Open letter to a homeboy: Just 'jeet kun do' it

About week ago, as I rifled through a nearly ten-year-old folder on my older Mac (the G4 Tower), I was reacquainted unexpectedly with a letter that I wrote to a friend in late autumn of 2003. Planted throughout this dated missive are the seeds from which Kung Fu Grip! zine and several other of my projects, perhaps even this blog, have flowered.

I'd like to think that I've become a slightly better writer since then–but this letter wasn't originally intended for mass consumption, either. So, I should prolly forgive myself for its faults. I mean, it's still a good enough read, methinks. Most private letters are, right?

Submitted for your perusal, the Tao of Kung Fu Grip.

November 14, 2003

[Name withheld]

I feel like a writer today and so I'm writing you this letter. It won't be very long, though. Just an 'arts & life' update.

My phone service was interrupted this past Monday due to non payment. Apparently, I misread the disconnection notice, thinking that the payment didn't have to be made until 11/23. I was only half right and the phone was temporarily disconnected; if not paid by 11/23 it will be completely disconnected.

Hmmmmm...another lemon. So, what did I do? I made some proverbial lemonade.

Firstly, I cleaned the apartment––something I had neglected to do for almost two months. Sure, I had done some spot cleaning to keep some semblance of order, but there were other things that needed to get done that just kept getting put off...until the phone service was interrupted, that is. 

"Hello, my name is St. Paco and I am an internet addict..."

After my cleaning chores I got back to some of my research, rereading a lot of the stuff I've downloaded over the past few years and establishing connections on various points that had been hoverin' in the back of my mind for some time. I then drew up this timeline and spent more time looking into this largely unknown tradition in medieval Europe where religious icons of a black Christ began to appear around the 11th century and to flourish throughout the 15th century, when the Spanish began to colonize other parts of the world. 

After a day or two of that, it occurred to me that my more...secular writings were being neglected (again). I figured that – if nothing else – I could maybe get one more issue of Third Rail zine out this year; I have about six or seven essays in varying phases, from rough ideas to nearly finished. 

I then started working on the Upski Wimsatt short story again, that I want to have in the second issue of Third Rail. As it's now at ten pages in length (zine-sized) and almost complete, it'll significantly help to cut down on the amount of pages that I will ultimately need to fill. I'm thinking that it'll be 36 pages long, like the first issue.

And then there's this "Count Dante: Deadliest Man Alive" article that's been burnin' in the back of my brain since July.

It's funny how you take things for granted. For instance, I always just took for granted that Count Dante was from Chicago. But seeing his full-page ad again earlier this year in an old Fantastic Four issue that I was flippin' through really brought it home to me, that sense of wonder that not only comic books held for us growin' up, but the advertisements within–especially the old martial arts ads.

It probably goes without saying that I think that Dante's was the crown jewel of such advertising.

Now, the article idea actually came to me after, merely out of curiosity, I searched the web for more information on the guy and found it almost IMPOSSIBLE to get anything on him. He'd practically fallen off the map, it seemed. Ultimately, though, I would come to learn that he actually died back in 1975–which I'm sure I didn't forget and just never knew.

Afterward, it occurred to me then that since my zine was loosely about old school hip-hop perspectives filtered through my experiences growing up in Chicago, I should write about him. Nothing is as old school and identifiable as the Count Dante "Black Dragon Fighting Society" ads that our generation was exposed to by way of comic books. Well, save for the equally memorable full-page ads by Charles Atlas and the Hostess Company. 

With the Dante article, I even get to sneak in my deep appreciation of Bruce Lee and old kung-fu flicks. At the same time, too, I also get to throw in relevant references to my other childhood hero Muhammad Ali (who owned a home in Chicago back then) and even Jim Kelly, through utilizing that memorable movie quote that you also planned to use your own movie one day: 

"Man...you come right out of a comic book."
– Jim Kelly, Enter the Dragon (1973)

It seems that those handmade Black Dragon Society stickers that I gave you were only an early manifestation of the work on Dante that was still to come, which has now culminated in a biography on the man himself for Third Rail zine. Now that I'm nearly finished with it, though, I honestly think it's good enough to submit to Giant Robot or some other mag.

Yanno, it would also be PERFECT for the Raw Like Sushi zine that we talked about doing together. But gawd only knows when that project will grow it's proverbial other foot; it takes one foot to stand but two to walk.

Early this year, I had envisioned this "King Kong Versus Godzilla" article (based on one of the indigenous populations of the South Pacific islands) as my first commercial writing project, but KKVSG is still months away from completion. And now the Dante article – though originally conceived and researched back in July – was just started this week and will be done by the weekend. After a few more proofreads, it'll be ready for submission somewhere.

And, yo, while writing this article I almost felt like Tarantino did while working on Kill Bill. The night that it was started I had take a break to watch that Bruce Lee vs. Mako episode of The Green Hornet, cuz I was just so hyped–which brings me to a thought.

Stumped this afternoon as to how I should end the article, it occurred to me to pull out a magazine that I'd bought from Tower Records on Alma School & Southern back when I was still living in Mesa. Kung Fu Magazine had done this cool Bruce Lee retrospective issue to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Enter the Dragon.

Well, as an inspirational distraction I opened the magazine and read again the interviews with Dan Inosanto, Taky Kimura, Bruce's brother Robert, and others. And something that was mentioned in an interview with Richard Bustillo, one of Bruce's old running buddies and sparring partners, really stuck with me. It also made me think of you.

It was Bruce's reiteration the ancient belief that the ultimate knowledge "is self-knowledge." This saying is virtually as old as human spirituality itself.

And then, as he confided how Bruce helped him to be really "honest" with himself, Bustillo reports that Bruce told him: "When you think you can do this or that...don't think...just do it! Either you have it or you don't. Don't just say things like, 'Yeah, I want to do this or I want to do that.' Just do it."

Bustillo says that those words, coming from Bruce, changed his outlook on life. Maybe you can get something out of them, too. But I don't mean by simply reading them in this letter and saying, "Oh, that's cool." Take them, write them down or...cut them from this letter! Tape them to your desk, wall or computer so that you see them everyday until you OWN them:

Click to enlarge. 

The way I see it, they're not just Bruce's words of advice to Bustillo. It's tried-and-true advice for you, for me, and for anyone else who dreams of doing something crazy...like changing the world. Sometimes the secret is so simple that we miss it:

Just do it, bro. Just Jeet Kun Do it.


St. Paco

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