included the sub-title 'The Bible of Karate'. This book reads like the classic student manual that it is. In it, you will find the history of karate, the Eight Precepts of Quanfa, combat techniques, and much, much more.
The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho): Miyamoto Musashi with commentary by Kim Taylor - For serious martial artists, particularly those who train with traditional weapons, I strongly recommend Kim Taylor's translation. This is the only version with commentary by someone who trains in the specific sword school that Musashi taught. For a more detailed review: Go Rin No Sho.
The Unfettered Mind – Takuan Soho, translated by William Scott Wilson
The Classical Man - Richard Kim
Tao of Jeet Kun Do - Bruce Lee
Karate-do My Way of Life – Gichin Funakoshi
The Art of War – Lao Tsu, translated by Ralph D. Sawyer
The Way of the Living Sword – Yagyu Munennori
Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate - Rick Barrett
The Champion's Mind - Jim Afremow
I culled the list of recommending reading with much personal angst. There are literally volumes upon volumes of timeless literature available, and I strongly recommend absorbing as much of it as possible. Here are a few more books for consideration.
T’ai Chi Classics – Waysun Liao
Ba Gua – Hidden Knowledge in the Taoist Internal Art – John Bracy & Liu Xing-Han
Classical Budo – Donn F. Draeger
The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff
The Master Key – Charles F Haanel
Legend of the Fist Vol #1 - Patrick McCarthy
Infinite Insights series - Ed Parker
Zen in the Art of Archery – Eugen Herrigel
Tales of Old Japan (including the Forty-Seven Ronin) – A.B. Mitford
Young Samurai series - Chris Bradford - This action-adventure / martial arts series is a fun read for kids. Set in the 17th century Japan, our young hero is shipwrecked and through the series strives to learn the ways of the samurai.
If there are other books you recommend as favourite all-time martial arts books, I'd love to hear from you. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.