The 52 Hand Blocks, Sexual Dominance, and Mother Dear as Archetype
Thomas A. Green
Texas A&M University, US
Thomas A. Green is Professor of Anthropology and Folklore, Affiliated Professor of Africana Studies, and Affiliated Professor of Religious Studies at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA. Author of over three dozen works on the martial arts, his publications include Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia , Martial Arts in the Modern World , Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation , ‘Sick Hands and Sweet Moves’ , ‘White Men Don’t Flow: Embodied Aesthetics of the Fifty-two Handblocks’ , and ‘I Am the Greatest Boxer: Articulating Group Identity Through Chinese Folk Drama’, . His recent research focuses on Chinese and African-American vernacular martial culture.
The ‘52 Hand Blocks’ is a fighting style associated with African-Americans and penal institutions in the United States. In the closing decades of the 20th century, interest in the ‘52s’ was fanned by references in popular media. The debate over its real-world existence and origins spanned from African-descended folk arts to the ring strategies of professional boxers who learned to box while inmates in juvenile detention facilities. Inevitably, those searching for an origin sought to identify a founder and a direct lineage. In oral tradition, the leading candidate was Mother Dear, a predatory homosexual and inmate of the New York penal system who reportedly used the 52s to beat reluctant sexual partners into submission. According to legend, adepts learned the 52s while incarcerated, frequently after being raped by their mentors. Additional research reveals that the Mother Dear archetype was neither unique nor confined to the African-American community. In fact, substantially similar characters who combine physical strength, fighting ability, and homosexuality appear across the prison lore of the United States. This study explores the psychological and social functions of these figures, with particular emphasis on the Mother Dear and his relationship to similar anti-heroes in African-American oral tradition.