Sunday, October 19, 2008


Years ago, before martial arts really got rolling in pop USA culture anywhere close to where it is now, I knew a guy who opened a "kung-fu" school in a small town in southwestern Louisiana. The Kung-Fu TV series had just premiered, so this would have been about 1972.

He had to put an electric fence around the place to keep the enrollment manageable. They were beating down the doors and throwing money at him. He wasn't just the only game in town, he was the only game in the state.

Thirty-five years ago, you didn't see much kung-fu outside of the coastal Chinatowns, and  only a few places were teaching round-eyes. Only two open-enrollment schools I had ever seen personally up until then had been when I lived in L.A. -- Jimmy Woo's, on, I think, Sunset Blvd., and Bruce Lee -- by then being taught mostly by Dan Inosanto. There was a guy in New Orleans, but he was a fraud -- I saw him do a demo where he badly injured a student; and there was a black guy in Houston who was legit, but nobody in Louisiana.

"Kung-fu" is in parentheses because the guy about whom I am talking did have a black belt in karate, but knew zip about the Chinese arts. I figured he watched a few episodes of Kwai Chang Caine, added in a few circular moves to what he knew, and presto! he became Master Po.

Or maybe Master Po'boy, given the locale ...

I knew the guy and had seen his karate stuff. I lost track of him for a couple of months when he went off to visit a girlfriend out of state. When he came back, he had suddenly turned into the Louisiana version of Caine, shaved head, Shaolin suit and all. (We've had guys do that in silat. Students with year or two of training who go off to Java for a few weeks and come back as certified pendekars. Must be something in the water there that allows such a miraculous ability.)

Master Po'Boy wasn't the only guy to jump on that bandwagon. There were a bunch of schools that had been teaching karate that suddenly discovered they'd mastered kung-fu and repainted their signs to reflect this new knowledge when the TV series took off. (Later, these same folks found some ninja training in their checkered pasts, too, and then combative this and mixed martial art that, whatever was the flavor of the month. Some were just hard-fudging -- they took a few seminars and added that to what they knew. Some were outright frauds who picked it all up watching TV or subtitled Jackie Chan movies. Print up some impressively-decorated certificates with Chinese characters and a crane and dragon, voila! you da man.)

I went down to see this kung-fu school and sat in on one of this guy's classes. He had the Master Po rap, too. Never called his students grasshoppers, but did everything but.

He had sprung for the total package: At a time when long hair had become the norm, he shaved his head. Nobody else I knew except Yul Brynner had done that. He had a tattoo of the yin-yang symbol on his chest. He wore a frog-closure, black kung-fu shirt on the street, not just to class, making him the only white guy to do so in six states in any direction. He was fond of long, eagle-eyed stares and slow takes, and he had worked on his enigmatic smile. Guy was passing smart, and he hammed it up real good. All he needed was somebody following him around with a flute, playing the theme from the Carradine TV series.

So, I watched. We talked. I knew him from way back, I had done a fair amount of training at that point, relative to my age, and during our discussion, he looked at me and sighed theatrically. "My students," he said, shaking his head, "put me on a pedestal. They idolize me. I don't want that. I can't understand why they do it."

I thought I was gonna have a heart attack I laughed so hard. "Bullshit!" I said. He really didn't like hearing that. He wasn't what he claimed, but he truly worked the disguise to the limit. If his students hadn't worshiped the ground he walked on, he would have been outraged. Or crushed.

I had a similar discussion once with a woman who looked like a Vaughn Bode cartoon elf -- she was short, cute, busty, wore tight shirts and short-shorts, and flirted like a stadium full of geishas tanked on sake with every male she met between the ages of nine and ninety. During a discussion regarding the husband of a woman she knew who had made a pass at her, she looked at me all doe-eyed and said, "Why do men keep hitting on me? I don't want that! I don't understand!"

"Honey, please!" I said to her. Oh, she didn't like hearing that,. (And there were three other people involved in the conversation who didn't like it, either. How could I be so mean?)

Disingenuous. These are examples of what the title of this post means.

There is a lot of it going around these days. Pay attention or you might get fooled ...


steve-vh said...

Had an Aikido instructor (quite skilled in may ways) who could play the mistic well. Eventually I was unable to come regularly. When I would show up he would say cyptically "I had a feeling you would come tonight". Worked a few times, we were young and eager. Eventually my partner from Mississipi pointed out, well Duh!?! I was there wasn't eye?

It's a long running gag we use now.
"I had a feeling you would say that" & "I had a feeling you would have a feeling"

Bobbe Edmonds said...

I have been trying for years to get my students to worship me, or at minimum show me a modicum of respect. That would be AWESOME.

I wouldn't have to work as hard either...I could just make shit up off the top of my head, all kinds of things.

Do you still have that guy's number?

Steve Perry said...

Alas, the man's number was up a few years back, and he has gone on to his reward.

He even wrote a book once, on tai chi, had stuff like, "the origins of tai chi are lost in the mists of time ..." in it.

One of those guys who was too smart for the room. A shame.