Transcendence through Awakening: A Review of The Essential Warrior: Living Beyond Doubt and Fear by Shaha Mfundishi Maasi

The Essential Warrior: Living Beyond Doubt and Fear by Shaha Mfundishi Maasi is a timely treatise on the African condition. He captures the centrality of the warrior path to the regeneration of the African spirit in the world. He illuminates how the combat arts are not only bodies of technical knowledge, but also a path towards personal transformation.

One dimension that he focuses on are the challenges posed by fear. Herein, he argues that the combat arts are a potent tool for personal transformation. He writes, “The discipline of the warrior path speaks directly to the life that one lives within oneself. The muntu must face his or her fears, need and desires in order to become productive members of the society in which they live and hold responsibility.” Thus, the warrior path provides the pathway to the transcendence of fear, and such transformation is critical with regards to the warrior’s embrace of a higher struggle—the transformation of their community, and beyond this to the healing of the African world. Such a striving is affirmed by Shaha Mfundishi where he writes, “The purpose of warriorship is to develop an enlightened being who is a human vortex of positive energy.” Thus the warrior, via their applied discipline, becomes the exemplar or the embodiment of personal transformation—illustrating the sebayet (teaching) of the ancient Kemetic philosopher Ptah Hotep who wrote, “Everyman teaches as he acts.”

Centering his analysis in the tradition of the Kongo people, Shaha Mfundishi illuminates the Kongo conception of time and space, and with this, the various transformative possibilities that it communicates. His approach simultaneously demonstrates the multiple dimensions implicit in the Kongo paradigm, while also explicating the applicability of such knowledge to the regeneration of African people. As such, he illuminates the malleability and relevance of the African tradition, that is its adaptability and suitability for the contemporary malaise of the African world.

The mind occupies a prominent place in Shaha Mfundishi’s analysis. The mind is the medium of our engagement with reality. Absent a disciplined mind, chaos reigns. Shaha Mfundish articulates the ways in which the mind and its cultivation via meditation are an effective means towards true transformation or awakening. He writes, “The mind is likened to water; and therein lies the key to liberation. In the body of murky water, the image cannot be seen, yet in clear water the image is readily discernible. Meditation stirs the murkiness of the unawakened mind, clearing it so that one is able to see clearly, free of the impediments which prevent clear vision.” Further, the disciplining of the mind enables both wakefulness and the maintenance of kinenga—balance—the means by which “the warrior maintains focus when moving among the unawakened who languish in the dream state.”

Shaha Mfundishi Maasi’s Essential Warrior is a powerful and unique contribution that spans multiple disciplinary domains including martial arts, spirituality, mindfulness, and Africana Studies. He articulates a sebayet (an instruction) that if fully apprehended can lead to awakening, and if fully actualized in our communities—can lead to a higher ideal of life.

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.

Above the cacophony of noise

I gave a short (5 min) lecture at a Kwanzaa program on Kujichagulia on the importance of symbols and celebrations. One thing that I said, that I was prompted to revisit after seeing the numerous posts about…well, I’ll simply say nonsense unworthy of further attention or discussion, is that we live in a society where we are compelled to operate at a superficial level of understanding of all things. Thus we are often encouraged to focus on individuals, things, and events that can only distract us from deepening our knowledge about ourselves and the world, as well as our practice of the values and behaviors that have the potential to make it one that is truly livable.

I like to remind myself that our minds are somewhat akin to an input-output system. The quality of my consciousness (meaning awareness) is proportional to the degree to which I invest in cultivating said awareness. Thus if I engage in activities that stimulate my ability to critically interrogate reality, then I naturally habituate and strengthen those abilities. The same is true regarding our ethical practices. If I engage in activities that reinforce my ethical reasoning and practice, then I further the internalization and augmentation of those abilities. This is why I try to pay relatively little attention to foolishness. I do pay some attention to it, enough to know where it is, where it is coming from, what it looks like, how it seduces the mind and degrades the spirit, and so forth. But to go beyond this, I fear, would give too much power to things that, in the final analysis, will fail to help me to manifest as the person that I choose to be in the world.

I consider this degree of discernment to be the foundation of what it means to live purposefully. To be ensnared by false notions is perhaps the greatest form of enslavement.

More subversive than physical fetters: W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson on the subjugation of African minds (an excerpt)

Central to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson was an on-going investigation of the context of terror visited upon Black bodies (Du Bos 2007a; Woodson 1990). For these scholars the assault upon African humanity was not merely a localized dilemma isolated to a marginal epoch of American history, rather it was a central process in the creation of America’s racialized social order, and beyond this, a key component in the modern global system wherein the humanity of African people was a secondary consideration to their utility as vehicles of or impediments to the acquisition of capital (Du Bois 2007b; Woodson 1990, 2004). Both Du Bois’s and Woodson’s work compels for us to look at the context of enslavement as a foundational moment in the erection of the contemporary power of the west. This process propelled the expansion and entrenchment of a domestic colonial project, in addition to fueling subsequent processes of conquest abroad. Within the domestic milieu, the political-economy of Black subordination via the system of state-sponsored racial subordination necessitated the implementation of an epistemic regime of terror (Du Bois 1978a, 1978b). This process has maintained a dual focus consisting of the oppression of Black bodies via instruments of coercive control, and the subjugation of Black minds via processes of mis-education (Du Bois 2002, Woodson 1990).

What must be asked is not whether this campaign has abated (it has not), but rather how a liberatory form of Black education might more effectively resist this assault? Du Bois and Woodson recognized that Black people, as ever, stand at the precipice, facing on one side a familiar tyranny and on the other a new world that exists just beyond the bounds of our knowing and the fruits of our unfettered social agency. As Du Bois queried in 1960, we must ask again, whither now and why (Du Bois 1973b)? Ultimately we must ponder to what extent has realization of liberation been obscured via the highly efficacious management of Black bodies and minds in the schools of America (Du Bois 1973a; Woodson 1933)?