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Years ago, I had a pen pal in Germany with whom I traded painstakingly translated notes in onion-skin air-mail envelopes. Many of today’s high-school freshmen have probably never bought a postage stamp. They use e-mail. They interact with peers and contemporaries from all over the world at the speed of a mouse click – most often, probably, shooting or sword-slaying those peers in massive multiplayer games linked through the Internet, when they’re not listening to music on MySpace or clicking mindlessly at pointless virtual farms, fish tanks and mobs on Facebook. Just this week, a new study of social networking sites and teenagers concluded that teens tend to use these Internet sites in a manner consistent with their personalities. The more well-adjusted the kids were, the more likely they were to use such networking sites as young adults.
Technology makes the world smaller. Modern technology links us to people with whom we might never connect otherwise. It makes it possible for us to communicate with human beings across the globe … and in some cases, to anger people we’ve never met who are thousands of miles away.
Last week in Technocracy, we discussed the technology of crime in the context of martial arts and weapons. Another aspect of technology as it applies to these subjects, however, is in the propagation of martial systems. Specifically, in the last week I experienced firsthand the power of technology to connect diverse people, as I managed to enrage countless devotees of martial technology who have themselves used modern communications media to dupe the unwary. These people have an agenda we might call “multicultural” if it were not simply racist.
Over the weekend, I concluded several weeks of research on a martial art called “52 Blocks” or “Jailhouse Rock” by posting a nine-minute video at YouTube. If you’ve never heard of “52 blocks,” you’re not alone. A lot more people are aware of this martial art than you might think, though, and this is a function of the Internet.
“52 Blocks” first came to public attention in the late 1990s, when author Douglas Century wrote a book and an article in Details magazine referencing it. The style was also profiled in the New York Times last year, because several instructors have emerged who now publicly teach what author Justin Porter called a “quasi martial art” whose “history is a bit murky.”
One man who will gladly tell you a tale of the system’s history is Dennis Newsome. Newsome is notable because he consulted on the mix of fighting styles used by Mel Gibson in the movie “Lethal Weapon,” some of which supposedly include elements of “52 Blocks.” Profiled by the San Diego Tribune in 2004, Newsome was described as “one of the pioneers of African martial arts.” Newsome claims his father and grandfather taught him “a type of leg wrestling passed down from African slaves in the Americas.” In a series of interview questions and answers reposted online, Newsome claimed that “52 Blocks” or “Jailhouse Rock” originated in Africa and possibly comes from the same parent art as the martial art of capoeria. As the story goes, when evil whites began jailing freed black slaves as a form of racial persecution, inmates who knew this martial art passed it on to others in secret, and as they did so the martial art evolved.
The lore is that “52 Blocks” is an underground fighting system, only rarely (if ever) taught to whites and a product of the United States penal system. There is no proof whatsoever that it ever truly existed, and to believe that it does one must believe that it’s possible for a complex, technically diverse martial system to have been transported through the Middle Passage to be handed down from generation to generation under the watchful eyes of slave owners and prison officials.
I said as much in my video. My inbox was immediately flooded with angry e-mails. I was accused by people across the country and around the world of being a “racist cracka,” among other epithets, who sought to “take down” this important piece of African heritage out of ignorance or some other more sinister motive. Author Douglas Century somehow got wind of the video and responded to it – though it was clear from his comments that he hadn’t truly watched the video at all. I was accused of “cherry picking” and “misrepresenting” facts … and then the defensive, spurious arguments started.
A system that never really existed, which has no real definition, can be anything and everything to anyone, a forever moving target that shifts to avoid scrutiny and logical analysis. I was told that I was wrong to say “52 Blocks” was a prison system, because some of its defenders claim it isn’t (even though others do). I was wrong to say it couldn’t realistically come from Africa (even though some of its exponents say it did), because in fact it was only “influenced by” its African roots, its techniques “informed by” the “flavor” of Africa. True believers in this prison-system-that-isn’t-a-prison system, desperate to defend this African-martial-art-that-isn’t-really-African, claimed that if other martial arts (like capoeira) came from Africa, it must mean that “52 Blocks” did as well. Why, there are even some “52 Blocks” schools that teach white students, so all those people calling me a hateful cracker attacking the precious product of black history were my imagination, and “52 Blocks” isn’t, after all, taught as part of a “black power” ideology.
The reality is that “52 Blocks” is promulgated by those who glorify prison culture while furthering a falsely multicultural or “afrocentric” view of history. It’s completely made up – a shared delusion furthered by those teachers now claiming to impart the system to students commercially. It falls to those more interested in truth than cultural reparations, then, to use the pulpit of the Internet to say so.
Technology helped propagate the myth of “52 Blocks.” Technology can be used to dispel it as well.