I was 8 years old over 40 years ago when I looked at the TV Guide to see what our “Movie of the Week” was going to be. Two words that took me a moment to process – “Kung Fu”.
I could not believe my eyes and was there glued to our dad-built-it television the first time we saw Rademas Pera standing out in the rain (cool!) waiting to be denied entry to the place of honor (and way cool stuff!) I was a fan. I never missed an episode except when they changed it at the end a couple times. I could not believe when it was gone (the series ran for three seasons between 1972 and 1974) I was disappointed but knew “Nobody wants to be right”. There were perfectly reasonable reasons given for ending the show, but I was 8 and “Grasshopper” was my personal role model. You couldn’t fool me.
What a lot of people did not know was that “Kung Fu” was real, or rather, authentic. When the idea for a martial arts western came up, the producers contacted every Asian actor in Hollywood and by all accounts, they had a lot to say and were understandably touchy about the show and David Carradine. The result was enormous contribution and high authenticity in the show.
Even the “supernatural” episodes were drawn from gong fu and chinese myth and legend. There were variations, like the big fire pot that branded Kwai Chang Caine’s arms with the marks of honor – it was true, but in the temple in China it was actually an iron ball that sat on a small fire and was lifted up bestowing the brands. According to Shao Lin (not of Hunan) today, the marks of honor are coming back. In China, the temple is still heavily repressed and monitored. Almost everything except necessary tourism is forbidden. You actually have to leave China to be a Shao Lin these days. A true diaspora that has been happening since the boxer rebellion and suppression of the order over 100 years ago. Today we look back, as all our cultures, foundations and ancestors lay in ruins bearing insult and say “The boxers were right. The true defenders were defiled”. But the condition of japan, Europe, China and the US today speaks for itself. We learn to filter polluted waters.
But I have digressed – “Kung Fu” was replaced by the Era of “aren’t we all feel good losers?” TV shows which somehow people of the time gobbled up, greatful to be rescued from reminders of conscience. We have gone crazier and zanier trying to block out our conscience ever since.
But I didn’t. Not me. I followed the Grasshopper. Amazingly enough, 4 years later when I was twelve, there appeared a sign one day on the side of the highway, pointing around to the back of a building and the sign said “Kung Fu”.
There were karate schools in Independence, judo, jujitsu and maybe others, but i could not get the funding for those. When master brought the Shao Lin school to town, my parents brought it up to me. Another “couldn’t believe it” and the immediate intimidation that I was hurrying as fast as I could go to a pass or fail interview. I grabbed the reigns on 50,000 volts of spaz and we walked up to the door. It said “Brothers of the Dragon Shao lin” I did not have to wait in the rain like the Grasshopper, we went in the door and I could not look at one place for all the looking around. Not only that, the master was from Taipei and he was a half breed too.
The rest is history and I had my master Kahn, Po and Caine all in one guy that I pretty much immediately placed on the highest pedastal and engaged enthusiastically in his challenges. I became the youngest after a slightly younger boy left and like my hero on TV, I was surrounded by older students and learned every detail I could. In my mind, I would not fail to keep up with them. How great and generous they were. How fascinating. Even though it took me awhile to believe it, every time I went, I got in. Still. “…and life couldn’t possibly, not even probably, bet-ter be!”
All the older guys were going around being like David Carradine, “Caine”, talking to mean dummies and giving out foot when they could, but I was in the cat bird seat. I was the “grasshopper”. It was not nearly as perfect as the TV set, but neither was I and one day master called me “Weedhopper” and the joke I will not give up for the world. Put it on my tombstone and eat your heart out Jackie Chan. I was in the middle of the dragon circle, happy to admire these fine and mystical beings and my job was not to mess it up.
The rest is a long collection of many tales, but I will mention the dreadful bed of nails. Master being retired to his weaponeering these days most likely won’t see this, but yes yes, that horrible device I was not about to back down from in front of everybody. I watched master precisely measure and place all those nails, all perfectly straight and was mighty impressed. Then he flipped it over and invited us all to hop on. I suppose it is obligatory and how else to learn that….but I have to say my least favorite is bed of nails. When I finally put one in, those fellas will do it and I suppose so will I again. The deadliest thing a monk can do to his self is get soft in the hard spots or hard in the soft ones.
But I am getting older and in my complete piggish ingratitude, I have never once wrote “the role model that became real” and thanked him for a way I had to find on my own. A fan letter that says “you made it out of real stuff, so it isn’t my fault it became real for me – but it has been my blessing.” I owe my health and even life to Shao Lin, which is why I have retired to teach it now. Like we did. Back when Bruce Lee had just hit the silver screen and “everybody was kung fu fighting” like Carl Douglas said. I always imagined Grasshopper was way too cool for me – he was nearly too cool for planet earth! I don’t know what I thought the Grasshopper did in the world? But it was full of lights, space ships and meeting kings, I can remember I was sure of that. At our age now, it looks like my role model had his self a pretty good life too.
He has aged better than me, but then again, his temple was lots fancier in the show. He was from somewhere wonderful far away and Weedhopper was living it out in Independence, leaving too much to pursue medicine that I have begun to reclaim now. Things that have waited long enough are getting done and one of them is my fan letter I haven’t figured out how to write. I watched a conversation with Mr. Pera, David Carradine and others where he asked Carradine “when you met fans, did you ever feel like you had to live up to the character for them?” Honest good ‘ol grasshopper. Everyone else gave stylish, completely safe Hollywood answers. They were not Shao Lin ~
Grasshopper already lived up to Rademas Pera for me. I am the one that would be hoping I had lived up to something if I ever met him. But I have often thought about how to write just to say “Thanks for something better to live up to Grasshopper” Because in the case of “Kung Fu”, you actually could believe the television ~
On the Burden of Rademas, and joy ~
Man, It is pretty simple to me. You recreated from authentic material, in an authentic vocation which, in so far as mankind is concerned has always had significant positive social impact. A vague sense of responsibility that was satisfied in “I was a plausable representation of a chinese/American orphan in 1800’s China. It is difficult to immerse oneself in such a powerful creation without feeling like you honor what you represented no matter what part any of it may be in your own life.” You are, if not disciple, then ambassador to the almost completely contemplative and ethical part of gong fu. You always answered the questions, but weren’t so much giving out footy.
I think your words on it showed me that and express that you understand that may be your one sociopolitical burden.
Thank the powers you didn’t have a job recreating some little furtive monster or malicious alien! Then all “those” guys would think you were cool and want to be thanking you and hanging out and oy! 😉
I sometimes contemplate the concept of destiny and quiver at the thought…any of them really, because that’s all we get. Wondering if wonderful things are true, or we created them because of the better of us.
But if within you are your deepest ethics undenied and generous spirit toward all life, you did snatch the pebble. Pretty sure you already know all that sorry. I have always wanted the chance to say it.
In my mind, you had a rare chance to do something wonderful for the world and you did. You did it well. Who goes ill after the way of the Grasshopper?
Thanks man. Bravo! Got to check out your music ~