Jacob Lunon: The kung fu guru breaking boundaries and uniting communities

"Martial arts is not just for self-defense against an enemy, but more so for learning how to defend yourself against what bothers you inside,” Lunon said.

When you imagine a kung fu master, your mind probably conjures up images of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. But Jacob Lunon breaks the mold. Born in 1954 during the Jim Crow era, Lunon’s life has been a testament to resilience and a quest for unity in the face of adversity. 

“I say I’m training you to be a killer, and a killer must learn how to kill and kill something every day. But the weapon that you use should be kindness,” he explained passionately.

Jacob’s approach to martial arts extends far beyond physical combat. He believes in using his skills to defend not only against external enemies but also against our inner struggles.

Lunon’s early years were marked by the pervasive racism of the time. Growing up, he found solace at church and the army, as for him they were the only paths available for African-American males seeking to break free from systemic discrimination.

Tragically, at the age of three, Lunon witnessed his father’s drowning during a family picnic in Eagle Lake, Michigan, targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. These experiences shaped his worldview and fueled his determination to rise above the bigotry that surrounded him.

Lunon’s path to becoming an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem is rooted in this personal tragedy. Recalling the heartbreaking loss of his father, he shared, “I knew that a long time ago, I wanted to be Jewish. It was pretty obvious to me when my father was murdered.” 

It was a serendipitous encounter during his childhood that sparked his fascination with Judaism. 

“When my father was murdered in front of me, my mother had to take on a job as a domestic worker. The only respectable job that an African-American woman could possibly get.”

His mother started working for the Kaplans, a Jewish family. Intrigued by the concept of lighting Shabbat candles, Lunon’s interest was piqued when Mrs. Kaplan explained the unity and global reach of Jewish rituals. This newfound knowledge ignited a spark within Lunon, who yearned for the sense of unity he felt was lacking in other areas of his life.

Lunon’s journey to embrace Judaism wasn’t without its challenges. Despite facing racism within the Jewish community, he remained inspired by the plight of Ethiopian Jews and their quest to return to Israel.

His love for kung fu provided an outlet for self-expression and taught him essential values like manners, respect, and honor. He became a skilled practitioner, eventually earning black belts in kung fu and Japanese Shudokan karate.

“Martial arts is not just for self-defense against an enemy, but more so for learning how to defend yourself against what bothers you inside, how to be strong, and how to face the truth,” Lunon explained.

Throughout his life, Lunon found harmony between his passion for kung fu and his dedication to acting. His achievements as an actor, kung fu teacher, and diversity trainer led him from New York to Seattle. It was in Seattle that Lunon met his wife, Talia, and together they embarked on an Orthodox conversion, further solidifying his connection to Judaism.

Today, Lunon resides in Rehavia, Israel, where he imparts his wisdom and martial arts expertise to a new generation of students. His surroundings hold a deep spiritual significance. 

“It’s everyone here,” he mused, “whether you’re a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim — everyone here has God on their mind.” He expressed a profound sense of connection to his city, where he believes the divine presence is palpable in even the smallest details. From the chirping birds that sing praise to a higher power to witnessing a Muslim man engaging in morning prayer, Lunon finds inspiration and solace in the shared spirituality of his community.

His dream is to establish a kung fu yeshiva, a school that combines traditional Jewish learning with martial arts training, creating a holistic approach to physical, mental, and spiritual development.

With his infectious passion and indomitable spirit, Jacob Lunon continues to break barriers, fostering unity and hope.

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