Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Will you walk with me, Grasshopper?

Young Caine: You cannot see.
Master Po: You think I cannot see?
Young Caine: Of all things, to live in darkness must be worst.
Master Po: Fear is the only darkness.

Where are the really great TV shows of yesteryear? One of my favourites was Kung Fu, in which David Carradine as Shaolin monk, Kwai Chang Caine, wandering through the Old West, with only his martial arts and skills to defend himself. When he was in a fight, he would use a mystical ability to slow down fight scenes so that his opponents moved in slow motion, and he moved slightly faster and won .

But the key to the series was the wisdom he imparted, mainly from lessons learned in flashback, from his blind teacher Master Po, in which the story would shift in gear to another culture, another time. It was this juxtaposition of the stock Wild West of the 1870s with the Chinese wisdom (subverting the Western theme) which made the series very special. There is really nothing comparable. It was quite unique.

Caine: I seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions.

And despite being blind, Master Po could fight with a staff against Cain, and still win, which was the occasion for more of those wonderful times where Master Po, addressing Cain as "grasshopper" (or as it came out, "glasshopper"), would impart wisdom. Here is where he gets his nickname from his mentor:

Master Po: [after easily defeating the boy in combat] Ha, ha, never assume
because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Young Caine: No.
Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Young Caine: [looking down and seeing the insect] Old man, how is it that
you hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Master Po: What do you hear?
Caine: I hear the grasshopper.

Later, Master Kan would be Caine's mentor, and also teach him lessons. In one wonderful monologue, Kan tells how Caine (and the viewer) how we can learn wisdom from all life:

Kan: The rabbit feels rage. The tiger, pity. The dragon, pain. All creatures, the low and the high, are one with nature. No life is insignificant. If we have the wisdom to learn, all may teach us their virtues. This is Shun, master of the White Crane system. From the crane we learn grace and self control. The snake teaches us suppleness and rhythmic endurance. The praying mantis teaches us speed and patience. And from the tiger we learn tenacity and power. And from the dragon we learn to ride the wind. Life sustains life, and all living creatures need nourishment. Yet with wisdom, the body learns to sustain in ways that all may live

But for me, it was the early episodes, with Master Po, that were the greatest ones.

Po: What? Sad Grasshopper?
Young Caine: My sadness is for you.
Po: Is it?
Young Caine: Never to see the clouds, never to see the sun on the water, or the plumage of a bird.
Po: Yet it is sometimes eyes that blind a man.
Young Caine:: How can this be?
Po: Because he can see, he does not look. Is the bird only the color of his plumage?
Young Caine: None should think so.
Po: To be at one with the universe, is to know bird, sun, cloud. How much shall a man lose if he then loses his eyes?

There is "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues", but it's not the same. It's lost the charm of the original, and the evocative flashbacks, and the often barren West across which Caine endlessly trudges with his bag. Long may he continue...

Caine: Is it good to seek the past, Master Po? Does it not rob the present?
Master Po: If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.



Ian Evans said...

Ha ha ha, you HAVE been reading my facebook philosophy group? I have the book "The Kung Fu Book Of Wisdom" and many of the quotes on there were taken from this series.

I also have the box set (twice) in case I am without it ever! Perish the thought.


Tony, awsome viewing mate. If you don't have them, they are available on Amazon for peanuts. £7.00 I paid for series three! There are also many stars of today who put in a performance on those episodes, Kirt Russel, Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster....

"The Legend Continues"

Ian Evans said...

A small but momentous piece of trivia from the show.

Director Ed Spielman, Herman Miller, Jerry Thorpe, and David Chow, received a letter from a ghetto school teacher in America.

The letter said, "Thank you for this show, you have proved to my students that you do not need to carry a gun, to be a man".

Another letter said, "Where can I buy the book of the wisdom quotes contained in this show? This is how I want to raise my children."

Ian Evans said...

My favorite quote is this....

There are three treasures which I hold and keep.

"The first is mercy, for from mercy comes courage.
The second is frugality from which comes generosity to others.
The third is humility, for from it, comes leadership."

TonyTheProf said...

I'm impressed.You must have got the book when it was cheap - it's around £40-£50 or more second hand!

Was the "wisdom" material made up for the series by the writers, or were they drawing on original Chinese sources? I've not been able to find out.

Ian Evans said...


It took me over 40 book searches, and twenty five years to get a copy of the book, and only did so last year when I started the Fbook group.

It cost me £400 for a pristine second hand copy....CHEAP!!!

Worth every God Damned Penny mate.

Ian Evans said...

The wisdom was taken from original text from the teachings of the likes of Zhuang Zi, and many others.

They were then adapted slightly to fit the show and its needs.

The original texts are some 2,500 years old. link below to some of them.