Sunday, April 01, 2012

Warriors Journey

Awed pathos might come with the territory when dealing with talented, charismatic celebrities who die younger than expected, and any biographer of Bruce Lee has a long line of mythological worship to struggle against reproducing. That A Warrior’s Journey, a 2000 documentary directed by Lee historian John Little, opens by emphasising the international extent of Lee’s fame at the time of his untimely death is indicative of both its biggest fault and its main draw.

Faults first. The expository sequence of A Warrior’s Journey contextualises Lee’s 1973 demise, aged just 32, by situating his status as the world’s most exciting martial arts film star within an increasingly receptive US film industry and an economically growing Hong Kong equivalent. Furthermore, archive imagery of a buoyant Lee at the height of his career is underscored by Doug Copsey, who tells us in an even, accessible voice-over that such fame was the means by which Lee had, apparently, finally overcome the professional and cultural bigotry, economic and emotional hardship and the dogged struggle to retain artistic integrity that had marked earlier years.

This check-list required of Lee’s success is presented only to heighten the tragedy of his death, not so much overshadowed by it as aiding and feeding off of it in a reciprocal process of myth-making – or myth-reproduction (the narrator notes, with accompanying close-up, what Lee wrote in his diary on the day of his death). Triumphalism meets mystification, certainly, and Little adds to the pathos by having the rest of his documentary unfold as an illustrative flashback retracing the career of its star up to that starting (or end) point.

But there’s also another reason why the film begins as it does. At the time of his death, Lee had returned to Hong Kong, after filming Enter the Dragon with Warner Bros., to finish shooting The Game of Death, a project for which he undertook eight roles (director and producer; actor, writer and choreographer; and contributing input to set design, cinematography and lighting). Because the film was never completed, its existing footage is something of a treasure to Lee fans – especially since for some time it was considered lost - and the presentation of the 33-minute centre-piece of that film is A Warrior’s Journey‘s unique selling point.

Predictably if understandably, though, the main attraction is delayed, with the first two thirds of the film providing an efficient biographical overview of Lee, tracing’s his development as a lecturer in the nuances of eastern philosophy and the beginnings of his interest in kung fu. Drawn to kung fu as a more complete martial art than karate or jiu-jitsu, Lee formed his own, “non-classical” brand of it that brought together three principles: the economy of motion, simplicity and directness. Referring to non-contact rehearsals and competitions as “organised despair” and ”dry-land swimming”, Lee brought to martial arts influences from Newtonian science, western fencing and the stategies of boxing. The only litmus test for martial arts was, for him, their practicable efficiency of landing a blow.

Fearing students were misconstruing his philosophies and making a virtue of them, he closed his three martial arts schools in 1969, narrowing his teaching to a select few students. If this was the beginning of an ultimately more receptive approach to different martial arts styles, Lee’s catalyst for shifting away from the need to systematise a single fighting technique was ironically a back injury sustained in 1970, from which he was told by medics he might never fully recover: effectively bed-ridden for six months, Lee turned to the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti in particular and confirmed his belief against a single, gospel truth with regard to fighting style – effective fighting was thenceforth approached as relative to an individual style that played to one’s strengths.

Proving medics wrong, Lee became fitter and more adept at martial arts than ever and, with a newfound spiritual confidence in his own capabilities, planned The Game of Death to be a showcase of both different styles as exemplified by others and his own adaptibility in conquering them. In the 33-minute sequence from the film – which doubles as the documentary’s own climax – this diversity is displayed concisely and excitingly. Dressed in that iconic yellow suit – itself a means of challenging acceptable dress codes for martial arts – Lee bests three different opponents at their own respective game, utilising any means he must in order to conquer them.

Edited together from Lee’s script and film notes, the sequence is an extended pay-off following an hour or so of exposition, which is narrated in the present-tense and includes interviews with Linda Lee Caldwell, Taky Kimura, Ji Han Jae and towering Game of Death co-star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - though annoyingly, these talking heads are never credited in-film. The fight sequence extends beyond the 11-minute version that was incorporated into the 1978 exploitative hash-job of the same name, which padded the material to a feature’s length through look-alikes and stand-ins. This ought, by any stretch, to be settle the balance for good.

Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey - which was originally included as a bonus on the 2004 special edition of Enter the Dragon – is released as a stand-alone DVD by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment on Monday, March 12.

The legacy lives on.....

With the rise of martial arts in many townships and villages across South Africa during the ’70s and ’80s, joining a karate club became hugely popular. And Sensei Kgomotso Motshabi was among those as she was inspired by internationally renowned kung fu king, Bruce Lee.

Movies such as Enter the Dragon, Shaolin Temple, Drunken Master, Best of the Best and Karate Kid that were shown in small classrooms or church buildings, were big among the youth at the time and ignited Motshabi’s dream to emulate Bruce Lee.

Motshabi holds a second Dan black belt and joined Mmabana Mafikeng Dojo (karate club) in 1990 under the tutelage of Sensei Badu Mothusi, feared by many who succumbed to her vicious geris (kicks).

“I was very active from the age of six, especially during primary school days and very interested in many sporting codes. Before karate, my sports were gymnastics, netball and athletics at junior schools. But at high school I was curious to train in karate,” she said.

Motshabi explains: “In karate, you are thoroughly prepared before engaging in any fight, these preparations are done through sparring with your gym partners.”

She recalled her first fight during the national karate championships at the Molopo Sun Hotel in the former Bophuthatswana homeland where she won a bronze medal after imposing several electrifying mawashigeri (foot slaps) on her opponent she identified only as Lydia from Rustenburg. “I still cherish my bronze.

“My family had seen potential in me, hence they afforded me a chance to participate and explore all the sporting codes as I grew up. I had unconditional support from my friends as well, and even at school, something that inspired me to put more dedication and focus into martial arts,” said Motshabi.

On realising her passion for karate, Sensei Mothusi recommended Motshabi for an instructor’s course in 1997 when she was graded with a brown belt and honoured with a Sensei status on her return from competing in Zimbabwe where she excelled, taking six medals, including four gold and two silver for both individual and team performance.

“I was selected as a national coach for the junior karate team that represented the country at the 10th World Karate Championship in Australia in 2006. Our team obtained second position (silver medal) among 163 countries.

Motshabi dreams of having her own dojo and next month, she goes to Tokyo for the annual World Instructors seminar.

Self Defense

The Self-Defense Institute (TSDI) in Tewksbury has been recognized out of hundreds of martial arts studios in the Northeast region of America, as one of only 20 studios chosen to take part in the Bruce Lee Foundation. Along with this honor, the studio from Tewksbury will meet Shannon Lee, daughter of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee, of the Bruce Lee Foundation.

“Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter is the celebrity guest making an appearance in April at the Ocean State Grand Nationals where she will be promoting the Bruce Lee Foundation,” said TSDI co-owner and chief instructor Deb Davis.

Deb works alongside her husband Jeff Davis who is also a chief instructor. As they are both masters of martial arts, they are addressed as Shihan before their actual name. Shihan is a Japanese honorific title granted to those who advance in martial arts to the master level.

“The Bruce Lee Foundation is set up to perpetuate and preserve the legacy of Bruce Lee by creating a home where the totality of his legacy, his martial art, his philosophy, and his life example can continue to thrive for generations through inspirational events, educational programs, martial arts instruction and the Bruce Lee Museum,” said Jeff.


Shannon Lee will make her appearance at the black belt eliminations on Saturday, April 14, to observe the tournaments, and to take photos with the top martial arts students. The winning students will be chosen to take part in the Bruce Lee Foundation due to their hard work and dedication to the sport. Deb and Jeff will also meet and take a picture with Shannon.

As TSDI is involved with the Bruce Lee Foundation, the organization and a number of its students have donated a sum of $3,000 to the cause.

“We are still raising funds through our studio,” said Jeff. “If you would like to donate to the Bruce Lee Foundation, call 1-978-863-1460.”

Giving back

“The Self-Defense Institute has been recognized for teaching, leadership in the community, and a commitment to excellence,” Deb said. “The Self-Defense Institute is always finding ways to give back to the community, martial arts, and students of today.”

This is not the first time the TSDI has been involved with a martial arts star. In 2005, Chuck Norris was the celebrity guest at the Ocean State Grand Nationals in Rhode Island, where Deb and Jeff were recognized for their dedication and commitment to the martial arts by the tournament directors. They received an invitation to the tournament, and, with TSDI students, met, had dinner with, and took a team picture with Chuck Norris.

Read more: The Self-Defense Institute in Tewksbury receives honors - Tewksbury, MA - Tewksbury Advocate