Kung Fu

In Honor of David Carradine, Kwai Chang Caine From the TV Series Kung Fu

December 8, 1936 – June 3, 2009

Today marks the eighth year since David Carradine, the actor who left his imprint on martial arts history when he starred in ABC’s Kung Fu television series, passed away.

Countless senior practitioners in dojo across the country received their first exposure to the martial arts because of Carradine, who portrayed wandering Shaolin priest Kwai Chang Caine from 1972 to 1975, and many of us were inspired to take up training because of the character’s weekly exploits in the American West.

David Carradine and Keye Luke in Kung Fu. (Photo Courtesy of ABC)

Probably just as many middle-aged practitioners got their first look at David Carradine when he appeared in Chuck Norris’ hit movie Lone Wolf McQuade (1983). After that came the TNT series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, which brought Carradine back to television to play the grandson of Kwai Chang Caine from 1993 to 1997.

The younger generation — my grandkids included — received their first glimpse of David Carradine when he landed the role of Bill in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004).

Chuck Norris and David Carradine in Lone Wolf McQuade. (Photo Courtesy of Topkick Productions)

Over the years, David Carradine became a good practitioner of the Chinese martial arts and did whatever he could to spread goodwill for all styles. Case in point: In 2005 he was invited to the Black Belt Festival of Martial Arts in Los Angeles, and for several hours, he walked the convention floor, providing numerous fans with once-in-a-lifetime photo ops.

During my first interview with him, David Carradine said, “As a seeker of kung fu, your influence must reach farther than the tips of your fingers.” He certainly lived up to those words.

Floyd Burk congratulates David Carradine on his Black Belt Hall of Fame induction.

In the months before he passed, David Carradine and I were collaborating on a Black Belt feature article intended to share the lessons he learned while pursuing martial arts mastery. When his death was announced, I, like everyone else, was stunned. I shelved the project out of respect and mourned the man’s passing.

It’s my hope that the martial arts world will pay its respects to David Carradine on this somber day and take a moment to appreciate all that he gave us during the 35 years he practiced kung fu and the 50 years he devoted to acting. Rest in peace, sir.

Floyd Burk is one of Black Belt’s contributing editors.

Studio Photos by Rick Hustead

Wang Bo, formerly of Shaolin Temple, is the featured instructor in an online kung fu course from Black Belt. Titled Tree of Shaolin, it streams video lessons to your preferred digital device. Sign up here and start your journey along the 1,500-year-old Shaolin path!

RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan on Kung Fu, Philosophy and The Man With the Iron Fists

Throw on a Shaw Brothers movie and watch Kuo Chui, David Chiang, Lu Feng or any of the early kung fu legends, and you’ll see choreography that’s almost mesmerizing. From those early days of Kung Fu Theater sprang an entire generation enthralled with martial arts that incorporated not only the moves but also the spirit and style into something entirely unique. Personifying this scene is RZA, a founding member of and the man behind the Wu-Tang Clan.

Since forming the group in 1992, RZA has mixed references and samples from old-school kung fu movies into his music, and for him, it’s not just kitsch. With an encyclopedic knowledge of martial arts philosophy and an academic approach to its appreciation, RZA has branched out from music into film. Cutting his teeth with work on Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Kill Bill, he’s most recently been involved in The Man With the Iron Fists, a collaboration with Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth that harkens back to the days of ultraviolent grindhouse cinema.

In this exclusive interview, RZA talks about what martial arts mean to him.

What sparked your interest in kung fu? Was it the old movies?

Yeah, I got into martial arts by watching movies and falling in love with them and of course trying to imitate and emulate what I saw on the screen. We’d all go buy magazines and books.

Who were some of your favorite actors?

Bruce Lee, always Bruce Lee. And Jim Kelly is one of my favorites. I was also a fan of a lot of the Shaw Brothers actors like Chi Kuan Ti, Gordon Liu and Ling Po.

Jim Kelly

One of RZA’s favorite actors: Jim Kelly in Black Belt Jones (Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

What was it about kung fu that drew you in and made you so passionate about martial arts?

First, it was just the action and ability to fight without weapons and stuff like that, but then the spirituality of it resonated with me as a teenager.

Where did the crossover between hip-hop culture and kung fu come from?

I think the crossover came from the movies that we all watched on the silver screen or on Kung Fu Theater. Also, you know, dancing — kung fu in a way has a dancing pattern to it. In the movies, you see the guys flipping and stuff, and I think it just had a natural resonance. We were fascinated by what we saw on the big screen, and then we’d try things out in our neighborhoods. In my neighborhood, a lot of guys would get old mattresses and do flips on them. We would watch Bruce Lee and go home and make our own nunchaku.

When did you start formal training?

When I was about 11 years old. There was a guy [who] was a brown belt in karate, and I had a buddy named Jose [who] was really good. He’d take us out to Silver Lake Park in Staten Island and show us karate moves and things like that when I was young, but I can’t say I officially joined as a disciple of the martial arts until I met sifu Shi Yan Ming from the USA Shaolin Temple and I was ordained as a disciple of Shaolin.

Black Belt cover February 2001

One of RZA’s instructors: Shi Yan Ming, as featured on the cover of the February 2001 Black Belt

What is training with Shi Yan Ming like?

He’s pretty intense. He trains in many styles, and for me, after reading so many books on martial arts, I didn’t want to get stuck in any one form. I like what Bruce Lee taught about [being] “like water and using all forms,” so what I learned from him was the basic studies of chi kung, which is essentially the root of martial arts. I use that as my foundation principles for whatever I want to learn.

There was a book called The Tiger/Crane Form of Hung Gar Kung Fu — I had that book for years, and I would always try to pick moves out of the book and never would do them right. For [The Man With the Iron Fists], I went and got a hung gar master who showed me the proper way to do the form. Now I can say I know hung gar.

Bucksam Kong book cover

One of RZA’s inspirations: this book by Bucksam Kong (cover of revised edition shown)

I [also study] the books — Japanese books, Chinese books, Filipino books, Korean books — not of just styles but of the cultivation of the spirit.

How have you incorporated martial arts philosophy into your own work and life?

Martial arts principles and philosophies are part of my everyday life. Whether it’s the way …

Generate More Power in Your Punches Using This Traditional Kung Fu Training Method

An Okinawan karate instructor who once visited my martial arts school impressed me with his knowledge of how to efficiently generate power in hand techniques. It’s rare to see a person who practices a hard style utilize power that’s generated in the legs and then amplified in a torquing manner in the waist to eventually flow up through the body to the hands.

Cultural Connection

Few karate and taekwondo people have a good grasp of how to use what Chinese stylists call waist power. Instead, most use what I refer to as “hip-rotation momentive power.” If a practitioner is strong and large, HRMP can be effective. However, as age increases, physical ability naturally decreases, and along with it goes the ability to generate HRMP. Not so with the more efficient waist power.

When the Okinawans first imported martial arts skills from China, the use of waist power was the preferred approach. Yet this effective method was lost because many students didn’t devote enough time to properly learn how to use waist power before they began teaching karate.

Some also have speculated that the Okinawans didn’t want the Japanese to learn karate properly and, therefore, didn’t teach them the waist-power knowledge they’d acquired from the Chinese. Taekwondo stylists, who learned from Japanese karate practitioners, didn’t learn the Chinese waist-power method, either. Likewise, some kung fu teachers have failed to learn it.

Different Methods

The HRMP method of generating power in techniques is much easier because students require less skill and time to be able to use it. Waist power, on the other hand, is much more difficult to master because all parts of the body must be linked in a coordinated fashion within a supple muscular environment. If this skill is not mastered, techniques produce diminished power.

At this point, you may be thinking about a specific type of power because every kung fu system has different names for power-generation methods. Actually, there’s no such thing as internal power or external power; there’s only efficiently delivered kinetic energy. Whether you employ the simpler HRMP or the more sophisticated waist power, both create kinetic energy. For kinetic energy to be effective, it must cause damage to the target. Therefore, the greater the efficiency in creating, delivering and exchanging kinetic energy, the less energy you need to produce a given amount of damage. The fact that it requires less energy and has greater efficiency in delivering power makes learning waist power worthwhile.

Step by Step

The first step in learning this approach is making sure you are “rooted.” Nearly everyone has heard the term often enough, but it can sound somewhat esoteric. A better description is to assume a stance in which your weight is balanced on the balls of your feet and your center of gravity is lowered. Only with this positioning can the two most important aspects of efficiently generating power be realized: balance and coordination.

Combine the supple body state described above with a balanced position, and you can begin. It starts with your legs and is amplified by your waist. Kinetic energy then flows from your body into your hands, and only a supple body will allow this to occur.

To better understand the coordination that’s required, consider an example from the world of physics: a row of steel balls suspended in line so they touch one another. When one ball is pulled away and released so it can hit the others, the ball at the opposite end swings away from the rest. This is a classic example of the efficient movement of kinetic energy through an inert body. Kung fu practitioners learn to make their body do the same thing. Waist power travels through the body only when all its parts are linked together properly. Misalignment detracts from the power output, as does stiffness in any part of the body.

Learning kung fu’s method of producing power takes time, practice and a qualified teacher. The advantage is that a smaller person can generate a great deal of energy without needing a lot of upper body strength and a larger person can generate power without relying on only his strength.

Jon Funk is a seven-star praying mantis kung fu instructor based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Continue your martial arts education here!

•     Power Training for the Martial Arts, by Leo Fong. Available as a DVD (on sale now!) or an instant video download.

•     Beyond Kung Fu: Breaking an Opponent’s Power Through Relaxed Tension, by Leo Fong. Available as a book (on sale now!) or an instant PDF download.

•     How to Develop Chi Power, a book by William Cheung.…

Learn 3 Grappling Techniques From UFC Star Chael Sonnen

Chael Sonnen isn’t your typical politician. For one, he actually answered our questions. But more important, the All-American wrestler from Oregon taught us some of the best tricks from his playbook.

Despite his reputation as one of the UFC’s loudest stars, he doesn’t have a bad word to say about any martial art or training. We hope you’ll enjoy his interview with Lito Angeles, a Southern California-based police officer, mixed martial artist and author of Fight Night: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts.

—Jon Sattler

Lito Angeles: I read that you started wrestling at a very young age.

Chael Sonnen: I come from a family of wrestlers—my father, my uncles, my cousins were all very good. I begged my dad to get me into wrestling, but he wanted me to do karate or boxing. Finally, he let me wrestle when I was 9.

Angeles: Did you wind up doing any karate or boxing?

Sonnen: I got into boxing later, but not then.

Angeles: And you stayed with wrestling all the way to the collegiate level, right?

Sonnen: Yes. I wrestled through high school and got a scholarship to the University of Oregon. In 2001 I graduated from college and was working out at a gym in the back of a car lot. There was one mat and nothing else, but Randy Couture and Dan Henderson worked out there every day. It was an hour and a half from where I was living, and I made the drive every single day to wrestle with them. We were all trying to make the Olympic team. They let me in, and it was the three of us. After college, I went back to training with them, and they were wearing MMA gloves. I just put on a pair of gloves and continued practicing.

Angeles: Does that mean you recommend wrestling as the best foundation for MMA?

Sonnen: Well, it has to be some kind of grappling. There’s a statistic: 100 percent of fights start standing up, and 80 percent of them end up on the ground. Jiu-jitsu and wrestling have done really well in MMA, but I don’t know that any form of grappling has been proven to be better.

[ti_billboard name=”Chael Sonnen 1″]

The grass always seems greener—I wish I knew more of other disciplines than wrestling, while other fighters probably wish they knew more wrestling. I wish more judo practitioners participated in MMA.

Angeles: Why?

Sonnen: Jiu-jitsu and catch wrestling are well-represented. All three styles of wrestling, from collegiate to Greco-Roman to freestyle, are, too. I know judo is a good, competitive sport. I wish there was more judo in MMA so I could see how it stacks up.

Angeles: After a student develops a grappling base, do you recommend muay Thai or boxing—or something else?

Sonnen: I’d say boxing. Muay Thai is good, bit it’s very hard to practice. There aren’t a lot of muay Thai guys around—it’s not in high schools or colleges or the Olympics—so it’s hard to find guys to practice with. Elbows are effective, but you can’t do them in practice without hurting someone. Same with knees. With boxing, however, you can put on the gear and find a partner, and it seems to do well in MMA.

Angeles: But then you give up kicks. …

Sonnen: Kicks aren’t as effective in fighting. If you land one, great. You can do good things with it. But kickboxing had to put in a rule that you had to kick a guy three times per round or you’d lose a point. The reason was, guys quit kicking. They just boxed because boxing is more effective. With that said, I spend the majority of my time doing kickboxing and muay Thai. But if I was mentoring a young fighter, I’d tell him to spend more time on boxing. That doesn’t mean I would ignore kickboxing—you still need to learn the defenses—but in stand-up, it’s hard to beat good, solid boxing.

Angeles: How is muay Thai boxing different from Western boxing?

Sonnen: The big difference is head movement. In muay Thai, there’s not a ton of head movement. You use your foot to get the guy off-line, then you step out and sweep his leg to off-balance him. In boxing, you just shift out of the way and use that momentum to come right in and attack. Head movement is so important, especially when you’ve got those little 4-ounce gloves on. If you just land one shot, you can break the guy’s nose, open a cut or knock him out.

Angeles: Does knowing wrestling and boxing cover all the bases with respect to technique, or should a person add other arts like karate or sambo?

Sonnen: I would never close the door. …

Bruce Lee’s Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense

We recently reimagined Bruce Lee’s Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense with new text, digitally remastered photos, never-before-seen images and a brand-new cover.

This new edition of the landmark book gives martial arts enthusiasts and collectors exactly what they want: more Bruce Lee.

In addition to the master’s insightful explanations on gung fu, this book features digitally enhanced photography, previously unpublished Bruce Lee pictures with the Little Dragon’s original handwritten notes, a brand-new front and back cover, and introductions by widow Linda Lee Cadwell and daughter Shannon Lee.

This new modern edition of the 1963 classic preserves the authority and charm of Lee’s original language. This official reproduction––as sanctioned by Shannon Lee and Bruce Lee Enterprises––features Chinese characters written by the author and painstakingly scanned for this project as well as vintage photographs from Bruce Lee’s personal collections.


Explore the history behind Bruce Lee’s art with our FREE guide—Bruce Lee’s Biography and the Birth of Tao of Jeet Kune Do.


Chinese Gung Fu also comes to life through captioned photo sequences and Bruce Lee’s own hand-drawn diagrams that demonstrate a variety of training exercises and fighting techniques, ranging from basic gung fu stances, waist and leg training, single- and multiple-opponent scenarios as well as an essay on the theory of yin and yang.

In addition, Chinese Gung Fu includes the testimonials from the first edition by James Y. Lee, the legendary Ed Parker, and jujutsu icon Wally Jay as well as contemporary introductions by Linda Lee Cadwell and Shannon Lee to help contextualize this iconic work.

Recently discovered pictures from a lost photo session, which are described by Lee in his own handwriting, round out this new edition of Chinese Gung Fu.

We thoroughly enjoyed recreating this timeless classic by one of the greatest masters in martial arts. Your financial support provides us with the opportunity to pursue projects like this one, so if you’re interested in Bruce Lee or kung fu, please spend a few moments checking out Chinese Gung Fu in our online store — now available in both print and e-book formats!…

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