In the early 1970s, every kid in America wanted to learn Kung Fu. From the magazines to the comics, martial arts as a whole were growing in popularity. With the rise of prominent Chinese film star Bruce Lee (Real Name: Lee Jun-fan), pop culture became fertile ground for martial artists to achieve their creative freedom. With Bruce Lee's “Enter the Dragon” (1973), the idea of exotic martial arts tournaments became a consistent theme within the genre. To capitalize, Berkley Medallion released the debut 'Jason Striker' novel, “Kiai!”, in 1974. It was the beginning of a six-book run that showcased an American “Master of Martial Arts” battling international criminals. The series was written as a collaborative effort between Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes. I decided to tackle the debut novel to see how much time and energy I wanted to invest in the short-lived series.
“Kiai!” introduces former Green Beret Jason Striker as a financially strapped Judo instructor. His protege, Jim, is scheduled to compete in a world class tournament held in Nicaragua. However, in a freak dojo accident, Jason accidentally injures Jim. Fearing judo would not be properly represented in the tournament, Jason agrees to replace Jim as a contestant.
This exotic martial arts tournament is held in Nicaragua and broadcast globally on television. It's a contest that pits representatives from various fighting styles into a no-holds barred tournament to win cash and firmly establish their style is superior. In many ways, it's “Enter the Dragon” minus the interesting parts. But more so, a lot of the tournament resembles an early prototype of what would later become the legitimate mixed martial arts sport. In 1974, styles didn't clash. Kickboxers, Muy tai fighters, Wrestlers, Boxers, Karate Masters and Judo specialists generally didn't fight opponents of other styles. This tournament forces each contestant to fight combatants of each style, sometimes twice, in an elaborate points system. As a fan of 90s mixed martial arts, I found this tournament to be somewhat innovative despite “Enter the Dragon” establishing the idea in the US.
Beyond just the wear and tear of fighting over the course of several weeks, “KiaI!” really fails to deliver anything else worthwhile. There's some side-stories regarding a multi-millionaire hiring Jason to teach his sexy daughter judo, a competition with a rival judo instructor and some intrigue behind the tournament, but none of this is remotely compelling. The end result is a first-person narrative from a rather weak protagonist. Kudos to the authors for not making Striker vulnerable and very human instead of over-the-top pulp. However, it isn't enough to warrant a search for any other books in the series. Like 'Ninja Master', I'll take a dive to avoid any of these.
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