Learning from nature: Reflections on African history and culture on the farm

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.

Following the heart: The Wisdom of Ptah Hotep

“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!”
-Ptah Hotep

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.

The aftermath of “empire” or Towards a more grotesque spectacle of power

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”.

Adaptation in the martial arts

Years ago, while watching videos of Kung Fu practitioners sparring against each other, I noticed that many of these arts tended to look like kickboxing during sparring. Sometimes this was a rather rough transition. At other times, depending on the art, it was more seamless.
My take on this is that some of these arts are difficult to apply in real-time against a resisting opponent due to the manner in which they are traditionally trained. Some arts have footwork and stances that may only works under certain rare conditions. Others, due to training with insufficient resistance, fail to acquaint their practitioners with the proper approaches to apply them in real-time in a self-defense or combat sport situation. Others styles have strayed from the combative and reside firmly within the realm of the ritualisitc–wherein the combat theory of the art becomes a matter of religious conviction and the mythic history of the art’s past glories and champions becomes the basis of its legitimacy as a fighting art, rather than the ability of its living practitioners to “show and prove” that their progenitors’ skills are alive and well in the current generation. Some stylists train to fight against low-skilled opponents and are unable to apply their training against high-level opponents. Finally, too many arts only train against practitioners of the same style. This may not be a problem if the parameters of one’s fighting (in tournaments or in the street) is limited to one’s fellow practitioners of this same art. However, it become an altogether more complicated matter when faced with stylists of other arts with which one may have limited familiarity.
My thoughts are that this problem of translation, that is of transiting from training to combat, can only be satisfied by building the combative into one’s training–that is of (1) training with varying degrees of resistance, (2) by regularly sparring against various styles or approaches to fighting, and (3) of relinquishing doctrinaire mindsets that prevents one from thinking critically or analytically about one’s art, its combat theory, its strengths and weaknesses.
Interestingly enough, those arts renowned for their effectiveness, particularly in the context of sport, such as Western Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, or Judo reflect the principle of training in a manner that approximates combat application. This is achieved via training with varying degrees of resistance. These arts are key parts of the skill set of mixed martial artists due to their interoperability with and effectiveness against other styles. Finally, these arts’ histories evidence various changes and adaptations over time as new knowledge and technique came into play. It is not to say that this has not occurred in many other traditional arts, but often quasi-religious commitments prevent such adaptation. However, where it has taken place, such arts continue to demonstrate their relevance as combat arts.