The Passing of Inside Kung Fu

I found out yesterday that Inside Kung Fu Magazine would be ceasing operations soon. The funny thing is that on our vacation last week in the California wine country we often found ourselves in book stores. I would scan the magazine rack and notice that IKF was conspicuously missing and commented on that fact.

I remember the first issues of IKF. It was a thrill to have a magazine devoted to Kung Fu unlike the competing Black Belt which, while it tried to please everyone, was generally heavy on Japanese style arts. This new Kung Fu addition promptly got to work showing at least some of the Kung Fu world. Now that it’s passing I find myself reflecting on its contribution. It was—like its competitor Black Belt—a product of its environment physically and thematically. From the first it was an L.A. magazine. Southern California practitoners were over-emphasized because they were close to the offices.

And, since it was the Golden Age of American Kung Fu, there were the movies. Inside Kung Fu started the movement toward name recognition over martial achievement and pursued it to a greater degree than even Black Belt. Anyone could get bumped for a Carradine article or a photo of Cynthia Rothrock in cut-offs. Unfortunately the sparkle they sought was never there because, after all, it was a low budget martial arts magazine that didn’t really know what it wanted to be. There was the occasional great piece on a rare style, an important Sifu, etc. but many of the articles detailed things like  “9 Ways to Kill with the Elbow” or “Bruce Lee’s Third Cousin Makes Commercial”.

That doesn’t mean IKF made no contributions.  By dint of sheer numbers IKF left a legacy; publishing important articles and capturing key profiles in martial arts history. And this was done with few in-house reporters to speak of (which may have actually been its greatest asset). Most of that work was done by loyal students and instructors crafting pieces to tell the story of the their style, to share a technique or personal vision they were proud of, to record themselves in the flood of new ideas streaming torrentially from that revolutionary conjunction of East and West, the twain meeting in martial arts like never before. It was a time.

Toward the end I remember mentioning to a Sifu I was considering writing for the magazine again. He asked me, “Does anyone read that anymore?” He was reflecting on what had turned the martial community away from IFK: that opportunistic mish mash (with notable exceptions such as Daniel Furuya—yes, I mean Abbot Furuya) that permeated Curtis Wong’s empire. Their book publishing division, fed by the magazine, was equally spotty pumping out much trivia and then occasionally significant work. Every publisher does a bit of that but some actually know the difference between shallow and deep.

For me IKF represents a certain phase in the world wide acceptance of martial arts. For instance, in the old days it was really difficult to get women involved in the arts for obvious social reasons. Now its sexy to add martial-like movements to just about every routine. I recently picked up a little ad card about the exercise form NIA which said, “… as the first cardio workout to combine martial arts, dance and healing arts,…” and I couldn’t help thinking, “That’s a lie. Kung Fu did that 3000 years ago.” But you know you can now get a black belt in NIA, bless them. So, you see, we won. We wanted the world to know about this great art and we got it but along with it goes that very basic, misinformed, and partial acceptance that happens when the story is a little more complex than the sound byte.

IKF came at the conclusion of the sound bite era. It did advance the arts, at least shepherding  them through the Conan movies, cheesecake photos, and half-articles. It was never what we wanted it to be but it was always there when we needed a martial fix. The kids, myself included, who were inspired by the seemingly endless pieces on White Lotus style and every possible variation of Wing Chun coverage, actually stuck around long enough to gain some real understanding and skill. IKF was part of that.

Its passing reflects the end of childhood in the martial arts. The Kung Fu people I see have a new maturity. So its demise, oddly enough, does not sadden me. These new practitioners know why they are studying in the first place and, to be frank, fewer of them dream about being in the movies since Kung Fu in particular is now more of a Matrix effect than a Martial Art. No one aspires to become a cinematic effect.

Ultimately it comes down to this: a magazine is a flag on a passing boat. In that sense IKF was indeed the magazine of its time.

The best thing about IKF was that it presented  a platform for students and teachers to share  their arts. The worst thing about it was that it never really made the committment to Kung Fu. Caught forever in its self-assesment that it would only have a readership of 14-17 year olds, it never assumed a maturing audience. Therefore it was unable to break away from emphasizing personalities over real teachers (Remember “Fighting Stars” anyone?), celebrity over community, tricks over technique.

6 Responses to “The Passing of Inside Kung Fu”

  1. patrick hodges says:

    Real sad….

  2. Herb Rich says:

    I used to love IKF, but as time went by, it became, as Ted noted, too “faddish” and movie oriented. That said, being a teenager in an area where there was little authentic “kung fu”, it was one of my only sources of information on the arts. Without it, I would never have heard of Adam Hsu, Liu Yun Chiao, or the Wu Tang school, or known of the opening of Chen village to the west- and my life would have been very different. A tip of the hat, and a moment of silence.

  3. Clarence says:

    My favorite issue were the Adam Hsu issues and the Lam Wing issues, other than that, I wasn’t really impressed with them after the 1980’s. The Shum Leung (Eagle Claw) and Paulie Zink (Tai Sheng Pek Kwar Moon) covers were among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I just wish they did more with their publishing and turned out more authentic books on Chinese Gung Fu. To this very day, there are still few books that are thoroughly researched and actually fit for publication and that’s sad. Thank God for Plum Publications, I count on you for quality and authentic items regarding Gung Fu. So long IKF.

  4. I will definitely miss IKF, as I owe a great deal to them. I have been a freelance magazine writer for over 6 years now, and IKF was actually my very first writing gig (my last article for them was a cover story on Billy Blanks). You will always have a special place in my heart, IKF. A special thank you to Dave Cater for giving me my first break!

    Cordially,

    Michael Lizarraga

  5. Plum Staff says:

    I remember your name from the pages of Inside Kung Fu. It’s great that IKF was such a springboard for you. I know it was a help for me when I started writing for the field.

  6. don glass says:

    ikf was the first of its kind that i had seen. my old sifu, Brendan Lai, was in some of the first issues. I have the first issue and would not part with it.
    R.I.P. Brendan

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