An appreciation of Black martial arts

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Kung fu movies have it all: action, humor, visual poetry, and a true sense of fun.

I can fondly recall my own obsession with those films in the mid ’80s. “Kung Fu Classics,” which aired every Saturday night on Detroit’s TV 20, was must-see TV. The out-of-synch voice overdubs, soaring sound effects, and classic revenge stories never seemed old to me; they came in all shapes, sizes, styles. Yes, after the ’70s and ’80s, the world mostly moved away from their collective fascination with martial arts movies.

To be sure, there are modern classics: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Kill Bill,” “Hero,” and “Lady Snow Blood,” but it’s doubtful we’ll see another double decade of popular culture-shaping martial arts films. With the release of the RZA’s new Kung fu flick, “The Man With the Iron Fists,” it’s a good time to reflect on some of the baddest Black dudes on the big and little screen.

Jim Kelly – a grandmaster in real life, Kelly is the iconic Black martial artist. The coolness, the afro, the assured movements across the screen made him a favorite – and the ladies loved him. (Key films: “Enter the Dragon,” “Black Belt Jones,” “Black Samurai”)

Wesley Snipes – In the “Blade” trilogy, Snipes got a chance to finally show off his own real life martial arts skills. The “Day Walker” dispensed vampires with style and cool, embodying the Black samurai for the late ’90s. (Key films: “Blade,” “Blade 2,” “Blade: Trilogy”)

Afro Samurai – Voiced by Samuel L. Jackson (with music by the RZA), this animated series featuring music by the RZA, is not only excellent, but essential viewing. (Key films: none yet)

Lawrence Fishburne – Donning the cool shades in “The Matrix,” Fishburne’s Morpheus was one part Yoda, one part Jim Kelly, and though he got quite “dusted” by Agent Smith in the first film, he thankfully redeemed himself by “Matrix Reloaded.” (Key films: “Matrix,” “Matrix Reloaded,” “Matrix Revolutions”)

Dolemite – Hey, he is the self-proclaimed biggest and “baddest,” right? We might laugh at Rudy Ray Moore’s Kung fu stances, but he really did represent everything that was cool about the martial arts craze. And let’s face it, Dolemite left plenty of bodies writhing on the ground from his carefully applied Karate chops. (Key Films: “Dolemite,” “Petey Wheatstraw,” “The Human Tornado”)

The RZA – Time will tell on this, but RZA’s character Blacksmith (whose mother is played by none other than Pam Grier), seems poised to join the long list of other Black characters with not only physical prowess, but also the mental acumen to defeat the bad guys, which is just as important as the butt kicking. Well, sort of. (Key film: “The Man With the Iron Fists”)

 

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