Me & Mike
by Rick Aiello and Tom Jikomes
Reviewed by Laura Tucker
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I’m no stranger to relationships formed in the martial arts world. Having been involved with martial arts for the past seven years, there’s something about dropping your known defenses to learn new ones that leaves you vulnerable, and in the process you get to know those around you in the dojang on a more intimate level. That said, Me & Mike, a book about a martial artist murdered in his prime, told through stories of his best friend, was attractive to me.
Michael Lee Jackson was a great physical fighter, bar none. He was a great street fighter before he even entered martial arts. As a 6’7” black male, he was intimidating before he even threw a punch. In a story that resembles Mr. Myagi and Daniel from The Karate Kid, a tae kwon do instructor broke up a fight between Mike and some other kids when he was in high school, and recognizing the great fighter in him, brought him into his school and made him a student.
Rick Aiello met Mike in a bar, asking for his help to stop another guy from beating the crap out of him. It’s kind of a sad ironic twist that Mike’s life was ended in a similar situation. After Mike was asked to jump in and stop the fight Rick was involved in, they became close friends. Rick was at the time a bartender and cosmetology and barber student, and Mike was teaching martial arts.
Me & Mike contains some great stories, stories of the friendship between these two guys, things that proved their dedication to each other. But the stories that gave me pause were the ones where Mike was using his martial arts. He was such a great physical fighter; he never lost a fight. He’d usually get them out in the first few minutes, as no one was a match for him, and he eventually became a six time champion. I have tremendous respect for that physical ability of his.
Yet, it was the more philosophical side of Mike’s martial arts that really made me take notice. I think the world concentrated so much on what a great physical fighter he was that he lost sight of the other side of martial arts. To be a great martial artist you need not only the physical side, but to live your life as a martial artist. We learn about being respectful, having self control, respecting the rights of others, etc. There is a code that we learn that basically means if you enter into a battle for the right reason, your fight will be just. The fights that earned Mike the title of a six time champion were just, but those bar fights weren’t.
Mike seemed to get so caught up in the others that wanted him to solve all their problems, that he only used that physical side to solve the fights, or a fear of the physical side. In the process, his fights weren’t just, and he paid the ultimate price when on New Year’s Eve he was asked to solve a bar dispute, and the man he had beat up came back to the bar with his brother and a gun, shooting Mike to death, claiming it was self defense.
These stories were told in what must be Rick’s words. In some ways it’s a great device, yet in others it’s bothersome. The stories are told as if we’re sitting next to Rick on a bar stool at the Pub ‘n Grub where he met Mike, and that’s a style of writing I’ve always enjoyed and adhered to. However, sometimes the flow is off from story to story as it jumps around, and there are many grammar and punctuation errors that affect the overall enjoyment.
I have always said when I’m enjoying a book, movie, or TV show, I want to feel and think, and maybe even laugh a little. Despite the few philosophical differences I had with some of the stories, it did cause me to feel and think, and maybe chuckle a time or two. It caused me to open up a discussion with my son who is pursuing his own black belt on the dangers of concentrating too much on just the physical side of our art.
If this book makes a future black belt realize the dangers he could fall into, it’s definitely worth it, and then maybe Michael Lee Jackson’s fight and eventual death will be just.
Laura Tucker is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints and Reality Shack, and operates a celebrity gossip blog, Troubled Hollywood. She is also an Associate Instructor and 1st dan black belt in tae kwon do with South Elgin Martial Arts.
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