Today, June 30th 2020, marks the end of the Kung Fu Tai Chi Bardo. In some schools of Buddhism, the Bardo is an interim period of existence between incarnations. It last 49 days, or seven squared. Although this isn’t something that my tradition of Zen observes necessarily (American Zen, like anything American, tends to co-opt traditions) I’ve found that it serves as a good mourning period. Seven weeks is long enough. Time to move on. And now that the KFTC Bardo has passed, I’m reflecting upon my life in print.
My life in print writing and publishing goes way back to when I was a teenager. That was when Dungeons & Dragons first emerged and I was an avid player. I went to High School with a Bond Girl – Teri Hatcher from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and one of the Desperate Housewives (2004-2012). In High School, I founded a D&D club just to get Teri’s attention*.
Being a major D&D fanboy, I started writing for Alarums & Excursions, a monthly fanzine (or more formerly, APA – Amateur Press Association) in 1975. A&E is dedicated to Role-Playing Games and is allegedly still in publication. I wrote over half a dozen articles for A&E. I also drew two covers: March 1981 (issue 67) and July 1981 (issue 71). I remember the publisher, Lee Gold, was extremely kind about my submissions and our correspondence. Here I was, this nerdy High School kid, working with this adult publisher on the cusp of something huge – the birth of Role-Playing Games – and Lee treated me with such respect. That always stayed with me, something I carried into my own career as a publisher. Always respect the youth. You never know what they might become.
My next big foray into publishing was with American Fencers Supply Co. AFS was a supplier for the sport of fencing as well as historical combat-worthy replicas, mostly for Shakespearean theater. That’s where I worked although I was called upon to wire foils and epees too, when things got busy there.
The replica division grew from happenstance. Most modern made swords are for display only. They aren’t hardened steel, just decorative ‘wall-hangers’. The city of Toledo, Spain has a reputation for sword making that is centuries old, but the lion’s share of their output is wall-hangers now. I made a pilgrimage to Toledo in 2016, and found some fine swords still tucked away under the heaps of wall-hangers, but that’s another story. As a matter of liability, AFS always distinguished that the wall-hanger swords were never to be used for any sort of combat. According to AFS lore, some theater people defied that clear warning, snapped a ‘blade’ in a production, and the shard flew out into the orchestra pit and scratched some guy’s violin. There was some unsuccessful attempt to sue, and in the wake of that, the crew at AFS began exploring the market for stage weapons. Many of the forges that made fencing blades also did military swords and had the equipment to begin producing tempered blades at a reasonable price. Thus, The Armoury was born, the theatrical weapons division of AFS.
I worked for The Armoury. It was shop work, a dirty job. Every Friday was spent pulling metal splinters out of my hands. I even took one in the eye once, and I always wore protective masks, gloves and goggles. Nevertheless, how many people can claim they made swords for their living? It was my full-time job for over half a decade, and quite the opposite from my years in print publishing.
Nevertheless, I published there too. I was tasked to produce the AFS catalogs. This was prior to the internet. Merchandise changed a lot because so much of it was handmade so it wasn’t feasible to do a large print run for the catalog for a niche market. What’s more, fencing gear is white, so the details of the jackets and knicker just washed out. AFS tasked me to hand-draw every product and produce a catalog xerographically that could be updated easily.
By chance, I had worked on the High School newspaper back when I knew Teri Hatcher*. It was a lark, a class I took to be with my friends, but it served me well because I understood the hands-on principles behind old school cut-and-paste – wax guns, photo-blue, Letraset, the precision of an Exacto knife in the right hands – more obsolete skills now buried deep in my dusty arsenal.
After AFS, a transitioned to working for my Kung Fu master who I had been studying under from when I was in Junior High, the late Grandmaster Kwong Wing Lam. I was his first full-time employee and helped him found his mail-order company, Wing Lam Enterprises. Not only was I the Head Shaolin Kung Fu instructor there, I was Program Director, wrote his instructional video series (nearly 200 titles when we were done), did product acquisition from China (the first to import Feiyue shoes and Shaolin Temple photography albums), and published their catalog. This was still before the internet, so we put out a quarterly (more or less) publication that was part catalog, part newsletter, part magazine-like articles (infomercials really).
I was freelance writing then too. I wrote for martial arts magazines, Amer-AZN and film review mags, so I was writing a lot. Unless your name is Stephan King, J.K. Rowling or some author of that stature, writing doesn’t pay that much. It didn’t then and it still doesn’t. To make it as a freelance writer, you must be constantly hustling to produce quality content as well as to find publishers who might buy it. Fortunately my focus was niche so I got to know all the publishers quickly. There weren’t that many for the content I was writing back then.
I’ve written almost every working day since then, and that was the early nineties. Writing is part of my practice, parallel to my martial arts and Zen. There is no distinction in Zen. This is one of the original definitions of ‘journalist’. Now we use that term to refer to reporters, but originally it meant anyone who kept a daily journal. I don’t write fiction. I write from my life, from my experiences and from what I see. Writing almost every day was part the impetus for starting this blog. In the wake of the end of Kung Fu Tai Chi and while in isolation, it was the best outlet for my work. Now I’ve picked up some freelance gigs so I’m getting paid to write again. And after loosing my job, money talks, so my blogs have fallen to the wayside. However I’m posting my freelance work here too, so there is still plenty for you to read. But back to my story and what really sealed my life in print – the job that earned me the title of ‘publisher’.
In 1999, I was headhunted to join Kung Fu Tai Chi by Andy Ching (no relation) who was a Tiger Claw rep. As a freelancer, I had already written dozens of articles for the magazine, as well as all the other martial magazines of note at the time. I had even been translated into some of other languages like for the Italian magazine Samurai Banzai Pugilato (Aprile 1994). Joining Kung Fu Tai Chi was an exciting prospect. While it was difficult to step out from under the shadow of my master, Grandmaster Lam was happy to see me move forward. I had been on the ceiling of his company for a while by then, and left with his good blessings.
Beyond Kung Fu Tai Chi, I also worked on Tiger Claw’s quarterly print newsletter Claw Marks. For a few years, those were all my babies – I did the design, copy and layout. They were printed on newspaper and only a few pages long, but when once online sales grew, Claw Marks ceased publication. ‘Claw Marks’ was reborn as a column in Kung Fu Tai Chi, a two-page spread dedicated to Tiger Claw news. which I ghost wrote for a while until Jonny Oh became President and chose to write them himself (still with a little help from me because as President, he had plenty of other more pressing work to do).
My work with Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine is well documented so I’m not going to go into that. If you really want to know more, get those back issues while they’re still available. Once those are gone, the legacy of Kung Fu Tai Chi will be left in the hands of savvy collectors.
Now print is dead to me. I’ll continue to write. As I’ve said, it’s part of my Zen practice. But I doubt I’ll be writing much for print. It feels like that time has passed. It’ll be web publishing from now on mostly. That’s much easier. You don’t have to deal with paper suppliers, presses or distributors. And if you make a mistake, it’s fixable, not set in stone (or print). The days of print are gone. I’m proud of what I did back when print was king. I’m very sad to see it go but such are the times.
Now the Kung Fu Tai Chi Bardo is done. Long live KungFuMagazine.com. Moving on.
*This story about Teri Hatcher is a total embellishment. We did go to High School together but I don’t think we ever spoke one word to each other. I knew who she was – she was stunningly beautiful as a teenager ad had already started professional modelling – but I highly doubt she knew who I was at all. She was way out of my league and founding our D&D club had nothing to do with her. Come on. Teri didn’t hang out with the D&D Kung Fu nerds. It was High School. I just dropped her name to grab your attention.