Manhattan Way to Kung Fu

An unexpected force transformed Brooklyn-born David Kaplan into a Jewish kung fu master. It wasn’t the Bruce Lee films he saw nor the karate lessons he had as a kid. His journey to kung fu began when the 45-year-old discovered hip-hop as a teenager.

Manhattan in the 1980s offered an excitement that Kaplan couldn’t resist. He says that the community surrounding his Bensonhurst home just couldn’t compare. Graffiti art allowed him to rebel against order and conformity while enjoying the drugs, girls and adventures that came with it. But the vices began catching up with him by age 17.

Luckily martial arts had never completely left him, he said. He followed up on childhood lessons by taking a karate class at Kingsborough Community College. Then he found a master in Chinatown who had studied at the Shaolin Temple in China where kung fu began, according to legend.

“I was starting to itch for the whole world of it,” Kaplan said.

He studied Zen, Mandarin and Chinese culture. Now he’s a master to others, whether teaching kung fu at the Union Club in midtown Manhattan, tai chi at an assisted-living facility in Tribeca, or kung fu again Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. at Columbus Park in Manhattan’s Chinatown.   

Kung fu has more than 2,000 years of history and includes hundreds of offshoots. Some like Shaolin kung fu concentrate on physical fitness. Others such as tai chi focus on the control of internal energy. A command of both brings Kaplan to New Yorkers of all types who marvel at the pedagogical touch of an unlikely master.

Reporter Zach Williams grabbed a tablet to record just what that is.

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