Our petty bourgeois strivings

I know that many of us continue to celebrate African/Black people being installed as agents of the state apparatus, the same state that kept Africans in shackles during the era of chattel slavery, suppressed Black voting rights for nearly a century, sabotaged Black movements for sovereignty, assassinated Black leaders, and has consistently sought to inflict “on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

I am reminded in the midst of these celebratory moments of the wisdom of Malcolm X, who stated, “Racial unrest never occurs among the satisfied, bourgeois class of Negroes. They can easily be appeased and controlled and influenced just by continuing to drop crumbs on their table—the crumbs of tokenism. And this type of Negro that the so-called Negro leadership represents is a type that can be appeased and can be controlled with the crumbs of token integration.”

I think that Malcolm X’s criticism highlights the inadequacy of integrationism as a political strategy and ideology. In many ways one might say that he anticipated its devolution from appeals for structural integration to the present bifurcation of the African/Black community in the US, where the petty bourgeoise class continues to aspire to enjoy the bounty of capitalist exploitation, which the masses are increasingly dislocated by. 

Ultimately, the performance of representation by powerful institutions is a paean to the aspirations of the Black elite. Such strivings do not equate to the imperative of self-determination for the masses, a self-determination whose actualization dismisses the very legitimacy of the dominant system itself.

On overcoming anger

I was asked recently about how I deal with anger and frustration. This is a good question, as I, like perhaps every other person, have found myself having to manage such feelings.

In my teenage years, I realized that anger was a part of a larger complex of emotion that if not properly understood, could wreak havoc on our lives. My response at the time was to meditate. I am not sure where the inspiration came from. I did not have any formal training in meditation, nor did I have any academic knowledge of mindfulness or psychology. Nonetheless, I set myself to the task of meditating, using breathing and visualization as keys to gain clarity and awareness, as well as to recenter myself. My practice was also informed by Sun Tzu’s classic, The Art of War, which became a key element of how I moved through the world.

Once I went to college and felt that I had more control over my life, this practice fell by the wayside. However after college, as my life intensified due to its burgeoning demands and as various interpersonal difficulties took their toll, I have found it necessary to both reactivate the practice from my youth and to augment it accordingly. Unlike then, I have been exposed to different types of meditative traditions, different schools of psychology, and different philosophical discourses. Here I offer a brief overview of how I have strove to manage such challenges in the present.

Sunyata (emptiness)
I consider perception as a precondition to anger. Often our perception of things determines whether or not we become bothered or angry.

As a teenager I discovered that things (including ideas) are insubstantial in their essence. This insight came not from reading, but merely reflecting on my own thoughts, my own feelings, my own consciousness. This discovery enabled me to navigate difficult circumstances. Years later I discovered that there was a term for this in Buddhist philosophy, sunyata, a Pali word that translates into English as “emptiness”. It refers to the insubstantial nature of all things.

The concept of sunyata has been, for me, profoundly edifying. It has enabled me to more fully internalize the wisdom in the Fulani proverb which states, “Hab’b’ere buri ginawol,” or that “Actions should be judged according to intention.” This means that my perceptions of reality are not fully constitutive of reality. Often I have misperceived things. Later I have found that my initial perceptions were incorrect. The solution has not been to cling to such misperceptions, but to strive to understand reality free from the fetters of such thinking. It also means that it is often necessary to go beyond my own feelings or perception of a particular situation in order to understand things from the vantage point of another.

I recall an occasion from a decade ago when I was talking on the phone with my mother and I observed that my then seven year old son was misbehaving. As I was preparing to punish him my mother said, “Remember, he has the mind of seven.” I immediately stopped in my preparation to punish my son and begin to contemplate how his actions possibly appeared from his point of view. Attempting to view things from his perspective made what he was doing seem far more reasonable. His intent was to have fun, which given his age was to be expected. I realized that my perception was limited in not considering that there were other ways that his behavior could be interpreted. I have continued to work to apply this insight in my parenting and other situations as a way to adjust my perception, to prevent anger or to manage other feelings that could lead to it such as frustration, disappointment, and so on.

Hasara (loss)
Throughout life I have seen a number of occasions where anger compelled people to speak far more harshly than they should have. A text from ancient Kemet, The Instruction of Amenemope demonstrates that even the ancients were troubled by such speech.

“Swift is the speech of one who is angered,
More than wind [over] water.
He tears down, he builds up with his tongue,
When he makes his hurtful speech.”

This text notes that harsh words are often given velocity by anger. They also have the power to destroy.

I too have spoken harsh words, as well as being their recipient. Often such actions leave lasting damage in our interpersonal relationships. This reminds me of the Swahili proverb “Hasira, hasara.” This translates into English as “Anger [brings] loss.” This proverb notes that anger can be quite dangerous. It compel us to act in a manner which may result in loss. The losses might be material or immaterial. To my thinking, though both can be profound, material things can be replaced, however broken trust or a loss of emotional intimacy can be difficult to restore.

The king’s sword
The path from anger to loss is more fully explored in the following Yorùbá proverb which states “Ìbínú lọbá fi ńyọ idà; ìtìjú ló fi ḿbẹ ẹ,” and translates as “It is in anger that the king draws his sword; it is shame that makes him go through with the beheading.” This Yorùbá proverb expresses the ways in which anger compromises judgement. When we are angry we forsake reflective thinking, that is we cease to be critically aware of our thoughts, and with this our words and our actions. Due to this, we make foolish commitments in anger. We say or do things that set us on a ruinous path. Often, we lack the humility to turn away from it even when the anger has subsided. Hence, pride encourages commitment to those intemperate thoughts, words, and actions. Suffering is often the result.

Medew nefer (Good speech)
Given the foregoing, I have found that it is necessary to maintain practices that facilitate the kind of mindfulness that reflects good character, righteousness. A recurring theme in Kemetic thought is the practice of medew nefer, that is, “good speech”. Medew nefer is speech that reflects Maat (truth, order, righteousness, harmony, and so on) It is indicative of our commitment to the cultivation and practice of wisdom. Beyond this, medew nefer reflects self-control. As Ptah Hotep stated, “All conduct…is measured,” thus the practice of good speech requires the maintenance of mental and emotional discipline.

In his book, Intellectual Warfare, Jacob H. Carruthers, writes, “As the divine speech taught us at the beginning of our history, it is necessary that human beings, like the Creator, give life and power and health. We should examine everything that we do by that command. If our actions support life and power and health, then they are right. If not, then we ought to stop that line of action.” I think of this often. What does it mean to “give life and power and health”? How might such an imperative inform our thought, speech, and actions?

Recently I have been reading a book by Dr. Edward L. Powe titled Cosmic Combat Warriors. The book features accounts by various people from southern India about their practice of yoga and how it has impacted their lives. One of the recurring themes in their accounts is that their practice of yoga has enabled them to be calmer and less susceptible to anger.

One thing what was particularly interesting is that many of the respondents were both yoga practitioners and martial artists. Given their connection to traditions of warriorhood, as reflected by the martial arts, they echoed an idea expressed by Shaha Mfunidishi Maasi in his book The Essential Warrior where he wrote, ”The purpose of warriorship is to develop and enlightened being who is a human vortex of positive energy.” Herein, the warrior is one whose charged to serve others, to bring light into the world. Some of the respondents in Cosmic Combat Warriors reflected such a charge.

Their experience has also been my own. I too have found that the practice of yoga has been beneficial for both mind and body. In such a practice, yoga is not merely a form of exercise, but a holistic vehicle for personal transformation. I have also found similar effects by engaging in other types of movement practice mindfully and with consistency whether Qigong, Capoeira, Baguazhang, and so on.

Broken pots
I also try to remember that my efforts to live mindfully will be imperfect. I remind myself of the Ewe proverb which states “Tɔmedela ye gba na ze,” and translates into English as “Only the one who kindly accepts to fetch water may accidentally break the pot.” Hence it is in the practice of a thing where one’s errors are expressed. Were I too eschew any attempt at mental and emotional discipline, my discipline could not be found wanting, for it would not exist!

This also reflects an idea expounded by Shunryu Suzuku in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, when he wrote, “The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is, itself, enlightenment.” This means that enlightenment as a type of transcendence over one’s mental fetters is not a place or destination, but a process. Thus it is in the doing that we become that which we seek to become. It is only in the doing that errors related to such actions can be made.

Given this, I try not to be too hard on myself when frustration or anger get the better of me. I evaluate my actions, attempt to make amends with anyone who was ill-affected by my actions, and devise a means to prevent a recurrence of such acts in the future.

Righteous anger
In closing, I do not believe that anger is inherently problematic. As Mwalimu Baruti writes in his book Iwa: A Warrior’s Character, anger can be purposeful, especially when it is “correctly directed against” those inimical to one’s well-being or the well-being of one’s loved one, one’s people, and so on. Hence anger, like all emotions has its place. The key is to be guided by wisdom, rather than the impetuousness of anger.

Culture and Freedom: The imperative of Re-Africanization

I often say that of all our strivings the most consequential are the reclamation of our culture and the restoration of sovereignty. Here I am not presenting these as de-linked or sequential processes, but rather as processes which are inextricably linked and concurrent. As Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers has written, “The process of Africanization and transformation cannot be separated neatly into two stages-they overlap. To transform the world according to an African-centered worldview means establishing a new African culture and a new African world civilization.” In fact, it is our culture that provides the basis for our efforts to actualize sovereignty. Here I will offer a brief summary of its significance.

Before preceding, it is necessary to define culture. Culture consists of the totality of human thought and action. It entails our concepts and behavior. It includes our creations, be they physical or non-physical. As such, culture includes abstract notions such as “freedom”. It also is the process that we execute in its pursuit. In fact, culture, in its totality, determines the very parameters of both concept and process. Below I offer three areas wherein African culture is both valuable and important in our live.

First, culture is the basis of identity. It tells us who we are and who we must be. Given that culture is the product of peoples, that is a culturally distinct collective, it is the sum of their traditions, and expresses their worldview. Our culture, African culture, grounds us in an understanding of who we are as African individuals and orients us towards our people, their past and future. Thus, it must be noted that identity within the traditional context was not solely an individual matter, but rather found its basis within the group’s consciousness and experience. Naming traditions, rites-of-passage, and other processes served as anchors of such a collectively-oriented identity. Often the individual would be given a name (or names) that would serve as anchors of this identity. Divinatory rituals might be used to reveal their unique destiny, which was never solely concerned with them as singular entities, but rather their purpose within the larger community.

Herein, only one’s own culture is capable of fulfilling such a role, as only one’s own culture can anchor one’s identity within the collective experience of their people, thus providing the framework wherein their own individual expression emerges. To base one’s identity on alien paradigms is to be culturally mis-oriented, which in the African worldview represents one’s estrangement from the ancestors, the community, and ultimately oneself.

Second, as Dr. Marimba Ani has noted “culture carries rules for thinking”, thus culture is the basis of consciousness. This means that all modes of thinking, all modes of conceiving reality are essentially based in culture. To be African and to be estranged from your culture is to navigate the world with an alien worldview. This means that not only do we perceive the world through a lens that is ultimately alien to us, this framework constrains what we see and what we do. Thus no people can truly free themselves on the basis of an alien worldview. They can create political and economic changes, but those changes merely serve to concretize systems based on the conceptual and social traditions of other peoples, rather than their own. The fruits of such labor is impoverished as it never allows them to draw fully and deeply from the “deep well” of African thought and to create a world based on the wisdom of our ancestors.

Third, culture is the foundation upon which all social organization exists. Thus when we look at the social systems that have been devised to maximize the misery of African people, whether it is the system of de-education and mis-education which serves to nullify our capacity to attain a critical consciousness, or the system of coercive control which surveils, represses, detains, and executes African people, or the system of capitalism which has enshrined avarice as  the highest expression of human striving and has based its accumulation on incessant violence for centuries we must recognize that all of these are reflections of a worldview, one which is both alien and antithetical to African life–and in truth to all life.

When we embrace our culture we are then able to draw upon our traditions for models of excellence. Such knowledge enables us to glean the insights of African people regarding such challenges as the socialization of African youth into healthy standards of adulthood, or to understand the dynamics of social life in the traditional society that strove to negate alienation and to implement these knowledges as the basis for a restored sense of community, or to draw upon African models of economic development–models that at their best prioritized human flourishing above profit.

Therefore, when we are advocating for re-Africanization or sankɔfa, that is the reclamation of our culture, we are insisting on the reconceptualization of identity from the atomistic individual and the coercive hyperrelativism associated with it, to a more expansive sense of the self, one that finds its basis within the best of one’s traditions, one that derives its purpose from such communal concerns. We are also seeking to free our minds from the “conceptual incarceration” of oppressive and alien paradigms. Just as the maroons provided an audacious example of struggle during the era of enslavement, it should be noted that their resistance was grounded upon a rejection of the European worldview and any notions of legitimacy wherein they could only exist as chattel.  In seeking to actualize their sovereignty, and in ensuring the survival of their culture they demonstrate of power of minds decoupled from the locus of European control. Finally, when we cease to gaze upon European (and other) institutions as universal or optimal models for African people, we are able to draw upon and apply the wisdom of our ancestors to our efforts to actualize a future based on the best of who we are, upon our image and interests as a people.

Ultimately we must recognize that freedom on the basis of an alien culture is unattainable. At best it represents a slight adjustment of the locus or methods of control. African freedom must be conceived upon, strove for, and actualized on the basis of an African worldview if we are to be sovereign in all domains.

Trade, solidarity, or hegemony: Africa and China

A Sudanese sister who I occasionally interact with on Twitter posted something about the problems of understanding Africa-Chinese relations through a Western lens. I offered the following as a response.

The relationship between China and Africa is complex due to its longevity. Prior to the formation of Western hegemony, and extending back to the very distant past, trade relations existed between the two.

During the decolonization movement, China became an ally of African independence struggles and, more broadly, a signifier of Black revolutionary struggle even in the US.

We can consider the so-called era of globalization as the third and most recent stage of African-Chinese relations, wherein the imperatives of global capitalism and the need to counter Western hegemony has re-patterned this relationship in exploitative ways.

There are several dimensions to be mindful of. These relations have been shaped by (1) internal developments in both African & China, (2) broader regional and global dynamics, and (3) the context of global capitalism and the context of neocolonialism.

As to the issue of Chinese anti-Black racism, it should be noted that China is a multi-ethnic society and that there is a history of discrimination against non-Han groups within China such as Hakka, Uyghurs, and Tibetans. Much of this history is quite violent. In addition to this, there is evidence of negative perceptions of Africans from over a thousand years ago. Perhaps this was derived from Chinese contacts with the Arabs or domestic and pre-existing prejudice. Furthermore, there were enslaved Africans in China, but it should be noted that this was not the chattel slavery instantiated by the West centuries later.

Below are some sources for further reading:

Africans and African-Americans in China: A Long history, a troubled present, and a promising future?

BBC Eyewitness: Racism for sale

China bashes US over racism, inequality, pandemic response

China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity

Marx, Du Bois, and the Black Underclass: RAM’s World Black Revolution

On spirituality and alienation

Q: How does the issue of alienation apply to spirituality? There is a noted dialectic between the harmful effects of alien religions and the corresponding rejection of African spiritual systems.

A: I’ve tried to follow in Jacob H. Carruthers’s footsteps by (A) acknowledging the importance of indigenous African spirituality as a necessary component in our re-Africanization and (B) acknowledging the need for a posture of “non-aggression” pertaining to this, lest we descend into the idiocy of Holy Wars. However, I think that we have to consider what is lost when we ground ourselves in alien paradigms, as religion is so central for many African people, who see it as a way of living. The question becomes what ways of living, being, and knowing do these systems propagate and if these are detrimental or advantageous to our community.

There are many aspects of indigenous African spirituality that are valuable on the conceptual, social, and even structural levels. I’ll discuss these in turn. First, is the emphasis on inner “divinity”, that is the mtu (human being) as divine as an alternative to the idea of one being born in sin, which is really just another example of fundamental alienation.

Second, are the ethical values of African cultures, which compel for us to act ethically towards ourselves, community, and nature. There is no African belief that I am aware of wherein watu (humans) have been given dominion over nature. This is a worldview born of a fundamental misunderstanding of the consubstantial nature of life on this planet. In fact, in the African paradigm, one has a moral obligation to safeguard nature for the denizens of the future.

Third, is the value of ancestral veneration, which in reality is a means for keeping people connected to the lineage. This provides a connection that compels the mtu to study, honor, and ground themselves in their traditions–as opposed to eschewing them in preference for venerating someone else’s ancestors.

Fourth, is that African traditions offers a basis of critique for many of the conceptual assumptions of other religions–pacifism and detachment versus the need to act deliberately to actualize one’s destiny, intolerance and forced conversion rather than a perspective that emphasizes commonality across related traditions, resignation to an oppressive and alienating order in contrast to a mandate to actualize Maat or what the Akan call Onyame Nhye-Hyɛe–a conception of divine order, and so on.

Finally is the rejection of the cultural primacy and conceptual hegemony of non-Africans. When we embrace our own traditions, we demonstrate not only their suitability, but the value and relevance of our ancestors and what they bequeathed to us.


2009 interview in Shiai Magazine on the African fighting arts, Kawaida theory, survival training, and community transformation

Shiai Magazine: Who is actually Kamau Rashid? Talk about your life and martial arts experiences?

Kamau Rashid: Well I’m originally from the South Side of Chicago. Growing up in Chicago in the 80s and 90s left an indelible mark on me. On one hand this was a point where the crime rate, especially the murder rate was quite high. There was a pervasive consciousness of mortal danger. This was especially so in some of the neighborhoods where I lived and went to school.

On the other hand, this environment seemed to foster a certain type of critical consciousness. It was an environment where one could readily see the contradictions between the ethos of American society and its actual practices. After a while I found myself encountering a lot of people who possessed varying degrees of political consciousness.  These encounters, coupled with my growing intellectual pursuits, and the daily struggle to stay alive all helped to mold me in certain ways.

When I finally went to college in the early 1990s I was able to pursue my intellectual interests without constraint. This allowed for me to foster a critical, and eventually an African-Centered world view.

It was also at this point that I began my study of the martial arts. It is fair to say that I had an acute awareness of the need to be capable of defending oneself based on my years in Chicago. I began my training with an eclectic group, one that blended Western Boxing, Karate, Akido, Ju-Jitsu, and Greco-Roman Wrestling. This style helped me to develop an appreciation for simplicity and comprehensiveness in a fighting system. I should say that this was prior to the advent of the mixed-martial arts. I trained with this group for a couple of years before moving on.

Eventually, I graduated from college, returned to Chicago, and developed a strong interest in the African martial arts. I had learned about a Capoeria group that trained on the South Side of Chicago. But they met on Saturdays, which was a work day for me. Eventually I decided to postpone pursuing the African arts and at the recommendation of a colleague of mine I began studying Wing Chun Kung Fu.

Wing Chun Kung Fu was a great experience for me. It helped me to see an even greater depth of simplicity in the art (or science) of combat. Moreover, this was my first introduction to combat theory. It was from this experience that my understanding of the martial arts began to mature.

A few years later (during the early part of the 2000s) I went back to school to obtain my doctoral degree. I used my return to college to get a lot of low-cost training. So I studied Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu and the mixed-martial arts. I also got introduced to Kali stick fighting and some Jeet Kune Do around this time.

It was also during this time that I decided to renew my pursuit of the African arts. After a false start, I eventually hooked up with Ahati Kilindi Iyi and attended his domestic camp in 2005. While there I also met Mestre Preto Velho. This basically started me down the path of dealing substantively with the African arts. Since then I’ve trained in Capoeira pretty consistently, though I have become something of a Capoeira hobo of late.

Of late I’ve sought balance in my training. This means seeking proficiency in all of the various dimensions of combat. My principle goals once again are simplicity and comprehensiveness.

Shiai Magazine: What can sociology help in African American society and black society in general, can vain theories really indeed help the African/black races to have self esteem and determination?

Kamau Rashid: Sociology is essentially the study of society. It is an attempt to understand the various social and historical forces that act upon us and shape our lives. Central to the Sociological process is theory. In Sociology theories serve as statements that attempt to explain or predict phenomenon.

I maintain that Sociology can indeed by useful in the transformation of African people. That is, if we develop and employ an African-Centered Sociology.

There are a number of social theories that have been offered by African-Centered scholars that are of critical importance. One that readily comes to mind is Maulana Karenga’s Kawaida Theory. Kawaida theory starts from the basic premise that the core crisis in African life is the cultural crisis and challenge. It continues that Africans must reconstruct their culture using the best elements of African culture, and then use this emancipatory culture to galvanize us in reshaping the world in our image and interest.

When we take the ideas of Kawaida and begin to look critically at the numerous, vexing issues that plague the African American community we can certainly problematize the role of maladaptive cultural responses that contribute unwittingly to this malaise. One very prominent example is the soaring murder rate among young African American males. This is occurring despite the fact that murder has declined among nearly every other segment of the American population.

The question becomes, what makes us so unique? Well, our estrangement from our own culture via the ravages of the Maafa is simply unprecedented. The process of enslavement was critical in problematizing the humanity of Africans. As such, not only did Europeans construct a grand narrative as to the utter inferiority of Africans, they also possessed the power to impose this wholly deficient worldview upon us. Thus they created the malaise that W.E.B. Du Bois referred to as Double Consciousness, the tragic state of being African, yet seeing oneself through the eyes of Europeans.

Kawaida insists that we must see the world through African eyes. Kawaida insists that our grand historical narrative be one that exemplifies the dignity and nobility of Africans’ struggle against tyranny. It also insists that Africans who are taught to see themselves as having a sacred duty to promote good, fairness, and justice in the world would be disinclined to kill one another over gang affiliations, drug territory, having one’s gym shoes stepped on accidentally, or any of the other reasons why we take the lives of our fellow Brothers and Sisters. People who see themselves as being the quintessential expressions of a valued and sacred humanity work to elevate their collective condition. This is quite the contrary of what many of us are doing in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities.

So yes, an African-Centered Sociology can indeed inform how we might address our basic problems. If we use a Kawaida approach for instance, we might eschew the mis-guided practices of conspicuous consumption and atomistic individualism and instead work tirelessly and collectively to build viable families and communities.
Shiai Magazine: You say that your a survival instructor and that you help many blacks to survive in the society, against what? What is exactly the Black Survival Network indeed?

Kamau Rashid: The Black Survival Network is an organization that was established thirty years ago to train the African community in the United States in the science of disaster awareness and preparedness. Our concerns have been driven by many things, but most recently the interrelated environmental crises of peak oil, water scarcity and global warming. It is quite apparent that these crises each have the capacity to threaten the survival of the human species in general, and Africans in particular.

Conscious Africans need to recognize that our survival will only be assured if we are prepared to deal with the uncertainties of the future. The mission of the Black Survival Network is to train Africans to deal with those unknowns.

Shiai Magazine: Since you practices several martial arts systems and styles you know very much implication and role of Africa and black community in the heritage of martial arts and sports combat in general. Why all a sudden the urge and need of the promotion of African Martial arts in the entire diaspora community be it America, Brazil, Jamaica and so forth?

Kamau Rashid: I think that many of us want to gain a better understanding of the African contribution to the martial arts. This is certainly another nuance in the oft-neglected and unknown historical and cultural legacy of African humanity.

Personally, I always felt a small sense of dissonance training in non-African arts. I realized that the rituals, languages, and protocols were from the particular experiences of that style’s progenitors, be they Chinese, Japanese, etc. I knew that these styles invoked and revered their cultural ancestors. Well, this lead me to a basic question: what was the martial tradition of our warriors? We certainly invoke the names of Taharka, Nzingha, Shaka, Zumbi, and others, but this invocation often doesn’t move to the level of tactics and technique. How did they fight? And why were they so effective? Well, you can’t begin to answer this question until you study these systems rigorously.

Fortunately, some people have embarked on the difficult journey of discovering and teaching the African martial way. This is what I like to call the African Warrior Tradition. As our collective understanding of these martial systems has grown, so too has the fervor to disseminate this information.

There’s another dimension too. I think that its wedded to the belief the African martial arts can facilitate a cultural transformation in the minds, bodies, and spirits of our people. Mestre Preto Velho, Baba Balogun, and others have expressed this sentiment. This may also fuel the fervor with which some of us are attempting to promote these arts.
Shiai Magazine: Tell us the differences between Kung fu and Capoeira, both systems demands movements, flow, agility, speed and strength but what makes differences between African and Asian martial arts systems?

Kamau Rashid:  This is an excellent question. I think that any martial system bears the indelible mark of the culture that created that system. Its history, political-economy (social institutions), aesthetic sensibilities, language, and ethos (collective psychology) all shape this.

People have to understand this. One cannot understand traditional Jiu-Jitsu outside of understanding feudal Japan. One cannot understand Tai Chi without contextualizing it relative to Taoist philosophy. Lastly, one cannot understand Capoeira without understanding cultural dynamics and political history of central and southwestern Africa; as well as the horrors of the Maafa, and African resistance to enslavement in Brazil. I know that a lot of people try to lift martial arts outside of their attendant cultural moorings, but this is impossible and impractical.

With regards to movement, flow, speed, and agility—the Chinese arts, though often fluid and organic, manifest a different quality than the dynamism manifested in the African arts. I am not speaking here of one way being superior or inferior to another. I am simply noting a core difference.

For instance, Capoeira is an art that uses semi-perpetual motion in the form of the Ginga to generate linear and lateral energy. Every technique that the Capoeirista launches draws from this force. The Ginga is central to the body mechanics needed for proper power generation when striking. Also, the flow of motion and energy is constant. It doesn’t stop. The Capoeirista moves seamlessly from evasion to attack to attack to evasion to attack and so forth. Capoeira is omni-directional. The capoeirista may launch a kick to the head that misses, move into a ground position to give the impression of being defensive, and launch another kick or sweep from the ground in the opposite direction. Thus, the adept fighter can strike or move in any direction at any time. There is an organicity in Capoeira that cannot be described. It has to be seen or experienced.

Now what I’ve just described may be similar in some respects to the Chinese arts, but still different. I’ll use Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu as an an example. Similar to Capoeira, Choy Lay Fut attempts to use a lot of circular power. It relies on continual attack and uses the shifting of the stance to generate power. Though, unlike Capoeira, Choy Lay Fut’s power source isn’t semi-perpetual motion. It is the movement from one stance to another. This creates a footwork that is substantially less dynamic and mobile than Capoeira’s Ginga. Whereas the Capoeirista trains to see the potential attack in any situation (standing, kneeling, falling, etc.), Choy Lay Fut’s body of techniques does not produce the same range of possibilities. Also, Choy Lay Fut, like most striking arts relies primarily on the horizontal plane of combat. That is, it focuses on using distance to moderate the types attacks that one would use in a given situation. Capoeira uses the horizontal and vertical planes. Meaning that the Capoeirista may moderate their attack based on distance from an opponent, and height in relation to the ground. Thus in Capoeira, the ground is employed as an offensive space. Choy Lay fut does this to a very limited extent, but lacks Capoeira’s mobility on the ground level. To be sure, there are some Chinese arts that make a more robust use of this vertical plane, however I would maintain that Capoeira’s uses of linear and lateral power gives it a different striking platform than these other arts.

I guess the essence of it is that the African martial arts, as reflected by Capoeira have a substantially different principle of motion. It is a principle that is rhythmical, spontaneous, and intuitive. Also, they derive from the historical and cultural reality of African humanity.

As someone who has trained in both African and Chinese arts, I must say that I feel more at home doing Capoeira. This is not say that I don’t still practice these various non-African systems, but I have a substantial cultural and aesthetic appreciation for Capoeira as an African fighting system.

Shiai Magazine: You have created the African Warrior Tradition which is an online discussion forum based African military, martial arts and African resistances, why the need of creating such a discussion group? Do you think that African Warrior Tradition should evolved and become a true organization promoting African Warrior heritage and culture?

Kamau Rashid: I was compelled to create the African Warrior Tradition for several reasons. First, many of the on-line discussion forums focused on the African arts have de-evolved into extremely divisive discussions regarding authenticity, or have taken on a very fundamentalist bent. To be sure, we do need to address matters of authenticity. However, we can do this in a civilized fashion. In some instances this was not occurring.

In other instances people were dealing with the African arts in an isolated manner. Whether this was having one group focused on continental arts and another on diasporic arts. I felt that we needed to address these matters comprehensively.

I’m not sure if this group should or could spawn a viable, international organization. However I think that it can contribute to such an effort. Ultimately I think that such a development should draw upon a cross-section of interests, entities, institutions, and individuals. Unfortunately I’m not sure if my group, the  African Warrior Tradition, has become the public commons for this diverse and growing community. Suffice it to say, I would be immensely supportive of such an initiative.

Shiai Magazine: Is it true that you are creating your own martial arts system based on your experiences?

Kamau Rashid: Yes, I am attempting to synthesize my varied martial arts knowledge. This system, which I’m calling Sbayt Nkht, or “instructions for the attainment of victory” in the language of the ancient Kmt (Egypt), is a dynamic synthesis of everything that I know. I’ve attempted to use the ideas of simplicity and comprehensiveness as a core philosophy. Its really just a reflection of how I train myself and my son. It’s an attempt to give added structure to something I’ve been doing informally.

Shiai Magazine: Have you been to Africa or other areas in the world where the African diasporas are found? Are you not thinking to create network in other parts in the world?

Kamau Rashid: Unfortunately I have not been to Africa yet. I have been to Belize in central America. You have a strong African community there called the Garifuna. While I was in Belize I did not inquire as to the existence or nature of their fighting arts. I hope to do this in the future. However, I do believe that it is absolutely necessary that we build a global network around the African martial arts.

Shiai Magazine: Any future projects in which you will like to talk about?

Kamau Rashid: Right now I’m focused on three objectives. One, concretizing Sbayt Nkht and in the process streamlining and enhancing my own training. Two, continuing to network with other like-minded Africans via the Internet and conferences. There’s a great deal of energy out there right now that I think we need to channel. Third, I have a series of children’s stories that I want to publish sometime in 2010. Many of these stories are set in ancient Africa and depict the African Warrior Tradition in various contexts whether it be hand-to-hand or armed combat. I think that African youth need an African-Centered and compelling body of action literature that can excite their imagination about our historical legacy much like other children possess.

Shiai Magazine: As the founder of the African Warrior Tradition what is the role and implication of the African warrior in the black society and the entire world society? Many blacks says that they are warriors but they are same to sell drugs  and weapons in streets and encourage prostitution? Can our children follow the true spirit of African warrior beliefs?

Kamau Rashid: When we look at traditional and ancient African societies, the warrior was expected to safeguard the welfare of the society. Whether this meant taking to the battlefield or working the farm, the warrior’s obligation was to his or her people.

The people in our communities who prey on other Africans are not warriors. They are parasites. I know that some people say that these are not parasites, they are simply wayward warriors and the like. The problem with this notion is that it assumes that intelligence, wisdom, or basically common sense lies strictly within the purview of the politically or culturally conscious; and that if the politically and culturally conscious were to bestow their lofty wisdom upon the present-day drug dealer, pimp, child abuser, etc. that they will be magically transformed into whole human beings…whole African men and women. Clearly this is problematic. Firstly, we don’t have any monopoly on common sense. Even the most wayward member of the African community knows the difference between right and wrong. There may be a small minority to whom this doesn’t apply, but for the most part most of know on a basic level whether our actions are morally just or unjust. Secondly, everyone is not necessarily responsive to information or ideas. America is steeped in anti-intellectualism. Many people go out of their way to avoid thinking at all costs. Thus, reasoning with and cajoling people into acting in a manner that we deem is appropriate will only be effective with some, but not all.

So where does that leave us. What seems to have the greatest capacity to regulate human behavior is culture. Culture consists of many dimensions, however three in particular that are imperatives for ours (or any other community) are norms, sanctions, and values. Norms are the standards of behavior deemed appropriate or necessary by the community. Sanctions are the rewards or punishments that people receive for complying with or disobeying the norms. Values are our collective concepts of good and bad.

You see our problem is that we have failed to embrace a cultural system that promotes a functional and collectively beneficial set of norms. We have failed to develop and maintain a social structure that is capable of carrying out sanctions. We have also been remiss in promoting the values that are most relevant to our collective welfare and development.

When these things are in place, people naturally become warriors. They naturally develop a desire to sacrifice (to give of themselves) for the sake of our collective survival. They seek the skills, knowledge, and resources that are consistent with the expression of these values in the world.

So, yes, we must create warriors. But our paradigm of warriorhood must be informed by the best of global African culture.

Shiai Magazine: Why so much popularity of African Martial Arts? There are several books being published based on the topic by several famous african martial artist. There are also several african martial arts festivals and events being organized.There is even several african martial arts magazines be it printed, online, DVD or on TV. And finally two main film projects on the topic “The Way” starring Khalil Maasi a Ray Muhammed film  in the United States and MoneyBag starring Joe ATEBA an Aurelien Henry OBAMA film in Cameroon?

Kamau Rashid: I think that many people feel that its time for us to tell our story. This is true in many regards. But as it relates to the martial arts, I think that people are increasingly cognizant of the need for us to represent ourselves in a dignified and inspiring way. A way that compels us to reflect deeply about who we have been, who we are, and where we as a people need to go.

I think that this is related to several broader thrusts. First, is the maturation of the African-Centered Movement in the United States. This movement, which has grown out of the cultural nationalist thrust of the 1960s, has been central in calling for greater study, reclamation, institutionalization, and practice of African culture. Second, may be the increasing heterogeneity of the visible martial arts scene. Forty years ago people knew about martial arts coming form China and Japan, but they may not have known about much beyond that. Today people are aware of Thai arts, Indonesian arts, Fillipino arts, Russian arts, etc. People are literally mining the world for its marital arts traditions. In fact there have been at least two television shows dedicated to this quest. This may be leading more and more of us to say “well if all of these other people have martial arts, then what about Africans”? Third is probably our (Africans’) incessant quest to be self-determining, self-affirming, and self-defining, and the imperative of sharing this consciousness with other Africans. So for many of us the African martial arts become a rites-of-passage system, it becomes a value system, ultimately it becomes mechanism of socialization. I think that many of us believe that we can use these systems, as well as a broader African cultural construct, to transform our people.

Shiai Magazine: As an elite and high personality in an african martial arts community, what advice can you give the to african child who wants to fulfill his dream be it in martial arts or any field of life knowing that is very hard among african people to succeed in life?

Kamau Rashid: Well I wouldn’t consider myself an elite or anything like that. However, if I were to offer any advice to a young African aspiring for success in life I would say that you should always walk the path of self-mastery. Seek to eradicate your fears. Surround yourself with positive and challenging opportunities that will give you a greater depth of self-knowledge. Also, build healthy relationships with elders, teachers, etc. who are capable to guiding down the path that you seek to walk. It always important to remember that difficult does not mean impossible, success is always attainable if you are sufficiently determined.

Shiai Magazine: What is your opinion on Shiai Magazine and work of Aurelien Henry OBAMA?

Kamau Rashid: I think that Shiai Magazine is a noble and positive effort. I applaud Bro. Aurelian’s work to bring the African martial arts to the forefront. We need to support and sustain his work.

Shiai Magazine: Any last words?

Kamau Rashid: Thanks for requesting this interview. Its been an honor to participate in your admirable work.

Shiai Magazine: Thank you brother Kamau Rashid in accepting our interview, we hope oneday to receive you in Cameroon “Africa Miniature”, God bless you and let our ancestors guide your path!

Kamau Rashid: Thanks Bro. Aurelien. I’d love to visit Cameroon. I look forward to our continued collaboration. I wish you immeasurable success in your endeavors.

Being on the path: Meditations on Living and Re-Africanization

I am convinced that when we are on the path, when we are doing the things that we are supposed to be doing, we are consistently presented with reminders of the correctness of the direction in which we are moving. I received three such reminders in the last two days.

Reminder one: Today while working at my wife’s community training farm, a six year old boy asked me, “How do Africans fight?” I found his question intriguing, not only that he asked it of me, but that he posed this question at all. I am not entirely sure why he posed this question to me. Maybe he overheard me talking to his mother about teaching Capoeira at his school years ago, and understood what I was talking about. Maybe he presumed that as an African man I should know something about this. I did start to build on his existing knowledge base of Kiswahili, so maybe he figured that I might know something about fighting too. In any event, I deeply appreciated his question, a question that I did not think to pose until I was a young adult.

I told him that there are different ways that Africans have approached fighting and that I could show him some. I asked him if he wanted to know something related to kicking, punching, or stick-fighting. He said punching, so I showed him something. If he’s serious, I may teach him some basic elements of the arts whenever we see one another in-between farm work.

Reminder two: Similarly, a brother who attends my Capoeira class with his daughter told me that he intends for her to be a fighting arts practitioner, and wants for her focus to be specifically on Capoeira, given that it is an African art. I was intrigued by this. He has studied multiple arts, and sees Capoeira as not merely a matter of technical application, that is the process of fending off violent attackers, but also as a matter of affirming one’s cultural identity. In this way, Capoeira can be understood as a combat art that also embodies the kinesthetic dynamics of several African cultures, thus it is the embodiment of a distinctly African philosophy of movement. It also represents the sprit and tactics of African resistance in the Americas.

Reminder three: A brother who attended the mdw nTr conference in October told me that he had been so inspired, that he intended to teach his then unborn daughter mdw nTr. Today I saw him and his young daughter. He told me, consistent with his earlier statement, that he speaks to her in mdw nTr and proceeded to speak do so. I also spoke to her in mdw nTr. My wife claims that she perked up when she heard the mdw nTr, but I can’t confirm this.

That this would happen the day after African Languages Day was most inspiring for me. While I do study African languages regularly, I have struggled to find time to study of late. However, yesterday my studies were inspired. While riding the train I read about and practiced (silently) two African languages. African Languages Day gave me the opportunity to affirm something that I know I am capable of, using our languages on a regular basis to communicate complex ideas. To my understanding, the greatest challenge that we face is one of transmission, that is of creating new speakers of these languages in our communities in the African Diaspora. Solving this problem is one to which I will continue to devote my time and energy, as we cannot truly communicate about an African worldview if such a discourse is mediated in an alien language and from a culture characterized by fundamental alienation.

Our people once they know that they are an African people, they subsequently want and desire to ground themselves in African things, to understand their reality from the paradigms of their ancestors, to reclaim our languages, to practice our fighting arts, and to—in all areas of life—be African. This is more than just a matter of identity, but is one of solving the paradigmatic problem implicit in liberatory struggles—that is one of decolonzing the minds of the people as a means of enabling them to win the physical struggle which is for land, their lives, and the future.

On repatriation

Some brief reflections on the article Nigeria: The “repats” who have returned.

This is a promising development. It is also somewhat unsurprising. While the Black elite has fared marginally well in the West, the suffering of the masses reflects the tenuous nature of our collective welfare. In short, our mid-20th Century forbears were buoyed by dreams of hopes that have been largely unrealizable for their descendants. What opportunities we find have and will continue to contract.

Should we look abroad for opportunity? Certainly, but we should be cautious about the dangers of feeding the unsustainable and rapacious system of global capitalism on the continent. Yes we need economic development, but we need a paradigm of economic development that reconciles human need with the capacity of the planet.

Moreover, we should be mindful that there are over 100 million people of African descent in the Western hemisphere. If our concept of economic opportunity and development consists of the globally mobile, Black cosmopolite elite absconding to Nigeria, Ghana, or elsewhere while our people still suffer under the terror that has so defined our American (North and South) experience, then our vision is deficient. The question that I have asked myself, which I have not yet been able to answer is, how do the economic development initiatives of repatriates in Africa favorably impact our communities in the diaspora? Again, to leave is not enough. Turning away from a problem does not resolve it. We need comprehensive solutions, which will be, as they always are, necessarily multifaceted.

African spirituality and the warrior tradition

After both participating in and observing a dialogue about spirituality and the martial arts, I was compelled to reflect upon the ethical and conceptual modalities informed by African cultural systems, and the ways in which these inform processes of social and personal transformation. These discourses have been situated in a range spaces wherein the combative implications might be explicit or implicit.

Explicit implications pertain to those discourses that explicate the context of war and struggle as reflected in the Odù Ifá, which states, “The constant soldier is never unready, even once.” (Òwónrín Otúrà, 159:1) Elsewhere it emphasizes the necessity of struggle, as a process which refines both one’s character and challenges the world.
“Fighting in front; fighting behind
If it does not lead to one’s death,
It will cause one to become a courageous person…” (Òkrànran Ká, 189:2)
As a sacred text, the Odu Ifa is a replete with references to vigilance, courage, and the importance of battle waged for the greater good.

Similarly we find these ideas expressed in other contexts within the sacred texts that are implicit references to a warrior tradition. One notable, but easily overlooked example is a text from Kemet (ancient Egypt), which the Egyptologists call The Prophesies of Neferti. Wherein it states, “iw mAat r iyt r st.s isft dr.ti r rwty”, which can I have translated as “Maat, in relation to injustice, is in her place. Cast out isfet.” The point here is that the expulsion of isfet, disorder, is not assumed to be beyond the realm of human agency. Quite the contrary, humans as expressions of nTr (phonetically netcher, which can be thought of as totality, which the Egyptologists translate as god or divinity), are charged with the task of restoring order in the wake of its imposition. Thus the maintenance of order (mAat) requires, among other things, vigilance–an implicit appeal to things martial. This becomes more explicit elsewhere in the text where it states “tw r Ssp xaw nw aHA anx tA m shA”, which translated states that people will “take up weapons of war” and that the “the land lives in turmoil”. Again, the martial tradition is invoked, but here in explicit terms, as the people themselves rise up to “Cast out isfet.”

Beyond the combative dimension, one should note that this text seeks to affirm the necessity of the people acting as the stewards of order. This is an extension of what Theophile Obenga states when he writes, “The pharaoh, in his capacity as guarantor of Maât…He was responsible for the maintenance of universal harmony.” Jacob H. Carruthers says something similar where he states, “The Niswt’s overall function, like that of Wosir, is the establishment of Maat in Tawi, i.e., to establish conditions where enlightenment will prevail over ignorance”. Niswt is the the ruler of upper and lower Kemet. Wosir is the nTr that the Greeks referred to as Osiris. Tawi is the united two lands (upper and lower Kemet). In this sense we see a shared social practice in the defense of order (mAat) extending from the highest levels of government to the denizens of the land.

In conclusion, I concur, African spirituality is replete with appeals to a warrior tradition. In fact, one might argue that spirituality is sufficiently diffuse in form as to represent a totalizing element of the culture, and that this is synergistically linked to an insistence upon vigilance, lest the structures which sustain order and the good condition be lost.

Here I offer some thoughts on what one such idea, mAat, means as a form of liberatory praxis: