Jailhouse rock (fighting style)
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|Country of origin||USA|
Jailhouse rock or JHR is a name which is used to describe a collection of different fighting styles that have been practiced and/or developed within US penal institutions. The different regional “styles” of JHR vary but share a common emphasis on improvisation governed by a specific set of underlying principles.
Some examples of the many styles of JHR are 52 Hand Blocks, Brick City Rock, Comstock Style, Stato. Many of these styles of JHR are thought to have evolved regionally in different penal institutions.
Jailhouse Rock if it exists is in fact one of two of the USA's only "Native Martial Arts", the other being called Rough and Tumble. As such, Jailhouse Rock, the 52 Hand Blocks and their variants may be compared to savate, which was originally a semi-codified fighting method associated with an urban criminal subculture, which underwent a gradual process of codification before becoming established as a martial art accessible by the cultural mainstream.
The existence of this martial art has been debated, but some media exposure has contributed towards verifying the existence of Jailhouse Rock. According to researcher Douglas Century, 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."
- Porter, Justin (June 18, 2009). "In Tight, a New (Old) Martial Art Gains Followers". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-02.
- 52 Blocks Constellation Inc, Changing of the Guard: The History of 52 Blocks an American Martial Art (2009), documentary
- Douglas Century, Street Kingdom: Five Years Inside the Franklin Avenue Posse, Warner Books, 2000, ISBN 0-446-67563-6
- Douglas Century, "Ghetto Blasters: Born in prison, raised in the 'hood, the deadly art of 52 Blocks is Brooklyn's baddest secret", Details magazine 19:9, pp 77–79, August 2001.
- Dennis Newsome, Jailhouse Rock (A.k.a.) 52 blocks system.
- Green, Thomas "Freeing the Afrikan Mind: the Role of Martial Arts in Contemporary African American Cultural Nationalism", essay featured in "Martial Arts in the Modern World", Praeger Publishers, 2003, ISBN 0-275-98153-3
- Justin Porter (June 17, 2009). "In Tight, a New (Old) Martial Art Gains Followers". New York Times.
- J.S. Soet, 'Martial Arts Around the World, Unique Publications, 1991