New "Kung Fu" TV Series Rips the Heart Out of the Original

Kung FuThe new "Kung Fu" TV show strips the heart and morality out of the original, deciding instead of making us think, and giving us a roadmap of how to live a balanced life, it would be much better for modern audiences to appeal to 16-year-old girls and not make them think very much.
 
In the original series, the fight scenes captivated us, but the heart of the series was the morality of the monks. Their Taoist/Zen philosophy gave many of us a wake-up call that there were different ways of looking at the world than through the stained-glass windows of a church. For some of us, it pointed the way toward inner peace and the acceptance and tolerance of others.
 
The producers of the new series have hired an attractive young cast, threw in a sword with magical powers (Holy Green Destiny, Batman) which must be held by its rightful owner (shades of Thor's hammer). The plot is the same as many bad kung-fu films. "You bastard! You killed my teacher!" And they hint at a lot more magic to come.
 
Just what we need. Insert eye roll here.
 
Another thing we don't need: making it appear that you can achieve miraculous kung-fu fighting skills in three short years. Some of us who have studied martial arts for nearly 50 years see just how damaging that idea can be.
 
Kudos to the producers for using an Asian cast. A roundhouse kick to the head, however, for making it so shallow.
 
There is so much they could do. Why not bring the girl back to San Francisco and let her help people overcome their problems and see a better way to live, along with a little butt-kicking along the way?
 
There could also be some insight into the workings of a dysfunctional Chinese-American family, but it would help if, after spending three years learning the secrets of the universe, the lead character returned with a hint that she gained some wisdom along with kung-fu skills, but unfortunately, there is no hint of that wisdom in the dialogue.
 
Instead, I almost expect the second episode to show the lead character shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch.
 
And could someone tell the writers that when an attacker's arm is hideously broken the fight is over? And you know, like if you get kicked in the face five times, a sixth kick is not likely to be needed?
 
People right now are hungry for balance, kindness, and justice, not more magic and another "Tong war." And I hope the series brings more young people to martial arts schools, like the original series and Bruce Lee did. In the meantime, I can only hope the show "finds its legs" after a few episodes and becomes a little deeper. If the first episode of the new series is an indication, the producers appear to have ripped the heart out of the original "Kung Fu" series and are showing it to us beating in their hands before the audience, and the series, dies.

What Sean Connery and James Bond Taught Me About Fighting

Sean ConnerySean Connery passed away at age 90. The news swept across the world today, and if you are a man in my generation, it's a sad day.

My mother would not let me see a James Bond movie until the fourth Bond film "Thunderball" came out in late 1965. We were very conservative Christians, and she thought the movies were sinful because they showed drinking and (gasp!) sex between men and women who were NOT MARRIED!

She thought I would burn in Hell if I ever saw a James Bond movie.

But by the time "Thunderball" came out and I was nearly 13, she relented. My buddy Ed McCaw and I went to see it at a theater in downtown Lexington. We walked in during the long scene when the atomic bomb was stolen from the downed plane. We stayed all the way through the movie the second time through. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

I thought Connery was the coolest man who ever lived. The way he walked, the way he talked, and the slightly sarcastic, confident sense of humor had a big impact on me.

But the way James Bond fought in those early films also had an impact.

When Sean Connery played 007, he often found himself against much stronger, tougher opponents, but his resourcefulness often helped him win the fight. Whether he was fighting Oddjob in the vault at Fort Knox, "Red" Grant on the train in "From Russia, with Love," or the Japanese martial artist in "You Only Live Twice," he found a way to win.

You Only Live TwiceOne of the radio commercials used in the summer of 1967 to advertise "You Only Live Twice" went something like this: "They rush him from all sides. FIFTY karate experts whose hands can slice through rock. The odds...FIFTY to one. THEY haven't got a CHANCE." Listen to the original radio ad here.

Oh, man. I still get cold chills listening to that radio ad.

As a kid, and as a young teenager, I was often the target of bullies. For some reason, they were attracted to me like fat to a mother-in-law, but they made a big mistake when they pushed me to the point when I could not walk away.

They did not realize they were picking on a guy who enjoyed fighting. I always tried to avoid it, but if I could not avoid it, once the fight started I considered it the ultimate one-on-one competition. It was the ultimate sport. I never lost a fight in my life.

And from watching James Bond movies in those days, I realized that the better, stronger fighter does not always win. Usually, the smarter fighter wins.

The second-to-last real fight I had was when I was 17 years old in high school. A guy named Charlie wanted to fight. The disagreement started in Mr. Fife's geography class and we took it to the boy's restroom there in the Stone Building at Lafayette High School. 

It was a very small restroom and we faced off.

Charlie hauled off and punched me in the jaw. My head exploded in pain, and sparks seemed to burst in front of my eyes like fireworks.

It was clear that he was a much better puncher than I was.

So I moved in, clenched with him, and slammed him into the side of a stall.

How would Sean Connery handle this, I thought. Well, since he appeared to be a better boxer, I would stop him from being able to punch me.

I threw him to the ground.

He tried to get up, but before he could reach his feet, I slammed him to the ground again.

Each time he tried to get up, I slammed him into the wall or back to the ground.

Finally, exhausted, he gave up. We went back to our classes. I won the fight.

The moment I walked out of the restroom, I thought, "Sean Connery would be proud of that one."

Self-defense is a lot more than physical strength or even technical skill. Often, it is about awareness, not being there, and if you can't escape the fight, it's also about how you can use your surroundings or items you can pick up.

And it is about keeping your cool at all times. Or, as I learned in the internal arts, remaining centered at all times.

Tonight, I will raise a glass to this fine actor. I have watched his Bond movies countless times. I have them all on Blu-Ray and catch them when they pop up on cable channels. He will always be an inspiration to me in many ways.

I salute you, Sean Connery. The bullies who picked on me might have other feelings, however.

--by Ken Gullette


Tom Laughlin Was Trailblazer for Martial Arts Explosion 2 Years Before Bruce Lee

When I was 18, in 1971, all my buddies were excited over the movie, "Billy Jack."

Tom Laughlin gave us our first exposure to "karate" and we LOVED it.

Until this time, Asian martial arts were joked about. Characters like James Bond used the "Judo chop," which looked pretty ridiculous. At the same time, the arts were presented as "deadly" and mysterious.

Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin wrote the script and starred in the movie) gave us the first glimpse of what was to be an explosion of martial arts within two years.

This is the video clip that started the craze. Billy Jack takes his right foot and wops Posner on the right side of his face. My buddies and I nearly jumped out of our seats when this happened.

Within a year or so, the Kung Fu TV show debuted. Then, in 1973, Bruce Lee movies hit our theaters and the rest is history. 

Tom Laughlin died this past weekend at age 81. We all owe him a big "thank you" for the work he did to prime the martial arts pump in the United States and get us all ready for what was to come.

This scene started it all. 


Final Weapon - A New Martial Arts Film with Ren Guangyi and Lou Reed

This is pretty cool. Ren Guangyi, a top student of Chen Xiaowang, has made a short movie written and produced by two of his students, Stephan Berwick and Jose Fegueroa. Co-starring is rock star Lou Reed, who developed a friendship with Master Ren several years ago and even had Ren perform Chen tai chi at Reed's concerts.

RGY Broadsword Nov 2002I was fortunate enough to learn from Master Ren through Jim and Angela Criscimagna, who hosted him for several workshops in the Rockford, Illinois area. The photo at left shows the group that studied the Chen Broadsword with him (Guangyi is in the center).

This is from an Internet post by Rachel Matheson: Final Weapon is a 15-minute action drama about holding, passing, and protecting an ancient form of martial art that when employed, renders the user invincible for 20 minutes, after which he/she dies. The film takes viewers through the painful odyssey of an aging warrior making a fatal choice about using this weapon for his last battle.

Lou Reed appears in the film as 'The Holder' of the secret 'Final Weapon' and also contributed all of the music. Famed Taijiquan master, Ren Guangyi is also in the film, portraying 'Holder 1' (Lou Reed and writer/director Stephan Berwick are both longtime students of Guangyi.) Reed has also contributed all of the music in the film as well.

Final Weapon will be screened on Tuesday, April 10th at 8:15pm at Anthology Film Archives in New York City as part of the NewFilmmakers Series. 

Lou Reed will be at the screening, along with Berwick, Guangyi and a few other members of the cast. 

Tickets are available at the door only.

If I lived in New York, this would be a fun event to attend. Here is the trailer for the film:

 


I Am Bruce Lee - A New Documentary on the King of Kung-Fu

I got into martial arts because of Bruce Lee. I had been interested for a year or so because of the Kung Fu TV series, but in 1973, when I saw Enter the Dragon, I took the plunge and enrolled in a Shaolin school operated by Grandmaster Sin The.

We've seen several documentaries on Bruce Lee through the years. A new one is out now. I'm looking forward to seeing it. Almost 40 years later, I'm still a fan.

 


A Review of New Documentary DVD - Chen Village

ChenVillageDVD The new documentary by Jon Braeley, Chen Village, is a beautiful and fascinating journey inside the birthplace of Tai Chi. I bought the DVD through amazon.com and eagerly watched it a few nights ago when it arrived. 

Shot in high definition, the documentary includes interviews with westerners who have traveled to Chen Village to study, and it shows a disciple ceremony in which Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang accepts new disciples.

Chen Village (Chenjiagou) is located in Henan Province. It's a very poor village with 3,000 residents. It's estimated that 2,500 of them practice tai chi, and 85% of them have the Chen surname. You see parts of the village here that you haven't seen before. When you think of the birthplace of Tai Chi, you might think of beautiful Chinese buildings, and there are a few that meet the description, but Chenjiagou is a dirt-poor farming community. It just happens that they are the best in the world at their art.

The documentary features Chen Xiaowang, his brother and principle of the Chenjiagou tai chi school Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Ziqiang (son of Xiaoxing) and Chen Bing (a nephew of Xiaowang and Xiaoxing). It's exciting to watch, considering I have met and trained with three of the four, and Chen Xiaoxing stayed in our home for a week. It's also fascinating to see the school since I received a certificate in 2005 as a recognized instructor connected to the school.

I didn't know until seeing this DVD that Chen Bing now runs his own school, and he has built it with foreign students in mind. Some students have been reluctant in the past to travel to Chen Village because living conditions are not very good compared with our standards. 

I was disappointed but not surprised to hear Chen Bing say that foreign students are usually trained differently than the Chinese -- not as tough because they can't take it, and most of them, he says, are interested in the health aspects more than the martial aspects. Are you listening, people? They don't consider us to be very serious because we focus on the wrong things.

Chen Ziqiang is interviewed, talking about how only one in a hundred students -- even those from the Chen Village -- are able to persist long enough to become really good at tai chi. I've been teaching now for a dozen years and that is something that becomes clear very quickly when you teach -- the fact that for every 100 people that come through the door, only one has the determination and passion to achieve their goals.

The interviews with the western students are very interesting. They find themselves in a very simple environment when they stay at the Chen Village -- a much slower and far less technological lifestyle. A few of the comments go a little over-the-top, as you can imagine from people who are dedicated enough to spend a year or two living there. One student actually breaks down and cries when he speaks about his devotion to Chen Xiaowang. I understand the devotion, but I tend to look at these masters as people who are the best at what they do -- like Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, all worthy of tremendous respect. I don't look at them as gods. Nancy watched the documentary with me and strongly objected to the disciple ceremony where the disciples were kneeling and bowing in worship before Grandmaster Chen. I didn't react as strongly because I understand why they're doing it, but it was fascinating to see a ceremony like this after hearing about it. When you become a disciple it's a very serious relationship, supposedly like being admitted to the family, and yet there is a master/student relationship that is very strict, and let's face it, the culture is not what we are accustomed to. Americans by nature don't like to kneel and prostrate themselves before anyone (we reserve that behavior for our relationship with invisible beings), but in the context of the situation and the culture, it's something that you do.

Chen Bing is shown at his school demonstrating a form, and as usual, he's breathtakingly impressive. There is a little video of Chen Xiaoxing practicing with some students, and Chen Xiaowang does a short demo, too.

As I heal from the lung problem that has plagued me this year, I have one goal -- to travel to Chen Village and give it my best effort to train like the Chinese. I've taken a week off of practicing as I gear up for this medical procedure at the Cleveland Clinic next week, but watching this documentary made me want to bounce off the walls. I just can't wait to get over this thing and start building my strength and practice HARD again. It's nice that Jon Braeley has produced such an inspirational film.

I highly recommend this DVD to anyone with an interest in Tai Chi. 


New DVD Documentary on the Chen Village featuring Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing

ChenVillageDVD

I'm really glad to see this DVD--Chen Village--on the market by director Jon Braeley. It's a close-up look at the Chen Village, the birthplace of tai chi.

If you didn't know better, you might think the place where tai chi was created 350 years ago would be a very spiritual place, with elaborate buildings and your mind might take you to a Hollywood-type setting.

In fact, the Chen Village is very poor and rural, with virtually nothing to offer except the best tai chi in the world. The people work the land, and most of them practice tai chi. It's eye-opening and surprising to see how poor the area really is, and it gives you even more respect for the Chen family, who has worked at tai chi and refined it over centuries to the point where they are now teaching around the world.

In this documentary, you'll see the courtyard where they still practice -- the place where Yang Luchan, a servant of the Chen family in the 19th Century, watched in secret and then practiced on his own. Non-family members were not allowed to learn the art, but when they caught him practicing and noticed he had skill, he was taught. When he left Chen Village, he was told he could not teach Chen tai chi, so he developed his own style. He taught his Yang style to the Imperial Family but they were lazy so he watered it down, and that weaker version is what most Americans think is tai chi.

I have studied with both of the masters featured in this DVD. Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing, both brothers and descendants of Chen Wangting, are shown in their home town performing tai chi. Chen Xiaowang is the standard-bearer for his generation. His younger brother Chen Xiaoxing is my age, and he is content to stay at home running the Chen Village tai chi school (I was certified as an instructor in 2005 through Chen Xiaoxing). 

This documentary will show you the real thing as it's still practiced. I ordered the Chen Village DVD today and can't wait to give it a more full review next week.