My initial discovery of this underground martial art, was when I saw a video by Lyte Burly, who has posted numerous youtube videos criticizing various traditional martial arts. More recently, I watched a video on the channel “inside fighting”, whose subject is real world self defense. In the video the narrator explained that, in a street situation, the type of covering actions used by boxers in the ring would not work without the boxing gloves, which can be used as sheilds. He, and some other martial arts who specialize in real world self defense, use covering methods where they wrap both arms tightly around their heads, often with one elbow pointed at the attacker in order to break incoming fists or even in order to be used as a battering ram in close quarters. The narrator said he had become interested in 52 blocks and said that this art used similar guards. He almarso believed that, in addition to boxing, 52 blocks seemed to show elements of Filippino martial arts and Chinese Kung Fu.
The Mystery And Mythology Of 52 Blocks
52 Blocks (also known as Jailhouse Rock or Comstock) is a controversial martial arts system with mysterious origins. Sometimes referred to as an “urban martial art” or “street boxing,” 52 Blocks supposedly emerged within the American prison system as a means of self-defense and survival for incarcerated individuals. However, the history, techniques, and practitioners of this fighting style remain shrouded in mystery.
The Origins and History
The exact origins of 52 Blocks are unknown. According to some accounts, 52 Blocks evolved within American prisons during the 1970s in response to overcrowding and gang violence. Without access to typical martial arts training, prisoners supposedly developed a self-defense system involving 52 “blocks” or defenses against common street attacks.
Other theories suggest 52 Blocks has older roots in African and African-American fighting arts. Some connect it to the 52 playing cards used in a gambling game called “52 Pickup,” suggesting slaves may have masked martial arts training as a card game. More controversially, some proponents claim 52 Blocks originated with a secret African martial art brought to America through the slave trade. However, clear historical evidence supporting these narratives is lacking.
The name “Jailhouse Rock” also implies a prison connection, though it may simply reference the Elvis Presley song. The name “Comstock” likely refers to Comstock Correctional Facility in Virginia. While Comstock has been noted for violence and gang activity, no definitive link connects it to the creation of this fighting system.
Mythical Practitioners and Promoters
Several larger-than-life figures have helped promote and shroud 52 Blocks in mystery. An influential article in Black Belt Magazine in 2001 brought the style mainstream attention. It was authored by famed martial artist Ronald Duncan, who claimed to have learned 52 Blocks from an inmate while working as a prison guard. He allegedly vowed only to reveal the style’s secrets posthumously out of respect for its creators. However, Duncan died in 2012 without fulfilling this promise.
Other mythic practitioners include “Mother Dear,” an elderly prison boxing coach said to possess secret knowledge of 52 Bloccks, and “Mel Gibson,” a mysterious jailed martial artist. References to these figures contribute to the enigmatic aura surrounding 52 Blocks but lack corroborating evidence. Several documentaries also showcase self-proclaimed masters, like escaped convict Willis McDonald, teaching convoluted variations of 52 Blocks. Critics accuse these films of sensationalism and appropriation.
Technical Features and Training
The 52 Blocks system supposedly catalogs 52 defensive arm and hand motions used to protect major targets on the head and body. Practitioners allegedly develop lightning-fast reflexes and adaptability from training repetitive defenses against random attacks. This free-flowing style contrasts with traditional martial arts katas. Given the secrecy surrounding 52 Bloccks, inconsistent technical descriptions exist. However, common features include:
– Close-range strikes with fists, elbows, knees, and headbutts
– Jamming or controlling the opponent’s arms
– Blocks and parries similar to boxing and fencing
– Rapid fire combinations and body evasions
– An emphasis on guarding the head and attacking vulnerable targets like the eyes or throat
Some also incorporate principles from arts like Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or Kali for ground fighting and weapon disarms. Training allegedly takes place in prison yards and gyms, though few details are substantiated. Video demonstrations showcase advanced practitioners flowing seamlessly between improvised defensive motions, though these displays remain questionable.
Prevalence and Popularity
The prevalence of 52 Blocks remains uncertain. Supporters claim it is widely practiced in American prisons and urban environments. Skeptics argue it comprises bits and pieces of other arts repackaged into prison mythology. The lack of formal schools or competititve events also makes gauging its popularity difficult.
52 Blocks has certainly captivated public interest and imaginations. Books, media coverage, documentaries, and references in rap lyrics have fueled its mystique. However, hard proof of its origins, techniques, and practitioners remains scarce. The secrecy inherent to a prison-born fighting art prevents thorough outside examination and verification. As such, 52 Bloccks remains obscured behind walls of mystery and mythology. The truth likely lies somewhere between legend and reality.