Photo courtesy of Floyd Webb
South Side Warriors, a video by Robert Wyrod
Video can be viewed in a better format Here
Martial Arts can mean a lot of things to different people. Millions of people have experienced them, quit and moved on. Some try Karate in college, or as a sport instead of football. Some are interested in Asian philosophy and culture, and are drawn to the arts. Some practice Martial Arts for survival.
Like other kids who grew up in the '60's, I saw the early Kung Fu movies, was heavily influenced by Tom Laughlin's performance in "Billy Jack", and read with trepidation the adds in the back of comic books for "Count Dante", and his instructional manuals that included "The Dance of Death". Dante and his students appear in the photo at the top of my website.
As I began writing about Martial Arts and researching the Count Dante adds of my youth I discovered Floyd Webb, a film maker who had met Dante in his youth and is now making a movie - "The Search For Count Dante", which has grown into a much bolder project. You can see Floyd's website and a trailer for the movie at "Searching For count Dante".
In the course of reading about Dante and communicating with Floyd, I realized that it was more than a movie about one controversial Chicago Martial Artist. It was about community and social identity that brings eclectic players and men of character and strength together- sometimes in rivalry but usually for mutual support and camaraderie.
Floyd Webb's life was touched by Gregory Jaco, a former soldier on the Green Beret's Martial Arts Demonstration Team - turned community activist. In 2002, Robert Wyrod produced the video "South Side Warriors", detailing Jaco's "Tornado School Of Martial Arts", and it's influence in the community. In fact, Wyrod became one of the few white guys to join the school. Wyrod wrote to me:
"Back in the late 1990s I was living on the South Side of Chicago studying sociology in grad school. I had heard a little about the history of the martial arts on the South Side and wanted to know more. I believe I first came across Gregory Jaco's dojo The Tornado School in the phone book and decided to just stop by. I had no idea what a fascinating world I had stumbled into.
It took some persistence but I eventually convinced Sensei Jaco to let me train at the Tornado School. I would not say it was easy for a white guy with no martial arts training to fit in at the all black Tornado School. But after several months I started to feel more at home.
What I came to realize was the Tornado School was much more than a dojo and Sensei Jaco more than a karate teacher. Jaco had created a whole universe in that small dojo--one that provided refuge from the very tough South Side streets just outside.
It was a real privilege to be part of the dojo for a few months and this video was my attempt to capture the vibrant world Sensei Jaco orchestrated at the Tornado School."
Until I can fix the Embed, (it's working now) you can also view the video HERE
"South Side Warriors" gives us a glimpse of changing times. Jaco appears to know he is dying and intends to leave a legacy. Producer Wyrod follows students, friends and instructors as they describe the martial orbit anchored around the hub that is Gregory Jaco.
If you listen closely to Jaco's words, you hear not only strength, but subversion. Jaco speaks out in support of the outliers, standing up against both criminal elements as well as abusive police. Strength, unity and martial skills were necessary to survive against those odds. In fact, one of the instructors profiled is Stan Mckinney, a former Black Panther and current community activist.
Robert Wyrod masterfully captures the symbolism of Gregory Jaco, whose candle-flame will soon fade, turning over the "Tornado School of Martial Arts" to a young instructor. Wyrod blends the moment with the demolition of old housing projects in the area, leaving hope for renewal and rebuilding.
We leave Jaco, standing in front of his house. He has just dismissed a student and waits in thought, surrounded by the totems of his power; African shields, Chinese spears and halberds decorate his yard. Nobody ever messed with those weapons, or with Jaco.
For more information on Gregory Jaco, see Floyd Webbs "Searching For Count Dante"
For information on Robert Wyrod's documentary see "South Side Warriors"
If you have trouble viewing the video go to the site above