Urban Dragons: Black and Latino Masters of Chinese Martial Arts

By Stephan Berwick

Kung fu history was made on Sunday, December 16th, 2007 when American kung fu pioneers gathered for the world premiere of the historical documentary film, URBAN DRAGONS: BLACK AND LATINO MASTERS OF CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS, directed and edited by Kamau Hunter and produced by Jose Figueroa and Kamau Hunter. This special film was hosted by veteran martial artist and curator of the popular ?Fist and Sword? series at the prestigious Museum of the Moving Image, Mr. Warrington Hudlin.

Inspired by the 1970?s documentary THE WARRIOR WITHIN, URBAN DRAGONS takes a look at the contemporary world of Chinese martial arts, exploring the lives of urban African-American and Latino Kung Fu masters. It is not just an exploration of Black and Brown men within the world of Chinese martial arts but is also an affirmation of the healing and transformational power of these ancient Chinese disciplines for men who exist on the periphery of their society. The documentary surveys the history and changing face of Chinese martial arts in urban America, with special appearances and interviews featuring a plethora kung fu masters.

Urban Dragon luminaries

Left to Right
Standing: Sifu Malcolm Wadley, Sifu Novell Bell, Producer Jose? Figueroa, Director & Editor Kamau Hunter , Hong Kong action star Mike Woods ,Project advisor Stephan Berwick
Seated: Sifu Raul Ortiz Shijiao, George Crayton Jr, Da Shi Dennis Brown Oso Tayari Casel , , Sifu Philip Redmond, Sifu Vingrove Thomas.

The men of the film are both legends in their mastery of Chinese martial arts and role models in escaping the cycles of economic and moral poverty that plague marginalized groups. Through Chinese martial arts, these warriors gained the discipline and nurturing, the determination and faith to overcome their obstacles and demons. The film is just as much about the brotherhood between Black and Brown men as it is about the fraternity of martial artists in general. In learning to master martial arts to engage in battle, they also became victors in their lives.

One such notable talent is jazz composer and playwright Fred Ho, known for his revolutionary martial arts theater. His work, marked by a deep belief in and support of the Chinese martial arts industry, has graced the stages of some of the most prestigious theaters in the country. He holds a passionate belief that Chinese martial arts is one of the most viscerally dynamic forms of movement known to mankind that also possess unique histories speaking to the survival and unity of men and women at the periphery. It was this belief that led to a series of ground-breaking theatrical productions, including VOICE OF THE DRAGON I & II, JOURNEY BEYOND THE WEST, and his forthcoming DRAGON VS. EAGLE.

jazz composer and playwright Fred Ho

Jazz composer and playwright Fred Ho

As a producer, Ho constantly raises the bar in his innovative mixing of music, kung fu, and diverse castes. This vision inspired the producers of URBAN DRAGONS, who honored Ho at the screening as a Martial Arts Pioneer with a special award for ?his genius revelations of the true international face of martial arts today with African and Latino personalities all benefiting from and upholding the best traditions of Chinese martial arts in urban America. His revolutionary and creative focus on meshing Chinese martial arts with jazz in theater is without peer and of a vision that speaks to the unity of men bound by an ancient warrior?s code personified by the individuals profiled in Urban Dragons. His overwhelming dedication to righting injustices with the heart of a warrior, the intellect of a philosopher, and the righteousness of the spiritual makes him, and to all those that celebrate what he stands for, Fred Ho - the ultimate Urban Dragon,? penned by renowned Chinese martial artist and scholar, Stephan Berwick.

Soon after the presentation and film screening, the masters featured in the film, along with others in attendance, regrouped at Hudlin?s request to a separate room for an extremely rare dialogue which rekindled friendships and revealed more of the themes the film touched upon. Prominent masters present included: Southern Praying Mantis grandmaster Gin Foo Mark?s disciple, Ralph Mitchell; kung fu pioneer Tayari Casel; wushu pioneer Dennis Brown; and early kung fu proponents George Crayton Jr, Raul Ortiz, Vingrove Thomas, Philip Redmond, Malcolm Wadley and Novell Bell.

Other martial arts dignitaries included Mike Woods and Stephan Berwick, the dynamic duo from Hong Kong action cult film, TIGER CAGE, also noted for their action films under director Yuen Woo Ping alongside Hong Kong action film star, Donnie Yen. At the event Hong Kong star Mike Woods received special recognition for his many years as a beloved action star in the Hong Kong film industry. If you look up many old films with Donnie Yen you?ll find Mike Woods opposite him as his arch nemesis. One of his most memorable fights took place on top of a roof in the film IN THE LINE OF DUTY 4, which also shows Stephan Berwick demonstrating his trademark dynamic kicking skills against Cynthia Khan, the same skills which earned him the nickname, "Vicious Poison Legs."

Other notables not present at the event were there in spirit. Hung gar Sifu Pedro Cepero Yee was unable to attend as a result of filming in China with his master Frank Yee. Praying Mantis Sifu Raymond Nelson and Jow Ga Sifu Ron Wheeler were also unable to attend, but were acknowledged at the event for their accomplishments and powerful appearances in URBAN DRAGONS.

The event was a huge success for the Museum of the Moving Image, with a sold-out house. The film offered many memorable moments, from comedic anecdotes to touching revelations, while introducing serious themes. However, this film only scrapes the surface. Co-producer Jose Figueroa hopes to educate all who might not be aware of how top Chinese masters passed on their arts to African and Latin Americans, inspiring them to innovate and take on leadership roles in American martial arts. It is a modern look at the present state of Chinese martial arts and the practitioners who honor its traditions. This special film is dedicated to the Chinese martial spirit that exists within all urban dragons everywhere.

Urban Dragons: Director & Editor Kamau Hunter , Producer Jose? Figueroa, Hong Kong action star Mike Woods, Curator of fist and sword series & Project advisor Warrington Hudlin, Project advisor Stephan Berwick

Left to Right
Director & Editor Kamau Hunter , Producer Jose? Figueroa, Hong Kong action star Mike Woods, Curator of fist and sword series & Project advisor Warrington Hudlin, Project advisor Stephan Berwick

Click here for Feature Articles from this issue and others published in 2008 .

Written by Stephan Berwick for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM

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