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New York club empowers AAPIs with self-defense in new film

By Allyson Pang

Learning self-defense and taking power into your own hands – that’s the solution to anti-Asian hate being pushed in a new documentary.

The new short documentary I’m Not An Activist, Dragon Combat Club (DCC) premiered today, July 27. DCC is an organization in New York City that tackles anti-Asian violence by empowering the community at an individual level to take action without waiting for outside support.

The club’s participants learn self-defense and de-escalation tactics while also building community. While there is no specific martial arts style, the techniques draw heavily on wrestling, Thai boxing and Kali, or a Filipino fighting art. 

The 10-minute documentary was filmed over five days by a team led by filmmaker Dan Chen from the production company Nourish Creative

“I felt a certain amount of frustration at the fact that whenever these things (anti-Asian hate crimes) happen, there kind of was only one way to publicly mourn it and it was honestly a model minority way to do it,” Chen said to AsAmNews. “And any time we would publicize our grief, it would be for sympathy.”

According to DCC’s founder Henry Zhang, otherwise known as Dr. Z, the unfortunate reality is that the ones who will stop the attacks are the ones walking the streets, not the people who pass policies or push for education.

“At the end of the day, we’re facing an ethical and existential problem that too many people in power are discussing as a political problem,” Dr. Z said to AsAmNews. “And it’s not only getting us murdered, but it’s normalizing it.”

AsAmNews had told the story of the club in its early beginnings in 2021. Now after two years, the club is holding regularly scheduled in-person practices for the general public.

Through donations, DCC has also bought self-defense tools like tactical flashlights and tactical pens as well as training equipment, so that sessions can be safe while still imitating real situations.

Chong, a current DCC member, told AsAmNews that she joined to empower and defend herself, but also so she can stand up for others. 

“It’s made me more confident and I learned to be unapologetic about the need for community safety,” Chong said.

Effective self-defense is one solution to dealing with AAPI hate, but it is more than that, Dr. Z said. It is also a way to keep people safe in subways, regardless of race or gender.

The goal is not to make people “feel” safer. Instead, the goal is to help people become safer through new skills and habits.

Nourish Creative founder and the film’s executive producer Ien Chi told AsAmNews, “The biggest service they’re doing is that sense of empowerment for some people because realistically it’s not like everyone over there is getting attacked, right? It’s probably a minority that’s actually having to use those skills, but I think the value it has for the community is tremendous and the morale and bringing people together.” 

Beyond the safety aspect, I’m Not An Activist shows DCC’s priority of also building connections to neighbors, Chen said. 

“DCC is not all angry, dour, sad stuff,” he added. “They’re having fun. They’re building a community as they train, as they empower people to learn self-defense.”

While DCC acts as a line of defense for the AAPI community in the now, other organizations like AAPI Equity Alliance are working on long-term protections.

AAPI Equity Alliance is a coalition of more than 40 community-based organizations that advocate for the AAPI community in areas from social justice to mental health to immigration to civic engagement.  

“AAPI Equity Alliance focuses on empowering everyday Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders with the information, tools and resources they need to be civically active in their communities on the issues they care about,” AAPI Equity Alliance Deputy Director Norbert Tan said to AsAmNews. 

The organization has led initiatives such as creating an in-language voter guide to inform AAPIs about the impact of certain ballot proposals on their lives and holding teach-ins about how to advocate before a county government.

From the legislative side, New York City Assembly Member Ron Kim told AsAmNews that he is a big fan of DCC.

“We pass dozens of new laws every year with the intent to root out hate and keep us safe. But until we rebuild public administrative capacity to execute those laws, we won’t be able to keep people safe,” Kim said to AsAmNews. “We need to accept the reality that many of us, including older adults, immigrants and Asian Americans, are on our own.” 

I’m Not An Activist challenges the tone of “let’s all be peaceful” and the “docile Asian American narrative,” according to Chi.

Chi hopes the film can be a space to honor people who are frustrated and angry about anti-AAPI attacks.

While education and legislation may be helpful in the long run, Dr. Z said he is certain it will have no effect on the hateful people who act violently against Asian Americans.

“Platitudes or lectures about what is not the solution — which we’ve been quite sick of hearing the last three years — will not cut it,” he said. “I don’t deny at all that there are shortcomings/imperfections to our approach, but so far it’s objectively a better one than people who write essays about what is not the solution, without providing any tangible ones.”

Watch the I’m Not An Activist documentary here.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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