is no secret why Fumio Demura is so popular. He used to kick the stuffing out
of Steven Seagal at the Japanese Deer Park. Technically, they were only karate
demonstrations, but they were unusually realistic. He certainly made an
impression that he shrewdly cultivated. The beloved sensei deservedly gets the
star treatment in Kevin Derek’s documentary profile The Real Miyagi (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Winter Film Awards in New York.
wasn’t just Seagal who learned from Demura. Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee also picked
up a few moves from the master. He came to Los Angeles with $300, a suitcase,
and a spotty grasp of English (at best). He also knew karate. At the time,
there was not a crying demand for martial arts instruction in America, but
Demura built up a following performing at the now defunct Japanese cultural
theme park outside of LA. When that closed (it was a more controversial
dissolution than Derek has time to deal with), Vegas came calling.
Demura built up an international chain of dojos. He also amassed an impressive
list of movie stunt credits. However, his most significant work would indeed be
doubling Pat Morita in the original Karate
Kid. It would lead to a lifelong friendship with the Oscar nominated actor.
Basically, Demura is like a Horatio Alger hero with a black belt, but after a
year of filming, a potentially tragic turn threatens to end Derek’s film on a
of Demura’s ultimate fate, Derek more than convinces us the sensei is the real
deal, who has almost single-handedly reshaped how Americans think of karate
specifically and martial arts in general. Of course, he has help from an
all-star cast of interview subjects, including Seagal, Dolph Lungren, Michael
Jai White, Tamlyn Tomita, Billy Banks, John G. Avildsen, and Isaac Florentine. It
is also a potent reminder of how significant Morita’s Academy Award nominated
performance was at the time. Frankly, without Demura, it is hard to envision
careers for Seagal, Lungren, White, Scott Adkins, or Gary Daniels.
There are indeed many applicable lessons from
Demura’s success, such as the shrewd way he cultivated coverage in Black Belt magazine. However, the talent
was always there. He is also a hugely charismatic figure, so it is pleasant to
spend the screen time with him. Warmly recommended for fans of martial art
cinema, The Real Miyagi screens this
Saturday night (2/20) as part of this year’s Winter Film Awards.
Labels: Documentary, Fumio Demura, Martial arts cinema, WFA '16