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From Wikipedia (Yeah, we know, it's just a starting place)
professional boxers, including Zab Judah and Mike Tyson, have testified to the existence of the style and it is referred to in rap songs by artists including the Wu Tang Clan. Tales of the pugilistic exploits of legendary 1970's New York prison fighter "Mother Dear" have also contributed to the extensive urban mythology surrounding this system.
The 52 Hand Blocks aspect of JHR was first featured in the Douglas Century's nonfiction book Street Kingdom, published in 1999, and is 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.
The name 52 may be a reference to the playing card games of 52 Pickup and to the expression "let the cards fall where they may." Other theories relate the name to a combat training game involving the use of playing cards and/or to the Supreme Mathematics of the Nation of Gods and Earths. It could even be a reference, coded, symbolic, or otherwise, to a specific cell block. However, a more likely explanation is that it simply refers to the fifty-two blocking techniques encompassed in the art.
According to Dennis Newsome, a well-known JHR specialist, JHR is an indigenous African American fighting art that has its origins in the 17th and 18th centuries, when slaves were first institutionalized and needed to defend themselves. Oral tradition has the skill evolving secretly within the U.S. penal system, with regional styles reflecting the physical realities of specific institutions. This theory relates JHR to the fusion of African and European/American bare-knuckle fist-fighting styles known as "cutting", which is said to have been practiced by champions such as Tom Molineaux, and also to the little-known African-American fighting skill known as "knocking and kicking," which is said to be practiced clandestinely in parts of the Southern US and on the Sea Islands.
Alternatively, it may be possible that JHR was not a product of penal institutions, but rather an evolution of the many African martial arts or fighting games which were practiced by slaves, with different styles evolving separately in different penal institutions. According to this theory, Jailhouse Rock may be a modern American manifestation of the many African martial arts that were disseminated throughout the African diaspora, comparable to martial arts including Afro-Brazilian Capoeira, Cuban Mani, Martiniquese Ladja, and Eritrean Testa.
According to the individual known on YouTube as "52blocksinfo",in response to a former inmate stating that he never witnessed Jail House Rock or its variants in prison stated that "52blocks is created by Veronnica Quinn ...its a black womans art but since we are a minority but we make up the majority in prison there is no surprise people think this is a prison system."
"I have no words for the movie or the actor but why miss lead our African American people with untruth. Fact slaves did fight in more places than Virginia, what a quatium leap to call that fighting 52 Blocks. Fact rough n tumble, knocking and kicking, cutting, the name 52 Blocks is from 1960 New York. You have to know our culture to talk about or history. Why lie to our babies. Fact 52 Blocks is not A PRISON ART. Yes some people learned in jail, bit not every prison every where knows 52 Blocks or Jail Hoise Boxing. You can stunt and make it all look good slow action, you watch us on youtube and brorrow all the flavor C52G. But don't lie to our children slave fights like in the movie Mandingo, Drum, and Django. I don't see 52 Blocks surely if it was all the same we would see something k ike it. Since our elders past it on to us. What prison in NYC did the character learn his 52 Blocks from. Oh and this is an historical fact no such name as Virginia shuffle, when are we going to stop hustlimg our future generation to live a lie for a check. Once the money is gone what will be our legacy." - Daniel Marks
In a place like prison, home to numerous hostile individuals, violence is bound to erupt. There is no doubt that the residents of such a grim and unfriendly abode would ponder on developing realistic methods to survive group-beatings, shankings, rape, etc. 52 Blocks is said to be a once secretive style of fighting with roots in native African fighting arts that was developed into a science by African Americans within the confines of prison.
It has been talked about and rapped about, but only in recent times a few individuals have come forward to shed more light on 52 blocks. Daniel “Farisi” Marks is one of them…
Harjit Singh Sagoo: When did you first hear about 52 Blocks and how did you come to learn it?
Daniel Marks: Well like most people growing up outside of NYC, I was unaware that there was this Style of Fighting. My first contact with the craft was in 1986 while serving in Charlie Company 35th Signal Battalion at Fort Braggs NC. One Autumn night myself and others engaged in some impromptu Slap Boxing matches in which I would square off with two practitioners un be known to me. Specialist Elmore from Brooklyn and Specialist Reeves from Chicago. Both men were savvy on the streets of their respected cities, and both were former juvenile offenders. In short, they took turns laying the smack down on me while everyone else got a good laughed. My first thoughts were “what the hell are you doing!” Being no stranger to boxing or karate the latter of which I obtain a first degree Black Belt in that same year. So I was a little arrogant when we started, but they both made it look too easy, and until this day I call one move picking up money. I squared off with SPC. Reeves at this point he being smaller than I, he would lean back and make me reach. He started turning his torso from side to side slipping as I tried to keep him at bay. Just before his last move he had caught me with a nice dip n hook combo that had my eyes watery. So I jabbed at him then threw the right hand, but he kept making me miss. Then all of a sudden he dropped on me (a ducking move) like he was going to tie my shoes. My reach and my eyes followed him to my surprise and that was the last mistake that I would make that night. Reeve stayed under my out stretched arms spun out hitting me with another open hand hook that made me bite my lip. SPC. Elmore yelled out “that’s that 52 street boxing right there” laughing at me, and I was hooked from that day.
Why is the style known as 52 Blocks? What is the significance of 52?
Daniel Marks: 52 Blocks is a simple system but inside its simplicity lays layers of complexity discovered by the practitioner. Now, the definitive meaning behind the name 52 blocks at a glance the term seems to have derived by the following method, a training regiment with a deck of cards. Where the deck of cards represented a random insidious nature as in the phase let the cards fall where they may, or whatever whenever- without rhyme or reason. But you have to take into account that each card was a repetition of a routine that was being done to sharpen up the practitioner. Thus the name 52, as in 52 pick up the card game where the cards equal the rep in the exercise that you’re performing. However, randomness doesn’t explain the deceptive and systematic process that the hands display while transitioning into guards (defensive) position that became known as blocks. Indeed, the reason the craft is called 52 has to do with the science of protecting the body using the angles inside the square 90, 45, and 30 degrees respectfully. The number 52 represents the geometry that the hands take while defending/shielding the body from harm.
Harjit Singh Sagoo: Can you share with us some of the principles and techniques of 52 Blocks? I noticed you constantly use the elbows and forearms both defensively and offensively.
Daniel Marks: We believe in the preservation of the body like the term “protect your neck” used in a song by the NYC rap group Wutang Clan. When people here the term block they immediately think that we mean stop as if we are trying to impeded the attack. The core to 52 is timing as Kawaun “Big K” says timing is everything. We move with a purpose to close the gap on our attacker thus we are not blocking per say but hitting them in a rhythm that throws off the attacker timing, allowing us to dictate the pace, take the lead in the fray. The concept is this, we are displacing ourselves by presenting targets (baiting) then moving them rapidly. Take the Bum rush as (Demoed by Kawaun Adon Akhenoten VII “Big K” ) for instance; this signature move is a combination of two other moves twirling elbows (L Boogie) and the Woodbourne shuffle, a stutter step move where the feet move short and fast. This is a Defensive and Offensive move without changing your groove. That’s the key to 52 to transition smoothly from one guard to the next guard, hiding your intent until the last minute then releasing your blows for the beat down. We consider our forearms as pillars we raise them to defend then use to attack all while maintaining the integrity of their purpose to protect. The elbows are used to cut into the body, or to put bone on him, bringing pain to the knuckles or soft tissue of the head.
Harjit Singh Sagoo: Being a street/prison fighting system, there must be weapon tactics involved, right? Use of razor blades, etc?
Daniel Marks: Now you hit the nail with a hammer, the science of 52 is based in weaponry as a means of survival from day one. The whole concept of “sporting hands”, is dealing with a violent attack where the other person is armed and you have no choice but to engage them in a fight. Much like the gangs fights of the 50’ 60’s and 70’s of New York’s inner city, and all of the max A and B prison of upstate New York. There is a bit of history on the use of the Razor with regards to 52. I will try to keep it brief but our craft (art) dates back to a time where men elevated themselves to a Noble status in society. Even slaves that carried their Masters name could elevate their status and thus needing the means to protect themselves from the least fortunate. Black men usually stood on the outside of society except for a few professions which put them into direct contact with aggressor of every ethnic group. Jobs like Shoe shine and repair man, Railway Porters, Doormen, Tailors, and Barbers were considered premium professions for those of a certain order. As in Brazil the Straight Razor was a quick and dirty means of self-defense, and was wielded with deadly and accurate intent. Accounts of its use can be found in news paper articles in NYC as early as 1907 when a riot broke out in the city between Blacks and Whites. It would seem that by the 1940’s the use of the Straight Razor was an epidemic, in places like Kentucky, St Loius, Chicago, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolinas , Virginia, Up the East Coast to Boston, and making its way West by way of Mississippi. What stopped this urban carnage from destroying our community Professional Boxing began to focus on our inner cities thanks to Joe Loius winning the Heavy Weight Championship of the world. Gyms opened in every city/state offering an opportunity to become wealthy and famous to poor inner city kids. However, that also leads to growth in gang or organized crime families as the Mob controlled boxing from the 40’s into the 80’s. A good fighter could earn money either in the ring or by collecting debts on the street. And now the stage is set for how 52 became Jail House boxing. A Key note to remember is how the Straight Razor breaks down into several parts, the tang (butt), the shank (the fixed metal between the tang and the edge), the edge (blade), the spine (behind the blade) and the handle. The term shanking comes from the use and understanding of the Straight Razor. Once the boxing programs in prison were no longer funded, inmates would use the knowledge of the shank (fixing and edge to a base tool) to protect themselves from other inmates. Another Slang term used for shanking is “jigging” a term used to describe the way or manor in which somebody was stabbed. A Jigging motion looks like a sewing machine working, rapidly stabbing a person multiple times with and edge weapon. The crackdown in Prison lead to other means of protection that have survived to this day, and that is the use of the flat razors, a substitute due to its size and ability to be hidden in the hand or mouth. Which can be seen demonstrated by Hassan” Giant” Yasin in the 52 documentary “Changing of the Guard” Brief right.
Harjit Singh Sagoo: I’ve read that one famous exponent of 52 Blocks was the notorious prisoner, Mother Dear. Can you tell us a bit about him and his fighting ability? According to Lyte Burly, who claims to be an exponent of 52 Blocks, Mother Dear’s signature move was catching and kissing a punch before delivering a hook. Was he actually able to do this during a real punch-up?
Daniel Marks: Mother Dear is but one of many good practitioners of the craft, sadly he is more notorious for using his skill to assault other inmates in a sexual way than with the use of his knuckle game. Because he was gay he stood out above the others, however he was much older than I so no one under 50 can speak with certainty about him as a person or to his skills. That being said, I did interview one man named King Saladin who as a child trained under Mother Dear when he was not in Jail. It seems that the real Mother Dear was a bit of a gangster who people feared because he was a gay man with a mean knuckle game. As for his skills, Mother Dear was best known for finishing fights quickly and at the same time clowning you. Whether he was “shoe-shining” (blows from the ankle up) “baiting” with his hands beside his face saying “you can’t *uck with the Mother” or “catching” your punch, kissing it, and then throwing it back to you ( which works on a lazy jab) this was his way of saying that you didn’t have any wins in his house. There are a list of 52 warriors during Mother Dear’s time; to focus solely on him seems a shame. Some were bandits (gay thugs), but others were straight up knuckle artist of the highest degree. Eric Twitty, Rique (Big K’s older brother), Old Man Sha- sha, Michael Duffy, Supreme etc… Burley is simply too young to say with certainty how Mother Dear got down in a fight being that the man if alive today would be in his mid sixties. Now for his most famous move “The Catch” is holding your hand like an open glove to bait a punch, catching it in the palm, then locking the punching hand with the forearm of your opposite hand, pulling your opponent into you, and your keeping your guard up to shield against his other hand, place a kiss on his knuckles (which implies this is week *ish) then from the other hand throw it back to him. You have been disrespected so step off before you get knocked out.
Harjit Singh Sagoo: Dennis Newsome is known for being one of the fight co-ordinators for the action movie, Lethal Weapon 1, teaching prison-fighting moves. Was what he taught 52 Blocks?
Daniel Marks: I spoke to Mr. Newsome some time ago and he told me the story of how he landed the job working on the first Lethal Weapon movie. What Mr. Newsome taught was Jail house techniques which have strong elements of 52 Blocks in them, but those techniques were not based in the same rhythm as straight 52. The difference is due to the environment in prison not like the streets where you have to watch your back in prison you can find a wall, and block attacks while changing angles and levels (getting low) when needed. He explained that it was hard for him to get them to use more of what he knew because at that time there was only one thing ever written about Jail house boxing in the public. An article in Black belt Magazine titled “Karate in Prison”, and as you know the Gracie’s were also on the film pushing for BJJ, like in the final scene. We commend Mr. Newsome for forging a way that would later open up this door to 52 Blocks becoming a household name.
Harjit Singh Sagoo: Is it true that 52 Blocks has a link to breakdancing?
Daniel Marks: 52 Blocks is the forerunner to Breaking as the dance became its own entity out of necessity. Young Rockers found out that you could have more fun dancing and busting moves than going the prison like so many of their older brothers and neighbors. When we get into this part of the story I have to bring in Cultural input otherwise it will not make sense. 52 carries within it rituals of our past, for instance when we gesture we are indeed invoking things that we as a people have done for years. Slavery has made some of us forget these things, but they are still with us, in spirit. Several Warrior arts in the Diaspora have survived into the present, the one that I want to speak of is called Kalinda. Kalinda is a song, a dance, and a war art that can still be found throughout the Caribbean and the Southern US (New Orleans). The earliest practice of this art was played with Matches, and sticks (stick lickin), due to these dynamics a heavy focus was placed on evasive movements, shielding, blocking, and closing the gap were emphasized. The dodging and ducking made Kalinda practitioners, a hard target to hit. So now you have the roots of 52 when dealing with a Straight Razor, and now the term “protect your neck” comes into a different light. How did this practice lead into breaking, as the earliest rockers where gang members, the gangs were broken down into where in the city you lived, and from where your ethnic group resided. In NYC most of the gangs in the Bronx and Brooklyn were from the Caribbean and those young men still had ties to Kalinda societies. The art was practice strongly in places like Cuba, Trinidad, Jamaica and Hattie. The attitude and mannerism can be seen in the tap dances of the past, and well as the Zute suited hustlers as seen in the Malcolm X movie directed by Spike Lee. Mock Combat art like Mani demonstrate some of the same characteristics of modern Break dance protocol. The game or battle takes place in a cipher (circle) you size up your opponent and then you proceed to burn him\Diss him for the support of the crowd (for the Women). Just like it’s practice in Africa where Villages would battle other Villages. So rocker crews would travel to battle other crews, in the same way gangs would mark their territories. Thank god for Hip-Hop, many lives were saved when she came along.
Harjit Singh Sagoo: Can you tell us about your book, Framing 52, which according to you, is the first book on this urban fighting science?
Daniel Marks: Framing 52 is the first book of its kind to focus solely the craft, its practitioners, and their personal accounts and experiences using and witnessing the art. 52 has shown up in other publications as an honorable mention, but no one thought at that time to focus on more than just the tales of a few people with random thoughts. We pulled the information directly from our first person interviews while shooting the documentary “Breaking the Glass” which later became “Changing of the Guard”. The photos in the book are actual demos of real 52 moves as done by the practitioner not just a description. It was sold as a complementary collectors item for people who really wanted to invest in saving this cultural treasure.
Harjit Singh Sagoo: And lastly, what’s the 52 Blocks Preservation program all about?
Daniel Marks: Harjit, I’m glad you asked. 10 years ago when we embarked on this journey our first task was to prove to the world that our art did in fact exist. Once we found the right Practitioners who still had a High Level of skill like Kawaun Adon Akhenoten VII as well as others that I have mentioned. Big K as he’s called told us how even though gangsters had guns during his heyday you could still get it in (fight) with your hands. It seems that the bad men wanted to be known as much for their Knuckle game as they wanted to be known for using a weapon. As K put it, you had to stay sharp because there were places where you wouldn’t be able to carry a weapon at all, and in those spots (clubs) all you had for self-defense was you. Recently we tried to engaged an old head in a knuckle up (fist fight), when he pulled out a knife. At first we were like wow you can’t leave52 to the streets, and that’s we it hit us. Our Elders carried themselves with distinction, as we are always trying to prove that the content of our character is more than what you see. That we are Men and we are able, competent and responsible to handle situations to gain respect afforded every man of every ethnic group. Our program was to find a platform were 52 could take center stage and to show young men that it takes hard work to become good at this, and if you strived you could achieve more than just a knuckle game. You could become a Champion. In 2007 we began our Boxing and MMA program working with various fighters helping them to improve their combat skills in the field of boxing. One fighter of note (Rashad Evans) early in his career made a trip to one of our training seminars and would later become the UFC Light Heavy Weight Champ. We continue to work and push the quality of the art while dealing with all of the negative stereo types that follows, that we are making it up; no one learns to fight in prison and so on. I guess Professional fighters like Mike Tyson, Floyd Patterson, Sonny Listen, Bernard Hopkins, and Marvin Haggler to name a few doesn’t count. This has been the best 25 years of my life, finding and promoting this cultural icon, and sharing this knowledge with the world.
When we raise teachers and champions then I will tell you of yet another cultural treasure that has yet to make its way into light until then I will enjoy this journey, peace and thanks for asking.