Happy Birthday GERALD OKAMURA!

He’s been an icon of martial arts magazine covers for decades, is one of the most recognizable Asian character actors of our age and he pioneered his own signature version of the Chinese hook sword!

He’s Gerald Okamura of course – martial artist, actor, stunt man, weaponsmith and having met him briefly earlier this year, I can personally attest to him being a hell of a nice guy.

Being an Asian actor in Hollywood requires adaptability, and Okamura was as at-home in a 70s kung-fu craze role as he was in a ninja or yakuza film. He was in BOTH Big Trouble in Little China and Showdown in Little Tokyo! Think about it.

I love that he played a brutal instructor in both The Octagon at the birth of the ninja boom and again decades later during the modern renaissance in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

But for all that movie work, and there’s a lot of it, I first got to know the intimidating mug of Gerald Okamura on the covers of Inside Kung-Fu magazine. These are my personal faves:

Too bad the photographer had to die to get this shot, but it was worth it!

And here’s another piece of ninja history from Okamura-san’s career – a late 80’s Lite beer commercial wherein a who’s who of martial arts action legends backed-up comedian Joe Piscopo.

Seriously! Tadashi Yamashita actually IN his costume from American Ninja!?!?

Have a Happy Birthday Mr. Gerald Okamura, and here’s hoping to see you in a slew of films and magazines to come!

Everything I Needed to Know About Ninjutsu I Learned from Carlos Ray Norris, I

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A guest column by MATT WALLACE in honor of THE OCTAGON‘s 30th Birthday!

Chuck Norris has taught me a lot.

He taught me men with bangs who aren’t Matt Damon aren’t necessarily gay. He taught me not all men with mustaches who lived in the 70’s did porn. He taught me that it’s okay to spell the word “commando” with a “K,” as long as it is preceded by the word “karate.” He taught me it’s not just old queens who adopt young, supple African-American boys to raise as their own, but that it takes Chuck Norris to avenge his dead black son’s murder at the hands of a rival martial artist.

Chuck Norris taught me many things, but his greatest lesson was much more than that; it was the definitive epic meditation on a subject as culturally prevalent now as it was in feudal Japan.

In 1980, Chuck Norris wrote a book; with his feet. It was entitled “How to Fight a Ninja” and it is my personal Bible.

Sure, it was packaged as a film. They called it The Octagon. It had everything a cheesy so-called “karate movie” of that era was required to exhibit. It featured honored Asian henchmen such as Gerald Okamura and the Black Star Ninja himself, the man who has played more fake hooded Japanese assassins than any other actor in the history of cinema, Tadashi Yamashita. It was, in fact, the last film made under the 1970’s law that stated any “B” action movie with a testosterone count of five or above had to include a role for Lee Van Cleef.

From the tender age of six, however, I knew Chuck Norris’ intention was much broader, much more vital. He was teaching me all I would ever need to know about battling those black-clad masters of shadow and death also known as shinobi.

Some of these lessons are so deftly couched in perceptive anachronism that on the surface they may seem absurd, such as what to do when a ninja does something unexpected, like whipping out a pair of sais. Yes, the sai is a Kobudō weapon, part of the family of weapons improvised from farming tools by Okinawan peasants who weren’t allowed to bear arms. Yes, the sai, the kama, and the nunchucks were never actually used by continental Japanese martial artists during the period ninjas historically existed. AND THAT’S WHY IT’S SUCH A SNEAKY BRILLIANT MOVE AND EXACTLY THE KIND OF SHIT A NINJA WILL PULL ON YOUR ASS.

Other lessons dealt in knowledge as esoteric as it is absolute. Thusly…

1) Always keep your arms down and at your sides when throwing an awkward succession of spinning kicks. This demonstrates to the ninja your indestrutibility, as you clearly require no defensive skills. It also pays homage to your background as a traditional Celtic lord of the dance.

2) When he throws a shuriken at you in one frame, but somehow it doesn’t make it to the frame you’re in, possibly because of a lack of practical effects budget/skill, stab yourself with another shuriken and pretend it’s the one that was just thrown at you. This shows the ninja you are courteous. Mannners are for everyone.

3) Ninja can only be defeated by fire. Specifically, kicking the ninja through fire. In the absence of a section of wall that has been set ablaze and oddly is not spreading beyond a five foot diameter, a large pane of prop glass may be substituted. But only in the first act. Because Chuck Norris has read Aristotle’s Poetics and understands the elevation principle of great drama.

4) Your greatest tool in defeating a ninja clan is your background as a singularly gifted, retired professional martial artist who accidentally killed the opponent in his or her last fight and is now tormented by the event. This has been reinforced by Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Sasha Mitchell, and Don “The Dragon” Wilson several more times, among others.

Obviously I’m bullet pointing. The nuances of Master Norris’ visual text are hundredfold and layered deeper than the Hell to which your katana-wielding would be executioner might otherwise send you.

The main point is simple: One day you WILL be attacked by a ninja, or ninja[s]. It might be because you inadvertently saw the face of the head ninja who inexplicably chose to reveal himself to the beautiful woman he was hired to kill seconds before striking her down. It might be because you sought revenge for your dead brother or partner or former teacher or lover or old war buddy. It might be because you’re giving a drug cartel or other crime-related syndicate a hard time just as they’ve begun hiring ninja as their enforcers.

But it will happen.

And on that day, you will need to know what Chuck Norris has been trying for the last thirty years to teach you, if you want to survive.

MATT WALLACE is the author of The Next Fix and approximately one billion short stories, in addition to the podcasted novel The Failed Cities Monologues. Being a martial artist, knife enthusiast, retired pro wrestler and devourer of karate movies, he’s superbly qualified to be a VN guest contributor. Couple weeks ago I bought him a Cold Steel polypropylene katana for his birthday. Yeah, he’s that cool…

Many thanks to Matt for the words. Swing back tomorrow for more Octagon!