Dr. Craig’s Martial Arts Movie Lounge
Executioners From Shaolin
Executioners From Shaolin / Lau Kar-leung
(1977—Hong Kong): Toward the end of the Ming dynasty, there were four main groups of Shaolin fighters: Five Ancestors of Shaolin; Five Elders of Shaolin, i.e., Wu Mei, Bai Mei, Feng Dao-de, Miao Xian and Zhi Shan; 10 Tigers of Shaolin; and 10 Tigers of Canton. After Song Shan Shaolin Temple was burned down in 1736, two Ancestors, Tsai De-zhong and Hu De-di established Jiu Lian Shan Shaolin Temple in Fujian that became the base for the Elders. Zhi Shan had nine students, eight became 10 Tigers of Shaolin, and one a 10 Tiger of Canton. Bai defected from Shaolin, joined Wu Dung and learned xiao jing zhong (little golden bell), which made his body impervious to punches and kicks. He also helped the Manchus find and raze Jiu Lian Temple, where only the Five Elders and 10 Tigers of Shaolin escaped where one Tiger, Hong Xi-guan, hid among the boat-traveling Red Junk Cantonese opera troupes.
Executioners opens with Jiu Lian burning and Hong (Chen Kuan-tai) escaping to the Red Junks, where he marries entertainer and white crane expert, Ying Chun, who bears him a son, Wen Ting. Director Liu Chia-liang outdid himself choreographing a charmingly adorable bedroom brawl between Hong and Ying on their honeymoon night that leads to the consummation of their marriage. The film centers around Hong’s attempt to kill Bai (Lo Lieh). Refusing to learn Ying’s white crane, Hong uses his tiger style to develop a must-see unique training device he believes will help him find Bai’s weak point, thus breaking his chi flow, ergo killing him. Hong miserably fails and son Wen combines his mum’s white crane and dad’s tiger to kill Bai; it’s the birth of Hong jia chuen. Historically, Hong learned Ying’s white crane, died at 93 in 1821 and Elder Feng killed Bai.
Karate for Life
(1977—Japan): In Part 3 of Sonny Chiba’s continued portrayal homage trilogy to his sensei and founder of kyokushinkai karate, Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama, Karate for Life opens with an 8+ minute fight that to me is the best pure, sustained karate clash I’ve seen in Japanese film and is the best on-screen fight Chiba has ever done. As Oyama’s fame spreads, the Yakuza arrange for Oyama and tag-team partner Fujita, Japan’s No. 1 judo practitioner, to do pro wrestling-like matches with Westerners. When Oyama and Fujita refuse to lose and do serious damage to their opponents, the two must tag-tame against the Yakuza.
The opening fight, where Oyama takes on 100 karate students without a break is beautifully shot using mostly medium and wide angles, so each thundering technique is clearly shown to demonstrate the Japanese warrior maxim of one strike, certain death. Close shots emphasize the crunching force of Chiba’s strikes. When he blocks and strikes, he makes obvious hard focused contact against each opponent without using excessive body motion that American made karate style films commonly did to sell the impression of power. When oil floods the dojo floor, there are no tricky or neat-looking balance routines like seen in Hong Kong films. Chiba slides around the slick floor the way you’d expect him to until he uses his karate skills to adjust to the terrain’s reality. When I learned Okinawan goju ryu in the 1970’s we’d similarly train on frozen ponds and muddy hills.
Mantis Fists and Tiger Claws of Shaolin
(1977—Hong Kong): If you’re a fan of the 1950’s Universal Pictures horror films like the mummy, Dracula, werewolf, and Frankenstein classics of yesteryear, you’ll love the sheer audacity and creativity of this hidden gem, Mantis Fists and Tiger Claws of Shaolin, which opens with two cartoon mantises rollicking around then after they mate, the female eats the male as a voice-over explains that mantises are cannibalistic noting that this unsettling behavior is as disturbing as the movie itself. Warning, not for the faint of heart. Like many 1970s Hong Kong films did, the story begins with a beautiful woman being attacked in a forest where her screams are muffled by the trees and the gang of men seem to get away with the crime. As the thugs celebrate their distasteful victory, with the macabre of a Hollywood slasher flick, flying spear-like pieces of bamboo impale the evildoers like insects in a bug collection.
Enter the hero Bai (John Cheung), who swore to his dying mum he’d find his long-lost sister who was sold into prostitution. While rescuing her from the deranged sons of Hung Ching-piao (Dean Shek) who’s an insane unrelenting, spear-wielding alpha male, Bai is severely wounded by Hung and his fractious sons, one of which wears a freaky jacket that is covered in a sheet of spikes. When a government agent arrives to investigate the village’s gruesome killings, more rapes occur that initiates more savage bloodlettings in the village. What follows next gets more bizarre by the minute. This is certainly not your average kung fu film, it’s dark and creepy, wrapped in maltreatment horror, perverse progeny, and insect kung fu in way you can’t imagine.
Secrets of Chinese Kung Fu
(1977—Taiwan): Posture, posture, posture. When you watch kung fu films you can tell which stars practice kung fu and those that don’t; actors who hunch their backs, strain their necks, and let their arms flap in the breeze or dangle at their sides while fighting, don’t, and those keeping their backs straight and the non-striking hand close to the body, do. This film is a perfect example of a star effortlessly fighting with great kung fu posture. Even if you were unfamiliar with martial arts, you would still recognize how star Si Ma-long just looks right when he effectively battles one or more attackers at a time, keeping his back perfectly straight the whole time. Si was so heavily touted as being the Taiwanese Alexander Fu Sheng that when Fu Sheng passed away, Si’s career ended.
When former cruel convict Kang Ho (Lo Lieh) returns to his seaside home village he kills the owner of a local fish-canning factory and plans to use it as a front to smuggle drugs worldwide. Yet after sailor Chang Chi (Si) is rescued by a local fisherwoman, Chang’s white crane kung fu pecks away at Kang’s plans, forcing the villain to hire Japanese karate and Thai kickboxer experts to deal with Chang. The best fights are between Si and two Thai fighters and one karateka. The duels against the Thai warriors are smoother, with more circular kicks and punches, and against the karateka, the action looks more mechanical, with a strange sense of fluidity that is not inherently obvious until Si fights Lo Lieh. Lo’s performance depends on how busy he was (sometimes shooting three films at the same time) and if his limited skill could handle the choreo. You be his judge on this film.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
(1978—Hong Kong): Director Liu Chia-liang’s films deal with authentic kung fu training, skills, and virtues. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (COS) is based on the true story of Monk San De (Gordon Liu Chia-hui), one of the 10 Tigers of Shaolin from Jiu Lian Temple. It’s fitting that San De’s name means “Three Virtues.” Gordon told me Liu cast him as San De, because Liu saw him as a good student, obedient, and had a good attitude; three virtues. Gordon also said when he and Liu were returning home after shooting Challenge of the Masters (1976), Liu observed how a waterfall hit a round rock and created a halo above the rock, representing a bald monk training in the rain; it inspired the film’s opening.
This was an important film in martial arts cinema history because it was the first to open the doors to the secret ancient training methods of Shaolin. Prior to San De’s arrival, the temple had 35 chambers, each representing a spiritual, mental, or physical form of training. The story focuses on student Liu Yu-de who escapes Manchu execution and seeks asylum in Jiu Lian hoping to learn Shaolin kung fu. Through hard training we witness how Yu-de becomes San De, who by his desire to teach Shaolin kung fu to the laypeople, creates the 36th chamber.
Liu’s fights use authentic kung fu skills and real weighted weapons to add to the combat’s feel and reality. In films starring Liu, he rarely kicks and if so, they’re low. COS shows how San De invents the 3-section staff, yet the Song dynasty’s first emperor, Chao Hong-yin, invented the weapon in 360 A.D. Gordon added the bamboo-water scene took two weeks to complete and by then he learned how to ski across the water as the film depicts.
Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow
(1978—Hong Kong): Directed by Yuen Woo-ping and starring Jackie Chan, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (SES) was the progenitor to Suexploitation via Woo-ping’s dad’s Beggar Bai character. SES features Hwang Jang-On as eagle claw assassin Shang out to kill all snake stylists, his next target being an old snake master who unbeknownst to Shang, disguises himself as beggar Bai. Meanwhile, Orphan Chien Fu (Chan), a poorly treated kung fu school janitor/dishwasher who’s the whipping boy for smaller students eager to boost their egos, tries to bravely protect Bai from street punks. Using a heart-warming unique piece of choreography, Bai sneakily helps Chien defeat the thugs. Chien befriends Bai, takes him back to the kung fu school, insists he sleeps on his bed, and feeds and takes care of him. After a day of being a human punching bag, the downtrodden Chien lights up when Bai does juggling tricks with a bowl and challenges Chien to take the bowl away. Chien’s childlike wonder and innocence endeared Chinese audiences, showing that in a cruel world there was always hope. Chan infused this country bumpkin sensibility trait into all his other film characters since. Hope grows as Bai teaches Chien snake fist to fight back. The training bits are an integral part of Chien’s coming of age and his friendship with Bai; the evolution of faith in learning kung fu.
One day as Chien is fighting back, Shang sees the snake style and proves to Chien that he’s Bai’s friend by defeating Chien using snake fist. Though telling Shang where Bai is, Chien is bothered by how easily Shang defeats him. After Chien watches his pet cat kill a cobra, he creates a new form of kung fu, snake fist combo cat paw. And not a moment too soon because just as Shang is about to kill Bai, Chien arrives with his new snake-cat skills to overshadow Shang. This is Chan’s first important film as each fight reveals Chan’s kung fu know how, athleticism and introduces a landmark new style of rhythmic-bobbing fight choreography that was copycatted repeatedly until exhaustion.
Big Land Flying Eagles
Big Land Flying Eagles / Tsai Yang-Ming
(1978—Taiwan): When I saw this film in 1979, and to this day, it has one of the best single fight scenes of all time, not because of the great choreography, camera work or sword skills from the actors, but the duel’s deep-seeded philosophical significance, something I’ve never seen in any film. Big Land Flying Eagles is a typical wuxia film loaded with characters, double-triple-crosses, love duets and triangles, mixed loyalties, clan rivalries, avenging villains and lots of poisonings. Fang Wei (Wang Guan-xiong) is the best swordsman in the Wu Lin world (swordmen part of Jiang Hu), the cruelest man known to mankind, Lu San, wants to kill him, and famous swordsman Du (Lin Yun) want to challenge Fang so badly that he hires Fang to assassinate Du.
As Du battles a Lui Si Ma Buddhist monk (monk for 20 years), when their swords collide amid flying sparks and loud echoing ringings, the monk’s sword spirit, a glorious ceremonious chorus of voices well up. Face intensely calm, the monk lowers his sword. Du attacks for all he’s worth, monk in a trance effortlessly blocks each attack with his sword. With their final sword clash, the force’s impact knocks Du to the ground. As Du gazes up at the monk, the monk’s head silhouettes against a bright light while dramatic smoke passes over his body. Chinese characters appear on screen saying, “While hearing the sound of the swords clashing, the Lui Si Ma monk understands Ch’an [Zen], and has received the way.” In awed reverence, Du bows on one knee saying, “Gong xi Fa Shi, ni cong jian zhong wu dao (From the sword, you have realized the way.)”. There are no clues in the film this would happen. The point is, you don’t find the way, it finds you. I cried during Du’s revelation.
The Seven Grand Masters
The Seven Grand Masters / Joseph Kuo
(1978—Hong Kong): For centuries, many kung fu styles have disappeared or dwindled because a sifu doesn’t always teach everything in case a student turns on and tries to kill the sifu, so in this way a teacher knows things a student didn’t learn. Unfortunately, if the sifu dies, so does the skill. To retire from fighting with a clear mind and accept the emperor’s accolades as being the best martial artist in Kiang Nan, Bai Mei kung fu master Shang Guan-cheng (Jack Long) must accept the challenges from seven grandmasters and defeat them. As Shang meets, greets, and beats these mostly honorable masters, a happy-go-lucky orphan, Hsiao Ying (Lee Yi-min), begs Shang to teach him. Though a wayfaring stranger encourages Hsiao’s efforts in persuasion, Shang is wary of taking on new students because when he was a student, his kung fu brother Ku betrayed their teacher and stole three pages of a book entrusted to Shang, 12 Strikes of Bai Mei.
After Hsiao saves Shang’s life, Shang becomes his sifu and teaches nine strikes of Bai Mei (three missing). Hsiao turns on Shang because he thinks Shang killed his father, yet it was Ku behind the murder plot who now wants the rest of the manual. It’s new twist on the term bookie, where taking on a new student can be a gamble. The fight choreography, kung fu actors and martial skills in Seven Grand masters are superb. Each style and weapon technique are clearly translated onto screen and the actors move and fight just as one would expect according to their styles. Jack Long has an old face and with his wig, brings life to old sifu Shang’s many years of injuries and fights. The weapon sequence between Shang and Hu Bei (Corey Yuen) is sooo smooth and the ease of beautiful transitions from weapon-to-weapon reveal both of their Beijing opera backgrounds. As many kung fu films do, when the 12 strikes of Bai Mei are used, a voice-over explains each movement.
(1978—Hong Kong): Drunken Master is a milestone movie in the kung fu film genre and one of Jackie Chan’s best films. Chan plays Chinese folk hero Huang Fei-hung not as a heroic defender of the downtrodden or a healer of the poor. Chan’s version is a cheeky, fun-loving upstart teen whose kung fu skills often inadvertently land him in trouble. Serious overtones are further distanced when characters lack the required-by-law queue hairstyle of the Ching Dynasty. Director Yuen Woo-ping casts his dad, Yuen Xiao-tian, as the legendary Su Qi-er, (Beggar Su; one of the 10 Tigers of Canton), who teaches Huang drunken fist to control his aberrant behavior. Huang resists with extreme callousness until he’s humiliatingly defeated by a Ching agent assigned to assassinate the 10 Tigers of Canton, which includes Fei-Hung’s father Huang Chi-yen.The film’s key and most impressive scene is when Chan beautifully demonstrates the spirit and distinct skills of the eight drunken immortals, mythological gods or fairies who can transfer Huang’s power into a tool used to give life or destroy evil: allegorical leader Lu Dong-bin, known for his Yellow Millet Dream and bears a sword behind his back to ward off evil; Chuan Zhong-li, who carries a fan; Cao Guo-ji, the newest of the immortals, known for his jade tablet; Iron-Crutch Li, who after being reincarnated into a crippled beggar fought with a limp; Lan Cai-he, maybe a boy or a girl and depicted as wearing one shoe; Han Xiang-zi, known for holding a flute; Elder Zhang Guo, the only chi gong master immortal; and He Xiang-gu, the only true female immortal, who carries a lotus flower and the one style Huang has difficulty with. Yuen’s Beggar Su’s gray hair, floppy hat, holey shoes, shabby clothes, and fights when drunk as a skunk caricature propagated the Suexploitation genre. Many characters popped up using similar old age makeup that made it easy for anyone to be a double.
Kung Fu vs. Yoga
Kung Fu vs. Yoga / Mang Hoi
(1979—Hong Kong): “Plenty good, plenty good.” If you’ve seen the film, you’ll get the quote. Kung vs. Yoga is one of the wackiest kung fu films out there and some of the most bizarre fights and training sequences I’ve seen. Hats off to the choreographers who made the utter weirdness of the film’s combat look possible. Tiger (Qian Yue-shing) and Wu (Alan Hsu) love kung fu and love arguing about whose kung fu dreams are more realistic. To prove he’s better, the ugly Tiger enters a street kung fu contest, beats three experts and is mortified to learn that his prize is to wed the beautiful Ting and freaks out that he’ll have to consummate the marriage. To avoid consummation her father assigns Tiger to accomplish three impossible quests: steal a secret kung fu manual from a vicious monk; obtain two jade buttons off the chest of a transvestite prostitute; and steal a rare ruby from the turban of the Indian yoga master Dal Bashir’s (Dunpar Singh).
With Wu’s help, Tiger accomplishes the first two quests. Yet as the Chinese say, the third quest is like a rat pulling a turtle, which leads to the last immaculate nine minutes of the film. This is when Wu and Tiger run into a man who can take his right leg, curl it up behind his back, put it on top of his left shoulder and kick Wu running toward him from the left side. No special effects, real physical ability. In a word, OMG!
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The Power of the Martial Spirit = Master Yourself so You Can Be of Service to the World.
For millions of Americans, hungry kids are their reality. Not enough money to buy groceries. Not enough food to last until the next paycheck.
Black Belt Magazine, The Bruce Lee Foundation, and Sifu Harinder Singh are calling all Martial Artists and School Owners to come together to Kick Off the New Year and unite to Kick Hunger Away. Let’s make #10000KICKS go viral.
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If the voice in your head just said, “that is way too hard”, “I can’t do that”, remember you are not alone, let’s activate the martial spirit together and push ourselves to do the best we can. We need your support and remember every repetition gets you better, and every dollar feeds a child.
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Share this challenge with your communities and let's honor Bruce Lee, challenge ourselves to do 10,000 kicks in 10 days, and feed hungry children at the same time. Use the #1000kicks #blackbeltmag and lets make this challenge go viral.
The Key to Self-Mastery = Discipline, Dedication, and Perfect Repetition.
Bruce Lee’s secret to self-mastery is hidden in the following quote, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Discipline, dedication, and perfect repetition over time are the keys to self-mastery. The Great Masters of every style and system have come to the same universal conclusion. They chose a technique, a movement, a tool, and mastered it before going on to the next one. To get results like Bruce Lee we need to train like Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee’s Kick Hunger Away – 10,000 Kick Challenge Details
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Sifu Singh and Black Belt Magazine invite you to honor Bruce Lee’s Legacy by taking part in the “10,000 Kicks in 10 Days Challenge” to Kick Hunger to the curb and support Feed The Children – A leading Anti-Hunger Non Profit. Last year we raised 15,000 meals, this year with your help and the support of the Bruce Lee Foundation we are aiming for 100,000 meals.
This is a great opportunity to kickstart the new year and your fitness goals, take part in an honorable challenge, and accomplish a worthy goal while pushing yourself to your capacity.
Let’s show the world that the Spirit of the Martial Arts is about taking action and serving those in need.
Many martial artists have been following the incident, investigation, and the ongoing ugly litigation of the tragic Rust movie set shooting that resulted in one death and one injury by the hand of actor Alec Baldwin on at 1:51 p.m. on October 22, 2021. The reason for paying close attention to this incident is that many martial arts schools around the world include firearms training in their curriculum, something I recommended to Black Belt Magazine readers going back to 1999, at various levels: non-firing replicas (such as rubber, plastic, or wooden training guns for take-aways), paintball guns and airsoft guns for realistic scenarios, and real firearms on a live-fire gun range for self-defense. However, along with the use of any firearm for self-defense training, be non-firing ones or the real thing, comes specific safety protocols that must be followed, or else you can end up being the next "Rust story."
Before I give you the debriefing on the “Rust” tragedy, which will serve as a case study for you on how to avoid making similar mistakes, if firearms of any kind are part of your self-defense training, I'll first provide you with my firearms background, which will qualify me to address this issue. This is important because it will serve as a model as to what kind of background an armorer in the movie industry should have, and yet was apparently lacking with the low budget ($6-7 million) production of “Rust.”
I am currently a National Rifle Association (NRA) pistol instructor and chief range safety officer (RSO), meaning that I can teach and certify safety officers for live-fire ranges. I was a certified RSO with the U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton for small arms (pistol, shotgun, fully automatic rifles, sniper rifles, and fragmentation hand grenades). I have also been an official live-fire firearms instructor for dozens of law enforcement, corrections, probation & parole agencies, and military units to include the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marshal Service, Argentinean G.O.E., Brazilian GATE, Helsinki Police Department, German counterterrorist team GSG9, Navaho Nation S.W.A.T., and the list goes on. The list is even longer for non-firing firearms courses that I have taught to professionals (small unit tactics, defensive tactics, and combatives). Although I have never been an armorer on a movie set, I have been a range safety officer using actual blank-firing movie prop firearms loaned to the military for scenario training. After all, Hollywood is only two hours north of Marine Base Camp Pendleton.
I've also appeared in a couple of movies, and thanks to my student and good friend Butch Pierson, a world-renowned Hollywood direct of photography who recently retired, I've been on several movie sets with him during filming. Also, when Black Belt Magazine was producing my first video series, "Reality-Based Personal Protection", I had all kinds of replica and live-fire firearms at the studio and on the live-fire range, and not one safety violation. In fact, I was the very first martial artist in Black Belt Magazine history that appeared on the front cover with a firearm in the January 2002 issue. Actually, it was two pistols. One in my hand at a low ready position, and the other in a holster on my tactical vest. Of course, I've taught thousands of civilian martial artists in 20 countries about guns since most of my self-defense courses include some sort of gun training. Finally, my last firearms course I taught was, let’s see, yesterday, to a security team.
At the time of the writing of this article here’s what we know so far about the “Rust” shooting, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department in New Mexico, which is the agency conducting the investigation. Actor Alec Baldwin, playing the role of a Western outlaw, was rehearsing a scene inside of a church where he was sitting on a wooden church pew. The scene required the use of an antique-era appropriate prop gun, which had just been retrieved from the “gun cart” located outside of the church. Although it had been placed there by the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, it was Assistant Director Dave Halls who took the gun off the prop cart, went inside the church, and handed it to Alec Baldwin who was instructed to cross draw the Colt .45, swing it around, and point it directly at the camera lens. Behind the camera was Director of Photography Halyna Hutchins, 42, and standing next to her was director Joel Souza.
Alec Baldwin, having been told that it was a “cold gun,” meaning a prop gun unable to fire a bullet or even blanks, drew the gun, pointed it towards the camera for the close-up angle, and then an unexpected “loud pop” was heard. Instantly Ms. Hutchins grabbed her midsection and stumbled backwards, and Mr. Souza was bleeding from his shoulder. Both were rushed to the hospital, and Ms. Hutchins died when she arrived.
In a news briefing given a few days later District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies stated that the prop was actually “a legit gun,” and that “there were an enormous amount of bullets on this set.”
According to the Los Angeles Times story titled ‘Rust’ crew describes on-set gun safety issues and misfires days before the shooting, written by Meg James and Amy Kaufman, “safety protocols standard in the industry, including gun inspections, were not strictly followed.” The story also mentioned that there were “three accidental discharges” prior to the homicide, and that conditions were “super unsafe.”
Months after the Sheriff’s initial investigation of the shooting incident a lot of contradictory statements surfaced. Lisa Torraco, Assistant Director Dave Hall’s attorney, said that her client did not grab the gun off the gun cart and hand it to Alec Baldwin. Eight days after the shooting armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed released a statement saying that “the whole production set became unsafe,” because she had to work two positions (prop assistant and armorer), which prevented her from focusing full-time as the film’s armorer. She then hired former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Bowles as her attorney, and on December 7, 2021, he told ABC News, “She had two duties: prop duties and armor duties. She had spun the cylinder, she had given it to Halls, she had shown him each of the six rounds. Halls was going to take custody of that weapon. He was inside the church then; Hannah was outside the church having to do her prop duties.” Then on January 12, 2022, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed filed a lawsuit against Seth Kenney, the owner of PDQ Arm & Prop, accusing him of providing a mix of dummy and live rounds to the set that created the “dangerous condition.” In response to that accusation, Seth Kenney told ABC News, “It’s not a possibility that they (the live rounds) came from PDQ or from myself personally.” Adding to the controversy, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s father, Thell Reed, a world champion live ammo quick draw artist and armorer for a number of films who taught his daughter the profession, was quoted that he believes that the “Rust” incident was “sabotage.” Someone had purposely inserted a live round into the prop gun. Actor Alec Baldwin also spoke with ABC News, and he added, “I let go of the hammer – bang, the gun goes off. I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never. Never. That was the training I had. You don’t point a gun at someone and pull the trigger.”
I’m not going to speculate exactly how this shooting occurred, because contradictory statements have been made by both the involved parties and some witnesses, but there are some things that can be learned from this incident for both Hollywood and martial artists alike who use any type of firearms in their training videos or hands-on training, be it rubber or plastic training guns to practice disarm techniques, airsoft guns that shoot a 6mm plastic projectile, replicas that fire blanks, or even real firearms on a live-fire range.
1. Treat all firearms, even if they solid rubber, plastic, or wood, as if they were the real thing, and by this, I mean that they are to be considered loaded. If I, a self-defense instructor, catch anyone of my students playing or goofing around with such a training gun, or even a training knife for that matter, I instantly bring the violation to everyone’s attention and I punish the violator immediately (usually in the form of push-ups or some other physical exercise). Over the years I’ve seen students and instructors alike twirl the training gun, scratch their heads with the muzzle, or even point the weapon at others when instructions are being given.
2. If airsoft guns are to be used, even before these firearms are touched, everyone must put on the minimum safety equipment of wrap-around eye protection. A 6 mm projectile flying at 1 Jule or more can put out an eye.
3. If airsoft guns are being used, then the proper loading or clearing procedures must be strictly followed using a gun clearing trap, which is something you can make yourself. It just so happens that before the “Rust” shooting incident I wrote the article You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out! Using a gun clearing trap is almost the same safety protocols on a live-fire range using a real metal gun clearing trap that can trap a real bullet fired. I don’t know if the “Rust” movie’s armorer had a bullet clearing trap or not on the “gun cart” or nearby, but it should be standard equipment on any movie set, even with airsoft guns.
4. Always have a Range Safety Officer (RSO) supervising the training if any training gun can fire a non-lethal projectile; even it’s a Nerf gun (again, treat every training gun like the real thing). A Nerf gun dart can still injure the eye if it’s not protected. The instructor and the RSO can be one and the same, but it’s much better to have a second person focusing entirely on safety, thereby freeing up the instructor to teach. This brings us to an important point. Every self-defense instructor using airsoft guns or paintball guns should become a certified RSO, and most definitely if you’re using blanks or teaching people protection with a gun on a live-fire range. That said, anyone in the class should be able to call a “CEASE FIRE!” if they see a safety violation. Safety is everybody’s business.
5. If someone is injured or killed during training, the people you most definitely don’t talk to is the media. At least not until after all litigation has been concluded. When the police arrive to investigate the incident the only questions you are required to answer are those about your identity: your name, where you work, where you live, et cetera. Any questions about the incident you have the right to say, “I want to speak to my attorney,” even if you don’t have an attorney on retainer at the time you said it, and you keep your mouth shut. Remember that “anything you say can be used against you.”
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to train Hollywood cameramen, stuntmen, and actors how to use various weapons; not on any movie sets, but at training facilities where these people have attended my courses. As such, it is my firm belief that any person handling weapons on a movie set should have professional training with the weapon they’ll be using, be it an impact weapon, edged weapon, or a firearm. If an actor is handed a prop gun, they should not just rely on the film’s “gun expert’s” word for it that the prop gun is “safe.” He or she should be able to check the condition of the weapon before acting with it.
I agree with what Shannon Lee, sister of Brandon Lee who was killed on the film set of “The Crow” in 1993 by a blank that propelled a projectile that was unknowingly lodged inside the barrel, that “with all the special effects that are possible and all of the technology, there is no reason to have a prop gun or a gun on a set that can fire a projectile of any sort.” As I mentioned before, even an airsoft gun can be dangerous. It is unacceptable to have a serious injury or death in making a film. As I always say to my beginning self-defense students, “We want realism, but not real injuries or death,” and that is only achieved with strict safety protocols and adhering to them.
BE A HARD TARGET
Just shooting a simple movie scene can involve a dozen people around a single actor. This is how it’s possible for two people to be shot on the “Rust” movie set at the same time. I took this photo when I was on a Hollywood movie set to show what a filming environment is like.
When Black Belt Magazine was filming the series “Reality-Based Personal Protection” some of the scenes required actual shooting on a live-fire range. I, a sergeant with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department at the time, oversaw the firearms safety, but because I was also being filmed, I made sure that I had a Range Safety Officer (RSO) on the set as well.
Myself with a Hollywood stuntman, one of my firearms students, posing on a live-fire range. This stuntman, on his own time and spending his own money, hired me so he’d be an expert with firearms for his job, even though the firearms he regularly used on movie sets did not fire projectiles, and that’s because he knew that even blanks can be deadly. Case in point, the tragic death of Brandon Lee in 1993 on the movie set “The Crow.”
Here I am with Shannon Emery Lee (sister of Brandon Lee) and Linda Lee Cadwell (mother of Brandon Lee) at the 2006 Black Belt Hall of Fame Awards where I was voted Self-Defense Instructor of the Year by the readers. Shannon Lee, who lost her brother to failed safety protocols of a prop gun, is now calling for film sets to have mandatory gun safety training and reducing the use of firearms as props.
I taught a firearms course to the instructors of the Helsinki Police Department and the Finnish Police Academy using FX Simunitions®. Shot from actual firearms, the projectile is a plastic bullet that breaks upon contact releasing a colored liquid. These training rounds can cause serious injury or death without proper safety protocols. In this photo the police officer fires at an “armed suspect” during a felony car stop scenario.
This photo was taken in 1990 when I first started running S.W.A.T. teams through realistic scenarios. The actor on the left is armed with a real firearm in his waist band that fired blanks. Several safety checks were conducted before the words, “Start the scenario!” were ever given.
This is a realistic scenario in my Terrorism Survival course that I taught in Surrey, Canada. The “terrorists” are firing 6 mm projectiles from airsoft guns at a “victim” who is trying to escape the attack. The same firearms safety protocols that are used on a live-fire range were used throughout this 8-hour course.
After the terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001, and the global war on terrorism was declared, Black Belt Magazine selected me to be the first person in the magazine’s history to appear on the front cover holding a firearm, and that’s because they knew my extensive firearms background.
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