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The Passion of the Fist

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by Paul Swaim, AMAM

Trend (trend): A common direction of movement. A course set into action.

Many Americans seem to thrive on the latest trends.

This may mainly be because our society may consist of so many followers and too few good leaders.

Perhaps a majority of the population lacks the creativity to set a precedence and is resigned to follow common trends by example instead of attempting to lead the way in new directions?

There seems to be an infinite amount of appealing but often disposable types of trends popping into public awareness or fanaticism on a weekly basis. A select group commonly known as "trendsetters" seems to create a large amount of them.

These trendsetters may sometimes be referred to as true pioneers when their foresight and efforts are able to affect actual change on a larger basis. Positive changes that enhance aspects in specific areas of interest may soon become the norm. When widespread change becomes so acceptable it often becomes a common trend.

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One of the first such trends in martial arts to gain some stateside public interest occurred shortly after WWII when Judo was introduced to American soldiers from Japan.

Judo eventually became a popular form of self-defense and sport during the 1950’s in the USA.

In the west, this soon cascaded into the awareness of Karate, Chinese Kung Fu and other previously unknown eastern arts throughout the 1960’s & 1970’s.

Over time, each of these arts was recognized as becoming somewhat of a trend in it’s own right.

Korean Tae Kwon Do became a very marketable trend in the late 1980’s shortly after it officially became an Olympic sport. Soon there seemed to be a TKD Dojang on almost every street corner.

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Even Tae Bo turned into an enormously successful martial arts exercise trend during the mid 1990’s and continues to be popular to this day, making it's creator Billy Banks very wealthy!

Televised Kickboxing, the Ultimate Fighting Championships, Mixed-Martial Arts and the increased study of ground fighting systems have also become major martial arts trends in America within the past decades.

One of the few downfalls is that a solidified trend may eventually stagnate further evolution to a degree and stifle a certain amount of individual creativity.

However, without trends we would have no way of clearly knowing this!

At the start of all such popular trends there has to be a particular catalyst to set in motion a strong desired movement towards change into public awareness, which sets a new precedence.

Catalyst (kat’l-ist) One that precipitates a process or event that leads to changes.

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Bruce Lee was a major catalyst and a true martial arts pioneer!

I can think of no one who effected more widespread change in the public’s definition of martial arts than he did throughout the 1970’s, His influences are still seen to this day.

Most Americans knew nothing about martial arts before discovering Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee is considered the original martial arts icon. Through his groundbreaking films, books & examples, his legacy seems to have single-handedly changed the entire world’s perspective on martial arts. His amazing abilities and fantastic on-screen charisma still astounds martial arts enthusiasts all around the world to this day!

Although we’ve seen many great artists in the last few decades, there has been no greater catalyst for change in martial arts since Bruce Lee's death.

After Bruce suddenly passed away in 1973 at the young age of 32, there have been many others who have tried with some success. Actor David Carradine helped make the 1970’s “Kung Fu” television series a success even though he had no real prior martial arts experience. Carradine played a fugitive Shaolin Temple priest in search of his brother in the west. He is best known for his portrayal of the charactor Kwai Chang Caine up until his death by misadventure in 2009. This choice role was originally designed for Bruce Lee.

American Chuck Norris, an admitted disciple of Bruce Lee, began filming a long string of martial arts flicks that initially met with moderate success in the late 1970’s. None had the impact of a Lee film.

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Norris did later find a hit with his “Missing in Action” films in the 1980’s, followed by "Good Guys Wear Black" and many more. He later reached superstardom with his very popular television series, “Walker-Texas Ranger". He is arguably the most popular American martial arts action star of his generation and remains an icon to his many fans throughout the world.

During the 1980’s there seemed to be a bit of a lull when it comes to pioneering martial arts films. It seemed the well of originality was running a bit dry until a new trend of action filmmaking began.

Artists like Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal then emerged to make a mark on the genre. They seemed to dominate the American martial arts film industry until the early 1990’s. Between them, their international film revenues grossed millions.

It was then that the next successful Asian actor became a martial arts film hero in the United States.

When Newline Cinema released already successful Hong Kong action superstar Jackie Chan’s “Rumble in the Bronx” in the United States it became a big hit! It was soon followed by a highly successful series of newly edited and redubbed in English Chan releases being geared specifically to introduce his unique style of martial arts action film making to American audiences.

Finding delight in his infectious charm and irresistible humor, Chan has since made dozens of high profile hit action movies. His films have propelled him into the consciousness of the western hemisphere, garnering a huge fanbase to finally catch up with other countries. Around the world Jackie Chan is arguably the most successful action film superstar of all time. His filmwork has made him the highest grossing actor on the planet.

Following in his clearly defined footsteps, actors Jet Li, Tony Jaa, Jason Statham and others have all found success in the action film genre. Jackie Chan is a true catalyst that has changed the way martial arts movies are filmed forever!

With the 1993 debut of the Ultimate Fighting Challenge (UFC) a new wave of ground-fighting interest took hold as fans watched Jiujitsu expert Royce Gracie submit all challengers in the octagon. Already renowned in Brazil, the Gracie family became famous all over the world as Royce became the undefeated UFC Champion of the quickly evolving sport.

His winning streak sparked a thirst for greater knowledge of Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ) that continues to this day, making Royce Gracie its main catalyst. BJJ is now the most popular martial art of the day.

Transcend (tran-send): To rise above & surpass. To exist above normal human limits.

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While there have been several noteworthy action film stars and an even greater number of highly capable individuals to emerge on the scene in the last few decades, still none have so effectively changed the American public's view towards martial arts with as much impact as Bruce Lee.

Lee was a unique individual who, through extreme hard work and an unmatched devotion to his own personal goals, was somehow able to force himself to transcend beyond the normal physical and mental limits of most human beings.

As a pioneer of self-defense and key proponent of overall fitness awareness, his ingenuity has forever changed the way most practitioners approach martial arts training. His lasting film work will continue to inspire new generations of up and coming martial artists as well as action film fans all around the world.

Only the rarest of personalities and talents are ever able to reach out and affect so many people on a worldwide basis in such a short amount of time. Such success stories are usually reserved for the most unique type of individuals.

Bruce Lee was such an individual.

Evolution (ev-e-loo’shen): a gradual process, which leads to, changes.

There have been many changes in the perception of martial arts in America along with the rest of the world since the emergence of the late Bruce Lee. Those few individuals who were fortunate enough to have known Lee personally or train directly under him may agree that Bruce would have been delighted to see how his enormous contribution to the martial arts have continued to evolve and be developed throughout the years.

It would be safe to say that Lee was indeed the primary catalyst when it comes to promoting many then mostly unkown eastern art forms and philosophy, he has not been the only one to draw greater attention to the martial arts.

Many enthusiasts would have to agree that with the advent of the Ultimate Fighting Championships in 1993, Mixed-Martial Arts (MMA) has now become the overall dominant direction of choice.

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Around the globe, the youth of today generally prefers to train in MMA over any other available system. The blend of fighting-ranges and conditioning being taught in MMA may offer an individual a better overall opportunity to become an effective martial artist than some of the previously more familiarly known commercialized systems.

Because of the high standards being taught in many MMA gyms and the continuing thirst for it's mass appeal as a sport, the UFC deserves nearly all the credit for almost single-handedly evolving a renewed interest in martial arts training into an unparralled global resergeance!

With the modern world of today able to communicate internationally and share personal knowledge or experiences in mere moments via the Internet, the evolutionary learning process has accelerated martial arts training information far beyond it's previous boundaries.

As the evolution of martial arts continues, no one knows where it will eventually lead?

Who knows…one day we may even be able to take private lessons with a virtual Bruce Lee!


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