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 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


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.

-Forbidden Kingdom - Jacky Chan and Jet Li

Okay, this film looks very cool. Jacky Chan and Jet Li together at last in The Forbidden Kingdom. Some of the reviews say it's a fantasy aimed at a teenage audience, but the film clips on are pretty impressive. I think this one is a "must see" for this coming weekend.

I always thought either of these guys had the potential to make movies that had nearly as much impact as Bruce Lee. Jacky Chan, though, is a comedian, and that has worked very well for him. I'm glad that Jet Li didn't follow through on his vow to stop making kung fu movies. Like Bruce Lee, he is absolute perfection on screen. It's always great to see a new high-budget kung fu movie hit the screens.