THE KRIS-ENING OF RAYA AND THE RUSSIAN RAID
Black Belt|June/July 2021
When you think about society’s need for Asian female heroes who can influence Asian-American women of all ages to stand up for themselves and fight for justice in their communities, Raya and the Last Dragon could not have come at a better time.
DR. CRAIG D. REID

The essence of the film focuses on warrior-princess Raya and her quest to unite the five feuding kingdoms of Kumandra by finding trust and locating the last dragon, all in an effort to defeat a race of monsters called the Drunn.

The five largest Asian-American communities in the United States are the Chinese, Southeast Asians (Filipinos, Vietnamese), South Asians (Indians), Japanese and Koreans. Generally, members of these ethnicities don’t view themselves as a single entity. Over the years, Asian-American film festivals have brought them together, but with the rising numbers of hate crimes aimed at Asian-Americans, a movie like Raya is needed to reinforce the notions of unity and trust. Who would have thought global unity could hinge on martial arts — and, specifically for Kumandra, on Southeast Asian martial arts with hints of India and the Middle East?

In the animated movie, the fighting style of Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is based on pencak silat from Indonesia and escrima and arnis from the Philippines. Meanwhile, her adversary Namaari (Gemma Chan) uses muay Thai and krabi krabong. The key to Raya’s success hinges on her kris, whose wavy blade mirrors the weapon’s spirituality and reflects elements of the movie’s plot. In short, the kris is a unifying symbol for the aforementioned nations — one that’s wrapped, however, in typically ambiguous martial arts history.

In 132 B.C., the Persians created varzesh-e pahlavani, an art that featured low stances, kicks and Sufi spiritualism. The system is believed by some to have made its way to the Malay peninsula. An important wavy blade weapon was the qal’i, one of the prophet Muhammad’s nine noble sword possessions. During the Crusades, the sword became a symbol of Christ, so it’s plausible that when Islam spread to Sumatra in 674, the wavy blade became a symbol of Muhammad.

In the animated movie, the fighting style of Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is based on pencak silat from Indonesia and escrima and arnis from the Philippines.

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