Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some Musings on the 52

Hopefully you've had a chance to read and view the material on the 52 Blocks. It occurred to me today that 52 is an interesting parallel to Ninjutsu. Not necessary in the styles themselves, but the pedigrees.

The Takamatsuden "Ninjutsu" schools have had a hard time finding accpetance for many different reasons. First is the history and documentation of the lineages. As a "secret" art used by warriors considered less than the noble, honorable ideal, the ability to trace real history is hard. Documentation of the schools was nearly non-existent. Historians and Martial Arts Masters questioned the legitimacy of such an art, and even questioned the morals and motivations of anyone who wanted to learn an "assassin's art."

52 is also an underground style, closely associated in the popular imagination with thugs and prisons. It has no documentation associated with it -- so how are we to trace any development? We rely upon oral history accounts and vague connections to historical figures or developments, such as the more evasive style of African American boxers as they rose to prominence.

This is, of course, a gross oversimplification. But it makes you think about certain issues. If 52 Blocks is now emerging from the shadows to become a legitimately recognized martial art, what kind of frictions will it encounter on this journey? Will it find more ready acceptance?

I'm eager to hear more about the 52 Blocks. I think this is a fascinating American story and our country's contribution to the martial arts.


ddw5906 said...

Not really sure what to think about 52 blocks. After reading your blog about it I went to a couple of their sites to see more. All I can say is...Wow, are they kidding or what?

Apparently this "martial art" (term used very loosely) is practiced in prison and is big with the gangsta rapper crowd ( awesome) and is part fighting and part dancing. In fact a claim was made that break dancing arose from this "system" (again a loose description).

Sadly, people will probably buy into this hook, line and sinker. Looks like alot have already.

But I guess that it's not all together different than NASCAR being extremely proud of the fact that their sport sprang from famalies running illegal whiskey or the Thompson arms folks who were made very popular and very wealthy because of the criminal use of the "Tommy Gun".

Our society is like that sometimes. Criminal behavior often becomes glorified by the masses. Who knows... if there is money in it, we should think about a joint venture and open a 52 Blocks school. Or maybe a Death-kido place. I got a budy who went to law school. He can draw up all the papers.


jrf said...


Keep in mind that if I google the term "ninja" or "ninjutsu" I will pull up entries on everything from the three X-kans to Ashida Kim and Koga Ryu to Naruto and those Mutant Turtles. It has a cultural imprint too. 52 Blocks has more of a "sub"-cultural imprint as you discovered.

You find yourself in the same position "respectable" Japanese martial arts masters were in when word started spreading that Ninjutsu was being taught. They had to be laughing about it and saying, "They can't be serious? Are they going to cast spells on me? Is poisoning people a real martial art? And even if this is true... Who wants to be associated with a bunch of assassins, bandits, and rapists?" ("Rapists?" Yes, "ninja as rapist" has a long history in Japanese porn, er, I mean Erotica...) Some reputation.

None of which is to say that you aren't right to be skeptical of 52. I'm sure there are many questions to be answered. But don't dismiss it out of hand. If it is a fighting "system" with ties to crime, don't you think it wouldn't have survived if it wasn't somewhat effective?

If it is connected to breakdancing, there are plenty of other martial arts connected with folk dances. Capoeira comes to mind. But there are Hawaiian, Polynesian, and African war dances that mimic combative movements. It's even said that the Scottish sword dance has some connection to fighting with baskethilt swords... Are all of these effective combative systems? No; some more than others... But the connections are there.

I'm interested in the story of 52. Right now we don't know much. If it turns out to be bogus, we'll find out. But in the meantime...

jrf said...

And why are you name-checking DeathKiDo? Don't you know everytime you mention it, the styles web presence increases? If you have to mention something that sounds ridiculous (but isn't) mention Iron Wheel Boxing.

ddw5906 said...

I mention it for this reason- Much like grown men who sign up for any art just to have and wear the cool garb, there are the same who would sign up for an art that had "death" in the title. As some would sign up for any reason other than the right reason.

The footage that I have seen of 52 looks like street fighting kind of with some extra hand movements that appear to do nothing. So are we now to believe that street fighting is an American martial art simply because convicted criminals serving time in American prisons are using in the prison shower? Or maybe because it was invented by african slaves? Does that make it an American martial art?

I think I have heard boxing referred to as an American martial art as well. I have heard of gun fighting referred to as an American martial art. And let's not forget about Native American ( dare I say Indian) wrestling. Who knows?

It's all about marketing and knowing your target audience I suppose.