***Happy Thanksgiving! This is a day when we commemorate the initial act of European immigration to North America. From that point onward the flow of people and ideas across our borders has never really stopped. As such, it is impossible to appreciate the global spread of the traditional Asian martial arts without studying the history of immigration. During the late 19th and early 20th century this was a topic that dominated national discussions, much as it does today. Those debates culminated in the passage of landmark pieces of legislation that essentially cut off all legal immigration from large parts of the world (including China, Japan and the Philippines). Yet it was immigrants from around the world that laid the foundation of the traditional martial arts in North America. Joseph Svinth has kindly agreed to share an essay (found in a slightly different form here) which provides a broad overview of many of these issues. His guest post is also the first in a short occasional series examining the immigrant experience within the martial arts community.***
Asian Martial Arts in the United States and Canada
Asians began immigrating to the North American mainland soon after the discovery of gold in California in January 1848, and they began settling in what was then the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1885. These immigrants brought both traditional and modern martial arts and combative sports with them.
Between 1848 and 1923, these immigrants came in waves based on ethnicity. In succession, these were Chinese, then Japanese, South Asians, and Filipinos. By the 1920s, series of discriminatory laws stopped Asian immigration into North America, but by then, large numbers of Asian children were being born in North America and the Territory of Hawaii. Consequently, by the 1940s, civil rights became an issue for native-born people of Asian ancestry, and by the mid-1960s, the legal basis for direct discrimination had ended in the USA and Canada.
From 1848 to 1968, the Asian martial arts taught and practiced in the USA and Canada generally fit into one of the following categories. 1. Professional activities. This includes working in circuses, working as professional boxers or wrestlers, doing stunt work in film, and so on. 2. Cultural nationalism/Festival arts. These are arts presented during events designed to promote a specific ethnicity or culture: e.g., lion dancing during a Chinese New Year festival, or kendo exhibitions during a Bon festival. 3. Group cohesion. Cultural nationalism and festival also built group cohesion, but in the group cohesion category, the association was not necessarily ethnic, and the occasion was not necessarily festive. For instance, labor unions organized wrestling matches, while community newspapers organized sumo and judo tournaments. The purpose of the former was sometimes to promote work slowdowns, and the purpose of the latter was always to sell newspapers and advertising. 4. Building character in youth. Venues varied, but an example would be teaching at a YMCA or church. Teachers did not get paid much, but they enjoyed working with young people. 5. Prowess and social recognition. In the bachelor subculture of the early days, young men went out back to fight, thereby determining status or settling grudges. In the subsequent family subculture, this same urge was sublimated using refereed sports such as judo and boxing.
Although all the foregoing motivations are still seen in the martial arts done in the USA and Canada, additional motivations began developing after 1900. These new motivations were not driven from within the existing Asian martial art community. Instead, they were driven by external players – governments, businesses (to include the publishing and film industries), and so on. 1. Preparation for future military service. From the early 1900s until the early 1970s, the US government encouraged teenaged youths to participate in martial arts and combative sports in preparation for future military service. Since the end of the draft in 1973, this emphasis has declined. 2. Feminism. Few North American women undertook systematic training in unarmed martial arts before World War II. Thus, in June 1937, it made national news when two European American women from Los Angeles (Grace B. Logan, 1886-1974, and Annabel Pritchett, 1899- ?), went to Japan, specifically to learn judo. Then, during World War II, the US military began providing rudimentary judo training to female soldiers, and afterwards, martial art training came to be seen as useful for nurses, college coeds, and female factory workers. 3. International sport. Judo became a permanent Olympic sport in 1972 and taekwondo became a permanent Olympic sport in 2000. Making this happen resulted in enormous changes in the pedagogy, practice, and, in some cases, rituals of both judo and taekwondo. It also led to some bitter fighting (and the loss of many friendships) over issues such as who got to authorize promotions and sanction tournaments. 4. Commodification of leisure. During the late 1950s, storefront martial art clubs sprang up across North America. To give an example, Jerome Mackey’s Judo, Inc., incorporated in New York in 1958. Soon, this was the largest storefront chain in New York Metro. One paid for classes in advance; according an advertisement in the Village Voice (January 28, 1971, column 2, 40), the cost was $625 for 273 lessons. In 1973, Judo, Inc. folded, due to stock fraud (543 F2d 1042 United States v. E Corr III, 1976). In storefront martial art clubs, books, uniforms, rank, photos, pride – everything had a price. 5. New Age Spirituality. Mysticism, the occult, and the array of practices known as New Age were popular in North America during the late twentieth century, and sometimes, yoga, theosophy, meditation, and Asian martial arts ran together. As “non-violent” martial arts, taijiquan and aikido were especially susceptible to this tendency. 6. Mass marketing, often using lurid advertising. To this day, relatively few traditional martial art clubs in the USA and Canada advertise much. In commercial clubs, hardly anyone is so reticent, and the martial art club advertisements seen in twentieth century North American comic books were especially colorful — in one classic series, Chicago’s Count Dante (born John Keehan, 1939-1975) advertised himself as the deadliest man alive. After the 1950s, television and print ads for non-martial businesses frequently featured martial art scenes. Sumo was used to advertise banks and computer giants; karate was used to advertise sales at department stores; kendo was used to advertise Canadian whisky. This commercial usage was hardly unique to North America. Japanese merchants were using woodblock prints of martial art scenes to hawk wares during the eighteenth century, and cigarette cards featuring martial art techniques appeared in China during the early twentieth century. But again, this was not something driven from within the Asian martial art community within the United States and Canada.
From the mid-1960s on, the commoditized martial arts hit North America in waves; as the popularity of one art waned, a new art was found to replace it.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the Asian martial art one was most likely to find in the USA and Canada was judo, usually taught by a Japanese American or a former serviceman. Then, in 1959, singer Elvis Presley (1935-1977) began doing karate while serving in the US Army in Germany. Within a year, Presley was awarded a black belt, and suddenly karate was the rage.
In 1964, Presley’s kenpo karate teacher Ed Parker (1931-1990) introduced Bruce Lee (Li Zhenfan, 1940-1973) to Parker’s friends in Hollywood, and after that, Lee and his Jeet Kune Do took off: Green Hornet (ABC, 1966-1967), Longstreet (ABC, 1971-1972), The Big Boss (Golden Harvest, 1971).
In 1971, Billy Jack (Warner Brothers, 1971) brought the Korean martial art of hapkido to the forefront. Several years later, in Kentucky Fried Movie (independent production, 1977), Bong Soo Han (Han Pong-su, 1933-2007), said, on screen, in Korean: “Oh, the many pathetic things I have to endure to make movies in America! Not just once or twice, either. Please excuse me, Korean fans” (Chung, 2006, 55-56). Korean-speaking audiences howled, but in English, no one was listening.
In 1973, the television show Kung Fu (ABC, 1972-1975) popularized Shaolin boxing, at least as imagined by Hollywood, and after the movie Enter the Dragon (Golden Harvest, 1973) appeared, Bruce Lee was on the cover of all the martial art magazines. Carlos “Chuck” Norris (1940- ) and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace (1945- ) were popular, too. Norris started training in judo and tangsudo while serving in the US Air Force. Afterwards, he operated a chain of karate schools and acted in movies and television. Wallace also started training in judo and karate while serving in the US Air Force. Following his discharge, he became a professional kickboxer. He was acquainted with Elvis Presley, and was an on-air commentator for the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993.
If karate, Jeet Kune Do, hapkido, and Shaolin were too violent for the buyer’s tastes, there was always aikido or taijiquan. Political activist Joan Baez (1941- ) once told syndicated columnist Mary McGrory (Toledo Blade, July 2, 1979, 12) that she, Baez, could “handle the hostility coming at her from all sides because she’s studying aikido, the Japanese non-violent martial art.”
During the late 1960s, Hatsumi Masaaki (1931- ) organized the Bujinkan ninpo organization in Japan, and by the late 1970s, foreign students such as Stephen K. Hayes (1949- ) had brought Bujinkan budo taijutsu (martial way body techniques) to North America. Most of these North American instructors were technically proficient and well-intentioned. Then, in 1980, fantasy writer Eric van Lustbader (1946- ) began publishing novels about ninjas. In 1984, the first comic book featuring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appeared. This was followed by comic books, action figures, two animated television series, a live television series, twenty separate video games, and four Hollywood movies. Meanwhile, the pseudonymous Ashida Kim published Ninja, Hands of Death (1985). North American ninpo would take decades to recover.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu and capoeira; Filipino arnis; Indonesian silat: wave after wave of “new” crashed into North America. The advertising moved beyond death touch; now all it took to develop secret powers was watching a video or DVD. “Fear no man!” screamed the internet advertisement for Captain Chris’s Close Combat Training, adding: “WARNING: Do No Read This If You Have Moral, Ethical Or Religious Reasons Against Hurting (Or Even Killing) Someone Who Violently Attacks You, Your Wife, Or Your Kids” (http://www.closecombattraining.com/cctraining/start.php?gclid=CMmpi8Sor5wCFSYoawodR1iUjw, downloaded August 19, 2009).
The developments of the years 1953 to present are discussed in detail elsewhere. Consequently, they do not need to be discussed in detail here. Instead, the following is intended to provide readers with a brief introduction to the history and development of Asian martial arts in North America before Hollywood got hold of them.
Asian immigration to North America started during 1848-1849, following the discovery of gold in California. Most of the early immigrants were young men from Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. Until the 1910s, most of these men lived a male bachelor subculture, meaning communities in which men “measured manliness by skill at wenching, drinking, gambling, and fighting”; they shared jokes and drinks, and made “temporary acquaintanceships but not necessarily life-long friendships” (Riess, 1991, 23). Large-scale Chinese immigration into North America ended with the enactment of the USA’s Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Canada’s Chinese Immigration Act of 1885.
North America’s second wave of Asian immigration came from the Empire of Japan. This wave lasted from 1885 to 1907. From a cultural standpoint, immigrants from the Empire of Japan included Japanese, Koreans, and Okinawans. Like other Asian pioneers, Imperial Japanese immigrants originally lived in a bachelor subculture.
North America’s third wave of Asian immigration came from the Punjab, in the northwest corner of British India. Most of these British Indian immigrants were Urdu-speaking Jatts, and from a religious standpoint, many of them were Sikh. Nonetheless, they were almost universally known in the US and Canada as “Hindoos”. Jatt immigration into North America lasted from 1897 to 1915. Although a few Jatt men circumvented miscegenation laws by living with Mexican or African American women, most Jatt immigrants lived in a bachelor subculture.
The final wave of Asian immigration came from the Philippines. Filipino immigration started shortly after the US victory in the Filipino-American War of 1898-1902, and ended in 1934 with the enactment of a law (the Tydings-Mcduffie Act) that effectively stopped Filipino immigration into the USA. Filipino immigrants also had a bachelor subculture.
During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, the Japanese martial arts received extensive mainstream exposure. In 1904-1905, H. Irving Hancock (1868-1922) published books on judo that were reviewed in New York Times, and US President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) trained in Kodokan judo at the White House. In British Columbia, the Vancouver Daily Province of January 4, 1905 mentioned a sumo tournament staged in the park in front of City Hall; its grand champion, Matty Matsuda (Matsuda Manjiro, 1887-1929), went on to become a well-known American professional wrestler. And, in New York, during the winter of 1905-1906, industrialist E.H. Harriman (1848-1909) organized a gala visit by top judo and kendo experts; this was all part of a war bond tour that Harriman’s banks were underwriting for the Japanese government.
From the 1860s to the 1930s, jujutsu, sumo, and kendo were featured in circus and vaudeville acts. The following describes a show staged at Madison Square Garden in August 1902. For the price of 50 cents, visitors were promised to see geisha girls, Japanese street scenes, and “fencers and jujitsu wrestlers” (“Broadway Theatres,” 1902). Barnum and Bailey’s circus visited Atlanta, Georgia in October 1913. Said the Atlanta Constitution (October 26, 1913, 32): “The mikado’s jiu jitsu experts will show how even a frail woman trained in the art of Japanese scientific defense may easily overcome an assailant and slap-bang wrestling combats will be indulged in by the bulky wrestlers (shuma [sumo] men) who compose a part of the troupe.” In Syracuse, New York, the Syracuse Herald noted (November 3, 1922, 14): “Prof. Kitose Nakae [Nakae Kiyose, 1883-1962], champion jiu jitsu artist of Japan appearing at Keith’s [vaudeville theater] this week, exhibited his skill before the entire squad of [Syracuse] policemen… Using an unloaded revolver, several of the policemen attempted to pull the trigger of the gun before [Nakae] could either twist it so that the bullet would be sent in an opposite direction or to wrest the gun from their hands.”
There were Asian professional wrestlers and boxers, too. The professional wrestlers were usually Japanese. For example, Sorakichi Matsuda (Matsuda Kojiro, ca. 1858-1891) came to the USA in 1883. He was originally a circus performer, but he decided to take up professional wrestling instead. Matsuda’s promoter was William Muldoon (1852-1933), who also trained boxer John L. Sullivan (1858-1918), and his opponents ranged from the reigning champion Evan “Strangler” Lewis (1860-1919) to Lulu, the “the piney and pork fed female Samson from Georgia” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 8, 1884, 2). Other notable Japanese American wrestlers of the early days include Tokugoro Ito (Ito Tokugoro, 1880-1939), Taro Miyake (Miyake Taruji, ca. 1881-1935), and Matty Matsuda (Matsuda Manjiro, 1887-1929).
Chinese Americans were more likely to be boxers than wrestlers. On February 27, 1890, Ah Giang and Foo Jung had a four-round fight with feet and fists in Mott Street, in New York City. From the American perspective (“Chinese Sluggers, 1890), “The idea on the part of the contestants seemed to be to avoid as much as possible hitting each other. Every once in a while they would forget themselves and land a slap on the other fellow’s face or neck or body.” Ah Giang worked as an actor (a female impersonator, actually) for the Soen Tien Lok theatrical company. Ah Wing (died 1917) boxed bantamweight in California and Oregon during the early 1900s.
During the early 1900s, sumo, kushti (Indian wrestling), and comparable ethnic arts were often seen during labor holidays. Wrestling during labor holidays was not unique to Asians, of course; Finns, Swedes, and Germans also wrestled during labor holidays. In most cases, this was essentially recreational competition. For instance, during 1913, “Hindoo” (actually, in this case, Sikh) wrestlers were active in Oregon. These men worked at an Astoria lumber mill, and were reportedly very good at real (as opposed to show) wrestling. Other times, the wrestling was directly related to union activities. During May 1904, Sen Katayama (Yabuki Sugataro, 1859-1933) gave a judo demonstration during an American Socialist Party convention in Chicago, and during 1909, labor organizers on Oahu organized sumo tournaments to coincide with planned sugar plantation strikes.
Raised in North America, 1924-1941
The second period starts with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 (43 Statutes-at-Large 153). This US law entirely excluded immigration of Asians, and placed severe limitations on the immigration of Jews. This law was backed by trade unionists, who viewed new immigrants as unfair competition. Canada had similar laws. Draconian as these laws were, it was too little, too late. During the preceding two decades, mail-order wives (“picture brides”) had caused the decline of the bachelor subculture in all Asian American and Canadian communities except the Jatt. “Picture brides” describes arranged marriages – the bride and groom exchanged photos, and agreed to be married. Arranged marriages were hardly unique to Asians in America; many other immigrants did this, too. In any case, the arrival of young Asian wives soon led to the establishment of community-based athletic clubs catering to the interests of native-born youth. Most early athletic clubs were organized along ethnic lines, but there were a few interracial examples. The Nuuanu YMCA, which opened in Honolulu in April 1918, is an example of an early interracial athletic club.
During World War I, judo and jujutsu were taught in some US Army camps. The instructors included European, Canadian, and American men who had trained in Japan, and been graded in judo and jujutsu. In these programs, the traditional arts were extensively modified to meet wartime needs. After the war ended in 1918, these modified martial arts also passed into police training programs, where they were further modified. For more on these developments and modifications, see “Military Unarmed Fighting Systems in the United States” and “Police Defensive Tactics Training in the United States,” elsewhere in this volume.
During the 1920s and 1930s, circus and professional wrestling acts remained as popular (and nationalistic) as ever. In those days, Japanese American professional wrestlers were rarely presented as treacherous villains (heels). Instead, they were billed as clean-living, skilled wrestlers (babyfaces) who were too small to beat big, mean American heavyweights like Man Mountain Dean (Frank Leavitt, 1891-1953). Japanese American wrestlers who fit this stereotype included Rubberman Higami (Higami Tsutao, 1896-1972), Kaimon Kudo (1906-1993), and Don Sugai (1913-1952). American and Canadian wrestlers in turn donned jackets and learned judo tricks. A popular North American wrestler of the 1930s and 1940s was the Canadian, Judo Jack Terry (Charles Van Audenarde, 1914-1978).
There were still some Hindoo wrestlers, and in 1937, Prince Bhu Pinder (Ranjit Singh, 1912- ) participated in some of the first mud wrestling contests in the USA. The promoter, Paul Boesch (1912-1989), had used too much water to settle the dirt used to cover the ring for a Hindoo match, and the crowds loved it.
Chinese American youths of the 1920s and 1930s continued to box rather than wrestle. The chief reason was that boxing promoters paid five dollars for three rounds, a sum that represented a day’s wage for a skilled laborer during the 1930s. The best of these Chinese American boxers, David Kui Kong Young (1916- ), was world-class.
As a group, Filipino American men loved boxing. Americans introduced professional boxing into Manila around 1909, and in 1923, Francisco Guilledo (1901-1925), a Filipino who fought under the name Pancho Villa became the world flyweight champion. Other famous Filipino American boxers of the 1920s and 1930s include Small Montana (Benjamin Gan, 1913-1976, US flyweight champion in 1935) and Ceferino Garcia (1912-1981, world middleweight champion in 1939).
There were a handful of second generation boxers of Korean American descent, and at least one professional wrestler of Okinawan descent. These men were mostly from the Territory of Hawaii. Examples of Korean American professional boxers include Walter Cho (1911-1985) and Philip “Wildcat” Kim (1926-1958). Examples of professional wrestlers of Okinawan descent include Oki Shikina (1904-1983).
During the 1930s, sumo developed into a popular spectator sport in the Territory of Hawaii and parts of California. By this time, non-Japanese sometimes did sumo, too. For example, the winners of a sumo tournament held in Seattle in 1930 included the starting center of the University of Washington football team. For participatory sports, Japanese parents generally preferred that their children learn judo or kendo. By 1940, there were dozens of judo and kendo clubs in the Territory of Hawaii, the states of Washington, Oregon, California, and Utah, and the province of British Columbia. Here, the word “children” is intentional. Schoolgirls in the Territory of Hawaii received training in Danzan Ryu jujutsu during the 1920s, and between 1936 and 1941, some Japanese American schoolgirls living in British Columbia and the western United States trained in kendo.
Community-based karate clubs began appearing in the Territory of Hawaii during the late 1920s and early 1930s. By this time, Hawaiian martial art classes were about as multi-ethnic as the organization that hosted the club. In this context, it is worth noting that many of the post-WWII pioneers of Danzan Ryu jujutsu, to include Raymond Law (1899-1969), Richard Rickerts (1906-1998), and Siegfried “Sig” Kufferath (1911-1999), trained in Honolulu under Seishiro Henry Okazaki (1890-1951). During the 1930s, Los Angeles had two racially integrated clubs (Seinan [Southwestern] and Uyemachi [Uptown]). There were also Kodokan judo clubs in Chicago, New York City, and Charleston, West Virginia, and at Harvard University. These integrated clubs remained open during World War II, but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Harvard club did change its name from “Judo Club” to “Liberty Scientific Self-Defense Association” (“Work,” 1941).
There were not as many community-based clubs providing Chinese martial art instruction. Partly this was because Chinese American parents tended to associate Chinese martial arts with Chinese gamblers, gang violence, and protection rackets (what the press called tong wars), and mostly it was because there were few qualified instructors of traditional Chinese martial arts in North America. When qualified instructors who were not gamblers or thugs offered classes, then parents would reconsider. For instance, in 1922, Ark Yuey Wong (Wong Ark-Yuey, 1901-1987) started teaching southern Shaolin in California, and within a few years, Wong’s students were giving public exhibitions during local cultural festivals. The Hon Hsing Athletic Club of Vancouver, British Columbia, started offering instruction in a Shaolin style in 1940, and in 1941, Choy Hak-Peng began teaching Yang-style taijiquan in a Chinese neighborhood of New York City. In the wider community, Chinese students attending universities sometimes offered demonstrations or classes. For example, the University of Illinois Daily Illini of January 11, 1917 (column 1, 3) remarked that a group of Chinese exchange students planned to give “an exhibition of Oriental boxing which is quite different from the American [boxing] and from the Japanese Jiujitsu.”
World War II, Desegregation, and Civil Rights, 1941-1968
The third period starts with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Within hours, the US military put the Territory of Hawaii under martial law, and on the mainland, it began taking steps toward forcibly relocating 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps and relocation centers. The Canadians enacted similar policies, and during 1942, about 21,000 Japanese Canadians were relocated or interned. Judo was widely practiced in these wartime relocation centers and internment camps, and at the relocation center at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, there were even judo classes for high school girls. Sumo and kendo were also done in the relocation centers, but not as universally as judo.
After World War II ended in August 1945, 145,000 people of Japanese ancestry wanted to return home, and Hawaiians of all races were unhappy about having been kept under martial law for nearly three years. Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, Americans and Canadians of Asian ancestry waged a long series of court battles. They won more significant decisions than they lost, and by 1959, Hawaii was a state and on the mainland, Americans and Canadians of Asian ancestry had achieved the right to vote, move, own property, and marry as they liked.
In 1948, separate political exigencies led to the desegregation of the US military. This is relevant to the history of Asian martial arts in North America because from 1949 to 1968, the US military was a major patron of judo, karate, and taekwondo, and, to a lesser extent, it also patronized Tomiki aikido and hapkido. To give an idea how multicultural this draft-era military patronage was, note that the four-man US Olympic judo team of 1964 included a Japanese American, an African American, a Cheyenne Indian, and a Jew — and three of those four men had served in the US Air Force. As for how important the US military patronage was, consider this. In 1954, the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command (SAC) organized a judo society that was recognized by the Kodokan. Other Air Force commands wanted to participate in SAC training, tournaments, and promotions, so in 1959, the SAC Judo Society became the Air Force Judo Association. Other branches of the service had judo teams, too, so in 1962, the Air Force Judo Association became the Armed Forces Judo Association. In 1968, the Armed Forces Judo Association reorganized to become the United States Judo Association (USJA). In 1969, USJA reorganized yet again, and today, USJA is one of three national level judo sanctioning bodies in the USA. (The other two are US Judo Federation, which was historically associated with Japanese American leadership, and USA Judo, which is the only US judo association recognized by the International Olympic Committee.)
During the 1950s, Japanese American wrestlers such as Harold Sakata (1920-1982) and Robert “Kinji” Shibuya (1922- ) became notorious heels: sneak attacks were their specialty. During the same decade, Sakata helped pioneer pro wrestling in Japan, and during the 1960s and 1970s, both Sakata and Shibuya appeared in films and television series: Sakata was Oddjob in the James Bond movie Goldfinger (Eon Productions, 1964), while Shibuya played assorted villains in the ABC television series Kung Fu. The Japanese American Citizens League was outraged, saying that the wrestlers’ portrayals were insulting, but the wrestlers made money and had fun.
Although arnis is the martial art that non-Filipinos today associate with Filipinos, Filipino American men are more likely to view boxing as the Filipino American combative sport (Bacho, 1997). Mid-century Filipino American boxing heroes include the brothers Bernard (1927-2009) and Max (1928- ) Docusen. The Docusens were from New Orleans, Louisiana. They had a Filipino father and a Creole mother, and they were among the best middleweight boxers of the late 1940s. As “colored” fighters, Louisiana law prohibited them from engaging in professional boxing contests with white men. To get around this, a Louisiana judge simply changed the Docusens’ legal status to “half-white” (Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1949, B2, Part 4).
Finally, during the late 1950s, non-Asian practitioners such as Donn Draeger (1922-1982) and Robert W. Smith (1926- ) began the daunting task of explaining traditional Asian martial arts to North American readers. That task remains unfinished.
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