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Scott Langley's 'Karate Stupid'

Review by Shaun Banfield

Scott Langley’s autobiographical ‘Karate Stupid’ sits perfectly within the ‘Japanese Journey’  Martial Art sub-genre, alongside C.W. Nicol’s ‘Moving Zen’, Stan Schmidt’s ‘Spirit of the Empty Hand’ and Robert Twigger’s ‘Angry White Pyjamas’. The book tracks Langley’s life living in Japan and, more specifically, his time completing the JKS Instructors’ Course.

The book’s publication was always going to be met with a degree of intrigue, as Langley’s story of a gaijin’s troublesome and often bloody experience in Japan is one that inspires real fascination. Add to the mix that Langley is the King of self-promotion, compounded by the controversial and somewhat poignant public demise of his relationship with the JKS as a consequence of the book’s release, and you have a cocktail for mass public interest. As gut-wrenching as this divorce from the JKS may have been, Scott Langley’s book commanded the spot-light as karateka – the world over – wanted to know what’s so damaging to the JKS that they will consider the expulsion of one of its most fervent supporters.

The book is a real page turner, which I had fully anticipated. Like so many, I have often enjoyed Langley’s karate articles that have been published in a range of Martial Art magazines, including TSW, so I knew the guy could write. He honestly details his experiences across his many years in Japan, illustrating both the lofty highs, to the grittiest of lows – honestly conveying moments of arrogance, joy, fear, adulation, and at times excruciating pain. Since Langley has always been very vocal about his time in Japan, much of the book’s content will trigger recollections of his comments in previously published articles and interviews. What this book offers however, which a five thousand word interview or two thousand word article could never contain, is a fully detailed and – at times – explicit account of his experiences. He openly shares, for example, how the pressure of the Instructors’ Course led to him developing an OCD, offering a vivid insight into the effects of the course that are perhaps less obvious than the bruises on his body or the scar on his lip.

Langley’s ability to articulate the effects of the course on his psyche, attitude and ultimately his life is one of the most fascinating parts of the book. Whilst the odd anecdote or story can be easily told in passing, the detailed exploration of the effect these experiences had on a man living in a foreign country makes the stories so much more impactful. Consequently, stories shift from being pure entertainment, to actually highlighting the sometimes painful reality of his life on the course.

This book also offers some entertaining insights into the culture of Japan, a culture which seems alien to most Western brains. For those that haven’t experienced Japan or its culture, this will undoubtedly provide not only an entertaining read, but also perhaps the inspiration to travel there. This book conveys Langley’s full entrenchment, not only in the Japanese culture, but within Japanese karate itself. The book shares intimate stories of his conflicts, his friendships and at times the evolution Langley endured whilst there. 

The book’s subtitle aptly states ‘A true story of survival’, and reading this book it is very difficult to describe Langley as anything other than a survivor. Within the inner leaf of the book, Langley comments ‘the sacrifices I made during this true story are nothing compared to the sacrifices I’ve had to make to publish it’. Herein lies, perhaps the most poignant part of this entire book. Whilst Langley has experienced so much in Japan, bled on their floors and consequently gone on to be a passionate ambassador of the karate he had learned in Japan, he has been denied the opportunity to openly share these experiences.

Like C.W.Nicol’s ‘Moving Zen’, this book is absorbing and engaging. Every page provides an exciting opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of life in Japan, and the full struggles of completing the Instructors’ Course. The quality of Langley’s writing and the honesty – often to his own detriment – qualifies this book as a must read for any modern karateka.