Book Review: Campfire Tales from Hell

Campfire Tales from Hell is subtitled “Musings on martial arts, survival, bouncing, and other thug stuff” and that’s not a bad description of the book.

Edited by Rory Miller, the book features essays from well-known self-defense/martial arts folks like Marc “Animal” MacYoung, Wim Demeere, Alain Burrese, and a host of less-well-known voices. I bought this book on my Kindle, though I see there’s a paperback version available as well.

Read on to find out more about the book, and what I thought about it.

The book is divided into six sections, broadly titled “Technical”, “Training”, “War Stories”, “Places You Don’t Want to Go”, “Advice” and “Philosophy”. The topics covered encompass a lot of ground – everything from how to talk to cops and what to expect after traumatic events to escaping from cults and safeguarding your safety in a psych ward.

As is true of many anthologies, the writing is elegant in places and less so in others, but if you’re interested in self-defense, personal safety and so forth, odds are you’ll find much to like in this book. Overall, the tone of the book read like sitting around a campfire with a bunch of people who have Been There, Done That in the real world, and listening to their stories. Not everything in every chapter may totally relate to you, but if you’re like me, you’ll find it all engaging and interesting.

One of the most worthwhile sections of the book for me was Rory Miller’s final essay, titled “Where the Journey Ends”. There’s tons of good stuff mixed in with Rory’s essay about his life and the lesson’s he’s learned, but there’s one part that resonated so strongly with me I wanted to share it here. Rory talks about how, in his view, much of the suffering in the world comes not from the things we experience so much as from the discordance between how things are and how we expect them to be, and he writes:

We are programmed, it seems, to think that our lives are hard, and they are, but only compared to an ideal that never really existed. Things, stuff, money, don’t mitigate suffering, they just focus your imagination on different things to suffer about.

I’m not trying to talk out of both sides of my mouth here. There is real pain. Tasers hurt. Old bone breaks and medically-installed hardware hurts in your joints when things are cold and humid. You will lose friends that you love. But most of the suffering comes from elsewhere, from an expectation that joints aren’t supposed to hurt or that friends are eternal. That is the difference between grieving and wallowing. Both are about you, but one is honestly about what you lost and the other is about what you thought you had a right to.

Accepting this truth and a few others allows you to live…more? Harder? Better? It allows you to love harder because you are busy loving instead of whining that things aren’t perfect and love is ‘supposed to be perfect’. It allows you to play and learn, to get better every day instead of wasting time and emotion trying to figure out how good you are or if you are ‘good enough’.

So, would I recommend  Campfire Tales from Hell to my readers? Absolutely. Check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments.

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