Jim Kelly looking good
This month marks the 40th anniversary since the Mother of All Martial Arts movies first exploded on the big screen.
"Enter The Dragon" introduced the incomparable Bruce Lee to a worldwide audience. Unfortunately only days before its mega successful debut, he died in Hong Kong from an allergic reaction to a common medicine taken to relieve a headache.
I could use up a lot of bandwidth posting about the influence Bruce Lee had on an entire generation of martial artists, boxers, wrestlers, and action movie aficionados -- but nothing could compare to simply watching a snippet of the amazing man in action.
Another star who briefly lit up the silver screen alongside Bruce in that breakthrough picture was a black martial artist with a big Afro and, seemingly, an even bigger ego. But as they once said about Bruce Lee: he was cocky, but he could back up the cockiness with physical prowess.
Jim Kelly died over the weekend. He was 67. But I will always remember him as that twenty- something fleet of foot karate fighter, one of the best of his time.
That was a time in America when Sport Karate was just starting to take off, where on any weekend anywhere in America you could find a high school gymnasium overflowing with men, women and children dressed in karate gis, grouped according to belt color awaiting a two-minute match.
When the bad guy, Han, confronts Williams (the Jim Kelly character) saying he needed to learn humility through defeat, Williams responds, "I don't waste my time with it. When it comes, I won't even notice ... I'll be too busy looking g-o-o-d."
As the bad guy then prepares for the climactic fight to the death, Williams sneers, 'Man, you come right out of a comic book."
Like most top tournament karate competitors at the time Jim Kelly hoped his martial arts prowess would lead to other lucrative opportunities, since the tournament wins usually paid off in over-sized trophies.
My favorite Jim Kelly quote comes not from a movie but from an article in Black Belt magazine where he lamented, "Trophies don't put gas in my car."
Like tournament karate itself, Jim Kelly never quite reached the sustained pinnacle of financial success so richly deserved. But he could always be counted on for "looking good."
Now, for eternity.