Before Bruce Lee brought karate to the masses through his kung fu films in the 1970s, there was Fumio Demura. Sensei Demura's amazing martial art skills have long been chronicled by fans of the sport and Hollywood's action star elite, including Lee, Chuck Norris, Steven Segal, Wesley Snipes, and even Hilary Swank, who have all learned karate under the master. Demura's name might not be as well recognized as Lee's, but Irvine International Film Festival director and filmmaker Kevin Derek hopes to change that with the premiere of his documentary The Real Miyagi that screens today as part of a weekend-long celebration in honor of Demura's 50th anniversary of teaching in the United States.
For fans of martial arts, Demura is a legend; for the uninitiated, Demura is more than a karate teacher, he is the ULTIMATE karate master, earning not one but two places in the Black Belt Hall of Fame, literally writing the book on karate (several, actually). He gained prominence for his early demonstrations of armed and unarmed combat all over the world, years after arriving in Santa Ana in 1965 (with only $300 and the clothes on his back, according to the film). Demura went go on to convert a small house to a dojo where thousands of students have since walked in to learn from the Sensei. It still sits today in Santa Ana, across from Santa Ana College, but is still under threat of getting demolished for the city's street expansion plans.
Here's an old school video of Demura discussing martial arts; a demonstration begins at 4:46:
But as badass as Demura is, he's faced his share of struggles– language barriers, culture shock and racism among them. Post-War America was still reeling with anti-Japanese distrust in the '60s, so it wasn't uncommon for a student of Demura's to ask for his money back because of their parents' prejudices.
Still, Derek's film presents a humble and dedicated teacher who rose above those challenges and inspired students with his magnanimous spirit. Longtime friend Pat Morita based his character Mr. Miyagi off of Demura for the 1984 film The Karate Kid, from Demura's approach to teaching to his mannerisms, earning him an Academy Award nomination for the role (Demura also acted as stunt double for Morita in the film). The two maintained a close, brotherly friendship until Morita's passing in 2005.
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Shihan Demura's teaching in the United States, and the celebration will commence with two screenings of The Real Miyagi at 6pm and 8pm at Ultra Star Theaters in Anaheim, where filmmaker Derek and producer Oscar Alvarez will be on hand to discuss the film, with Demura alongside them. A formal banquet engagement featuring special guests, is scheduled for Saturday at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa. For more information on attending, details here.
Peep the trailer for the film down here; no release date or other screen date is scheduled at this time (although it's fair to guess the Frida might screen it, who knows.)