04 February 2017 ~ 0 Comments

“Mannnn! You Come Right Outtavah Comic Book!!”

Seven-year old me sat in a rat infested cat patrolled theatre with my brothers, eating stale popcorn and sipping watery sprite, watching Chinese men have their eyes ripped from the sockets by other Chinese guys and having the time of my short life!

It was my first foray into the genre with the misnomer karate flicks (which would later be more accurately named Kung-Fu flicks). I fell for them instantly. The nineties would be Jet Li’s decade and the eighties Jackie Chan’s but the 70’s? Well, I must confess –keep in mind I was still a fledgling fan of a fledgling genre– I was torn between two martial artists, and mostly for racial reasons.

Who should have been my obvious choice for martial artist that ruled the 70s?

Bruce Lee, of course.

But I was a race kid being trained and taught and prepared for a war that must be fought by race men and women so, in my eyes, Bruce had some serious competition for the crown coming from a source no more in his league than Muhammad Ali was in an alien who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.

I’m talking about the man who brought the orient to the hood, who could bring his feet and fist to a gunfight and bop away beneath a shower of his opponent’s blood and teeth, the undisputed world champion of taking shit from no one, the black power fists of fury, the shogun of soul, the sensei of sin, the monk of funk, the master of disaster, the man who kicked a hole in the great wall of china…y’all know who I’m talking about!

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That’s right, None other than the great Jim Kelly!

Those of you who weren’t around then probably can’t fully grasp his impact on the culture. But I do, for I lived with two older brothers that, while I was praying for the gods to send a radioactive spider my way, they wanted nothing more than to be Jim Kelly. While I lay on my bed with my head stuck between the pages of the latest issue of the amazing spider man, those two were practicing everything from his kicks and groin blows, to his facial expressions, to his super cool one liners like, “Bullshit, Mr. Han, man!!”

*****

My brother Changa, the oldest and a natural comic, was the most gifted with the catch phrases, but Sekou wasn’t no slouch. I was content to laugh at how ridiculous they looked and sounded, and read my comics, and they’d leave me to my own devices…

That is, until the day my bike got stolen from me. I came home from filling my tire with air with nothing but air to show for it.

nunchuck“Where the hell is your bike at, Buck!?” my oldest brother, Changa, yelled. Being the oldest male, he was acting father in my house and to this day I still think of him that way. He still calls me Buck.
I broke down in tears as I replied, heaving and sobbing every word out.

“…and then he, and then, and then he asked, he said can he get a ride, then he…but he…”

“What the fuck!”

My older brothers were two of the toughest cats in the neighborhood for their age group, and well known for it. If some shit went down they were usually in the mix up to theirJim_Kelly suede-front mocknecks. And ever since seeing Enter the dragon they never left the house without nunchucks they’d fashioned from mop and broom handles, electric tape and shoe strings to link the two sticks. They both acquired lifelong scars from practice and speed training but had gotten pretty proficient at their use as evidenced by the number of bruised up chumps around the way that hated both of them with a passion. Not to mention the lumps they’d given each other with their eternal sibling rivalry, being born a year apart.

Changa rode me on his handlebars back to the gas station and we crisscrossed the streets looking for this bicycle thief, but he was nowhere to be found so we gave up after a couple of hours.

“If you ever see that motherfucker you let me know! I’ll get your bike back!” Changa said, to stop me from my blubbering. “You know, we gotta toughen your ass up! Can’t be letting niggers punk you like that, I don’t give a fuck how big they is! Think Jim Kelly would go for that okey doke shit!? Hell fucking no!”

The next day, he decided to open his own dojo, right in our bedroom, and I was to be his first pupil. He stole me a gee and a belt from somewhere, probably from someone’s clothesline or some sporting good shop, and told me to put it on. Once I’d tied the belt around my waist 20130226-001049.jpgand tightened it I looked in the mirror. I was the spitting image of a mini Jim Kelly, ‘fro and all…

Well, kinda, anyway. Afro sheen and all that shit was expensive (-;

My brothers had studied judo and karate at two schools: the school we all went to, Uhuru Sasa (I was in primary, they were in secondary), with a few teachers who were also into martial arts.  But they didn’t get far because, let Changa tell it, the teachers were using these classes to exercise their sadistic inclinations and to reinforce discipline by kicking the asses of the school’s worst troublemakers, of which he and Sekou were perpetually a part. The other fighting school was the Academy of Hard Knocks otherwise known as Street Academy, which is basically the only school either of them attended with any regularity.

We used our mattresses for mats but they were mostly inadequate to the task for I found myself landing on the parquet floor and the medal frames of our beds more often than not…but I learned. Changa didn’t half-ass shit when it came to Karate. Every few weeks or so after I’d managed to finally get a kick or flip right, he’d dangle the promise of a new belt color. Changa of course was not a licensed teacher but when I made yellow belt in Changa’s Dojo, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. He even tried to recruit other members to join our little family Dojo, kids on the block and what not. And they wanted to, but their parents weren’t having any of that! They knew my brothers were responsible for a good deal of the mischief and mayhem going on in our little corner of Bed-Stuy; that they were the kids putting M80s in neighborhood payphones and robbing them, and what not. Everybody knew. So, I had no one my size to fight…that is, until one day one of my classmates, Oba, came over to stay with us for a few days.

He and his sister would and stay over regularly, his Moms and mine being very good friends. They didn’t have a television at their house — their moms being very serious about not wanting their minds corrupted by the idiot box — so whenever he came to my house I had hell dragging him away from our idiot box.

Oba was frail and asthmatic, kept an inhaler handy, but he was a borderline genius, played chess and Stratego for fun. Even taught me how so his arrogant ass could whip on someone besides his little sister. In fact, he beat me at everything all the time…so, an idea popped into my head, as I watched him sitting there in a meditative/vegetative state in front of the boob tube after I’d begged him repeatedly to come outside and play.

But before I could voice it, Changa came in the room, turned off the TV and declared they’ll be no more TV watching until after the karate lesson. Changa’s Dojo was open for business. I knew what Changa had in mind for he had told me a week earlier that I wasn’t going to become an orange belt until I’d had a real fight with someone in my own class.

Oba entered our homemade dojo and appeared intrigued, not unlike Mr. Spock whenever he learned something new about human behavior or the peculiarities of some alien species.

“You two are gonna fight!” Changa said as we stepped into the room. “Oba, if you win, you can watch as much TV as you like. And if you win, Buck, you will be promoted to Orange belt.”

“Hai, Sensei!” I said and bowed to him as he’d taught me over the past several weeks he’d been instructing me. I was ready! I’d been kicking and punching pillows and sofa cushions for over a month now. I’d even almost flipped Changa over my shoulder by the scruff of his gee. He’d created a little hellraiser in me!Black_belt_jones_movie_poster

I glanced over at Oba and bowed to him. He still wore that Mr. Spock ironic grin on his face, the same expression he’d strike when we played chess and he had my ass in check after I’d thought I’d finally gotten the upper hand on him–which gave me a moment’s pause. But only a moment…a moment was all it took to give his skinny ass a once-over and decide nothing would be more gratifying at this moment than to knock that arrogant look off his face. I had a good 10-20 lbs on him and maybe an inch or two.

And, I’d been training a solid 6 weeks!

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I was tough as nails, by my reckoning, and Oba was morphing, right before my bloodshot eyes, into that bike thief I’d been keeping my eyes peeled for ever since I got vicced (slang for victimized). I almost felt ashamed to be taking advantage of him. Here I was, a trained fighter, and he was a fucking chess player. I was about to ask had he ever practiced martial arts before when Oba opened his mouth for the first time since an hour earlier when he’d said, “I’ll join you outside once this program has come to a close…”

“Your conditions meet with my approval…” Oba said, all proper, enunciating each word in that irritating condescending way of his. He was an intellectual snob. I liked him, but I wasn’t about to let my personal feelings get in the way of the asswhipping I was about to dispense. I was gonna show him he wasn’t better than anybody!Enter_the_dragonOba took off his shoes, placed them neatly at the foot of the mattress and stepped onto it facing me with almost practiced skill. Again, my spidey sense was tingling. He inclined his head but his eyes never left me. I did the same. Then I jumped into one of the ready positions I’d seen Jim Kelly do many times. At least 5  times I’d seen him do it in Enter the Dragon, not to mention in Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way; thanks to my brother making watching his adopted sensei, Jim Kelly, part of my training. And back in them days, if you wanted to see the movie again, all you needed to do was stay in your seat, sit through the other film of the double feature, or the other two flicks if it were a triple feature, and wait for the film to come around again.

{Sometimes the other films were pure garbage but in the blaxploitation / Karate Flick era, you could count on the other flicks having black stars or being some kick ass flicks made just for people of a certain disposition…and we were definitely of a certain disposition, disposed to happily sitting through Blacula and Cleopatra Jones to see Three the Hard Way again. Or gladly sitting through Fists of Fury and Chinese Connection to see Enter the dragon again. Most gladly. Bruce Lee wasn’t hard to swallow at all. Quiet as kept, we all knew He was the God of martial arts…we just got off on this brother remixing and adding an unmistakable swagger to what was thought of as a Chinese art form, like what Coltrane did to the original Rodgers and Hammerstein’s,“My Favorite Things”}

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Changa shouted “fight!” and we began circling each other on the bed.

I could see by the way he was moving that he was no stranger to this but, hell, neither was I…but I convinced myself I had the advantage because Oba, to my knowledge, hadn’t seen any Jim Kelly movies and I had seen them all!

He didn’t have any swagger in his movements. I know I did. Changa made sure of that. Oba was more like Bruce Lee, minus all that hollering and gesticulating, eyes cold and confident, each footfall precise. He took another step to his left and the mattress exhaled, letting out a wheezy breath of ammonia from the numerous times I’d wet it over the years. Oba squinched his nose at the stench, knowing what it was, for I’d pissed on him more than once when we slept in the same bed whenever I’d stay over his house. This pissed me off even more. Rage caught flame in me.

Oba had his hands low and was kind of bent over a bit, so I swung a kick towards his face but just as I had he dropped low and swept my other leg and I fell hard, most of my body hitting the mattress, all aside from my 20130225-232920.jpghead which struck against parquet wood with a thud. I was so shocked and furious I hopped back up quickly, ignoring the throbbing pain and the jeers from my brothers.

Oba had hung back letting me recover, like a fucking gentleman. Now I wanted to kill him! All training tossed out the window, I charged with my hands reaching for his throat, but his throat faded back away from my reach at the same speed of my charge, then down it went. Before I knew what he was doing I felt his foot in my gut and his hands grasping the scruff of my gee. Then I knew what would happened next.

He threw me — a slow motion flight during which I could see everything vividly: the mantlepiece with Changa’s karate trophies, the probable place I would land, littered with objects just as likely to break me as to break my fall, the poster of Jim Kelly looking extremely poised and cool on the wall — and I landed damn near in the adjoining next room. I had been undone with one of the first moves my brother had ever shown me, the one that had earned me a yellow belt. I landed on the floor my hands breaking none of the fall, like a sack of potatoes.

And so that fight had come to a close, as Oba would put it, for I laid there in utter humiliation as he walked by me back to the room where the TV was. I could hear him turn it on even over my brothers howling with laughter.

I laid there a while looking up at my brother’s poster of Jim Kelly, upside down. He was looking at me with that same look of utter competence, with a hint of amusement and a dare aimed at any challenger.

And I could almost hear him saying to me, “Loco, you come right outtavah comic book!”

With mad Black History Month love, I send this out to the great Jim Kelly, the first black martial artist film star!

Loco

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