Identity, martial arts, and the Universal African Fighting System in the RZA’s “Wu-Tang vs. The Golden Phoenix”
Anupa shared this amazing trailer for the RZA’s upcoming movie,Wu-Tang vs. The Golden Phoenix, on the Ashcan this week. She asked for more info on the Universal African Fighting System — the system’s founder appears in the movie — and, as I tend to do, I got lost in my thoughts, and barfed up a long response in the comment section. It probably works better as a post for this here blog, so my thoughts pasted below:
“…I’ve never seen the UAFS in action so don’t know how it’s supposed to work in practice (or in theory, for that matter), but one of its main talking points is the reclamation of Africa as the birthplace of all martial arts. (My favourite quote from the UAFS founder goes something like “Yeah, Asians have a tiger style of kung-fu, but Africans actually fought tigers.”) And yeah, historically, African warriors long ago developed and taught organized weapons and empty-hand fighting techniques for hunting and warfare, but the whole debate is kind of a misnomer because the term “martial arts” was first coined to refer specifically to the Asian arts.
This is why just [not too long] ago you could still find debates in combat rags about whether or not Greco-Roman wrestling or western boxing could be called “martial arts” — did the term refer to just any organized style of combat? Or did it imply something more cultural, referring to traditions, and possibly even religious beliefs? (Obviously, most Asian martial arts are steeped heavily in Eastern philosophy, Buddhism and Taoism especially, and hence the common refrain that martial arts are a “lifestyle” and not merely a sport or activity or method of self-defense.)
Bruce Lee’s reformations (through his “Jeet Kune Do” philosophy) and the mainstreaming of mixed martial arts training has largely made these debates obsolete. But still, as with a lot of other fields, traditionalists and identity politics aren’t going to totally disappear from the martial arts world anytime soon. There’s good reason why dead prez rap about dancing capoeira to prepare for the revolution and not, say, Israeli krav maga, even though the latter is likely (definitely) of more use in a real fight.
This movie looks dope for a lot of reasons (choreographed by a living LEGEND in my book), but definitely for the plain fact it inserts black dudes into a 70s period kung-fu flick. Blaxploitation and kung-fu cinema share a lot in common, and the two have been playing patty-cake for a while (from Jim Kelly all the way up to Afro Samurai), but shit it’s about time we saw something like this. Usually we just see a jive-talking black dude doing karate chops in the Bronx — I like that the RZA has taken it this far, and knowing his sincere interest in both eastern philosophy and Godbody, Original Man of the Earth black empowerment, I’m guessing under the surface this won’t just be a Tarantino genre mash. (Though of course you can argue Tarantino isn’t even that under the surface. Is it any wonder the two are best busom buddies?) And even if it is just that, it looks crazy awesome.”
I should also note that the film’s fight choreographer is the same guy who did Five Deadly Venoms, which, obviously, inspired the name of this blog. I’m kind of hyped about this.