When I was a kid at primary school, way before I graduated to the darker days of high school, I used to believe there were three kinds of hero:
The superhero - guys like Batman who could kick butt despite looking pretty dodgy in their day-glo outfits
The anti-hero - like the Incredible Hulk who tried to do good but still got treated like an outcast
the everyday hero - normal people like you and me who could do superhero things, with just a little bit of training
Although the first two kinds were cool enough, you never felt like you could be just like them. I mean, how many times would an overdose of gamma personally hit you? But the third kind Anybody could be like them, even a scrawny little kid like me, and nowhere was this more true than with the 'Kung Fu' TV series.
Maybe it was because it was so normal that I liked it so much. The hero didn't look like the Hulk on steroids, and he didn't have need to wear a mask to hide who he was he'd take on everyone and be proud to show who he was. All I knew was that between 1972 and 1975, at exactly 6.00pm in the evening, I'd be in front of the TV, hunched just like a meditating Chinese martial artist myself.
It was also the first thing to introduce me to one of my favorite actors as well, David Carradine, who played the main character, Kwai Chang Cain. Okay, so he may not be the greatest actor on the planet, but you show me someone who is as laid-back cool as him and I'd bet David Carradine could lay the smack down on them. The fact that he was actually a trained martial artist made 'Kung Fu' an even better TV series, since he was just as scrawny as I was!
Born of an American father and Chinese mother, Cain is orphaned and becomes an outcast, and maybe I related to that, as my father died when I was very young, too. Taken in by Shaolin monks, they turn this scrawny little kid into the guy that even Bruce Lee would respect. Discovering he has a half-brother called Danny, Cain (as an adult) sets out on a journey across America to find him.
Although no specific episodes stood out for me as a kid, I always remembered the little sayings in every episode the philosophy of why I should strive to become a better person through discipline and honor. It must have worked, because 30 years later, I'm one belt away from achieving my black belt in karate.
When I found out that you could get the complete 'Kung Fu' TV series, I almost peed my pants (my strong karate discipline stopped me, of course!), since I never enjoyed the newer version of the series (which also starred Carradine as a descendent of Cain, and was shown in the nineties). Now all I need is my own little brood in my dojo, so I can share with them what made me the man I am today.
Yoshi Kundagawa is a freelance journalist covering the martial arts world. Too much time at his computer eating donuts reduced him to couch potato status. He's on a quest to recapture his youth and fitness. You can read his blog at http://www.martialarts3000.comNorman Doidge