BS Call: 52 Hands / Jailhouse Rock

Discussion in 'Articles' started by SifuPhil, Sep 2, 2012.

  1. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    jailhouse rock.jpg

    52 Blocks / 52 Hand Blocks / Jailhouse Rock first officially appeared in a 1999 book entitled Street Kingdom and was also detailed in the essay Freeing the Afrikan Mind: the Role of Martial Arts in Contemporary African American Cultural Nationalism by Professor Tom Green of Texas A&M University. It is purportedly a system of fighting taught and known only by black inmates in jails and prisons in the United States. It has been given its own provenance and legends, as well as its own instructional DVDs and YouTube videos, and at least from these latter sources it appears to be nothing more than dirty boxing combined with some flash moves, or at best stand-up Capoeira without the grace and flowing moves.

    Of course it's always risky talking about any fighting style that is identified with a particular race; debates over Asian vs. American styles have existed since the turn of the 19th century, and many include nationalistic overtones in their arguments. Chinese styles such as Kung-Fu and Russian styles such as Systema are often spurned by Westerners because of the “heathen” origins of these arts. African and African-American arts suffer no less.

    My biggest complaint with calling 52 Blocks a “style”, and a newly-evolved one at that, is that it differs only very slightly from your regular, run-of-the-mill street-fighting techniques. Sure, they add a few elbows and a lot of rope-a-dope, a lot of flash moves that are totally unnecessary, but at heart it's Western boxing pure and simple.

    Another concern is that it plays into the current mania for black ghetto culture. Hollywood teaches us that anything that comes from a prison must be cool; anything done under the guise of black pride must be the real thing. Now, pride is fine – everyone should have a heapin' helpin' of it. But to pass off a cheap knock-off of an already-established art by adding a few bits of bling and calling it a “secret” style known only by hard-core gangbangers is a disservice to black culture as well as to martial artists in general.

    In fact it is highly probable that 52 came into being in the first decade of the 20th century when Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing champion in 1908. His moves were mainly defensive, counter-punching and responding to mistakes his opponent made. Also at that time most fighters worked for tips, so a more showy, crowd-pleasing style was often employed – all of which is reflected in toady's 52 style.

    Rashad Evans, a former UFC light-heavyweight champion, credits 52 with some of his success in the ring. He said that while growing up he had heard stories from older men about 52 being used in prison fights, and saw what he assumed were parts of it being used in street fights.

    “What it comes down to is just really practical boxing” he said.


    If any one person could be said to have been responsible for the revelation of 52 it would be Dennis Newsome, who served as one of the fight consultants to Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. Profiled by the San Diego Tribune in 2004, Newsome was said to be “one of the pioneers of African martial arts”. Newsome, as explained by the author of the piece, claimed his father and grandfather taught him “a type of leg wrestling passed down from African slaves in the Americas”.

    According to Newsome, Jailhouse Rock comprises multiple styles developed in different places and under different conditions, and thus each of these incorporate different techniques. These techniques range from striking to wrestling, using the hands, elbows, knees, head butts, and some low kicks. Practitioners of Jailhouse Rock supposedly learn in-depth knowledge of pressure points and vital striking areas, as well as foot sweeps and “Gangsta Locks” (which Newsome equates to trapping such as in Wing Chun or Jeet Kune Do).

    Also to hear Newsome tell it, 52 Blocks is an underground system. Unless you go to jail, hang out in underground fighting circles or are family to an ex-con, you’ll never learn it — and if you are a white guy, nobody will teach it to you. As Newsome’s interviewer, identified only as “Dempsy,” wrote, “The art is the art of the African who needs it for survival. Much like the Asians decades ago, who would not teach outside their race, the analogy is that you do not give your enemy your best weapon.” In other words, Jailhouse Rock is a racist, racially determined system, in which all of you who are white and NOT in prison are the enemy.

    As I mentioned earlier there is the strong appeal of gaining street cred from having a custom-made martial art at your disposal. Then there is the fact that a truly coherent and comprehensive “system” or “style” of martial arts could hardly be taught in a prison setting. Sure, bits and pieces could be passed onto new students, but as a complete system? No way.

    Finally there is the drive to have a culturally unique art to claim as one's one. Just as there are those who try (and fail) to link contemporary urban culture to the ancient society of Egypt, asserting that an African martial art has survived and been disseminated in America’s prisons fulfills the same need to identify cultural significance and differentiate it from Western culture.

    But regardless of the true provenance of 52 Hands, the instructors that have taught it to their felon friends have accomplished one thing: they've created the myth. 52 Hands is now a genuine style because … they said so.

    Congratulations, guys. :rolleyes:
  3. Gone

    Gone Guest

    I spit on 52 blocks.
    I urinate on 52 blocks.
    I defecate on 52 blocks.
    I vomit on 52 blocks.
    I hate 52 blocks.
    Death to 52 blocks.
  4. Enkidu

    Enkidu Destroyer of your martial arts fantasies

    Interestingly, Jack Johnson was jailed for fighting a white fighter which was illegal in Texas, I think. The white fighter he fought was also jailed. That white fighter was a Jewish fighter Joe Choynski (who defeated Johnson in their fight). While they were in jail together, Choynski and Johnson became friends and Choynksi decided to end up becoming Johnson's boxing coach after that.
    SifuPhil, Quiteman and RJ Clark like this.
  5. MadoreGojuRyu

    MadoreGojuRyu Master

    LOL, what a joke. I love the little BS bullet points that pop up during the video. The first one alone shows its a crappy attempt at trying to be badass.....'he refused to register his hands'.....I always love hearing people talking about this one. Never fails to crack me up.
  6. Dpendleton

    Dpendleton Warrior Monk

    I have heard of this before and you have to understand prison is a very racist setting. I could understand if they choose to not train other groups legit martial art or not. I have heard going to prison will most likely make you racist. Also there are tons of African martial arts out there why cling on to a prison made on.
    SifuPhil and Master of Nothing like this.
  7. D. WOODS

    D. WOODS Shaolin Toad

    It is a lot more then what they are showing in the video. It is a lot closer to being Silat or a panatukin and dumog mix.
    Master of Nothing and Dpendleton like this.
  8. Dpendleton

    Dpendleton Warrior Monk

    A whole lot more. I need to see if I can find that video.
    SifuPhil likes this.
  9. RJ Clark

    RJ Clark Tree Ninja Staff Member

    Oh man! The "registering the hands as deadly weapons" was one that didn't make it on the martial arts myths thread I think.
  10. Enkidu

    Enkidu Destroyer of your martial arts fantasies

    So, back on Sifu's original point: after watching the video, I have to agree that 52 Block looks pretty much like dirty boxing to me, perhaps with the addition of some take downs (from the one I saw in the video). Not entirely sure what its proponent say makes it a separate martial art. Oh, and I find it funny that the video espouses Zab Judah's "52 Block" as something that PBFM couldn't handle since PBFM won that fight unanimously.
    Dpendleton and SifuPhil like this.
  11. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    I HAVE heard that the YouTubes etc. aren't really representative of the style; if so, I'd love to see what the real thing looks like.

    ... of course, I guess we could say that about most styles. o_O But it's the braggadocio and the posturing that makes my little BS antennae rise up ...
  12. Master of Nothing

    Master of Nothing Psychotic Pacifist

    Well. As much as I'm not a fan of racism. Dpendleton has a good point about racism in prison and how it can turn someone racist. I have to reflect on the thread about new styles. If it works and if it has structure. It is a system. I'd say the same thing if this was about "KKKarate" or something. Whether the style is effectiveor not. Really depends on the individual fighter dynamic like any other system. Should people "grow up" and stop with "if you are (place ethicityhere), then you may or may not learn". Hell yes. Like the chinese and other asians did.

    As far as an instructional setting. SifuPhil has a solid.Very hard to instruct a complete system in a prison. Both guards and enemies are always watching & listening. Maybe a technique or two can be shared at a time. But, then if someone is in for several years then there is a lot of "piece mealing" that can be done. Albeit, I have little faith that such a system would have the extensive knowledge and understanding of the technical applications beyond-"Ya hit dat fucker right here. And dat muthfuka will just drop, yo" (unless they spent asmuch time in the library specifically to analyse those techniques and effects). Personally, I don't know. In the D.C. "circuit" their were several ex-cons that would say, "Ghetto-Fu, Gangsta-Fu, My 'WuTang' Shit, or just 'Ya Just Don't Know Son'". But, this isthe first time I've heard it refered to as"52 Blocks". The reality was-some were good and really gave me a run for my money (literally). A couple guys really put a beat-down on my ass. Most (like "fortified styles") were just cannon-fodder. As many (but not all) lean toward a "boxing type" strategy and forget kicking. So, the range of skill is the same as any martial artist.
    First and foremost in prison. One must learn to survive. Awareness training is everyday, any fighting technique taught Must work or else, and if you didn't make it clear that you were an alphadog- you were in for some trouble (especially during shower times).
    Now I can see someone that has "time-in" for 10 to 20 years having the time to sit down and write out a rough cirriculum for the things they have learned. Or maybe after they served their time and they were teaching others what they picked up. Fleshing a cirriculum out. Either way,as someone that is presently writing my own cirriculum. It would be hypocritical for me to down someone else's if they had an effective method of fighting (McDos are fare game). I'll rag on the racism all day, everyday. But, I have to respect anyone that is willing to "put their money where their mouth is", knowing what can happen if they loose.
    As far as "registering hands"? That's just shit talkin.
    (My hands are registered.......With the ladies. ;))
    Dpendleton likes this.
  13. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    LOL - the only effective fighting I saw in County was home-made shivs. They don't take long to make and they don't take long to learn - just grab 'n' jab.

    Of course I wasn't in with the hard-core dudes, so maybe if you were doing 10-to-20 you'd have the time ... but what would you do in the meantime? Dye your underwear pink and learn to shimmy? :eek:
    Master of Nothing likes this.
  14. Master of Nothing

    Master of Nothing Psychotic Pacifist

    Or make prison wine out of the toilet. lol
  15. ghost

    ghost Disciple

    52 Blocks is jailhouse rock/dirty boxing. It's no more bullshit than Krav Maga or Jeet Kune Do.

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