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JUAN BAS


The timing of Juan Bas’ debut novel couldn’t be more appropriate.

Following the emergence of “Linsanity” earlier this year, the role of the Asian-American in society has become a hot topic with sports columnists and social commentators alike.

Once considered a silent minority, Asian-Americans are making their voices heard in athletics, literature, pop culture and social matters.

As a Filipino-American born in Manila who grew up in Hong Kong but has lived in America since 1985, cultural identity has been an issue close to Bas’ heart and is one of the main themes “Back Kicks and Broken Promises,” a semi-autobiographical novel that he describes as “‘The Namesake’ meets ‘The Karate Kid’ meets ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’”

The book, available now from Abbott Press, borrows from Bas’ own life.

Like Bas, the main protagonist Ricky Gilbert moves from Asia to New Jersey as a teenager and immerses himself in the martial arts as he struggles to discover himself in new surroundings.

Bas now lives in Milburn, N.J. with his wife Guada de Leon Bas, who earned fame as a principal dancer in The Philippine Ballet Theater, and their four-year-old son.

Bas has practiced Tae Kwon Do, Shotokan Karate, Koeikan Karate, Judo, Hap Ki Do and Judo, and is the owner and head instructor at Bamboo Martial Arts in Maplewood, N.J., where he also works as a physical education teacher and volleyball coach.

Martial arts has long been a part of his life, but so has literature.

“I’m the son of a journalist and a former English teacher,” said Bas, whose father Rene Bas is the editor-in-chief of The Manila Times.
 
“One of my sisters is also in communications and the other majored in English. I grew up around books so I guess it was destiny that I get into writing somehow.”

Outside of writing for the high school newspaper and a couple pieces here and there for school yearbooks, Bas hadn’t considered writing as a serious endeavor until after college.

Bas continued to pursue martial arts, which over time turned his creative wheels.

As someone who was a serious practitioner of the martial arts, he was not just awed by the spectacle of acrobatic fight scenes, but analyzed why each move took place.

This led him to turn his passion into something more creative.

“I kind of went backwards,” said Bas.

“I started thinking of fight scenes and asking why it should exist in the story. Once I started doing that, I started writing full-fledged stories.”

Initially, Bas’ writing centered around screenplays with a fantasy theme, with one of his first screenplays “Aliens Among Us, Part I: Discover” reaching the quarterfinal of the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition in 1996.

He also penned a screenplay called “Holy Communion,” which he described as a “fantasy-horror.”

Bas also ventured into writing for martial arts publications like Taekwondo Times, Inside Taekwondo Magazine and Inside Kung Fu Presents Secrets of the Masters during the early-to-mid-90s.

Yet, as Bas began to evolve as a writer, his stories began to focus on issues of identity and family.

That’s when the idea of writing a full-length book came about.

“I’d already been thinking about turning “Aliens Among Us” and “Holy Communion” into graphic novels, but I’m not an artist,” Bas conceded.

“So, without the drawing talent, I thought about turning them into novels. At the same time, I was going through some kind of self-analysis, trying to figure out how fast the years had come and gone since moving to America from Hong Kong, what happened since then and who I was.

“The answer to that, in a sense, is what ‘Back Kicks and Broken Promises’ is about.”


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Depending on who you ask, writing about one’s self can either be the hardest or the easiest subject to write about.

Bas found a lot of material in himself to write about, but the only issue was that he lacked a certain celebrity quality to make that kind of venture viable.

So he sought guidance in the form of the Gotham Writer’s Workshop, which he credits with helping navigate him towards the finished product “Back Kicks” has become.

Yet more than being your typical “action hero kicks bad guys in the face and saves girl” story, “Back Kicks” has served as an outlet for the social commentary that Bas has sought to share.

As the emergence (and subsequent withdrawal) of basketball phenomenon Jeremy Lin has shown us, America still suffers from the same xenophobia that followed Bruce Lee as he introduced the western world to Kung Fu movies in the 1960s.

“When I came to America, and still a little bit today, I get well-meaning questions, but ignorant ones,” said Bas.

“I grew up in Hong Kong, yet I’m asked if I speak Japanese. Also, I’ve had arguments with people that Asia is just China, Japan and Korea. They forget, or don’t know, that the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Thailand, India, Vietnam, etc., are also in Asia.

“Many people I’ve encountered in the U.S. have a misconception that Asia and Asians are bumpkins and coming here is an extreme culture shock. For many Asian immigrants, that’s not the case.”

Yet, as writing becomes more a part of his life, Bas has not abandoned his first love.

Just last month, Bas won his division at the 2011 N.J. State Taekwondo championships for the second year in a row, making him eligible for the national championships.

He’s also currently working on two additional novels, plus a screenplay adaptation of “Back Kicks.”

“The marketing people at my publisher feel strongly that my book would make for a good movie,” said Bas.

“I figure I better give it a go.”

It’s an incredible accomplishment to complete a novel, but much of the satisfaction for Bas comes from the hope that his book takes a deeper meaning than kicks and punches to readers.

“I also wrote ‘Back Kicks’ to provide a little hope and connection for those who immigrate to the U.S. or another country and feel misplaced and displaced. ‘Back Kicks’ might give them a sense that they’re not alone.”

The book is available online at the Abbott Press bookstore, W.H. Smith (UK), Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com in hardcover, plus the Nook, Kindle and Kobo e-readers.

For more information on the book and Juan Bas’ blog, visit filamkickingscribe.com

(Editor’s note: Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America [BWAA] and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.)

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