What is 52 Hand Blocks?
52 Blocks is a simple system but inside its simplicity lays layers of complexity discovered by the practitioner. Now, the definitive meaning behind the name 52 blocks at a glance the term seems to have derived by the following method, a training regiment with a deck of cards. Where the deck of cards represented a random insidious nature as in the phase let the cards fall where they may, or whatever whenever- without rhyme or reason. But you have to take into account that each card was a repetition of a routine that was being done to sharpen up the practitioner.
Thus the name 52, as in 52 pick up the card game where the cards equal the rep in the exercise that you’re performing. However, randomness doesn’t explain the deceptive and systematic process that the hands display while transitioning into guards (defensive) position that became known as blocks. Indeed, the reason the craft is called 52 has to do with the science of protecting the body using the angles inside the square 90, 45, and 30 degrees respectfully. The number 52 represents the geometry that the hands take while defending/shielding the body from harm.
Jailhouse rock or JHR is a name which is used to describe a collection of different fighting styles that have been practiced and/or developed within US penal institutions. The different regional “styles” of JHR vary but share a common emphasis on improvisation governed by a specific set of underlying principles.
Some examples of the many styles of JHR are 52 Hand Blocks,Comstock Style, Stato. Many of these styles of JHR are thought to have evolved regionally in different penal institutions.
Jailhouse Rock, the 52 Hand Blocks and their variants may be compared to savate, which was originally a semi-codified fighting method associated with an urban criminal subculture, which underwent a gradual process of codification before becoming established as a martial art accessible by the cultural mainstream.
52 blocks has been referenced in journalist Douglas Century’s Street Kingdom: Five Years Inside the Franklin Avenue Posse, as well as numerous Wu Tang Clan songs and Ted Conover’s book Newjack. Recently, celebrities including actor Larenz Tate and rapper Ludacris have taken up the fighting system for film roles and self-defense, shining a brighter light on this previously unknown martial art.
The existence of this martial art has been debated, but some media exposure has contributed towards verifying the existence of Jailhouse Rock. According to researcher Douglas Century, professional boxers, including Zab Judah and Mike Tyson, have testified to the existence of the style and it is referred to in rap songs by artists including the Wu Tang Clan. Tales of the pugilistic exploits of legendary 1970’s New York prison fighter “Mother Dear” have also contributed to the extensive urban mythology surrounding this system.
The 52 Hand Blocks aspect of JHR was first featured in Black Belt Magazine in the 1970s it was then followed by a key reference in Douglas Century’s nonfiction book Street Kingdom. This book played a key role because it introduced 52 Blocks most senior living practitioner Kawaun Adon (Big K). Kawaun would unite with Martial Arts Historian Daniel Marks and Fitness Innovator Hassan Yasin (GIANT) to form Constellation currently the only 52 Blocks orgnaization with a direct lineage. This organization would motivate the authorship of essays like “Freeing the Afrikan Mind: the Role of Martial Arts in Contemporary African American Cultural Nationalism” by Professor Tom Green of Texas A&M University.
52 Blocks / Jailhouse is unique to the east coast, and specifically New York City. Given there are combat systems throughout the United States, Jailhouse, Stato and 52 Blocks are New York born and raised. The history of it’s existance in New York City can be seen via the film Break The Glass and Changing The Guard currently the only existing films on the history of 52 Blocks produced by Consteallation.
Discussing the 52 Hand Blocks
52 Blocks is the only Martial Arts system born in the United States. The name 52 may be a reference to the playing card games of 52 Pickup and to the expression “let the cards fall where they may.” Other theories relate the name to a combat training game involving the use of playing cards and/or to the Supreme Mathematics of the Nation of Gods and Earths. It could even be a reference, coded, symbolic, or otherwise, to a specific cell block. However, a more likely explanation is that it simply refers to the fifty-two blocking techniques encompassed in the art.
According to Dennis Newsome, a well-known JHR specialist, JHR is an indigenous African American fighting art that has its origins in the 17th and 18th centuries, when slaves were first institutionalized and needed to defend themselves. Oral tradition has the skill evolving secretly within the U.S. penal system, with regional styles reflecting the physical realities of specific institutions. This theory relates JHR to the fusion of African and European/American bare-knuckle fist-fighting styles known as “cutting”, which is said to have been practiced by champions such as Tom Molineaux, and also to the little-known African-American fighting skill known as “knocking and kicking,” which is said to be practiced clandestinely in parts of the Southern US and on the Sea Islands.
Alternatively, it may be possible that JHR was not a product of penal institutions, but rather an evolution of the many African martial arts or fighting games which were practiced by slaves, with different styles evolving separately in different penal institutions. According to this theory, Jailhouse Rock may be a modern American manifestation of the many African martial arts that were disseminated throughout the African diaspora, comparable to martial arts including Afro-Brazilian Capoeira, Cuban Mani, Martiniquese Ladja, and Eritrean Testa.