The “Asian-ness” of the martial arts

A year or so ago I journeyed to Madison, Wisconsin to purchase a book from Dr. Edward Powe. The book was entitled, “Combat Games of Northern Nigeria“. My interest was to learn more about the combat traditions of the Hausa people. The Hausa have one of the most rich martial cultures that I know of on the continent with traditions of boxing, wrestling, blade-fighting and stick-fighting.

In truth, I only recently learned of their stick-fighting through a friend, Da’Mon Stith. This was very enlightening and increased my interest in the combat traditions of the Hausa. Interestingly, while I did locate videos of this art online, they were curiously labled as “Karate”. This is what I mean by the “Asian-ness” of the martial arts. Not that there are no African martial arts, but that the concept of “martial arts” as a kind of social activity is generally dominated by Asian representations. This can be attributed to the film industry (beginning in the 1970s), the formalization of the arts (beginning perhaps with Jigoro Kano in the early 20th Century), and their commercialization (primarily in 20th Century) in places like Hong Kong, the US, and Europe. As a consequence of these developments, for many of our people, “martial arts” inherently refer to Asian combat traditions, so much so that many Black fighting traditions are sometimes not perceived as such. This is true throughout the African world.