AN INTERVIEW WITH
GRANDMASTER JERRY BELL
JAN / 2012
Hi, my name is Eddie Morales and welcome to Martialforce.com Online Martial Arts Magazine. The person I am introducing in this interview embodies an old school tradition that will become evident in his words. He pulls no punches and is straight to the point. His lifeís journey has taken him to the top of the music industry and deep into the core of the Martial Arts. This person is Grand Master Jerry Bell. I visited his home to conduct this interview and had met him one time prior through a friend. That meeting was very brief but this interview was more in-depth as I listened appreciated and understood his thoughts from the standpoint of a Martial Artist and human being. His words showed a genuine caring for human life and a dedication to pass on his knowledge. In this interview we will explore the Man, his life and his commitment.
Interview by Eddie Morales
Martialforce.com: When and where were you born?
JERRY BELL: June 1951 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania.
Martialforce.com: Lets begin with why you began studying Martial Arts?
JERRY BELL: When I was child I would spend my winters where I was born in Philadelphia with my parents, and summers in Florida with my grand parents. During the time that I grew up between the 1960ís and 1970ís, it was a very rough time for everybody. This was a time when people were more into using their fist as oppose to what happens today where people pull out weapons like knives and guns. They like to attack you with these type of things where as before they would attack you with their physical bodies and accost you.
As a child growing up and going to school I remember being chased home quite a few times and I used to have a protector. One of my very close friends that I grew up with, his name was Calvin Lewis. He and his brother use to protect me quite a bit. There was one particular time that I was chased home and they werenít around. I got caught in between my father finding out and the guys that were chasing me. When my father found out, I ran down an alley and at the end of the alley was my father. Behind me were the people who were going to accost me. My father gave me an ultimatum, either you whip them or im going to whip you! I didnít want to get a beating from my dad so I turned around and put my hands up to fight. That was my first introduction to (hand to hand combat).
After the fight I made up my mind that from that day I would never take another whipping from anybody. My father was a Martial Artist and did Martial Arts in the Military. He started training me, then I studied under my oldest brother Allen who was very hard on me but now today I realized why. He studied under a Karate Master named Teruyuki Okazaki at the East Coast Karate Association in Philidelphia. I wanted to train so bad, I wanted to be like my brother so my dad enrolled me in the Karate school. I trained there for some years then eventually I moved to Japan and trained for a very long time. I also had the oportunity to train in Malasia in an art called Silat. I have also trained in Africa with some of the African Masters.
Upon my return to the United States I had the best training and my greatest understanding of Martial Arts. I studied under a man that I fully respect by the name of Dr.Moses Powell who taught an art called Sanuces Ryu Jiu Jitsu. Master Powell was a phenomenal teacher He would demonstrate things to you and get you to understand what it is like to apply the things that you were taught. What I began to realize is that not only was the training good for me for protecting myself but it was also good for my physical health, mental stability and for my spiritual concept. It helped me grow as a man as well as understanding the value of life.
Martialforce.com: Having studied Martial Arts in Japan and the United States, what are your thoughts on the controversy regarding the practice of Kata (Prearranged Movement). Is it useful or not?
JERRY BELL: Are you asking if it is valuable for Kumite (Fighting) or just the training itself?
Martialforce.com: As far as the practice of Karate. Can you practice Karate without Kata. Is it important?
JERRY BELL: You cannot practice Karate without Kata. Kata is the essense and the essentials of the art itself. One, it gives you a spiritual fortitude. Two, it teaches you rythmatic movement, it teaches you to be aware of the movement of your opponent. It gives you an understanding of your pheriphial, your balance and your movement as far as rythum is concerned because you canít fight if you donít have rythum. Kata gives you a rythmatic timing and without that rythmatic timing then your off. Like a boxer who has to have rythum, his kata is the speed bag and jumping rope because his speed has to be practiced. In Martial Arts our Kata is movement, like Dr.Powell would say ďMOVEMENTĒ Being where your suppose to be when that time comes for your shift. Kata also gives you the understanding of using power, the torqing of the hip or moving the punch from the chamber to where its suppose to be at a certain time. If you look at the difference between people who think they can do Martial Arts and I wont say karate because if you do karate and you do it properly then your going to do the whole essence of everything. If you look at the people who do Martial arts or the people who do a portion of Martial Arts ill say. Their techniques have no power to them and the execution is very sloppy. They donít have that timing and rythmatic movement that they should have.
Even in a practical situation Kata is extreemly important because in practicality if you study kata and you undertand the timing and you understand (Shift Power). Sensei Nishyama used to say ďShift power, pushing from the center, which brings you that metaphysical power that you need to not just punch your opponent but to punch through him, not just to block but to break. In regards to karate,without the kata, you have nothing!
Martialforce.com: In regards to Mixed Martial Arts, the Cage and training, what are your thoughts?
I'm glad you asked me that question, actually I have no thought on it. If I had to express what I felt about it then my expressions are, that it is not practical. In a caged environment where you have someone thatís brawling and their on the ground wrestling like their trying to choke the other guy out and you have someone to break it up, then for that situation I guess thatís fine because itís a controlled environment. Now in a real situation where someone is going to take your life and its about killing then things change dramatically. The arts of Karate, Kendo, Iaido, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, the real Jiu Jitsu, which is from Okinawa, that is based on killing and survival. I tell people all the time anyone I train, if you do not have the intent to kill then donít come to me.
Martialforce.com: You mentioned Iaido, do you train in weapons and if so do you recommend it?
JERRY BELL: Yes, Bujitsu is definitely a part of the art and I recommend it, I recommend it because itís practical. I donít carry a gun so the only weapons I have is the body weapon and the weapons I have in my home. I always keep my swords with me as I am proficient in Iaido (The Art of the Sword) as well as knife fighting. I trained in Malaysia and in the Philippines in an art called Silat. I learned quite a bit in the art of knife fighting. One of the things I do is work with Law Enforcement so I teach a lot of homeland security, Secret Service, US Marshals and Federal Law enforcement how to use the weapons as far as the knife is concerned. Especially the knife because it is very practical in combat.
In Law Enforcement itís very important to understand this weapons training because your gun is not going to work for you all the time and sometimes you canít get to it. I use the scenario of, what happens if your sitting on the toilet and you leave your weapon on the dresser and someone breaks into your house carrying a knife. What are you going to do? I personally plant my weapons all over the house including the bathroom (Laughter). Most people donít think like that so weapons training is very important. The training teaches you to respect the weapon and someone that has a weapon that youíre confronted with.
JERRY BELL: I sure can, Body Weapon is a Martial Arts action adventure flick. I created this film based on the fact that I refused to beg Hollywood to put me in a movie. When I say begging them to put me in a movie, first you have to excuse my expression because im from the East Coast so I basically say whatís on my mind. I donít kiss anybodyís ass and a lot of things that go on in Hollywood as far as the Directors and producers nowadays they are into very large grouping of homosexuality and they use a lot of the people that are in film now to cross over into that genre. They say this is what you have to do and I'm not there.
Martialforce.com: You mentioned the words Body Weapon; you have a film project by the same name. Can you tell our readers about it?
One of the things I learned was to create my own and I created what is called Body Weapon, which is to say, the body is a weapon. I have always believed in a character, which they have not yet produced that is a Black James Bond. My film is based on similarities between James Bond and The Bourne Identity. I also created a comic book called the Body Weapon, which is being looked at right now by Dark Horse Comics. If you go on to Myspace I have a comic book site up and I do all my own artwork too.
The movie consist of quite a few people that are friends of mine from Eddie Griffin, Glen Plummer who was in Speed one and two and everybody knows who Eddie Griffin is from Undercover Brother also Conan Lee so there are many different stars involved, I have some surprises.
Eddie Griffin and Grand Master Jerry Bell
Martialforce.com: To change the interview a bit, you have had a lot of popularity in the music industry. Can you tell our readers how you got involved?
JERRY BELL: I come from a musical family thatís pretty famous, kind of like the Jackson 5 of the 1960ís. I have a group of brothers and my oldest brother his name is Archie Bell. He had a group called Archie Bell and the Drells with a big record called Tighten Up. Back in 1961 when Archie was in the Military Tighten Up was a number one record so the army released him while he was stationed in Germany. The record was so huge that they made a deal with him. If he would do USO shows they would give him a discharge.
Secondly, my family started a company called Philly International, which became Gamble, Huff and Bell and Tom Bell, the Bell of that company was a very famous writer/producer. He wrote a lot of hits for the Delfonics, Stylistics, Dion Warwick, Tommy wrote Didnít I Blow Your Mind, La La Means I Love You, Stop Look Listen, Betcha By Golly Wow so the company itself, we started the sounds of Philadelphia. I was on the writing staff of that company with my writing partners who are no longer alive their names were McFadden and Whitehead they did the song, Aint No Stopping Us Now. I eventually left Philadelphia and moved to California and ended up with a group in 1971. The name of the group was New Birth and we had a record out that was very famous called Wild Flower. Wild Flower was huge, it was first done by a group called Skylark then we recorded it, then the Ojays followed behind us and did it but it was our biggest record. We had other hits with this group; we were assigned to the RCA Record Label. We did a record called I Can Understand It that was done by Bobby Wolmack and we did it again and it became a hit for us. We did a record called Been Such A Long Time, which I recently re-cut that record, thatís my new single now because I just got signed back to Lotus/Bungalow/Universal Music Group as a solo artist.
You can also download my music on ITUNES under Jerry Bell or find me on www.reverbnation/jerrybell
After I left the group in 1979, I did a solo album which was entitled Winter Love Affair on the MCA Label. I ended up getting together with some buddies of mine from Earth Wind and Fire and Marvin Gaye who was a very close friend of mine and we wrote some songs together and I use to travel with Marvin on some of his tours. Marvin and the lead singer of Earth Wind and Fire, Philip Baily introduced me to a group called the Kinsmen Dazz. The Kinsmen Dazz was signed to twentieth Century Fox and they needed a lead singer and so through Marvin and Philip Baily I was introduced into the Kinsmen Dazz group. The group did one record on the Twentieth Label which was I Might As Well Forget About Loving You shortly after, the record company folded and Motown picked us up. Motown shortened our name from the Kinsmen Dazz to the Dazz Band. Our first hit was in 1982 entitled Let It Whip, which we received a Grammy for and the list goes on from that point.
Martialforce.com: It sounds like you achieved a lot and continue to do so in your musical career. In this next question lets go back to your Martial Arts career. Youíre currently opening a Karate School in Riverside California. My question is, what motivates you to continue teaching?
JERRY BELL: There are many different things and the first being, I believe in having the perfect health. If im going to die I want to die knowing that I died a natural death and I didnít die from smoking, drinking, drugs and that kind of things. Secondly, I love to teach and I love what the art is, between the two things, Martial Arts and Music is all I have. This is me in essence, I never went to college, I dropped out of school in the 7th grade so I didnít finish a high school education. Everything I have learned was basically self taught and everything I have earned was earned because of what I put myself into.
I decided that my desires were to do what I wanted to do with my life. The inspiration in what I do Martial Arts wise comes from knowing what I have to offer from my travels throughout the world. I have had an opportunity to absorb many different things that I know people need in this country. Through the Martial Arts it helps me to help heal, people who need healing in regards to spiritual, mental or physical. This is what the Martial Arts does for a human being, if youíre doing it correctly. Its something that you can do way beyond in age, when the physical is gone you have the other two essences.
Martialforce.com: You were an avid tournament competitor and you retired back in the 1980ís. What are your thoughts on Sport Karate as its practiced today?
JERRY BELL: I think its weak; itís at its weakest point. Number one, when we were doing Karate, we battled. There was no such thing as wearing gloves and padding and foot gear with all this other kind of madness that you see going on in the tournaments. We didnít even wear mouthpieces; you know it was drawing blood and that in it self prepared you for combat in essence. When you would step out in the street and you were confronted now you know it doesnít matter what the size of your opponent is you were prepared to deal with whatever there was to deal with. Thatís what Karate is, to me I donít believe in sport I believe in training for defense, for protection for bettering yourself physically and mentally. This is what the Karateka training is for, the same thing in Kungfu, itís the same situation. The Kungfu practitioner practices the art for conditioning the body but also for the defense, for the combat.
What they do nowadays is they put tournaments together to make money. This is a big monopoly on money making and the people who do these tournaments have no clue about what theyíre doing anyway. I remember in the 1960ís and 70ís when we were coming up you had people that would open up a dojo in a storefront. They would open up a school and then they would start throwing out all kinds of stuff, Buy this Buy that! We are going to do a tournament and they do a tournament where their making hand over feet money and people never learning how to punch or kick and the ones that are good at promoting that bullshit are the Koreans. The Koreans, we have a joke about them, they come from Korea and board the plane as greenbelts and by the time they reach the middle of U.S airspace their Grand Master 10th degree.
Where we trained and how we trained, I remember in New York, Philadelphia if someone would open up a dojo down the street we would contact everybody. We would contact everybody from Tong Dojo, Thomas La Puppet, Owen Watson, Riley Hawkins and the Avengers, Doctor Powell. We would say hey so and so opened up a Dojo lets go down there and see what he knows. If they didnít know anything we would beat his ass, shut him down and take his students and teach them properly and even they became a student.
The way that things are going today with this stuff that they call sport Karate, itís an insult. Itís an insult to the practitioners that really want to learn, itís an insult to the people who go and donít have the knowledge of what theyíre stepping into. I always tell people that you need to examine what you are doing. Even before you take your children someplace and you decide that youíre trusting that individual with your kids. Itís the same as if your trusting somebody with your life. You need to research to find out whether or not they really know anything about what they are doing, what history do they have and is it made up. Nowadays you can get on the Internet, you canít hide stuff anymore. You can find out whatever truths you want to find out. I have a Motto and my Motto is that I am responsible for your life if I am teaching you, what I have to teach you has to work and has to be real and if it can not work for you and its not real and something happens to you them I am accountable for that individuals life.
Grand Master Moses Powell
Martialforce.com: My next question is about Dr. Moses Powell, what type of person was he off the mat, not the practitioner but the Man, what did you think of The Man?
JERRY BELL: Doc was a Father figure; he was very educated and very well rounded in his thoughts about life and as far as the human being is concerned. Doc was very strict and straight to the point; he didnít pull punches and would tell you exactly what was on his mind. Either you accepted it or you couldnít do anything elseÖ maybe get an ass wooping (Laughter). But Doc was a beautiful human being. His persona as a man was so much overlooked. A lot of the people who trained with Doc in the later years didnít know Doc as a personal being, a personal man. When I first met Doc it was in 1969, my second oldest brother lived up in Poughkeepsie New York, up in Beacon and so Doc use to come up twice a week to teach and I had an opportunity to train with him in those years. A lot of people donít know what my relationship was with Dr. Powell. Then when some years past and I went overseas and came back I got reunited with Doc again here in Los Angeles when he would come out to Los Angeles with Grand Master Anaconda Mushaba and Haisan Kaleak. Thatís was my reunion with Doc but people didnít know him as the man Ö he was very emotional, he was a family man and if he took you on he was very kind and outside of being a student if he took you on as a comrade, a friend then thatís what you were to life! He would defend you with his life; this is who he was, to die for.
What hurts me is Doc passed without having his organization completed the way that it needed to be because Doc was not business orientated in that way. He taught from his heart and he didnít think about the business. A lot of the times if you didnít have money it didnít matter! He just took you on and you trained but the problem is that the people in the organization had no respect for who Dr. Powell really was and if they did there would be no splits inside the organization. With his passing everyone should have come together and say look we will put our differences aside, weíll put our whatever aside, whoever is grand master this or Soke that or professor this or whatever, it doesnít matter, what matters is the man and the art. What matters is the innovator of this organization and we donít have the right to block what the growth is of this organization for this great human being. Anyone who has anything to say different, they are disrespect to not only Sanuces but they are a disrespect to Dr. Powells legacy.
Martialforce.com: My next question is in regards to a patch I saw with the name Black Ryu. Can you tell our readers about that?
JERRY BELL: Sure, first of all the Black Ryu organization is something I talked about for many years with Dr. Moses Powell. He was the one that actually enforced that I do it because of the essence of it. One is, I donít believe in politics and this is why I stayed away from a lot of the different organizations and going to a lot of events from Sanuces on down to Shotokan, JKA or whatever. I stayed out of the politics because I am not one that can be controlled. No one is going to control my life, what I do or who I am. If I learn something I learn it and thatís what the art is. You learn the art thatís taught to you and you pass it on because it doesnít belong to you.
Black Ryu its called Black Ryu the Masters of the touch and thatís what we are, we are Masters of touching you. Like Dr.Powell said ďWhen I touch you, I have you.Ē So once your hands are on someone, youíre going to know what to do with them. Or as Haisan Kaleak says, ďThe Motto is, when a man puts his hand out to do bodily harm to you, he should never bring it back in the condition he brought it out in.Ē Thatís what Black Ryu is based on and the fact that, I feel as though the African American community in the United Stated were the innovators of the Martial Arts, not the Japanese, not the Chinese, not the Koreans not the Filipino, not none of these people, We were!
I remember in the 1960ís, when Sonny Chibaís films came over here and five fingers of death, the flying guillotine, all the Wu tang movies, all this stuff came to the United States. They were not allowed in white theaters so they pushed them off in the black neighborhoods and so blacks became Kung fu-ides (Laughter) and Karate kids back in the day. We were the ones that would promote and really thatís what enticed everyone to do Martial Arts, was those movies. We had never seen anything like this before except for the practice of Judo here and there and whatever was coming back from the Military when your Fathers and brothers were coming back with some things.
The Martial Arts films back then were made famous by black people the same with Bruce Lee; Bruce would not have been anybody if it were not for blacks being excited over Kato in the Green Hornet because white people didnít like him back then. They more so called it the Green Hornet, they were looking at Van Williams who played the Green Hornet as the man and thatís what white America was pushing. The studios were pushing him but Bruce was so over bearing with his Martial Arts that in Hong Kong it was called the Kato Show and in the black neighborhoods everybody wanted to be Kato so we promoted that.
Nishiyama Sensei and Jerry Bell
At the same time as far as the arts are concerned, the Japanese never want to promote anybody thatís African American or Hispanic to a level of what they are, they will promote someone white. I know people who read this interview will have problems with what Iím saying but I lived with the Japanese, I live in Japan eighteen years. I lived and studied with them, I lived in a home with Yujiro Ichikawa and I know what was parted to me. My closest comrade was Mr. Nishiyama and Mr.Nishiyama use to express to me these things how the organization of JKA is. Thatís why its so confused right now, they promote a lot of white Europeans, Americans, anybody except for indigenous because first of all they do not want to express the truth, which is that the Martial Arts did in fact come out of Africa. They got it and took off with it and started doing different things. We were Capoeira and all kinds of combat, this was us! They do not want to allow us to be in their what I call, Quote un quote, little clubs / organizations to be on the same level because they donít want to look up to us, which in fact we are the better competitors anyway. To this day, im sixty-one years old and ill challenge any Japanese, any Korean I donít care, it doesnít matter to me, Im from the school of Sanuces. Doc would say, ďYou fight whatever you fight to the deathĒ and I speak whatever I speak to the death. The Black in the words Black Ryu represents the people and the Ryu, which in Japanese means style or place of birth represents Africa itself so that what Black Ryu stands for.
Within Black Ryu we have people that are from Tae Kwon Do, we have Masters from Jiu Jitsu, Kung Fu, Shotokan, Shito Ryu, Goju Ryu, Kendo, Judo etc so you donít have to go to the Japanese or Koreans or Chinese to ask the for permission or beg them for ranking when you can come to your own people and get the rank that you need to get.
Martialforce.com: My next question is, what is the biggest misconception about Jerry Bell?
JERRY BELL: (Laughter) The biggest misconception about me is that people think Iím arrogant and some people think im unapproachable. Arrogant Not! Im just assured of myself, I have faith in who I am and who my creator is, I fear nothing!
Martialforce.com: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
JERRY BELL: My greatest achievement is my children, my sons and my daughters. Once my departure comes from this planet, my seed is here.
Martialforce.com: Do you have any projects in the music industry that you can tell our readers about?
JERRY BELL: Yes, I have a current album out right now and the single is on iTunes its entitled (Been Such A Long Time) if they go to www.reverbnation/jerrybell I have a site up that the record company put up for me. They can go on there and listen to my songs also if you go onto iTunes you can download and its only ninety nine cents to download. If you go to my record label Lotus/Bungalo Universal Music, Iím signed to Universal through these two labels. If you go to Bungalo Records it will have a section that says New Artist youíll find the new old school artist, which would be myself, Jerry Bell as well as the Bar - Kays. If you go to Lotus Records, which you can type up on yahoo or google then youíll see the site that the record company has for me on there.
Martialforce.com: Did you write or produce the music?
JERRY BELL: I produced the music with my partner his name is Automatic Vandeveer and some of the songs I wrote, some things Iím re-doing because a lot of people have not heard real good old school music in this generation. I re-recorded some tunes by Teddy Pendergrass and some things by a group called the originals. One of the things I did mention earlier too is as far as family is concerned on the music end I also have other family too in the music industry. Kool, Robert Bell from Kool and the gang is my first cousin and I have another cousin in a group called Black Ivory out of New York and then William Bell who was actually signed to Stacks Records and had a song called, I Forgot To Be Your Lover.
At the time he was on stacks along with Isaac Hayes, Richard Prior, The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays and Johnny Taylor. The family is musically orientated and the only other sports person was my younger brother Ricky Bell who is no longer alive. He was two-time Heisman trophy winner running back for SC and he played for Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Martialforce.com: In closing, do you have any last words you would like to express to our readers here at Martialforce.com?
JERRY BELL: For the people that are reading this I think you should really pay close attention to the things that are going on in anything as far as Martial Arts is concerned. When people are approaching you with it or whatever other books you pick up to read a lot of stuff that you may be reading is not true. A lot of books that are out there give improper history of the Martial Arts in regards to where it came from and who, what and why.
The other thing is, if your seeking out to train make sure you fully find out whose hands your putting your life into. Make sure you know who your dealing with. Do whatever research you have to do because most of these people out here are perpetrators with no clue what it is to be a Martial Artist or teacher. As far as the Martial Artist are concern and when I say Martial artist I mean Martial artist, continue to practice because this is your lifeís journey and thatís all you have, when everything else is stripped from you thatís all you have and look before you leap!
Martialforce.com: Thank you sir for accepting this interview and we here at Martialforce.com wish you continued success.