I attended my first ever Martial Arts convention called Dragonfest.
Dragonfest is an annual fundraiser for the Martial Arts History Museum. The convention hosts a variety of booths. For $25 guests can meet local instructors to discuss their systems and styles, shop various items ranging from Japanese style art to knives and even Gi’s and of course meet various celebrities.
When I first arrived it was a bit of a culture shock. The mixture of the variety of booths, the Taiko drums and lion dancers were an adrenaline rush and slightly overwhelming. There was a stage available for demonstrations, performances and a live auction. There was a large diversity of systems, some I hadn’t even thought about seeing at a Martial Arts convention such as the United States Sumo Federation and Michelle Manu a Hawaiian Weaponry specialist. It was while I was first walking around that I met Robin Hart.
Robin Hart is the Owner of Muay Thai School USA and is the only female professional promoter in the USA that has brought some of the best Muay Thai fighters from around the world to the USA. Robin found out about Dragonfest after her and her Summer Junior Muay Thai Camp students visited the Martial Arts History Museum. She told me, “The networking here is amazing. It’s awesome to be a part of the Martial Arts Community.”
And what a community it is ranging from Muay Thai, Kenpo to Kung Fu and even Sumo. Robin reassured,
“Even though there’s not a traditional belt system (in Muay Thai) we still have advancements like any other system. When people are deeply involved with Martial Arts they have a deep respect for each other regardless of the system.”
As I walked and talked I found that I could have a thorough conversation with anyone about Martial Arts. I sat down and spoke with Carrie Ogawa-Wong, 2005 inductee into the Martial Arts History Museum Hall of Fame, White Lotus Kung Fu Master and instructor at the White Lotus Kung Fu Studio. Her and her husband Doug Wong (Founder of White Lotus Kung Fu and Author) were selling his books, t-shirts and handing out information on their Dojo.
Carrie has attended every Dragonfest, minus the very first one. As a veteran to the convention she said, “It’s great that once a year we get to see our olds friends in the different systems that we have in a way grown up with.”
“Anyone can attend, there’s a little bit of everything in the Martial Arts culture here. People can be so limited on the culture of Marital Arts so it’s good to attend.”
I ran into fellow Kenpoists Marissa and Minh Mach at Ed Parker Jr.’s booth and asked them what they thought about their first visit to Dragonfest?
Marissa had thought it would be smaller, “I didn’t expect it to be this big and with all the notable Martial Artists here. It’s awesome and we appreciate the varieties (systems/styles).”
There were many notable Martial Artists present for the event; from Ed Parker Jr., Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock. One of the celebrities I had the opportunity to speak with is Al Leong, actor from Die Hard and Big Trouble in Little China Town. He had attended last year as well and told me, “This is a better location, it keeps getting bigger. This brings a lot of different people together and different styles together.”
Yet these meetings are not just limited to a photo op and autographs. I spoke with Mr. Leong about his book “The Eight Lives of Al “Ka-Bong” Leong,” which tells the story in vivid detail of his career in film and stunt work. At each celebrity booth, guests can purchase memorabilia, have the celebrity sign and then discuss and talk with them and this is all possible because everyone here is approachable.
Towards the end of the day I was able to meet up with the one and only Cynthia Rothrock. Cynthia is a Martial Arts Film actress that is heavily involved with the Martial Arts History museum. She has attended every Dragonfest.
“The Martial Arts History Museum is sponsoring this where you can meet actors and other Martial Artists, there’s entertainment and knowledge for everyone. Everyone here is so friendly and it gets bigger and bigger each year.”
Cynthia explained that anyone can enjoy Dragonfest. She studies 5 different forms of Martial Arts: 3 Chinese systems and 2 Korean systems. She says anyone interested in starting Martial Arts could attend and see the various demonstrations and speak to the different practitioners to determine what system is best for them.
The truth is I was slightly skeptical about attending Dragonfest.
I had envisioned a group of mainstream pretend Martial Artists running around in some costume and swinging fake Samurai swords at each other…
It wasn’t that way at all. Everyone had pride in their system and style and where excited to be at an event where they could discuss their passion for the art. The Martial Arts History Museum might have hosted the event, but it is the passion we all share for the study and art of Martial Arts that brought us there and kept us captivated.
Though this event may be overwhelming for some, I would greatly encourage anyone to attend. This event was an eye opener to the idea of having support not just in your dojo and your own system but to reach out to other various systems.
The physical training may vary but the spiritual journey is all the same.
Dinner with "The Dragon"
Discussing Theories On Martial Arts Films with Don Wilson...
I was invited by my friend Debbie Goodman, creator and host of Martial Arts Mania, to visit the Martial Arts History Museum in Burbank, CA. We were attending a fundraiser for the museum and I was surprised to find that the majority of the guests attending where not only martial artists but involved in films.
I am a complete novice concerning Martial Arts Films and had had mixed emotions of the genre. As an instructor I can’t even begin to count the times students come in asking when they would learn to do front flips or climb up the walls like a ninja.
Yet, who am I to judge? “The Next Karate Kid” was a hit when I first started taking lessons. I remember watching Hillary Swank obsess over her forms with Mr. Miyagi then many years later jumping in the ring with Clint Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby”.
The truth is it never fails to see a high attendance in Dojos when a blockbuster such as The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Karate Kid (2010) opens. As I walked through the museum, viewing items such as Danielson’s headband from the first “The Karate Kid,” I felt myself slowly becoming more inquisitive to this mainstream subculture of karate.
Was an audience’s fascination on martial arts or the film? How engraved had the film industry become in Martial Arts?
Luckily, later that night I got to have dinner with Don “The Dragon” Wilson.
Don is an 11x World Champion Kickboxer, practitioner of Pai Lum Kung Fu and has starred in over 30 Martial Arts Films.
One of the reason’s I have attributed to not being so enthralled with Martial Arts Films is because the films usually feature a male leading role. Everyone in Marital Arts (especially Jiu Jujitsu) has heard the horror stories of gender discrimination towards females. I wondered if the lack of leading heroines was movie based or martial arts based, so I asked Don if he had ever witnessed or experienced any gender discrimination.
His response was diplomatic and realistic, “They are not prejudice. Hollywood is color blind, they only see green. It’s about how much they make on opening night. Women now-a-days can do action films, you are seeing more and more of them. What they (Hollywood) wants a big opening and it’s believed a female star might not open as big as if a man was the leading role.”
It’s an interesting concept for Hollywood considering the largest Martial Arts film opening is Rush Hour 2 at $226.2 million and the largest Action Heroine film opening is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at $424.7 million.
For all the people that failed math like me, that almost a $200,000,000 difference.
Regardless, $226.2 million is a lot of money to open with, but how did the martial arts genre take off? What was it about martial arts in movies that has had audiences so captivated over the years?...
In 1973 Enter The Dragon starring Bruce Lee and distributed by Warner Bros opened and changed the film industry and began the “Kung Fu Kraze.”
Don explained the significance of the genre...
“If you went to a video store and looked around you would see the different genres: drama, action, comedy… Our genre is special in its own way. It’s a genre focused on what we do. If you think about it there are no genres for construction, medical or for lawyers—but there is one for Martial Arts.”
As for the captivation...
He further clarified, “You can watch the flashy kickers and the stunts with flips but it’s not realistic on the street. It’s not applicable.”
He had a point. Somewhere between the flying kicks and super strong punches, audiences had become captivated with the genre, but there is still a line drawn between Martial Arts and Hollywood Martial Arts.
That line is application.
You can go home and analyze every move from a movie, but in the end the stunts shown on the big screen won’t save you in a fight because they are not applicable. Martial Arts is a form of self-defense and is realistic.
This could possibly even be the reason student’s that first start at a Dojo seem somewhat disappointed at times. In the end, flashy showmanship will not save them from someone trying to harm them. If we could all run up walls, we would never have to fight anyone.
Nonetheless, we will still see an influx in students when the next martial arts film releases. For the lucky ones that walk into our school it could change their lives for the better. There are still the unfortunate ones that find themselves in a McDojo; schools that feed off the craze but do nothing to better their students.
I believe the best thing we can take from Martial Arts Films is what they are intended for: Entertainment.
Enjoy the film and the story behind it. Focus on your training on real threats, not a cinema villain. Parents: let the fight scenes tickle your child’s imagination, but be sure before they step onto a mat that you have done your research and you don’t find yourself in a McDojo.
Now excuse me, I need to go watch a shirtless Tom Hardy in "Warrior."
Jesalyn Mae Harper
Hello my name is Jesalyn. I'm a divorced single mom and a karate addict...