Like it or not, the public perception of the martial arts stems in large part from movies and television. Read how these two actors helped shape that view throughout their work.

It seems that every day we’re reminded of how time flies. I can't believe that this month marks the sixth year since the world lost two of its biggest martial arts film stars in two days. Interestingly, both will be remembered in part because of their connection to Bruce Lee. On June 3, 2009, veteran Hong Kong kung fu film star Shih Kien died from kidney failure at age 96. In the West, he was best-known for playing the inscrutable Han in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon (1973) — specifically, for the battle in which he sliced and diced Lee using his prosthetic hand in the hall of mirrors. When Enter the Dragon came out, most of us had no idea that Shih had already starred in more than 400 films. In most of them, he played villains. It was the result of the typecasting that followed his very first movie role: He portrayed a Japanese spy in Flower in a Sea of Blood (1940). Shih’s skill set was diverse. Not only did he act — frequently starring opposite the famous Kwan Tak-hing in Kwan's early Huang Fei Hung films, among others — but he also served as an action director.


“Jim Kelly: Martial Artist and Co-Star of the Bruce Lee Movie Enter the Dragon — A Vintage Interview” catches a man on the cusp of Hollywood stardom! Download it here.

In a rare appearance as the hero, Shih starred in Tiger's Claw (1974). His hair-and-beard combination made him resemble Spock’s evil doppelganger in the Star Trek original series episode “Mirror, Mirror.” Shih’s scenes in Tiger's Claw remind viewers of his portrayal of Han — in large part because every time he fights in that film, we’re treated to the soundtrack from Enter the Dragon. Although his name is synonymous with cinematic villains, in real life Shih was a kind man with a heart devoted to eagle claw and choy lay fut kung fu. He had trained at Shanghai’s Ching Wu Athletic Association, the gym created by Huo Yuin Jia, the teacher of Bruce Lee's character in The Chinese Connection (1972).

Download “Bruce Lee Quotes: 10 Jeet Kune Do Masters Examine Bruce Lee’s Philosophy” today! Click here to get started.

A day after Shih passed, American martial arts film and TV star David Carradine died from what’s best described as a judgment failure. He was 72. Carradine, of course, was renowned for his spot-on portrayal of Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine in the TV series Kung Fu (1972-1975). The role was supposedly created for Bruce Lee, but the studio decided that the series had a better chance of succeeding with Carradine as the lead. Kung Fu gave most Westerners their first exposure to the teachings of Shaolin. Even more important, it was a most positive introduction, one that showed time and again that a true martial artist trains not to fight and prefers to heal rather than hurt. The philosophy that Carradine’s character embodied and that the actor embraced in real life stood in stark contrast to what was depicted in the most popular kung fu films of that era. "From that perspective, it was important to show the true way of Shaolin and kung fu, so the show created a balance between the violent kung fu films and the peaceful calm of Caine," Carradine explained in an interview. "It was about the whole yin-yang balance." "When I worked with David on Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), I made it a point that when we were on location together to pull him aside and tell him how much I admired Kung Fu,” said Gordon Liu Chia-hui, the most famous Shaolin-priest character actor in Asia. “That series was a very important part of people in the West's understanding of kung fu, and he played the role of what I think a Shaolin priest truly was." When my interview with Carradine was coming to a close, the actor waxed philosophical: “Each end is a new beginning." Tongue-in-cheek, I replied, "That's like a sumo wrestler — heavy, man." He smiled, we hugged … and I never saw him again. (Shih Kien Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros. / David Carradine Photos Courtesy of ABC) Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Talks About Being a Smaller Fighter in a Combat Sport Ruled by Giants

At first glance, most people — most martial artists, even — will zero in on the smaller person in any fight and deem him or her to be at a distinct disadvantage. It's a natural tendency to draw this conclusion based on obvious attributes such as height, weight and reach. However, that tendency does not always lead to accurate conclusions.

Keep Reading Show less

UFC's Fight Island to debut July 11th with UFC 251

UFC and Black Belt Magazine

The UFC's Fight Island "safe zone" located on Yas Island in Abu Dahbi debuts July 11th with UFC 251. Here are all the answer to your questions about this martial arts paradise.

Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing quarantine, UFC president Dana White had been planning on how he'd be able to continue having events despite growing concerns. As sports leagues across the world began to cancel seasons Dana White began work on a plan that would enable a safe zone for his fighters to continue events. Despite continued global restrictions. That dream will come true this weekend with the debut of Fight Island! Here are the answers to all the questions about the martial arts paradise you'll want to know!

Keep Reading Show less

Jorge Masvidal vs Kamaru Usman

An epic match up has just been announced for UFC 251 pending COVID testing between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal as Gilbert Burns forced to pull out of previously set bout.

A long anticipated match up between Jorge Masvidal and kamaru Usman looks like it may finally happen.The announcement came after the holiday weekend that the two were willing to negotiate a match for upcoming UFC 251. This comes after the unexpected dropout

Keep Reading Show less

This patch is a symbol of the Chuck Norris founded Chun Kim Do

UFAF.org

In celebration of the 4th of July, check out these styles that are rooted in the USA

Happy 4 th of July! Today is a great day to celebrate all things American – hot dogs, apple pie, and a sheer love explosions (the bigger the fireworks, the better!). You know what else is American? Martial arts!

Keep Reading Show less
Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter