How to study the African combat arts?

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.

2 Comments

  1. Von

    Very good response…my daughter is studying martial arts now…she tough about the common practices. But I told her she should get in touch with her culture. She is half African American and fillapino.. so she has been focusing on art forms from both .. excilent combination between the two styles.

    • admin

      Having connections to one’s cultural traditions is a great thing. Best of luck to you and your daughter on this quest.

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