American Martial Arts Culture’s Roots in the African-American Community

The Hannah Montana Movie Los Angeles Premiere

Jaden Smith, the next Karate (Kung-Fu?) Kid

Some fans of the original Karate Kid movie are appalled by the remake starring Jaden Smith as the new Karate Kid and Jackie Chan as his teacher.  Some are very explicit about their displeasure to a having a black kid play the role.    But as Jeff Yang points in this article, the story of an African-American learning self control and discipline from martial arts is “less of a perversion than it is a correction.”

Yang says that African-Americans were the first non-Asian community in the US to embrace martial arts, and without them, Asian fighting disciplines might never have taken root.  “The story of martial arts in black communities is part of a much bigger narrative of African American interest in Asian culture,” says Amy Obugo Ongiri, assistant professor of English at the University of Florida and author of the forthcoming book “Spectacular Blackness.”   White flight, she says, made inner city theatres become spaces for people of color, and cheaper, less marketable films like martial arts movies were often shown.  “We’d go and watch films all day,” recalls Warrington Hudlin, the producer behind films such as “House Party” and “Boomerang.”

Bruce Lee has been particularly influential.  In the documentary “How Bruce Lee Changed the World,” a number of African Americans, like Wu Tang Clan rapper and producer RZA and actor and rapper LL Cool J, talk about how Bruce Lee influenced them.  While filming certain scenes, LL Cool J thought about how Bruce Lee would have done the scene and acted accordingly.  Interestingly enough the new movie is being filmed in the Wu Tang mountains.

I am not sure that this new version of the Karate Kid (shouldn’t that be “Kung Fu Kid” if he is learning from Jackie Chan in China?) will be better that the original (although the reimagined Battlestar Galactica certainly has its plusses).  In any case, check out Yang’s article – it’s interesting, and I hope the Karate Kid remake is at least as good!

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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