During the Occupy Movement, I speculated that the movement would likely move in one of three directions. I based my premise on my observation of social movements in the context of history as well as the synergistic relationship between social conditions, social movements, and political consciousness. I have decided to revisit these reflections in light of recent occurrences.
Succinctly stated, movements for social change can move in three directions. First, they can dissipate due to insufficient momentum and political consciousness on the part of the movements’ actors and the masses. Poor social conditions coupled with certain forms of political consciousness are the fertilizer for movements. Where the movements’ goals fail to gain traction in the consciousness of the masses or where the requisite levels of critical consciousness are lacking, movements may decline with various degrees of rapidity.
Further, in contexts where reforms are sufficient to pacify a masses’ yearning for a better society, movements may cease to seem relevant. It should be noted that the perception of reform may be as effective as the actuality itself, at least in the short term. That is if the masses accept the viability of reform as a signifier of social progression, then the movement itself–given its oppositional nature–may fade into irrelevance. Hence reforms, as a process of signification, may effectively blunt the further progression of a movement. Of course, when such reforms prove illusory, there is always the possibility of new movements of opposition forming–which may be further animated by the conscious awareness of the failed reforms of the past.
Further, insufficient social consciousness, that is limitations in the political education of the masses and a movements’ core actors can also lead to its eventual dissipation.
Second, movements can be co-opted by the establishment. This typically takes the form of them merging with, being absorbed by, or having their core platform adopted by the dominant political parties or other structures of the mainstream political apparatus. This differs from dissipation in that the aims of the movement continue, albeit within the dominant system. Such co-option may be represented by a range of structures such as the appointment of movement leaders to key positions in the government or private foundations, the provisioning of funds to movement actors by the state or civil society, the creation of policy platforms based on movement objectives, as well as the creation of institutes focused on the development of movement aims in some form or another. Often the latter may entail connections to major universities, and with this the provisioning of monetary resources, social status, and–necessarily–a degree of legitimization by the existing system.
Of course, co-option may result in movement fragmentation, as certain movement actors opt to continue on a more independent basis, perhaps due to differing forms of political consciousness or a striving towards different end goals beyond those symbolized in the supposed gains afforded by co-option. In any event, this suggests that the progression of movements themselves may also be characterized by bifurcations.
Third, movements can also become more radical wherein they look beyond reform as the solution to the existing system.
Returning to the above formulation–social conditions and political consciousness, in addition to a rejection of the legitimacy and viability of the existing system is the conceptual basis for revolutionary movements. In fact, the difference between reformist and revolutionary movements is largely based on the latter factor, as those who have rejected the dominant order may be less inclined to hold out hope in its redemption. One additional critical element which serves to concretize revolutionary movements is a vision of a new future possibility–that is the movement is ultimately animated by its pursuance of a new society, one whose birth requires the dissolution of the present one.
The latter stage necessarily entails three sub-stages: proto-revolutionary, revolutionary, and post-revolutionary or counter-revolutionary. However, these will be discussed in another essay.
Of course, these three possibilities are predicated on the movements’ self-conscious evolution. They do not focus on a fourth possibility, destruction by the state–a common fate of many movements, though perhaps less common than the first or second. Also, given that all movements do not form for the sake of achieving revolution, it must be stated that many do form for short-term, limited objectives–thus making dissipation inevitable. Further, others may come into being with the express goal of moving the establishment in one direction or another. Though such reformist movements may engage in various forms of “militant” performance including, among other things, vociferous rhetoric, such movements must never be confused with revolutionary movements–which posit the necessity of fundamental social change, not reform.
When I am at our family’s farm, I sometimes see things that I interpret as notable lessons. Today, I spent about 15 minutes removing weeds from among our carrots. It is interesting how that which is undesirable embeds itself alongside that which we intentionally cultivate. Hence our gains are often beset by inevitable struggles. Fortunately, the Yorùbá wisdom reminds us that struggle is a constant of life. The Odù Ifá states: “We are constantly struggling. All of us.”
Also today I saw a smaller bird that was pursuing and harassing a hawk. I don’t know what their conflict was about. Perhaps the hawk threatened its nest, I am unsure. It brought to mind a similar incident from a week ago where a smaller bird was pursuing and harassing a goose. In both instances, the smaller birds’ determination was commendable. It reminds me that a mightier adversary can still be confronted, cowed or even defeated. Those facing seemingly powerful foes should remember that their resolve and strategic approach may be sufficient to carry the day. Such is the basis of the Africans’ victory in Haiti. It was a lesson which was the terror of enslavers throughout the hemisphere.
Finally, yesterday I noticed that a spider had spun its web between two poles that I put out about a week ago. I was struck by the fact that the spider used whatever materials that were available to it to achieve its goal—survival. It reminded me that we often regard our cultural traditions as being static, frozen, but this cannot be true as these traditions have been adapted as our people have moved throughout time and space. Even today, many of us are situated in these traditions, but often do not recognize them as such due to our estrangement from our ancestral homeland and cultural traditions that we recognize as explicitly “African”, yet they nonetheless are—having retained many aspects of their African essence. Thus the spider taught me that we can adapt, as needed, to ensure our survival without the fundamental loss of our asili—our essence. However such an outcome is a matter of determination.
“Follow your heart as long as you live,
Do no more than is required,
Do not shorten the time of ‘follow-the-heart,’
Trimming its moment offends the ka.
Do not waste time on daily cares
Beyond providing for your household;
When wealth has come, follow your heart,
Wealth does no good if one is glum!”
Explanation: Though our lives present many necessary tasks, some of vital importance, Ptah Hotep reminds us that we should also seek fulfillment, to “follow your heart”. He emphasizes that one should give due attention to such matters and links such activity to the ka, which Obenga translates as “soul, spirit, the essence of a being, personality, fortune”. This is an important reminder, as we live in a society that not only emphasizes the pursuit of material gain over all other considerations–a striving that would have been considered vulgar in ancient Kemet, in addition to incessant toil. In fact, many today have reported an erasure of any clear separation between their personal and professional lives. For Ptah Hotep, to be consumed with work, disallows balance, which is vital to one’s development. Balance is key to our well-being. As Fu-Kiau has stated, “To be healthy is to be mu kinenga, ‘in balance’–with ourselves, our environment, and the universe.” Thus, while one should not waste time, one should, remember to satisfy one’s ka by following the heart.
I do not believe in prophecy or the inevitability of the triumph of justice over injustice. I do believe that the current administration has and will continue to hasten the unraveling of the US.
I do not believe that such an inevitable occurrence will create a better society. A better society will be the product of clear vision and determined action. I find the former to be increasingly rare in a society whose collective consciousness is addled by conspiracy theories, fear, distrust, hyperindividualism, and anxiety. I think that this past decade’s propagation of the pretense of digital “activism”, the abandonment of critiques of political economy in favor of those centered on an ever-increasing infinity of personal identities and other forms of atomization, and impotent protest has arrested many people’s ability to conceive of “action” in any meaningful manner.
Thus, when the “empire” falls, what will most likely follow are desperate and depraved efforts to sustain it based on more debased forms of neoliberalism, white nationalism, violent religious fanaticism, anti-intellectualism, and pogroms targeting the “rejected and despised”.
I first met Ahati Kilindi Iyi in 2005. My encounter with him came after years of wanting to study the African fighting arts, but not being certain how. By this time I had studied Wing Chun, Choy Lay Fut, mixed martial arts, Kendo, and Kali. While I did feel confident in my training, that is in its practicality, what was lacking was a sense of connection to the fighting traditions of my ancestors.
So in April 2005, after watching his two video tapes “The World of African Martial Arts”, I decided to send him an email inquiring about additional training materials. In his response he told me about an upcoming martial arts training in June, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.
The camp was edifying, providing a great deal of clarity pertaining to things that I saw in his videos, while also exposing me to other arts—such as Capoeira Angola de Sao Bento Grande via Mestre Preto Velho. I returned from the camp energized, determined to continue to grow in the African fighting arts. I also continued to stay in contact with Ahati Kilindi.
Inspired by his example, I too sought to become an exponent of the African arts and in 2007 I was able to invite Ahati Kilindi to Saint Louis, Missouri where I was a sociology professor at Saint Louis Community College. This was the first of two programs that I coordinated in the hopes of exposing more members of our community to the African fighting arts.
Later that year I travelled to Detroit to attend his World African Martial Arts conference. It was a great opportunity to see the national and international community of scholars and practitioners interested in and devoted to the African arts.
In the ensuing years I would converse with him via social media and see him occasionally at conferences. The last time that I saw him was at the 2019 conference of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations in Brooklyn, NY. We had an interesting conversation about African American styles of prison fighting. He told me about a Michigan prison, Jackson State Prison, that was renowned for being a hotbed of skilled fighters. He went on to link the popular expression “Jack you up” to the prison’s legacy.
In 2018 I helped to coordinate an interview with him via Abibitumi. It was a good dialog about the African combat arts and their revitalization and popularization today.
Ahati Kilindi Iyi was one of the people that gave me a foundation in the African arts. Two of the styles of stick-fighting that he taught continue to be foundational to my practice. What’s more, I have been able to share this and other knowledge pertaining to the African arts with youth in my community. I would impress upon them that these were our traditions, our combat arts, and that we should both cherish them and build upon the foundation that they represent. I would often think of Ahati Kilindi Iyi, inspired by his example, and contemplate ways that I could both continue to grow my knowledge of African combative traditions while also working to institutionalize these arts in our community.
His passing is truly a monumental loss for our community. It is as A. Hampâte Bâ said, that every time an elder dies, it is as if a library has burned to the ground. Ahati Kilindi Iyi was a cultural treasure, and it is most appropriate that we reflect on his legacy and seek ways to expand it and to build upon it by creating a place for the African martial arts in our communities globally.
Asante sana Ahati Kilindi Iyi for your many contributions to our cultural revitalization. We will seek to honor that legacy in both word and deed.
It is true that capitalism must be critiqued. It is also true that it must be replaced. For African-centered scholars neither the critique of this system or the conceptualization of alternatives to it can logically draw from the culture which created capitalism in the first place.
For African-centered scholars, capitalism is merely an expression of the European worldview. The alienation, materialism, and misery that it produces are not de-linked from pre-existing traditions that produced the same–albeit with less precision.
For us, ultimately, African traditions must inform both our critique and proposals for alternatives. Whether we consider Mbongi, Ubuntu, Maat, et cetera. we have various cultural paradigms sufficient to inform our efforts to reclaim our culture and to create a more just world.
The synergy between these two goals cannot be understated. We must reclaim our culture as a matter of restoring and healing ourselves. Such knowledge enables us to transform reality up to and including that which should be our core preoccupation–the restoration of our sovereignty. Hence we are not advocating the cessation of capitalism in order to enter into a fantasy of a “more humane” Western hegemony. This is absurd. Nor are we advocating a perpetuation of our subjugation or alienation–consequences of slavery and colonialism–under either the existing or some proposed future system administered by forces opposed to African humanity. Our striving should be the solve the problem facing us fully–not only its economic or political dimensions, but the oppressive worldview that undergirds such a condition.
Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers captures this succinctly where he writes concerning the African worldview and its imperatives: “If then we accept this as a valid worldview, it is apparent that our goal for reorganizing the world must include the restoration of a harmony among the Creator, Nature and man. This is the only world that produces happiness and the fulfillment of man. This means that the negative forces opposing this way of life must be made to not exist (to phrase it in Kemite fashion). In other words, to have peace one must nullify the destroyers without corrupting ourselves.” The key to fulfilling this lies in our capacity to remember who we are and to operationalize such knowledge in both word and deed, for in order to overcome the forces of alienation it is critical that we draw fully and substantively from the deep well of African thought, and to let such wisdom as that of our ancestors to guide us into the future.
Since the 1990s, globalization has been heralded as a means whereby humans would achieve a higher quality of life and greater prosperity. Of course we know that such claims were greatly exaggerated as globalization, as a process, has produced profoundly uneven benefits–allowing vast accumulations of wealth for the global elite while simultaneously producing desolation and dispossession for others. Culturally, it has produced manifold complexities and contradictions in the lives of people the world over.
There are a few paths into the world of the African combat arts.
First, identify what resources that you have access to now. There are traditional African combat arts within many of our communities–some of these are, in fact, endangered. This is true both on the continent and in the Diaspora. These forms of combat may be boxing arts, wrestling arts, weapons arts, and so on. Often they can be found among older men, so inquiring among one’s familial and communal elders is a great starting point. However, they may not think of what they know as “martial art”. The term itself evokes images of Asian combat arts like Karate or Kung Fu. However, they may be more responsive to queries pertaining to “ways of fighting”, “ways of punching or wrestling”, et cetera. Also, in some traditions, secrecy remains a key protocol, and this may also be something which may impact your exploration.
Second, learn Capoeira. It is by far the most accessible African combat tradition. Of course, if you are like me you have two concerns–learning the art from an African/Black instructor and learning it as a combat art. Both of these are challenges as many Capoeira groups are dominated by non-African teachers and students. Also, many schools focus on the jogo–the game, but not the luta–the fight. Sadly, many teachers are not qualified to transmit the art in this manner.
Fortunately there are some good learning resources and teachers out there. My teacher, Mestre Preto Velho is knowledgeable of the combat dimension of Capoeira in addition to other African and African Diasporan combat arts. He was recently featured in the San Diego Union Tribune (https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/lifestyle/people/story/2020-03-06/someone-san-diego-should-know-dennis-newsome) and his school’s website is http://www.malandros-touro.com.
Additionally, Bro. Da’Mon Stith has become one of the leading exponents of these arts. You can visit his website here: http://www.silentsword.org/. Also, his YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/austinwarriorarts) is a wealth of information. He’s also extremely approachable and would love to field questions from folks interested in understanding the combat science of the art.
Third, read books and articles on the subject. There are a few relevant texts.
Desch-Obi, T. J. 2008. Fighting for Honor: The History of African Martial Art Traditions in the Atlantic World. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
This book is a very good exploration of the interconnections between Africa and the Americas as it relates to the combat arts.
Powe, Edward L. 2011. Black Martial Arts VIII: The ABC & “Bay-ah-Bah” of Capoeira de Angola. Madison, WI: Dan Aiki Publications.
This is an excellent historical and technical overview of Capoeira Angola (the traditional Capoeira of Bahia, Brazil). In addition to this book, Edward Powe has published several very important books on the African combat arts. Visit his site to see more https://www.danaikipublications.org/.
The Blac Foundation has an archive of articles on this subject. You can access them here: http://blacfoundation.org/black-martial-arts/
Fourth, explore 52 Blocks. This art has grown in prominence and various folks have posted information about online including Professor Mo (https://gumroad.com/hitemhard and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYCSk4KsLIs&t=2732s), Lyte Burley (http://lyteburly.com/ and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1GF0w0yztRAZUgc3Wlcz-Q), and so on.
Fifth, visit teachers abroad. There are teachers of machete arts in Columbia and Haiti, stick-fighting in Trinidad, South Africa, and Egypt, wrestling in Senegal, Sudan, and Nigeria, empty-hand striking in South Africa, Martinique, Cuba, and Nigeria, and so on.
Sixth, study African methods of warfare. Below are some relevant texts.
Barcia Paz, Manuel. 2016. West African warfare in Bahia and Cuba: soldier slaves in the Atlantic world, 1807-1844. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Carruthers, Jacob H. 1985. The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution. Chicago: The Kemetic Institute.
Price, Richard. 1996. Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Seventh, stay focused. Studying our combat traditions is considerably more difficult than studying the combat traditions of Asia, but it is a rewarding sacrifice, for in studying the African arts, you are both helping to preserve our culture, while also demonstrating its relevance to our people in the present.