Review: Zen Bow, Zen Arrow by John Stevens

Zen Bow, Zen Arrow: The Life and Teachings of Awa Kenzo
John Stevens
Shambhala, 2007
101 pages
$12.95
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In John Stevens’ half-biography/half-koan-medley Zen Bow, Zen Arrow, we visit bamboo-fenced dojos, learning from early 20th-century Japanese master Awa Kenzo how archery can be a vessel that improves a whole person. In particularly zen fashion, piercing the bullseye doesn’t seem to be the primary requirement in demonstrating an improved self. Indeed: “Kenzo argued that in today’s world the true purpose of archery is to perfect the human spirit.”

Admittedly, some of the koans–spoken by Kenzo, translated by Stevens–read as much like a line of dialogue for a cross-legged yogi in a Saturday Night Live sketch as they read like actual wisdom. The tenth and ultimate level in shooting prowess is, I guess, achieving “a shadowless moon-mind.” Your guess is as good as mine here.

Plenty of times, though, it feels like Kenzo’s aphorisms scratch meaningfully beneath the surface of physical activity, recording the ways in which the spirit moves with the body. A personal favorite: “If you look at the target as your enemy, you will never make progress. The target is a reference point, not your opponent.” I’d like to think that “target,” here, can be read not just as the archery-specific bullseye but also as any of life’s targets that we, you know, aim for. Usually it feels like we’re doing battle with our goals in life–some days it would seem they have picked a fight with us–but in Kenzo’s approach these objectives aren’t battling with us any more or less than a mirror is battling with us. The mirror, the bullseye are reflections of ourselves as we truly are.Continue Reading

Review: THE QB by Bruce Feldman

qbjpg-60749c0583313eaaThe QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks
Bruce Feldman
Crown Archetype, October 2014
304 pages
$27.00

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Like the casting of James Bond or the election of presidents, the styles, moods, and values of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks in any given generation provide a meaningful reflection of where American masculinity is oriented. So no big surprise, then, that the manicured post-adolescent quarterbacks profiled in Bruce Feldman’s The QB—and, but of course, their omnipresent and phenomenally expensive private tutors—resort to the airy jargon and buzzwords of modern business whenever they get excited.

One of the main characters in The QB is Trent Dilfer, who was an average quarterback—as far as NFL-caliber quarterbacks are concerned—from 1994 to 2007. Dilfer’s verve for life, though, seems to have been only awakened in retirement by running Elite 11, a workout-camp-slash-TV-show focused on grooming the nation’s most promising high school quarterbacks. Excuse me: Elite 11 is a “forward-facing platform” focused on establishing a “holistic coaching ecosystem.”Continue Reading

Why a Football Coach Reads a Tennis Instructor: On The Inner Game of Tennis

Super Bowl champion and/or spiritual guru.

Super Bowl champion and/or spiritual guru.

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance
Timothy Gallwey
Random House, 1997
122 pages
$8.75

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Perhaps this moment feels like the second half of a joke that starts, “You know you’re in Seattle when . . . ” but it really happened: I was putting my groceries on the little conveyor belt thing, and I looked up to see Pete Carroll, the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, staring at me from the cover of Mindful Magazine.

It’s a pretty rare cover for Mindful Magazine, and not just because it featured a football coach instead of any number of the world’s more conventional health-and-wellness gurus. On most covers of Mindful Magazine, we see the subject kneeling in lotus, beaming, impossibly large, and generally just super-duper well-rested and overjoyed to be alive!! These covers just might turn off or even intimidate readers with their smarm. Carroll, meantime, is perched on a stool, quietly poised in a business suit. Perhaps, if the picture were cropped differently, one would see the Super Bowl ring on his finger.Continue Reading

America’s Saturday Church: On My Conference Can Beat Your Conference by Paul Finebaum

Sit, stand, kneel.

Sit, stand, kneel.

My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football
Paul Finebaum with Gene Wojciechowski
Harper Collins, 2014
273 pages
$19.99

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I could travel the world for years and never get halfway through my bucket list of all the sporting events I’d love to attend in person. But certainly one thing way up high on that list is a fall spent deep in America’s South, watching Southeastern Conference college football. And I’m saying that from up here in the gray Northwest, where it seems like every other business is adorned year-round with the number 12, a show of solidarity with the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Still, Seattle’s famous football (and football) mania looks like a passing hobby compared to the mania that overtakes the diagonally opposite region of the country during football season. Continue Reading

How to Read Derek Jeter: On The Devil’s Snake Curve by Josh Ostergaard

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

The Devil’s Snake Curve: A Fan’s Notes From Left Field
Josh Ostergaard
Coffee House Press, 2014
253 pages
$15.95

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Of course every history is subjective, but Josh Ostergaard starts his from an intriguing place by broadcasting his subjectivity. Devil’s Snake Curve is Ostergaard’s American history of the twentieth- and twenty-firstcenturies, as interpreted through baseball. The book is a collage of page-length anecdotes, equally likely to be culled from Ostergaard’s own underwhelming Little League youth or a century-old newspaper clipping, that cluster into themes like “Animals” or “Nationalism.” Continue Reading

Private Tutor to the Stars: On THE HOOPS WHISPERER by Idan Ravin

Even this man needs a tutor for the subject he knows best.

Even this man needs a tutor for the subject he knows best.

The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Heads of Basketball’s Best Players
Idan Ravin
Gotham Books, 2014
246 pages

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As a national champion during his only year of college, as the third overall pick in the NBA draft, and as a recipient, this summer, of a five-year, $124 million contract from the New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony has spent his entire adult life playing elite basketball, and under the brightest lights of public scrutiny. Anthony has averaged at least 20 points scored per game in each of his eleven NBA seasons and has already earned an estimated $135.8 million in team salary, with untold millions more coming from endorsements and additional investments. Carmelo Anthony’s life couldn’t be more different than yours and mine if he were living on a different planet. Continue Reading

First Down Te Ching: On The Tao of Chip Kelly

The house that Chip built.

The house that Chip built.

The Tao of Chip Kelly: Lessons From America’s Most Innovative Coach
Mark Saltveit
Diversion Books, 2014
128 pages
$12.99

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Today marks the beginning of the 2014 NFL season, America’s favorite consumption-based present-time activity. Odds are that a family, friend, or loved one in your life has already burrowed themselves away for an evening immersed in a fantasy football draft. These same people will fall off the grid each weekend from now until the Super Bowl in early February, whole afternoons if not entire days absorbed in channel-hopping across a regenerating bank of games until they sag, prostrate, in front of empty pizza boxes. I am absolutely one of these people.

Just as a person can drive a car for their entire life without really knowing how, exactly, the machine works, a person can become a lifelong die-hard without really knowing how football works. The layers of tactics, strategy, and technique behind each play are immense. The game itself is so large and contains so many moving parts that television coverage has yet to figure out a way to deliver the entire field to the viewer: on most plays, when wide receivers run down the field to open themselves for a pass, they and their defenders are simply allowed to run past the edge of the frame. It is viscerally satisfying to cheer on the booming tackle or epic touchdown grab without realizing the complex chain of events around the field that made the big play possible. Mastering that complexity, though, is why the men involved in coaching professional football are famously, universally workaholics. For a coach to piece together a winning game plan at the elite levels of football can only be the end result of a life’s work spent learning exhaustively at the altar of football.Continue Reading

Around the World in 209 Teams: A Review of Thirty-One Nil by James Montague

209 teams enter; 1 will be victorious.

209 teams enter; 1 will be victorious.

Thirty-One Nil: On the Road With Football’s Outsiders–A World Cup Odyssey
James Montague
Bloomsbury, 2014, Bloomsbury
330 pages

$18.00

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The work-ditching phenomena that our globe experienced throughout June and July, known as the World Cup, is really just the polished and gawked-at tip of the World Cup iceberg. Beneath the surface, there is the much larger and much less-attended ordeal of World Cup Qualification, a process that takes about three years and involves all of the 209 national countries who are members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (that would be just about every country in the world, except for Greenland and Tibet). Only when the 209 teams have been whittled down to an elite group of 32 does the World Cup Final begin, inspiring so many outsized profits in bars in every time zone.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Great Tennis Player: Looking Back at Foster Wallace on Federer

Roger Federer: Temporal being or beams of light?

Roger Federer: Temporal being or beams of light?

Under Review: “Federer as Religious Experience,” article by David Foster Wallace for New York Times, August 20, 2006. Collected in Both Flesh and Not: Essays (Little, Brown and Company, 2012, 336 pages). On July 6th, Swiss tennis player Roger Federer lost the final match in this year’s Wimbledon men’s tennis tournament, to the Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic. Even though Wimbledon is tennis’ most legacy-steeped and prestigious tournament, this hardly seems like news to people, like myself, who only peripherally follow tennis.Continue Reading

Sports in Utopia: On The Grasshopper by Bernard Suits

Visions of Utopia?

Visions of Utopia?

Under Review: The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits (University of Toronto Press, 1978, 178 pages)

Just as an enthusiastic reader can make their way through a lifetime of books without ever once consulting a single text on literary theory, most sports enthusiasts will cheer their way through a lifetime of games and races without ever knowing that there is such a genre of study called Philosophy of Sport. Of course, you don’t need even a passing acquaintance with Philosophy of Sport in order to feel the intoxicating adrenaline of watching or playing in a great game. But when Philosophy of Sport is useful—and it is useful in the same way that literary theory is useful—is when you want a very thorough answer to the question: “What, exactly, is going on here?”

What is the nature of the collaborative relationship between opponents (read: between writer and reader), and how does that make games (narratives) possible? Why are we so universally compelled to participate in sports (literary works), as non-essential as they are to human survival?

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