If you remember the TV series called “Kung Fu” originally shown in the 1970s, then obviously you’re likely to be above a certain age!
Even if you’re a lot younger, there is a fair chance you will have seen episodes of it online or in reruns.
We thought we’d say a few words about the series here, as in some respects it illustrates aspects of the martial arts that we draw or our students’ attention.
The plot line of the original series was very broadly speaking, that a child of Sino-American parents who was orphaned in mid-19th century China, where he was brought up by Shaolin monks. As part of that, they had taught him their legendary “Kung Fu” martial arts disciplines.
After clashing with the imperial authorities in China, he left the country and went to the Wild West of the USA to search for his half-brother.
The series followed his search on a weekly basis and the lead character, as an adult, was played by the now sadly departed David Carradine.
Now you may be wondering just why we are taking this stroll down memory lane!
Well, this show today might be seen as being slightly psychedelic and surreal but it was important for the real martial arts in one major respect.
That’s because it attempted to portray many of the introspective and spiritual aspects of the martial arts which are so important to their effective practice. The emphasis in the show on self-discipline, emotional control and the putting to one side of personal ego, was perhaps the first time that such concepts had been demonstrated in detail in a show relating to the use of one of these self-defence disciplines.
Previously, many other TV and movie representations had concentrated on the physical delivery of skills such as “Judo” or “Karate” in order for the hero to win – but this was quite different.
In spite of having extraordinary capabilities in the martial arts, the lead character regularly tolerates abuse, insults, disrespect and even occasionally modest violence, without any form of reaction. The use of the martial arts is only resorted to in the most serious situations and as a last resort.
In the show this is idealised perhaps to the point of being unrealistic but nevertheless it was revolutionary in terms of what had gone before in the films and TV. It broadened public perceptions of just what the term “martial arts” actually meant.
The passage of time
Of course, today the show looks dated and has a certain “late hippy” cultural feel that seems archaic. Some people enjoy mocking it and some of its unarmed combat sequences are also highly flawed and whilst entertaining, unrealistic.
Even so, many of the lead character’s attributes and views of life, as they relate to the martial arts, are those that professional modern practitioners would aspire to.
If you had never done so, it might be worth watching an episode or two online.