Jailhouse rock (fighting style)

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Jailhouse rock
Also known as52 Hand Blocks
ParenthoodWestern Boxing & Traditional Martial Arts

Jailhouse rock or 52 Hand Blocks is a name used to describe a collection of fighting styles that were practiced and/or developed within US penal institutions back in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today Jailhouse Rock is more commonly known and referred to as "52 Hand Blocks" or "52".

There is many different manifestations of 52 Hand Blocks but they all share a commonality in blending western boxing with other stylised martial arts techniques. The origins of 52 Hand Blocks, although highly debated, coincide with golden era of martial arts in America when Chinese cinema was booming.

The name 52 Hand Blocks, although contested, is most likely derived from the reference of the fifty-two blocking techniques encompassed in the art. These techniques consist of traditional western boxing blocks, covers and parry's but also include offensive elbows, elbow blocks, knees, head butts and other martial arts techniques.

Jailhouse Rock or 52 Hand Blocks is comparable to French Savate. Originally it was a semi-codified fighting method associated with an urban criminal subculture, and later it gradually underwent a process of codification before becoming an established martial art accessible to the cultural mainstream.

52 Hand Blocks has been referenced numerous times by contemporary media including by journalist Douglas Century's Street Kingdom: Five Years Inside the Franklin Avenue Posse, as well as numerous Wu-Tang Clan songs and Ted Conover's book Newjack. Recently, celebrities including actor Larenz Tate and rapper Ludacris have taken up the fighting system for film roles and self-defense, shining a brighter light on this previously underground martial art.

Existential controversy[edit]

The existence of this martial art was originally some what debated, but mainstream media exposure has contributed towards raising the awareness of the martial art. According to researcher Douglas Century, professional boxers, including Zab Judah and Mike Tyson, have testified to possessing knowledge of the style. The style is also referred to in many rap songs by artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan. Tales of the pugilistic exploits of the infamous 1970s New York prison fighter "Mother Dear" (an alleged homosexual rapist) have also contributed to the extensive urban mythology surrounding this system.

The 52 Hand Blocks aspect of JHR was first featured in Black Belt Magazine in the 1970s it was then followed by a key reference in Douglas Century's nonfiction book Street Kingdom. This book played a key role because it introduced one of 52 Blocks most senior living practitioners; Kawaun "Big K" Adon. Kawaun would unite with Martial Arts Historian Daniel Marks and Fitness Innovator Hassan Yasin (GIANT) to form the organisation Constellation. This organisation would motivate the authorship of essays like "Freeing the Afrikan Mind: the Role of Martial Arts in Contemporary African American Cultural Nationalism" by Professor Tom Green of Texas A&M University.

52 Blocks / Jailhouse is not unique to the east coast but popularized there, especially in the city of New York. Although there are other combat systems throughout the United States, styles such as Jailhouse, Stato and 52 Blocks originated in New York.

The name 52 may be a reference to the playing card game of 52 Pickup and to the expression "let the cards fall where they may." There are many theories relating to the name including a reference to a combat training system involving the use of playing cards, a theory the name simply derives from a reference to a specific cell block and even some claims bordering on the supernatural with practitioners trying to connect 52 to the Supreme Mathematics of the Nation of Gods and Earths.

However, the most likely and accepted explanation is that it simply refers to the fifty-two blocking techniques encompassed in the art.

Alternatively but unlikely and unfounded; it may be 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, some people believe 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 and Martiniquese Ladja.

According to Dennis Newsome, a well-known JHR practitioner, 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.

Jailhouse rock in the media[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ marco maniscotti (2014-06-28). "Gun Hill: Ammo: 52 Blocks". BET.com. Archived from the original on 2014-08-11. Retrieved 2014-08-04. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)