Book review: Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

Here’s the book review of Meditations on Violence” by Rory Miller I promised a while ago. I met Rory a while ago and he’s become a friend of mine, just so you know where I’m coming from. That said, we don’t agree on everything (that would be boring…) so I feel comfortable enough writing an honest and objective review of his bestselling book.

Here goes:

Book review - Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

Rory and me doing so light sparring, having a great time. Barry Eisler and Kris Wilder in the background.


Book review: Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

Meditations on Violence starts with a foreword by Steve Barnes, followed by a short introduction and preface.

Chapter one covers “The Matrix” but Keanu Reeves doesn’t show up anywhere so don’t worry. Instead,Rory explains a tactical and strategic framework that helps you determine what your martial arts is best suited for.

The next chapter covers “how to think” and gives you some interesting concepts on how to approach learning and training for self defense or martial arts. Rory talks about how you can fool yourself easily, even if you’ve trained for a long time. He also takes a critical look at the different sources knowledge can come from and how to think in the moment when you’re smack in the middle of a fight.

Then we move on to the different types of violence where he describes the common characteristics of real-world violence and the human body’s reaction to it. Another topic is how violence is time-related and happens in specific places.

The fourth chapter goes into detail about the criminals you want to learn to defend against. This chapter is very interesting as Rory gives several examples from his experience with them as a corrections officer. He explains how they think, act and feel in relation to the violence they commit.
A key chapter is on training and how to avoid certain pitfalls. It reminded me most of what Bob Orlando once wrote, how training is always nothing but a simulation of reality and not reality itself. Similarly, Rory discusses different types of training (static, cooperative, dynamic, etc) and where there are flaws inherent to the training protocols. This is great information to absorb, especially if you’ve just started your journey in the martial arts or fighting systems.

Chapter six goes into the components that make physical self defense work and Rory gives a lot of advice to help you out. Good stuff.

The final chapter of Meditations on Violence covers what happens after the violence is over. How it changes you and how those around you might react to it. I especially liked the section on dealing with students who have survived violent trauma and show up at your class.

The book ends with a pretty extensive bibliography that will keep you busy reading for a while.



“Meditations on violence” read like the distilled essence of the works of Loren Christensen, Peyton Quinn, Marc MacYoung and several other authors. Rory’s writing style is in fact similar to Animal’s earlier work (minus the swearing though) and he gives his own insights on the same topics: functional strategy and tactics, effective training for the martial arts and self defense, the psychology/biology of real fighting, dealing with the aftermath to name only a handful. What’s more, he brings his own, unique experience to the book: that of a corrections officer with countless violent encounters with all sorts of hardened criminals. This gives him unique insights into the way these predators operate, think and how they fight.

In many ways, this book is exactly what the title says: Rory’s thoughts on violence. There were so many instances in which I nodded in agreement with his findings. Perhaps the most notable was his statement that fighting styles are context specific. This is a long standing argument I’ve had with a good friend of mine (I say they are, he disagrees) and it’s always fun to have somebody else back you up. :-)

I only have a couple points of criticism, mostly about form:

  • Rory  uses all caps text in numerous instances. This is the written word’s equivalent to shouting in a spoken conversation. This is a pet peeve of mine so if it doesn’t bother you, no worries then.
  • The division of the the chapters and their sections are sometimes hard to follow. Perhaps this is due to the content of the book but I found myself paging back and forth numerous times to keep track.

Aside of these two minor issues, it’s all good. I’d especially recommend this book if you’re relatively new to the martial arts or self defense world. It can help you tremendously by serving as a compass, helping you choose which way to go instead of stumbling along in the wrong direction for the goals you want to achieve. But even if you’ve trained for a long time, you’ll still find many interesting concepts and ideas to ponder.

Highly recommended.

Book review - Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

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  1. Thanks, Wim.
    FWIW, I agree on the formatting. The hardest part of this book was organizing a complex subject where every detail affected every other detail. Almost nothing fit in only one chapter. Well balanced review. Thank you.- Rory

  2. Thanks, Wim.
    FWIW, I agree on the formatting. The hardest part of this book was organizing a complex subject where every detail affected every other detail. Almost nothing fit in only one chapter. Well balanced review. Thank you.- Rory

    • My pleasure Rory. Here’s hoping it sends some sales your way.
      I understand the issues with organizing everything all too well. Sometimes there just isn’t an easy way to do it.

  3. great book. made a huge impact on how i look at fighting or protecting myself

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