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.
My old martial arts arts instructor (“old” as in I don’t train anymore, not “old” as in crotchety with a white beard) Sifu Joey de Los Reyes from the Kombat Arts academy in Mississauga wrote up a very simple, common sense blog on how to get lean. It has some good tips, check it out.
I’ve dropped a bit of weight recently and some people have asked me how, so I thought I would expand on some of the things he’s written. The world of healthly eating and exercise has changed a lot since the last time I did a push-up due to more knowledge and expanding horizons — occasionally, hopefully, I’ll be blogging my way through this process of re-learning everthing I knew.
But for the most part, here’s why I am almost 10 pounds lighter nowadays: (more…)
Not only that, but Jake rebuts Jean’s advice that fighting doesn’t solve anything. I kind of like when teen/children’s movies take traditional messages and complicate them. Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) does this poignantly with his message of “Naw, some kids are just born better than others. Deal with it.” But this film says that sometimes you have to fight, and then just ends.
Jake fights his rival, the bullying, controlling Ryan. Afterwards, they give each other a nod of respect and a little smile the next day at school.
Jake only fights because he’s been backed into a corner. By the end, he doesn’t change positions, he just fights nonetheless but this time wins. The film doesn’t understand its own mentor figure, and on the offchance it was trying to decontruct his message, it failed.
What we’re left with is: Fighting solves everything, and our refusal to do so is the only thing preventing us from getting along.
And no, unlike the rest of the internet, I’m not posting about how hot Gina Carano aka new American Gladiator “Crush” is (then again, I guess I just did). I’m posting about how beautiful her technique is.
There are a million fighers out there that are amazing fighters, but they aren’t beautiful. Chuck Liddell comes to mind right away as an incredible fighter who also happens to be a really ugly fighter. He’s flatfooted, he moves his arms weirdly, and he often leans away when punching. Sakuraba, one of my all-time favourites, is also an ugly fighter. He uses this to his advantage, psyching his opponent out with odd, unpredictable movements, but still: ugly ugly fugly.
Carano, on the other hand, is balanced, calm, and her strikes snap sharply. I don’t know how to explain it, but the trajectory of her kicks, their lines (to steal a term from dance), is one of the things that puts the art in martial art. Fighters such as her are a treat to watch.
Alot of fighters seem to have beautiful technique in their training reels, but then look sloppier during a match. It makes sense — a non-compliant opponent is not the same as a training partner holding pads. The distancing is different, you lose the impeccable timing, your equilibreum shifts.
Carano does have a tendency to let her power get the best of her — when her shots start landing she just lets loose, sometimes throwing the same punch more than once in succession if she lands it the first time (similar to how Jet Li’s character fought in Unleashed). But on average, she is one of those rare fighters who moves pretty much the same while fighting as she does training.
I’m supressing the urge to make a comparison between martial arts and dance because I know nothing about dance. But it’s the closest thing I can compare it to, in terms of movements with a partner. But of course, a fight isn’t choreographed. Keeping appropriate distance and timing in combat — with a non-compliant ‘dance partner’ who is trying to either crash the distance or create a bigger gap and hoping to fuck up your sense of timing — while keeping your movements accurate and purposeful, is a much different skill.
And I think makes it all the more aesthetically pleasing when such a skill level is achieved.