AFRIKAN MARTIAL ARTS:
Ancient Principles for Today’s Warrior
By Balogun Ojetade
Every tribe, or nation, in Afrika has its own complex and complete martial arts systems. In whatever language they speak, Afrikans, traditionally, refer to their martial arts simply as “wrestling”. The Afrikan concept of wrestling, however, is quite different from the Asian or Western concept of wrestling.
In the Afrikan martial arts, to “wrestle” means to put your opponent on his back, belly, or side in order to render him more vulnerable to a finishing technique. This goal can be achieved by any means: strikes, throws, sweeps, joint-locks, or weapon attacks. Thus, if you hit your opponent in the head with a club and he falls from the force of the blow, you have – by Afrikan standards – wrestled him.
How did it come to pass that the martial arts throughout the continent of Afrika would adopt this concept? For the answer, let’s look at a story about the Yoruba prophet and master wrestler, Orunmila: Orunmila, who, among other things, was an undefeatable wrestler, traveled the continent of Afrika, teaching and studying spiritual, sociological and martial traditions. Everywhere Orunmila went, he wrestled with – and defeated – the greatest fighters on the continent. Orunmila would pick up a throwing technique in one village; a weapon disarm in another. Orunmila’s opponents would ask him to teach them the techniques he defeated them with and he would teach them, which is in accord with Afrikan customs. Eventually, the martial arts of Afrika began to possess a similar rhythm and to follow the same underlying wrestling strategy.
Another story, which teaches the tenets of Afrikan wrestling, is as follows:
There was a boy named Omobe (“rascal”, “troublesome child”) that had great physical ability and was trained to be a wrestler. As he grew older his wrestling abilities grew stronger and before long he was considered the greatest wrestler in the world. At his birth the local priest/diviner warned his parents to not allow Omobe to climb palm trees. But one day while his parents were away he decided to climb a palm tree any way. From high up he could peer into the spirit world and he noticed that several divinities had gathered for a fantastic wrestling match! Omobe immediately climbed down and made his way to the spirit world to test his own luck amongst a variety of spirits. He beat every opponent: Egungun (ancestors), Oriṣa (Forces of Nature) and all others lost at his hands. Finally he prepared to wrestle Olokun. While he summoned all of his physical strength, Olokun drew on her spiritual powers.
During the match Omobe attempted to throw Olokun to the ground, but instead Olokun ended up firmly attached to Omobe’s head. All attempts at removing Olokun from his head failed and Olokun declared Omobe’s head her permanent abode as a sign of Omobe’s arrogance and disrespect towards the other spirits. When Omobe returned home the local priest/diviner advised him to appease Olokun or die. So for seven days Omobe made sacrifice. On the last day Omobe was initiated as the first Olokun priest. After Omobe’s initiation into the priesthood, Olokun loosened her grip on Omobe’s life.
Amongst Afrikan traditionalists, the palm tree represents the ancestors and the elders. Omobe climbed a palm tree even though he was not supposed to, which means he learned the higher levels of wrestling technique – and gained the ase (power) of the wrestler – through crafty means and then abandoned his teachers (he climbed down from the tree) and used what he had learned to fight those who taught him. This act of arrogance and disrespect led him to fight against the Forces of Nature, themselves. Finally, Olokun, the spirit of unfathomable wisdom and matron spirit of the descendants of Afrikans who were taken captive during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, defeated Omobe. This means, though Omobe had mastered the physical aspect of wrestling, his disrespect of – and disconnection from – the community and its spiritual support prevented him from learning the deeper wisdom found within the study and training of the martial arts.
It was not until Omobe devoted himself to the attaining of deep wisdom and respect for the Afrikan traditions as an Olokun priest, that he was able to save himself from an early death.
This story teaches us that in order to learn the depths of wisdom found in the Afrikan martial arts, reverence of one’s ancestors, respect for one’s elders and adherence to tradition is paramount.
Furthermore, the “deep wisdom” Omobe had to learn in order to redeem himself and to save his life, was the wisdom rooted in respect for, and understanding of, the “Aje”, which is the primal power of the female principle.
It was Olokun, a female Force of Nature, who defeated Omobe and threatened to take his life until Omobe became her priest. Omobe was socialized by Olokun, which is in accord with Aje’s function as a biological, physical and spiritual force of creativity and social and political enforcement.
War, defense and anything associated with Ogun, the Warrior Spirit of the Yoruba, is also associated with Aje.
It is recognition of – and respect for – the power of the female that gives the Afrikan warrior the authority to defend and to take life. An illustration of this is the application of martial arts technique. In the Afrikan martial arts, we say “Footwork drives the technique”. Footwork, or the Element of Air in Afrikan martial arts, is female. It is the power of the female, manifested in footwork, which allows us to effectively apply our martial arts techniques.
THE FIVE PRINCIPLES
The martial arts of Afrika follow Five Basic Principles, which are the principles that govern traditional Afrikan life:
THE FOUR ELEMENTS
In Afrikan societies, there are four elements, which are considered the vital materials found in every living creature on Earth. These four elements are:
Earth – The element of Earth represents the stances in the Afrikan martial arts. Within the Earth Element are Three Foundations:
· Wood – High, narrow stances. Wood stances are extremely mobile and are used for fast, upright fighting and self-defense.
· Stone – Low, wide stances. Stone stances are extremely stable and are used for grappling and for fighting with a weapon.
· Metal – Low, narrow stances. Metal stances are extremely malleable and are used for grappling and ground-fighting.
Air – The element of Air represents the footwork and movements in the Afrikan martial arts. A practitioner of the Afrikan martial arts can move like a gentle breeze, a gale wind, or a whirlwind.
Fire – The element of Fire represents the masculine energy and techniques in the Afrikan martial arts. Fire techniques are forceful, penetrating and explosive.
Water – The element of Water represents the feminine energy and techniques in the Afrikan martial arts. Water techniques are yielding, encircling and deceptively powerful.
Like the Afrikan drum, the techniques in the Afrikan martial arts are polyrhythmic; meaning a practitioner of the Afrikan martial arts seeks to touch his opponent in two or more places at once. An offense and a defense are usually applied simultaneously, or the offense is the defense.
THE UNBROKEN CIRCLE
The principle of The Unbroken Circle is also referred to as “Call and Response”. A practitioner of the Afrikan martial arts seeks to blend with, and adapt to, the actions and rhythms of his partner or opponent, creating a never ending circle. A practitioner of the Afrikan martial arts does not meet force with force, but rather takes his opponent’s force and uses it against him.
THE WIND HAS ONE NAME
The Afrikan martial arts simplify self-defense by dealing not with a specific attack, but with the angle of the attack. The Afrikan martial arts recognize that there are only fifteen angles an opponent can attack from, so instead of being concerned with the infinite variations of attacks, the Afrikan martial arts deal with finite angles. The Afrikan martial arts further simplify combat by teaching that every block is a strike and every strike is a block. Thus, when an Afrikan martial artist learns an offensive technique, he has, in effect learned a defensive technique.
WASTE NO PART OF THE ANIMAL
The Afrikan martial arts stress economy of motion. The idea is: “If it’s there, use it.” Thus, if you strike an assailant in the chin with an uppercut, you should continue that upward motion and hit him in the throat with an upward elbow, because after the punch, your elbow is in perfect position to strike your opponent.
We have looked at the strategy of wrestling, as well as the Five Basic Principles, both of which are inherent in the Afrikan martial arts. Now, let’s examine Egbe Ogun, a comprehensive, synergistic system of the Afrikan martial arts, which is growing increasingly popular in the United States due to its efficient and effective techniques and the dynamic teaching methods of its instructors.
Let’s first look at the meaning of the phrase “Egbe Ogun”:
In the lands of the Yoruba speaking people of Afrika – which encompasses Western Nigeria, as well as parts of Togo and Benin – each city and town has a number of societies called “egbe”. Each egbe preserves the wisdom and technology of various social and ceremonial functions within the community. Each egbe also serves as a craft guild and is closely associated with a force of nature. Farmers belong to Egbe Orisa Oko; market women belong to Egbe Oya; woodcarvers, blacksmiths, surgeons, barbers, hunters, warriors and those who facilitate male passage rites belong to Egbe Ogun.
The Yoruba word for the physical heart – the organ that regulates the flow of blood through the body – is called “okan”, In traditional Afrikan societies, there is a basic concept that what appears in the physical world is always supported by its counterpart in the spiritual world. It is believed that within the okan is a spiritual heart, or power center, which regulates the flow of emotions. This spiritual heart is called “egbe”.
The word egbe is also translated as “society” or “collective”. In this context, the meaning is similar to the English expression: “the heart of the group”.
The dual meaning of the word egbe suggests that the spiritual force that supports the heart of an individual also supports the hearts of the community.
In Egbe Ogun, students are taught to draw spiritual power – which is regulated by the egbe – into the body through various power centers that control the constant flow of energy between self and world. These power centers are called “awuje”. The awuje draw on a form of energy called “ase”, which is the dynamic energy that brings Creation into being.
“Ogun” is the Yoruba word used to describe the forces of nature that have the unique function of removing all obstacles that block the path of physical, mental and spiritual evolution. These forces – Ogun – are regarded as the Warrior Spirit. It is the function of Ogun, as a warrior, to clear away the obstacles that exist along the road towards attaining balanced character (iwa rere). In Egbe Ogun, it is understood that these obstacles may be either internal or external.
Ogun represents aggression, which is an integral part of the dynamics of nature. This aggression is linked to the will to survive, which exists in all species on Earth.
As part of the socialization process, the aggression associated with the Warrior Spirit remains a necessary aspect of survival.
This socialization process is based on the relationship between the forces of nature called Ogun and the forces of nature called “Obatala”, the spirit of peace, laughter, patience, intelligence, cleanliness and morality. It is the function of Obatala to determine when and how the Warrior Spirit is to manifest. Those warriors who maintain their martial arts discipline learn to access – and to suppress – the powers represented by Ogun. The dynamic, aggressive element of Ogun is kept in balance by the principles of justice and equality.
We have examined the concept of “Egbe” and the concept of “Ogun”. Now let’s look deeper into the synergy of these two concepts, manifested as the martial art Egbe Ogun.
In Yorubaland, the word “Ijala”, on one level, means “warrior”. “Ijala” is a contraction of the word “ija”, which means “to fight” and the word “ala”, which means “White Cloth”. The symbol of the white cloth is associated with Obatala, which means “King of the White Cloth”. One of the functions of Obatala is to maintain ethical standards within society. The word “Ijala” suggests that the essence of the warrior is aligned with moral principles and the ideals that are at the foundation of spiritual transformation.
Ijala are also the poems chanted by Warriors in honor of Ogun. These poems (Ijala Ogun) are the source of today’s rap and hip-hop movement.
On a deeper level, Ijala translates to mean “warrior skills guided by White Cloth”. This indicates that the Forces in nature that guide life on Earth form the foundation of the fighting techniques in Egbe Ogun.
In Egbe Ogun, Warriors learn to connect to the inner self (“Ori Inu”). It is through this connection that the student of Egbe Ogun can invoke the forces that give added power (ase) to acquired – and inherent – fighting skills.
The integration of ase (power) and iwa rere (balanced character) is the responsibility and goal of every Afrikan Warrior. It is said of those who achieve this state of oneness with power and character (Ogun and Obatala): “Ijalagun molu”, or “Those who integrate the power of Ogun and Obatala never lose.”
I hear a lot of black people say they want to get off the grid. They’re tired of being a debt slave. And they’re sick of paying so many bills and taxes. Is going off the grid possible? Some people have done it. It takes a lot of discipline. Most people can’t give up their computers,cellphones and televisions. Many of us have become addicted to so many gadgets. They are so advantages to going off the grid. You pay no rent or mortgage. You pay no electric bill and you can grow your own organic food. This video(above) is of Keith Thompson. This brother shows how he went off the grid. It’s a pretty good video.
This is another good video too. This sista Rachael Nikkal talks about the struggles of living off the grid as well. She explains that it’s not very easy. It’s hard work but it can be done.
Here’s a few tips to help you on this journey:
1. You can be your own boss
Being your own boss is not about being the head of a large business. The official commitments can still tie you down, leaving you little time to spare for the people and activities you love. You are your own boss when you can live life on your terms, spend plenty of time with family and friends, and take off for extended vacations when you feel the urge. It is a dream for many, and remains so all their working life.
You can change all that when you chalk out a truly independent life. It is not all that difficult today, as many who have shifted to off-grid lifestyle have proven. Meet up with these brave people if you need reassurance. Talk to them about how they make a living and how much freedom there is in living with fewer bills and other constraints.
2. You can have a debt-free life
Many of you may have started out in life with educational loans, only to be saddled with more debts as you started to earn. To have a place to live, you either had to rent it out or buy a house by taking out a hefty loan. Before you can pay off the mortgages, you may feel the need to upgrade to a larger house to accommodate your growing family. Then you spend the rest of your life in debt. We find it hard to believe that there could be such a thing as a debt-free life.
Imagine building a small house on your own in a piece of land you own. You can add to it whenever you feel the need, but without incurring any debts. You will be free of the stress of making enough money to pay off debts. Any money you make can go towards funding travel or other activities that you enjoy. You can even save up a bit for exigencies.
You can turn this dream into reality. Downsizing is a definite step you can take towards freeing yourself from debt.
3. No need to work all day to pay the bills
Between working full time to have a decent salary and paying off all the bills and mortgages, you may rarely get time to live life. In fact, it is possible that you end up thinking that life is all about slogging all day and paying the bills. A lucky few may land careers that they thoroughly enjoy, but the majority are sticking to their jobs because they have to. How else can they find money to pay for housing, electricity, water and fuel?
If you didn’t have to pay for these utilities, you could get out of the job that you don’t enjoy, and spend your time doing something that you do enjoy. Off-grid living avails this opportunity.
You are no longer dependent on a water supply because you have your own private source of water. You dispose of your own waste in an environment-friendly way and have no need to be connected to the sewer lines. You are relieved from power bills since you generate your own with solar panels and use alternative fuels or wind power to make up any deficit.
4. Work hard, but work for yourself
You might have seen pictures of some people living in ramshackle huts somewhere out in the wilderness and lazing away their time. It is their free choice, but these images have caused many people to associate off-grid living with laziness. But it is far from truth.
Most off-gridders are industrious people with a definite mission. They work hard; but they do it for themselves, and at their own pace. You may not have targets and deadlines dictated by someone else, but you will make your own. Having a definite goal helps you focus on the important things.
5. Sharpen your skills to increase earning potential
You might have already acquired some skills for making a living in the modern society, but you may need to have a different set to make things work while living independently. It would be perfect if you could completely do away with cash, but unfortunately, you do need some. The good news is that you can make money living off-grid. You don’t have to aim for a huge income since your living expenses are very low.
Consider turning hobbies into money making ventures. It could be anything from painting and sculpture to making herbal cosmetics or organic food products. You will have plenty of time to try your hand at composing music or writing that novel you have always wanted to. You can even sell useful practical knowledge of off-grid living to those who toy with the idea. There are many options, but you may need to sharpen your skills or learn some new ones to make the best of it.
6. Cut down unnecessary expenses
Reducing your current living expenses to the bare minimum can give you a very good idea about what you can live without. Get rid of club memberships and credit cards you rarely use. Opt out of going to gym and playing golf; get your quota of exercise from outdoor activities that cost you next to nothing. Hiking, biking or playing basketball or other such games with your kids or friends can be just as enjoyable.
7. Get rid of unnecessary items
To some people, this is the hardest part. Too many possessions can stand in your way when you want to downsize, not to mention shifting to off-grid. You don’t need fine china and expensive furniture to entertain guests in your new setup. Assess just what you need, the essentials.
Get rid of non-essential possessions by donating them or selling some stuff through yard sales, eBay or Craigslist. Take some pictures of sentimental stuff and gift some to loved ones who would value them. This purging will not only lighten your load, but may even provide you with some handy cash.
8. Get into the money-saving mode
The very idea of going off-grid is to live inexpensively, but you do need to have some cash in hand to buy land and to set up your establishment. Start saving money exclusively for this purpose so that you can make the transition without much trouble.
The cost of off-grid living depends on the size of your establishment and what facilities you consider as basic. The initial costs will be offset by lower running costs in the course of time, but you do need some startup cash.
9. Quit some expensive habits
Smoking and drinking are not the only habits you can quit and save some money. Habitual shopping, partying, betting, eating out and expensive beauty therapies should be avoided.
10. Travel to less populated areas
Before you zero in on the right location for the off-grid homestead of your dreams, explore your options by traveling far and wide. Get firsthand experience of different places by making several road trips. While mountainous terrain or wooded areas appeal to some, others prefer the plains which offer an open feel.
11. Rent out a cabin
If you want to get a good feel of living away from civilization before making a decision, you can rent out a cabin in the woods for an extended stay. Most of these rental accommodations are equipped with basic amenities that may be different from what you may have in an off the grid setup. But you will come to know exactly what you would miss about city life.
12. Find the best way to learn
This includes learning how to grow vegetables and rear animals, water management and responsible waste disposal methods. If you are not sure of a perennial water source, it pays to know how to harvest and store rainwater and how to conserve it as you go about your daily chores. Making compost with almost all the agricultural waste, curing manure, and implementing natural pest control will make your off-grid living both sustainable and environment-friendly. Check books out of the library, attend workshops, practice in your own backyard, whatever it takes to be prepared. Be sure that all members of the family understand what it will take to be successful off-grid.
13. Master necessary survival skills
When you live far away from the support systems that city living offers, you will have to rely more on your personal skills. Picking up essential survival skills and practicing them while camping out in the wild can give you the confidence to venture into off-grid living.
It is essential to know how to use some basic tools and weapons. If you intend to grow vegetables and fruits, you may as well teach yourself some food preservation techniques like drying and pickling, which are more cost effective than refrigeration. Learn to make wine and vinegar and to preserve vegetables and fruits by pickling and drying.
If you plan to keep goats (here are 20 reasons why you should), cows, and chickens for milk, meat and eggs, make the best of it by learning to make yogurt and cheese from fresh milk and live culture, and to cure meat and dry it for later use. You can also learn how to use herbs to heal yourself and your animals of common diseases and injuries.
14. Initiate some dietary changes
Most people opting to go off the grid aim for a healthy and wholesome lifestyle. That includes sticking to a natural diet and avoiding processed foods. The dietary changes are best initiated before making the shift so that all the members of the household get used to them.
Your diet is the most important criteria when you decide on the foods you want to produce. For example, cow manure can be great asset to your vegetable garden, but if you’re vegan, and do not utilize milk or consume meat, keeping cattle is a waste of precious resources.
Grain based diet is not sustainable unless you undertake large scale agriculture. On the other hand, you can have a nearly self-sufficient homestead in as little as 1-2 acres of land if your diet consists mainly of vegetables and animal protein.
15. Build a tiny abode from scratch
There are ready-to-move-in off-grid abodes in the market. But nothing can match the joy and sense of achievement that building one from scratch can provide. If you have a small plot of land, build a tiny house to start with. You would need some woodworking knowledge and tools, but it is not too hard to execute a simple structure if you have people to help with the heavy work.
16. Be on the lookout for land going cheap
Once you have decided to go off-grid and have a general idea where you want to live, watch out for properties that are going cheap. You can get more land for bargain prices if you’re patient. Auctions, estate sales, foreclosures and owner-finance deals can help you get the land you need for a good price.
17. Gain some practical knowledge about alternate fuels
Besides water and food, fuel is one thing that you cannot do without. You need it for cooking and heating, and for running the refrigerator and other electrical appliances you count as necessary. A wood-burning stove may be the cheapest option, but propane fuel is a much cleaner one. Solar power is something you should definitely have, but you should look at the feasibility of wind and hydropower too.
18. Learn to build and install solar panels
Being able to use solar power to meet at least part of your energy requirements is a great asset whether you are connected to the power grid or not. Learn how to build solar panels from components.
19. Explore communication possibilities
When you’re in a remote location, communication is of paramount importance. Satellite communication has made things a lot easier than before; it can help you stay connected to your extended family and friends in the cities. It can even help you shop for essentials. However, satellite connectivity may not be great in some areas.
There are some radio-based local communication systems available in most places. They are essential for receiving weather forecasts and warnings of local problems.
20. You don’t have to be a social recluse
Escaping from the hustle and bustle of city living need not necessarily mean cutting off all your social ties. We can maintain our connections to friends and family over the Internet and social media and on occasional visits to town. You will have unique stories and experiences to share; they might even inspire the city folks to come out and visit your place and have a taste of the rustic life.
“Freedom from external domination, that is, self-determination, is the essence of liberation. When a people have lived under external domination for centuries, the nature of their existence calls for solidarity if they are to extricate themselves. In a society where status is ascribed on the basis of physical characteristics, individualism among the oppressed is a luxury which the group can ill afford. And individual instances of social mobility become a major method of cooptation. Unity, therefore, is a necessary precondition for liberation. It is not sufficient, for a unified people are not necessarily free from outside control, but without unity is is unlikely that liberation can be achieved.”