Remembering Grasshopper aka David Carradine

Remembering Grasshopper aka David Carradine

Remembering Grasshopper aka David Carradine

By: Legacy Staff

David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine in “Kung Fu” (Wikimedia Commons / ABC-TV)

For millions of Americans in the 1970s, the face of Asian martial arts was David Carradine.

From our vantage point, more than 40 years after the debut of ABC-TV’s Kung Fu, it seems more than a little strange that an Asian actor wasn’t chosen to play martial arts expert Kwai Chang Caine, instead of the 100 percent Caucasian Carradine. In 1972, though, it wasn’t so unusual. A decade before, Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yuniyoshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was seen as funny, not offensive. Twenty-five years before that, Hollywood managed to make the film adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s Chinese epic The Good Earth without a single Asian actor in a lead role. Seen in that light, Kung Fu was downright progressive, given that it did cast a number of Asian actors in regular roles.

But in 1972, the fans weren’t necessarily thinking about casting choices – they were just drinking in all the great kung fu action by Carradine and company.

Carradine’s half-Chinese, half-American Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine wandered the Wild West, attempting to be a man of peace in a violent world. He often flashed back to his monastic training, remembering the teacher who gave him the nickname “Grasshopper.” Caine’s lessons with Master Po and Master Kan gave pop culture a catchy way to refer to a novice… but they also imparted the wisdom of Eastern philosophy.

Though Kung Fu aired for only three seasons – and Carradine d >Kill Bill series featured Carradine as an assassin in a world of martial arts-inspired revenge. The movies revived Carradine’s flagging career and harked back to his glory days as Kwai Chang Caine.

Four years after Carradine’s death June 3, 2009 , the entertainment world has changed, and it’s unlikely he’d ever get to play a character like Grasshopper if he were alive and working today. Still, though it may not be PC, we love watching his kung fu.

David Carradine

David Carradine, who was found dead on June 4 aged 72, was the lanky, sad-eyed American actor catapulted to fame as Kwai Chang Caine in the 1970s cult television series Kung Fu; after two decades in the doldrums, his career took sail again when he played the assassin-turned-victim in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part film saga Kill Bill.

7:15PM BST 04 Jun 2009

Although he appeared in more than 100 feature films by eminent directors such as Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman and Hal Ashby, Carradine’s best-known role remained that of Caine, an orphaned Shaolin monk travelling the American West in the 1800s, serenely spreading wisdom wherever he went. Despite his total ignorance of the martial arts, of which his odd, long-haired and metaphysically-minded screen character was a virtuoso exponent, Carradine’s portrayal of the fugitive Chinese-American was one of the more unexpected television successes of its time, and played on British screens between 1972 and 1975.

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In Kung Fu, the character of the young Caine was shown in childhood encounters with his blind teacher, Master Po, seen in flashback. These would invariably end with an enigmatic observation from Po to his protΓ©gΓ© “Grasshopper” – a nickname which, accompanied by cod-philosophical musings, briefly became a popular catchphrase.

Carradine’s earlier roles included the lead in Shane (the 1966 television series based on the 1949 novel of the same name) and as a gunslinger in Taggart (1964), a film Western based on a novel by Louis L’Amour. He also starred in the Broadway version of Peter Shaffer’s play The Royal Hunt of the Sun in 1965.

After his breakthrough in the Kung Fu series, Carradine starred in several exercise videos teaching the martial arts of Tai qi and Qi Gong. Having had no knowledge of any martial art before landing the Kung Fu part, he not only developed an interest in it but became an avid adherent and practitioner.

Not everyone was impressed. “David Carradine is about as good a martial artist as I am an actor,” noted the martial arts expert Chuck Norris, who comprehensively trounced him in Lone Wolf McQuade (1983).

Twenty years later Carradine’s career suddenly revived when he was cast as the eponymous anti-hero in Quentin Tarantino’s homage to martial arts films, Kill Bill. Highly stylised, it featured the actress Uma Thurman, in a yellow jumpsuit, wreaking vengeance in a series of extreme fight scenes, one opposite Carradine, who earned a Golden Globe nomination as best supporting actor.

Carradine was able to profit from his renewed fame, becoming the spokesman for the Yellowbook telephone directories in the United States. He was also the television face of the tea firm Lipton (“This ain’t no sippin’ tea”), in a memorable commercial where he paid homage not only to Kung Fu, but also to the Three Stooges.

He was interested in oriental herbs, exercise and philosophy, wrote a personal memoir called Spirit of Shaolin and continued to make instructional videos on tai qi and other martial arts.

He often pondered death. In a magazine interview in 2004, he said he used to keep a single action Colt .45, loaded, in his desk drawer, and confessed to contemplating suicide often. In the event, he was reportedly found hanged at a hotel in Bangkok. Curiously he had once recalled “sitting in the window of the third or fourth floor of the Plaza Hotel for about an hour thinkin’ about just tippin’ off.

“And that was at a time when I was having more fun than you could imagine. I just thought: ‘Who the f— cares, man? Why don’t I just split?’ Of course I didn’t, so there you go.”

David Carradine was married five times. His first marriage, in 1960, to Donna Lee Becht, ended in 1968, and he married, secondly, Linda Gilbert in 1977. This marriage ended in 1983, and in 1988 he married Gail Jensen. In 1998, he married his fourth wife, Marina Anderson, but this was dissolved in 2001.

On Boxing Day 2004, David Carradine married Annie Bierman at a ceremony in Malibu performed by his attorney, and a long-time friend of his fifth bride.

Grasshopper to leap again as reboot of hit 1970s TV series Kung Fu takes flight

It is 45 years since David Carradine’s TV series became a major hit, which must mean it’s time to dust it off and go again.

By Karl Quinn

The grasshopper will leap again as the hit 1970s television show Kung Fu is set to be rebooted – with a female lead.

The original series starred David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, the son of an American father and a Chinese mother, who wanders the American West in the 1880s.

As a child, he is trained in martial arts in China by Shaolin Buddhists, including a blind monk who gives him the nickname Grasshopper; as an adult, he wanders from place to place in America, dispensing wisdom and attempting to avoid using his fists in fury, but usually failing.

Despite the controversial casting of a white man in the lead, the show was a popular and critical hit. It ran for 63 episodes (including a movie-length pilot) from 1972 to 1975, won three Emmys, spawned a range of bubblegum collector cards and both tapped into and fuelled the craze for kung fu that swept the Western world in that decade.

David Carradine (left) as Kwai Chang Caine and Chris Potter as David Caine in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues Credit: Universal Pictorial Press

Now, Fox plans to re-imagine the series with a new show set in the 1950s.

According to Deadline, the new Kung Fu will follow the adventures of Lucy Chang (it is unclear if she is related to Carradine’s character, though the smart money would bet on that being the case).

Like him, she is a Buddhist monk and martial arts master who wanders through America coming to the aid of the downtrodden.

Whereas Carradine’s Chang was searching for his half-brother, the female Chang is searching for the man who stole her child years before. She is aided in her quest by a Korean War vet.

The makers of Ghost in the Shell were accused of whitewashing after casting Scarlett Johansson as their lead. Credit: AP

So far, Fox has committed only to a pilot, which will be written by Greg Berlanti and Wendy Mericle, who have previously collaborated on the long-running superhero series Arrow.

The actress who will play the lead has not yet been announced, but it is hard to imagine that in this day and age a Hollywood studio would want to risk the inevitable backlash that would follow were they once again to cast a white actor in the role – especially in light of the “whitewashing” furore that greeted Scarlett Johansson’s turn in the film of Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell earlier this year.

The classic Carradine pose in the original Kung Fu. Credit: ABC

This is not the first time Kung Fu has been rebooted. Carradine starred in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, which ran for four seasons between 1993 and 1997, playing the grandson of the earlier show’s Kwai Chang Caine, whose name he shared.

He also appeared in a 1986 telemovie, in which Brandon Lee played his son. Lee, who died after an accident on the set of the movie The Crow, was the real-life son of Bruce Lee, the Hong Kong actor and martial arts star who some reports claimed was originally considered for the lead in the Kung Fu TV series.

Whatever the fate of the new series, David Carradine will not make an appearance this time around. He died in 2009, aged 72, in a hotel room in Bangkok, from auto-erotic asphyxiation.

11 Facts You Might Not Know about Kung Fu

Kung Fu, which aired from 1972-1975, was an unusual blend of the social questioning of 70s America, an emerging fascination with the martial arts, and the introduction of Eastern thought into American pop culture. It was one of the last Westerns of American television and thus straddled a great cultural shift that occurred during that era. It was also a fine show that earned high ratings and continues to entertain legions of fans to this day. Let’s take a look at some things that you might not know about the series.

1. Kwai Chaing Caine’s last name is a reference to the Cain of the Bible. Cain, having murdered his brother, was marked and cast into the wilderness. So, too, was Kwai Chang Caine marked by the dragon and tiger branded into his forearms and wanted for murder in China. The $10,000 bounty on his head was a constant source of trouble for Caine throughout the series.

2. David Carradine shaved his head once, when shooting the pilot movie. He never cut it again for the rest of the series. So it’s possible to gauge when an episode was shot during the series by looking at Carradine’s hair.

3. Caine must walk a strip of rice paper to demonstrate the lightness of his footsteps. To prepare David Carradine for this task, kung fu consultant Kam Yuen had him step on eggs without breaking them.

The training turned out to be unnecessary. When it finally came time to film the rice paper scenes, no one could locate rice paper. The directors tried butcher paper, but it wouldn’t tear under the feet of Radames Pera, the actor who portrayed Caine as a child. They even attached sandpaper to Pera’s feet, but the paper stayed intact. Finally they pre-tore the strip of paper and had Pera walk over it. To show the adult Caine walking without leaving a trace, they simply left the butcher paper untorn.

4. David Carradine had no martial arts training before the show began shooting, but he was a skilled dancer. It was only during the final season that Carradine began to study kung fu aggressively. By that time, he was so skilled that he rarely used stunt doubles.

5. The fight scenes had to be carefully choreographed to be realistic, shoot well, and most importantly, comply with the network’s rules on violence. David Chow, the martial arts director for the show, explained at the time:

ABC absolutely bans any more than three hits on a person, all kicks below the belt, more than two areas of bleeding on a single person, any pouring of blood (but dripping is okay!), instruments entering the body, and any scenes of a man dying with his eyes open.

6. The show was rather inexpensive to produce in part because it made use of Warner Brothers aging and then unused Western sets. The Shaolin Temple did require some thought, but was just a redressing of the castle set from the 1967 movie Camelot.

7. In one scene in the pilot movie, Philip Ahn (Master Kan) challenges Radames Pera (young Caine) to snatch a pebble from his hand. This scene was shot at least fifteen times because Pera, faster than Ahn, successfully snatched the pebble, over and over again. Finally the director told Pera to try to take the pebble with his right rather than left hand, which was farther away from Ahn. Then Ahn was able to close his hand and keep the pebble.

8. Philip Ahn started a very successful restaurant named Moongate. Children often approached him there and asked if they could try to snatch a pebble from his hand. He obliged their requests.

9. David Carradine was the son of John Carradine, a highly accomplished actor in his own right. He appeared alongside his son David in three episodes of Kung Fu. The elder Carradine played an old blind preacher named Serenity Johnson.

10. You may know actor Keith Carradine as FBI agent Frank Lundy from Dexter. He’s also David Carradine’s younger brother. Keith Carradine played a younger version of Kwai Chang Caine in the pilot movie and early episodes of the show.

11. You may also recognize some of the guest stars who made appearances in the show. Jodie Foster starred in the episode β€œAlethea” at the tender age of 10. William Shatner played a treacherous Irish ship captain in β€œA Small Beheading.” Harrison Ford was a business manager in the episode “Crossties.”

Anderson, Robert. The Kung Fu Book. Las Vegas, NV: Pioneer Books, 1994. Print.
Pilato, Herbie J. The Kung Fu Book of Caine: Exploring Television’s Most Mystical Eastern Western Drama. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, Co., 1993. Print.

Kung Fu (TV series)

Kung Fu is an American action-adventure western drama television series starring David Carradine.

Season 1 Episode #1-2 – Pilot

Disciple Caine: Master, do we seek victory in contention? Master Kan: Seek rather not to contend. Caine: But shall we not then be defeated? Master Kan: We know that where there is no contention, there is neither defeat nor victory. The supple willow does not contend against the storm, yet it survives. Master Kan: Avoid, rather than check. Check, rather than hurt. Hurt, rather than maim. Maim, rather than kill. For all life is precious, nor can any be replaced. “Weakness prevails over strength. Gentleness conquers. Become the calm and restful breeze that tames the violent sea.” -Master Kan (may refer to TAO TE CHING #78 “The weak can overcome the strong”) Disciple Caine: Master, our bodies are prey to many needs: hunger, thirst, the need for love. Master Kan: In one lifetime, a man knows many pleasures: a mother’s smile in waking hours, a young woman’s intimate, searing touch, and the laughter of grandchildren in the twilight years. To deny these in ourselves is to deny that which makes us one with nature. Caine: Shall we then seek to satisfy these needs? Master Kan: Only acknowledge them and satisfaction will follow. To suppress a truth is to give it force beyond endurance. “Fear creates the victim. I will survive if I can.” -Caine “Fear is never a part of a man, until it enters him.” -Caine “Fear is like a seed that grows. If you plant fear, then it will grow.” -Caine “When a fear becomes strong enough, it is like another being within you who fights to stay alive. It is not you who will die, but your fear.” -Caine

Season 1 Episode #5 – The Tide

Caine: Is it good to seek the past, Master Po? Does it not rob the present? Master Po: If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past. Master Po: Seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions. Master Kahn: We do not punish for trust. If while building a house, a carpenter strikes a nail. It proves faulty by bending. Does the carpenter then lose faith in all nails and stop building his house? Young Caine: Then we are required to trust, even when we are reminded of the existence of evil. Master Kahn: Deal with evil through strength. But affirm the good in man through trust. In this way, we are prepared for evil, but we encourage good. Young Caine: And is good our great reward for trusting? Master Kahn: In striving for an ideal, we do not seek rewards. Yet trust does sometimes bring with it a great reward, even greater than good. Young Caine: What is greater than good? Master Kahn: Love. Caine: Can a woman be happy alone? Su Yen Lu: To be alone, without one to love, is a waste of the body. To be not alone, without one to love, is a waste of the soul. Su Yen Lu: Love born of betrayal is better lost than lived.

Season 1 Episode #11 – The Praying Mantis Kills

[Caine has given another Shaolin monk a sextant that had belonged to his father.] Master Po: You wish no longer to savor the memory of your father through that which was close to him? Caine: Master. You have taught me to claim no possessions, that none may claim me. Master Po: The sextant was only a memory, which you could keep not only in your heart, but in your hands. Caine: I am of age. I must put away such memories. Master Po: Between father and son, there is a bridge which neither time nor death can shatter. Each stands at one end, needing to cross and meet. Caine: But he is dead. Master Po: The bridge of which I speak, Grasshopper, is your love for him.

Season 1 Episode #14 – The Third Man

Noreen: You’ve learned to trust people, but doesn’t it hurt you? Caine: And you? Not trusting. Are you not hurt more? Noreen: How do you go through all that and not get twisted.. out of shape by it? Caine: I seek. Not to know all the answers. But to understand the questions.

Season 1 Episode #15 – The Ancient Warrior

Caine: Master, what is the best way to meet the loss of one we love? Master Kan: By knowing that when we truly love it is never lost. It is only after death that the depth of the bond is truly felt and our loved one becomes more a part of us than was possible in life. Caine: Are we only able to feel this toward those whom we have known and loved a long time? Master Kan: Sometimes a stranger known to us for moments can spark our souls to kinship for eternity. Caine: How can strangers take on such importance to our souls? Master Kan: Because our soul does not keep time; it merely records growth.

Season 2 Episode #12 – The Gunman

Caine: Master, if I shall love others, how can I be sure that they in return will love me in return? Master Po: Do you seek love or barter? Caine: But, if I love others and they do not love me, I shall feel great pain. Master Po: That is what you risk, Grasshopper: great pain, or great joy.

Season 3 Episode #2 – A Small Beheading

Captain Gage: I am Brandywine Gage. Captain Gage. Ashore from the ship Peking Lady. Rump-sprung and calloused where no man nae’ouught to be calloused. Captain Gage: [after being defeated by Caine] I never met a man like you. [laughs] I swear, I admire you more than I can say but. I wouldn’t be you for anything in the world.

Caine: I have been in the marketplace. All of the men there argue and fight. There is no peace. Master Po: Why does that trouble you, when your home is here? Caine: I want all men to know peace. Master Po: It is written in the ‘Tao Te Ching’, “Under heaven, all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness. All can know good as good only because there is evil. Therefore, having and not having arise together. Difficult and easy complement each other. High and low rest upon each other. Front and back follow one another.” Caine: But Master, do we not want all men to know our peace, our joy? Master Po: Would you make the whole world a temple? Be like the sun, and what is within you will warm the earth.

  • “Be nothing, and you will have everything to give to others.” – Master Po
  • “Avoid rather than check. Check rather than hurt. Hurt rather than maim. Maim rather than kill. For all life is precious and cannot be replaced.” – Master Kan
  • “When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.” – Master Kan
  • “To suppress a truth is to give it force beyond endurance.” β€” Master Kan
  • “Yet, it is eyes which blind the man.” β€” Master Po
  • “Because a man can see, he does not look.” β€” Master Po
  • “There is dignity in all work.” – Caine
  • “I do not seek answers, but rather to understand the question.” – Caine

‘Grasshopper’ as a term for a neophyte

What is the origin of using the word “grasshopper” as a term for a neophyte or trainee? The most reliable reference I have is Urban Dictionary, who claims that it is from a 1970’s television series called Kung Fu.

I would also be curious to know if this is a term which appears only in American English, or in other countries as well.

2 Answers 2

Kung Fu is indeed the source of this expression. Kung Fu made extensive use of flashbacks to the childhood of the protagonist, Caine, as he learned martial arts from his teacher Master Po, who called his young student Grasshopper as a term of affection. It is mostly used humorously, as a lighthearted comparison of the relationship between the speaker and their less experienced listener with that of wise Master Po and his inexperienced student.

The younger generation might be more likely to use the neologism padawan, which was used similarly in the Star Wars prequels as a name used by Jedi masters for their own young students.

Your Kung Fu reference is spot on.

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia concerning the sobriquet Grasshopper.

One of his first instructors was the blind master named Po. Po considered Caine his favorite pupil and behaved more like an elderly grandfather. Caine was given the nickname “Grasshopper” by Master Po. The reference was from an exchange where the still ignorant young Caine asked the old blind master how he could function without seeing. Po asked Caine to close his eyes and describe what he could hear. Caine explained that he could hear the water flowing in a nearby fountain and birds in a nearby cage. Po then asked if Caine could hear his own heartbeat or the grasshopper at his feet (Caine hadn’t noticed the insect until that moment). Incredulous, Caine asked Po, “Old man – how is it that you hear these things?” Po’s reply was, “Young man, how is it that you do not?” From that point on, Po affectionately called Caine “Grasshopper”.

I suppose that calling an apprentice might be found in any country that ran the Kung Fu series.

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