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Editorial: The Strongest Karate?

Netflix may be the anti-Christ. I have had a subscription to this DVDs-in-the-mail service for a few years now, but the addition of an online “Watch Instantly” option has nearly taken over my life. Netlix’s library is extensive to put it mildly, and having that many films, TV show seasons, and documentaries at my fingertips has severed most of my ties to the outside world. Fortunately, though, I can convert my wasted time into a wealth of second hand, mixed martial arts movie knowledge for you.

Perhaps the granddaddy of MMA flicks, Rickson Gracie’s Choke (1999) uses the backdrop of the 1995 Vale Tudo World Fighting Championship in Tokyo to provide an intriguing glimpse into the psychological and physical toughness of Rickson himself—his mindset, outlook, and sometimes-bizarre training methods. In 2008, Rickson’s cousin Renzo was featured in the documentary Legacy. Unlike Choke, the film refrains from canonizing Renzo, but instead, illuminates the fighter in all his foibles—exemplifying both losses and triumphs. Noble or stubborn? Arrogant or certain? Legacy’s realism allows the viewer to draw her own conclusions about Renzo’s philosophy of “die trying” illustrated perhaps most poignantly by his refusal to submit to Kazushi Sakuraba, the famed “Gracie Hunter,” who eventually broke Renzo’s arm via Kimura at PRIDE 10 in 2000.

But here’s a hidden gem you may have missed. Two decades before Choke, Fighting Black Kings [also known as The Strongest Karate] (1976) introduces Kyokushin Karate—a full-contact martial art allowing everything but fists to the head. The film uses the first World Open Karate Tournament held in Tokyo as a backdrop to showcase the flashy style of African-Americans Charles Martin, William Oliver, and Willie Williams. They are a glaring contrast to the stoic traditionalism of the Japanese champion Katsuaki Sat?. Fighting Black Kings travelogues the participants’ brutal training across several continents interspersed with the fights from The Open’s grueling tournament format (something the Gracies would popularize with the original UFC) which forced participants to fight multiple times in a single day—with no weight classes, gloves, or other protection.

Fighting Black Kings is the Shaft of MMA documentaries: hard, gritty, and super fly. Check out the original trailer at:
If you miss the old UFC, kung fu Saturday mornings, or lost your copy of Enter The Dragon—watch Fighting Black Kings. Ya dig?