Get Your Dojo On; Why Karate Is King Once Again

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Sidekicks Screenwriter and Martial Arts Master Lou Illar on the Comeback of Karate

Karate is tailor-made for the movies. It’s exciting to watch, and involves personal and spiritual components that make great story-telling devices

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As the new version of The Karate Kid starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith sweeps the world’s multiplexes, could a new wave of karate kids sweep into studios and rec centers? Lou Illar, screenwriter and associate producer of the classic 90’s martial arts movie Sidekicks, knows the answer.

“Karate is tailor-made for the movies. It’s exciting to watch, and involves personal and spiritual components that make great story-telling devices,” says Illar, who’s in pre-production for ‘Sidekicks II’ while witnessing firsthand the resurgence of martial arts from his Louisiana Dojo. “Plus, it doesn’t need to have winners and losers like Western sporting activities do; and the character building aspect for young people is key. At their heart, martial arts are about discipline and humility. The best part is that anyone can do it and excel. There’s a reason they’ve been around for centuries.”

In the past 20 years, martial arts classes and centers have sprouted up everywhere -- rec centers, churches, the inner city and suburbs. The number of martial-arts students under 12 years old has grown 15 percent a year for the past five years, according to Illar, citing stats from the National Karate-do Federation. ''A big part of that is because of the success of movies like ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Sidekicks’,'' says Illar. ''These movies play every day on television all over the world, and they both have a terrific message for young people. Karate is as ubiquitous on the extra-curricular landscape now as little league and piano lessons.''

"Karate gives a general sense of mission and personal control," says Illar. It’s also proven to be especially helpful for kids with special needs, an avenue that was explored in the original ‘Sidekicks’. Illar, a two time inductee in Kung Fu Magazine’s Hall of Fame, works with special needs children frequently through his martial arts studio in Baton Rouge, LA.

The original ‘Sidekicks’ plot revolves around Barry, played by the late child star Jonathan Brandis, who suffers from severe asthma and is having trouble fitting in at school. His only source of enjoyment is fantasizing that he’s friends with Chuck Norris, the martial arts champion and movie star. Barry becomes tired of getting picked on by the bigger guys, and decides to learn karate in hopes of controlling his asthma. Little did Barry know that some day his journey would actually place him as Chuck Norris’s Sidekick.

During his current media tour, Lou Illar is discussing topics including:

  • The resurgence of the mainstream martial arts film
  • Why martial arts have become so popular with American families
  • How to pick the right martial arts school for your child, and what dangers to watch for
  • What the new ‘Sidekicks’ sequel will be about

“Whether it’s Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, or Jackie Chan, karate movies, like the martial arts themselves, will never go away,” Illar says. “Movies definitively tell a story through movement and action. The first movies made were made by Chinese and featured women using martial arts. Obviously, there are many period pieces of Kung Fu Heroes but where is there a better backdrop for martial art movies, than the physical and emotional challenges of our times? No doubt the continual popularity of The Karate Kid reflects America’s never ending admiration and support for those who selflessly achieve a moral victory. This flick nixes the love some kids have for things and replaces it with the moral respect that Americans still want to find in one another. The Karate Kid has and always will reflect American grit and morality!”    

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Aaron Leistner
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