This is a segment I called Front & Center , where I… or whoever is hacking my computer and diligently working on my behalf, showcase a random individual of merit from any field. Start with a little bio.. brief history, and what he or she is doing, today. They may be living or dead, who knows. This list is on shuffle mode , so who knows!
Going to warm you up here and drop some interesting things over time. For the first installment of Front & Center , we have..
Jim Freakin’ Kelly!!
James Milton. Jim. “The Dragon”. Born to a Kentuckian family on May 5th, 1946, Jim Kelly starship was predestined for martial art greatness and cinematic legend. Kung Fu fans and general movie patrons will remember him for his role as the supercool (this is the only time that adjective is acceptable aside from, say Isaac Hayes) do-it-my-own-way “Williams” in 1973’s Enter The Dragon — along with martial artist legend and Jeet Kune Do master Bruce Lee. Other notable features include Black Samurai, Three The Hard Way and of course…….. Black Belt Jones:
The witty one liners, the trademark fro, the inability to take any levels of shit.. to me, despite obviously not growing up in the era of Blaxploitation, he represented the “counter”. The “our way”. The alternative to the common stream of things…. in a sense, individuals like him is what “HipHop” is about at is base: counter-culture. Back when most ethnic individuals on screen weren’t here to perpetuate ignorance, negative imagery, and push corporate america’s prejudice agendas. I could have picked someone as obvious as Ali, Paul Mooney, Frank Zappa (lol that dude is NUTS), Tony Gwinn , Badu …Batman LMAO, but seriously.. what this site represents.. what MY music represents, is that “counter”. When I say “The Culture Is Back” , I’m speaking of that counter-culture – culture.. sometimes you have to windmill kick that ignorant crap off it’s high horse. Jim Kelly as the first Front & Center , is the perfect embodiment of that “our way” which the underground hiphop we love so much represents.
Back to The Dragon..
Initially , he attended University of Louisville based off a football scholarship , but inevitably quit due to racist treatment of a teammate. This lead him to the doorsteps of an art form known as Shorin-ryu and Okinawa-te Karate following his return to California. Subsequently, he opened a school of his own following his training under Mr. Parker Shelton; even associated with Black Karate Federation. TyRaiD Tidbit: his school logo , as well as Steve Sanders, the founder of BKF, are visible in The Dragon’s dojo early early on during Enter the Dragon. If anything, his authentic approach to martial arts is what helped propel him into the martial art film spotlight in the ’70s. The first black martial artist recognized as a movie star.
Side bar… did I mention he was an accomplished tennis athlete who played for the USTA..?? Master of all trades, right??
After his tenure in the public eye of entertainment ended, he continued to hone his skill and contribute back to the martial arts community; providing lessons and making ultra-rare public appearances. Matter of fact, let’s skip all the movie choreography, check out some clips of him on the real mat. Watch the speed and form, no joke…
Unfortunately, he is no longer with us; he passed away after a prolonged fight with cancer. He is survived by his family and wife of 33 years, Marcia, who described him as “an amazing spirit with an amazing vision, who geniuely cared for other people”. This doesn’t come off as some contrived press release statement, as this man was truly a teacher of the art.
Wesley Snipes, Michael Jai White.. there would be no individuals like him without individuals such as Jim Kelly. For my Boondocks heads.. Bushido Brown, anyone???
So, let’s salute a pioneer. This is HipHop. The Culture Is Back!!
(you can check out more information on Jim Kelly at www.jimkellykarate.com )