Title: Four Shades of Black - 
The Traditional Path to building the complete fighter
Publisher's site: Summersdale
Amazon link: Four Shades of Black
Price £20
ISBN #: 978-1840246506
Date: 2008
Author/s Gavin Mulholland

Four Shades of Black book cover

Four Shades of Black -  The Traditional Path to building the complete fighter

I first heard about this book whilst reading ‘Waking Dragons’ by Goran Powell, who is one of the most senior students of Shihan Gavin Mulholland. Anyone who has read this book will appreciate the extreme preparation required for a Dan grading under this style, so I was intrigued to read this as soon as it was available.

Visually the book is stunning and far removed from anything else I have seen within the martial arts field. The photography is of exceptional quality, although more artistic than instructional.

The structure of the book follows the ‘story’ of a new student throughout their training towards blackbelt and the training undertaken. Initially this is based upon the importance of  kihon (basics) much as we would do within our own style. In addition Sanchin kata is covered as a core skill. We no longer include this kata within GKR but it represents the cornerstone of all goju styles.

The following chapters follow the kata syllabus of goju ryu: gekisai dai ichi, gekisai dai ni, saifa and seiunchin. The author clearly feels that each kata brings fresh challenges and skills, whilst building upon those previously learnt. He describes this as the ‘map’ left for us to follow by previous generations.

Each kata is shown visually and discussed in terms of kihon and bunkai. For added interest, the principles are also further explored by suggested padwork and partner drills. Conditioning is a key part of the authors’ contact based style, and breaking an assessed grading criteria so these are also covered.

I personally found the book an excellent insight into a different (but closely related) style. Shihan Gavin Mulholland is an inspirational martial artist and his club Daigaku Karate Kai is widely regarded as one of the best goju clubs in the world. However, the book isn’t going to be everyones cup of tea. It isn’t technical enough to appeal to the ‘learn a kata’ brigade, and the author's political views on other styles are sometimes a little too close to the surface.

In summary, whilst not being perfect, ‘Four Shades of Black’ is a visual treat and any martial artist would be very pleased to receive a copy as a present. For those looking to further their study of Goju kata and strategy it is a must have.

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