Friday, January 21, 2011
JOHNSON ON SPORTS AND MARTIAL ARTS
I was on my high school soccer team my sophomore year, but that's it. I did follow boxing for years because that's a Western martial art that those in Asian martial arts understand they need to know something about. You might find interesting an article by James Grady entitled "Fist of Fantasy: Martial Arts & Prose Fiction---A Practitioner's Prejudices," published in 2000 in Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol 9, No. 4. He looks at martial art stories by me, Adam Hall, David Hunt, Jay McInerney, and Peter O'Donnell, and includes two 1982 photos of me---one doing a two-man empty-hand set with a friend in Seattle's first Choy Li Fut kwoon, and another as I practiced a staff weapon set.
I started training when I was 19-years-old in 1967 at a very rough, controversial, and (at the time) cult-like martial art school in Chicago, Chi Tao Chuan of the Monastery. (You might say I had my first rite-of-passage as a young man in that place.) This was during the so-called "Dojo Wars" in Chicago (my school and teacher vs. a very popular, self-promoting martial artist in Chicago who called himself "Count Dante"), and when I wrote the first of my six, unpublished apprentice novels between 1970-72, that story was based on my experiences in this school. My interest was in health and self-defense. Also because the late 60s were a violent time in American history, and I wanted to know how to fight.
All total, I've studied three karate systems and three kung-fu systems in Illinois, New York, California and Washington state, settling in 1981 on Choy Li Fut kung-fu as taught by grandmaster Doc Fai Wong of San Francisco. Historically, Choy Li Fut is an old Shaolin Buddhist monastery kung-fu system (named after its founders, Mr. Choy, Mr. Li, and "fut" in Chinese means "Buddha"). Friends and I in this system co-operated a studio for ten years here in Seattle, teaching first under the name Twin Tigers (the name given to a friend and I by grandmaster Wong when we started teaching), then later as Blue Phoenix Club.
I continue to train happily every week, but I seldom speak about this now because (1) People in this culture are quick to negatively associate black men with violence (I always talk about Buddhism instead); and (2) Because some reporters who interviewed me in the late 80s and early 90s got way too interested in this side of my life, in my humble opinion, instead of my work in art, philosophy, and literature.
Posted by Ethelbert Miller at 7:55 AM