Recently I stumbled upon this video. It shows a group Africans who journeyed to China to study the martial arts. I’ve seen other videos like this, including one where an African decided to create a Shaolin Temple in his community in Africa.
While I appreciate that these sisters and brothers are training, I do worry that the idea of “martial arts” as an Asian cultural practice necessarily devalues our engagement with our own martial heritage, which is often endangered. Clearly the practice of Capoeira in Brazil is well organized, but this is not universally true of African combat arts. Many are quite marginal and the preserve of an aging group of practitioners.
I say this as someone who practices both African and Asian arts. To my thinking, our engagement in the martial arts, as people of African-descent, should include some engagement with, even if on the level of historical and philosophical knowledge, the rich martial heritage of African people as a way of centering our ancestors’ development of combative systems to confront the reality before them.
In my presentation at ASCAC last week I discussed three ways of engaging with the African martial arts. These include:
1. Studying and internalizing the history and philosophy pertaining to the African arts.
2. Incorporating specific elements/techniques of the African arts into one’s existing practice.
3. Practicing the African arts.
To my thinking we can both study the martial arts of the world, while also being mindful of our own legacy and its value.