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Complex: As An Asian-American, Here’s Why Bruce Lee Still Matters

 

As An Asian-American, Here's Why Bruce Lee Still Matters

Complex:

This week Bruce Lee made his HD debut on EA Sports UFC as a pre-order bonus—or, if you beat the game on Professional Difficulty, as an unlockable. The results, thankfully, are impressive. The developers have Bruce’s face and body structure down, but more importantly, they’ve captured his little mannerisms—the nervous tic where he rubs his nose, the stance when he lets loose with a signature punch or kick, and the scowl on his face when he approaches the Octagon.

UFC fighters, in their promotions of the game, have fallen over themselves to praise Bruce Lee. They speak reverently of him—he’s a childhood hero, an inspiration for how to lead one’s life, a warrior that all other fighters should aspire to. Dana White refers to him as the founder of mixed martial arts, and although this claim smacks of hyperbole, it has some merit. Bruce was someone who valued practicality over form—he disliked the traditional arts’ reliance on stances, believing that these things were too stiff, and thus, predictable. Instead, Bruce believed in Jeet Kune Do—the “Way of the Intercepting Fist.” It was a philosophy that encouraged formlessness—what was flexible and applicable in a ‘real life’ situation.

Why does Bruce continue to inspire us, over 40 years after his death? Imitators and heirs to the throne have come and gone, but no one has captured the public’s love, loyalty, or imagination in quite the same way. Every new martial arts actor, from Jackie Chan to Jet Li to Tony Jaa, is referred to as ‘the next Bruce Lee.’ Even in our quest to escape him, we still return to him, as the unreachable standard by which all others must be measured.

There’s a few reasons why Bruce Lee has endured, and they combine to create the legend we know today. There is, of course, his legendary athleticism and fitness. We’ve all heard those hyperbolic ‘Chuck Norris jokes,’ but Bruce Lee, scarily enough, was the real deal. From his two-finger pushups to his 1-inch punches, his physical abilities belied his actual size. He was only 5’7″ and 135 lbs—even physically, he was a model of economy and efficiency.

And of course, there was the pure lethality of his persona. Compare Bruce to his fellow action compatriots—most Hollywood fights are intricate, choreographed ordeals, with hundreds of punches, kicks, and counterattacks. Fights can last for twenty minutes or more, and the outcome can shift several times over their course. Bruce, on the other hand, extended his philosophy of efficiency to the fight scenes themselves. There were no wasted movements—every action was consequential. Take, for example, the O’Hara fight in Enter The Dragon. Bruce Lee decimated his opponent with 12 painful-looking, brutal moves. This was not a man to be playfully sparred with—this was a man to be feared.

As an Asian-American kid growing up in the suburbs, I was drawn to Bruce Lee. To many of us Asian boys, Bruce was more than a good fighter. He was a symbol of masculinity—he was an ethnically Asian male role model in a Western society where so few existed, before or since.

The Asian-American male undergoes a systemic humiliation in America, and it’s not always explicit. After all, the positive stereotype of the Asian male is that of an intelligent, bookish math nerd. Being considered smart is better than being considered stupid. There are, however, negative implications to this.

 

Acceptance of positive stereotypes is an implicit acceptance of negative stereotypes—although we Asian men are considered book smart, we are also said to lack passion, emotion, and raw sexuality. Our penises are rumored to be small, our social interactions are perceived as awkward, and any sexual interactions we do have must be bizarre or creepy. In the same way that black men are hyper-masculinized (and thus, are perceived as violent and threatening), Asian men are hyper-feminized (and thus, are perceived as no threat at all).

Is there a basis of truth to these stereotypes? My parents raised me to believe in the value of hard work above all else, including my social life, and that the key to success in this country was to study hard and get the best grades possible. I later learned (thankfully, in time) that hard work alone would make one an assistant to the leader, but never the leader himself. Success in America meant networking, socializing, and knowing the right people, in addition to working hard. It also meant assertiveness—that at some point, you had to fight back, protest, and disagree with those around you to earn respect. Our parents did the best with what they knew, but the result—a generation of young, Asian-Americans which, by and large, is politically disengaged and much too passive—is unfortunate.

Bruce Lee rectified the ‘deficiencies’ that America saddles upon Asian men. Physically, Bruce was classically handsome, and he exuded virile sexuality. He was all greased muscle and sinew—a coiled panther, ready to pounce. Bruce had several romantic scenes in his films, and that, by itself, was incredible to see. Bruce was a ‘desirable’ Asian man, and in a society where Asian men are considered eunuchs, this is a welcome change of pace.

 

Bruce was also an ‘angry’ Asian man. Although he came from an ethnic heritage that valued unity and the importance of immersion, Bruce knew how to scream, and holler, and challenge those who did him wrong. He was ‘Asian-American,’ in the truest, hybrid sense of the phrase. The film The Chinese Connection stirs the blood of any Asian man who watches it. Here, we see a liberated Chinese man who doesn’t take insults from anyone—a man who is real, and emotional, and uncompromising in his righteous anger. It was this unhinged emotion, this ability to cry manly tears, that thrilled us so. Not everything had to be calculated, and measured, and inscrutable—not everything had to be intelligent.

 

 

Sometimes, you just want to get mad and scream. I think of Bruce in my worst moments—when I am discriminated against, when I am underestimated, when I am wronged. I think of Bruce when I speak up for myself against my better interests—when standing out is more important than blending in. I think of Bruce when my sense of justice trumps my passivity. Bruce is the ‘id’ that whispers in my ear—that bigots treat me with disrespect, because they think they can. They think I’ll be passive, but I have a voice. I can use it to affect change. I can scream.

In his eulogy to Malcolm X, Ossie Davis referred to Malcolm as “our own black shining prince.” For Asian men, Bruce fulfills the same role—our own Asian shining prince, who told us to be vocal, proud, and outspoken for who we were, and for everything we could be.

 

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Complex: As An Asian-American, Here’s Why Bruce Lee Still Matters

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Under the ropes: Expat woman chases pro-Muay Thai dream

When Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu gave up her life in New York to move to Chiang Mai in early 2012 she had one goal – to become a professional Muay Thai fighter. Twenty months and 53 professional fights later, that goal has changed – next stop, 100 fights.

I started out wanting 50 fights but I’ve altered that to 100 because I’ve gone past the 50 fight mark already,” she says. “I think that if I get 100 fights or even close to that I will be one of the very few Western females, if not the only Western female, to accomplish that many fights in Thailand.

For the most part Sylvie fights at small venues in central Chiang Mai. She’s also a regular at local festival events in the outlying towns of the northern Thailand province, and occasionally travels down country for big events. So far, she’s holding her own, with 34 wins, 16 losses, 3 draws and 24 KOs.

At 5 feet 2 inches (1.52m) and 47 kilos, Sylvie doesn’t cut an imposing figure, but the results of a gruelling training regime and a steely determination are plain to see. The battle wounds are also there, front and centre. Her nose, broken three times in the last 18 months, angles slightly to the right and her right eye is still swollen from a fight four days earlier.

Yeah, that’s from an elbow,” she says. “She was a southpaw and I kind of walked in with my arm to come around her and she popped me right on the top here. The swelling was the size of my hand.”

Muay Thai, then, is not a sport for the faint of heart. The training regime alone would strike fear into most. A 6.30am start is followed by a 7-14km run and three hours in the gym, then it’s all repeated in the afternoon – six days a week. And one thing can be certain, the Colorado-born fighter doesn’t do this for the money.

I make about 3,000 baht ($95) per fight and about 1,000 baht of that goes to the gym. If I’m on a really big card that’s on TV I can make up to 20,000 baht before the gym takes its share. I think my total winnings would be somewhere around 165,000 baht ($5,180) since I started,” she says.

Although the funds are welcome, this is a journey based on a deep passion for the sport, a love affair that began while she was living in New York about five years ago.

I discovered Muay Thai through watching the movie ‘Ong Bak’. I’d never seen Muay Thai before but when I saw Tony Jaa doing those movements I just completely fell in love with it. I fell in love with it in a way a person might fall in love with ballet or something, I didn’t think of it as fighting, I just wanted to do those things, they looked so beautiful.”

Regular Muay Thai training in the US only fuelled Sylvie’s love of the ‘sport of eight limbs’ and after a stint training in Chiang Mai in 2010 she and her husband Kevin decided to return in 2012 so she could pursue her dream of fighting professionally.

With 50-plus fights under her belt, Sylvie has earned respect in Chiang Mai Muay Thai circles, and is now even recognized by passers-by on the street.  In the beginning, though, things weren’t so easy and this respect has been hard won. Proving herself at her gym –Lanna Muay Thai – was the first step.

I contacted Den [her coach] before I came here and let him know how serious I was and that I wanted to fight a lot,” she says. “He kinda said, ‘okay, okay, we’ll see what we can do when you get here’. When I did get here I was very serious, I wanted to fight right away and they really weren’t certain about it. I think for the first six or seven months they weren’t sure I would keep with it, but now they’re completely on board.”

Today, Sylvie fights more than any fighter at the gym and has even become a role model of sorts, her record often used to encourage the male boxers to take on more fights. Even so, Muay Thai remains a male-dominated sport, something that is unlikely to change anytime soon and brings its own set of challenges.

Being a woman in this sport is always going to be difficult, you’re always going to come up against obstacles that are not moving. At least they’re not moving in my lifetime, they might for the next generation,” says Sylvie, who turned 30 earlier this month.

A lot of the sexism you come across is the same sexism you find everywhere, it’s not particular to Thailand, but there are elements that are very particular to Thailand and very engrained,” she adds. “For example in my gym we have two rings, one is only for men.”

There are also all kinds of social and cultural taboos relating to how women can interact with males at the gym, as well as some age-old superstitions.

Men enter the ring over the top rope, women go in under the bottom rope… The ring is protected through amulets and magic and things like this… Women’s heads cannot go over the amulets or it negates them, so I have to crawl under that bottom rope so not as to affect the magic of the ring. It’s the same reason why I’m not allowed in the men’s ring in training.”

Despite the challenges female Muay Thai fighters face, the women’s sport is gaining popularity. Twenty years ago women were not allowed fight in the ring. Today, there are more women fighting than ever, with live televised events on the increase.  The rules for women are the same as for men, the only difference is that each round is two minutes instead of three. Gambling on women’s events is particularly popular, a sure sign of their growing stature.

Sylvie’s training schedule doesn’t leave room for many other hobbies, though she does have one other passion – blogging. Her website documents her journey in impressive detail through words, images and video, while she has built a faithful following on social media networks.

We started out with my YouTube channel which began when I first started Muay Thai. If you look at the channel it’s almost the exact length of how long I’ve been doing Muay Thai. I started it when I was training with Master K, my original trainer in the US…. It got huge and now it has over a million views. From there it spread to Facebook… and when we decided to come to Thailand the idea was to make a website that brings all of the different kinds of social media together,” she explains.

For the most part though, because this is such an unusual experience, I wish that more women who are here would document what they are doing too, so it would encourage others to do the same.”

With 43 fights to go to the next milestone, Sylvie’s Muay Thai quest is far from over.  In many ways, though, the dream has been already realized, the rest is about enjoying the journey.

Check out this link:

Under the ropes: Expat woman chases pro-Muay Thai dream

You can keep track of Sylvie’s progress on her blogFacebook and YouTube

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Tony Jaa cast in ‘Fast & Furious 7’; James Wan set to direct

Tony-Jaa-Cast-in-Fast-and-Furious-7

Tony Jaa has joined the forthcoming Fast & Furious 7, marking his first English language flick and studio debut. The franchise had already gained attention for the addition of a new villain played by Jason Statham and Malaysian-born Australian director James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious, SAW), who is said to be approaching the latest addition to the profitably sturdy action franchise as “a gritty ’70s revenge thriller.“ 

Production will be kicking off this fall, and hitting theaters next summer on July 11th.

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Tony Jaa cast in ‘Fast & Furious 7’, James Wan set to direct

James Wan

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Tony Jaa is back!

Check out the official trailer for Tony Jaa‘s highly anticipated Tom Yum Goong 2, which surfaced last week.

In addition to Jaa, the film also stars Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda. It is directed by Prachya Pinkaew and features action choreography from Panna Rittikrai. Sahamongkol Film International, the company that will be producing and distributing the film.