5 QUESTIONS: Teaching and Learning Through Silat

It’s been such an honor to have Guru Robert as a teacher, facilitating my silat journey.  His patience, humility and deep understanding have been as engaging as his skill and I figured it’d be a pleasure to get his take on just 5 Questions about his ideas on teaching his student journey.

Robert Hilliard of Kuno Silat talks back to 5 Questions from Njoli Brown at NoPaper.

I’ve been around martial artists my entire life. I had two brothers that studied Okinawan karate. They where basically my first teachers. When they would see me and my friends imitating martial arts moves, they would came and make corrections. Occasionally they would let us spar with them. This would typically end with me and my friends on our backs, or a bit bruised up. The younger of my two brothers, who was acimg_20190203_054134_770tually a black belt, had a friend who was opening a Kung-Fu school in a local community center. My brother thought that would be good training for me, so he enrolled me and another of my siblings at the school. I trained there until I finished high school. After college, I ran into a friend that was studying Wing Chun. I loved the efficiency of that system and trained for over ten years. After that, I was introduced to silat by a neighborhood friend. I was instantly drawn to it’s effectiveness and completeness.

My experiences have been varied. I try hard not to look at them through the lens of good or bad, but as learning opportunities. I’ve had some teachers that were, what some would consider heavy handed, while others were nurturing and accommodated. Early on, some of my teachers pushed so hard that I got injured during training. When this happened, they would frankly state that it was not the training methods that caused the injuring, but my lack of conditioning, etc. Those were unpleasant experiences, but they taught me to listen to my body. It also taught me that good teachers don’t push their students beyond their physical limitations. I should note that those experiences happened while I was studying others systems. The vast majority of my experience with silat have been incredibly positive.

_MG_3232As an instructor, I try to create a warm and welcoming environment where people can come to class, work hard, and enjoying their progress. I teach my students that success in martial arts, or life for that matter, is not a straight line. It’s okay to struggle and fail as long as you are “failing forward.” As far as my student’s aspirations go, I want everyone to be ambassadors of the art and have confidence in their ability to execute what they’ve learned with confidence in class or in the street, if need be.

I manage my personal practice by making sure that I carve out time during the day to train all aspects of the art. I learned that it’s easier for me to train early in the morning (around 5:00 am). Of course, you can’t train everything in the system in one day, so I focus on certain aspects throughout the week. The jurus (forms), I train everyday. I also try to make sure that my general fitness is good. I’ve also learned to listen to my body, so I don’t train when I’m sick or injured. Instead, I give my body time to heal.

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To make things relevant in my daily life, I use the two basic principles of silat: adat and hormat. Adat is how you conduct yourself. Hormat is respect for all around you. As a instructor, I believe that I should be a mirror for my students outside of class as well as inside.


Robert Hilliard

Robert Hilliard is a student of Senior Guru Tim Anderson and a long time promoter of this Indo-Dutch system of silat as Head Instructor of Kuno NYC.  He additionally has an extensive background in Wing Chun.  Robert brings his classes alive by consistently imbuing them with a community feel while committing his students to a highly technical and detail oriented practice.

Semangat Baru is the name of our specific style of Pukulan Pentjak Silat. It translates to “New Spirit” and reflects our new way of viewing and teaching the ancient art of Silat. We operate free from any kind of “secrets” or “martial politics” that can become attached to coveted knowledge. The style itself focuses overwhelming an opponent with strikes, while finding leverage points to take their balance and ultimately subdue them.

Silat is a collective word used to describe martial arts originating from South East Asia, such as Malaysia and in our case Indonesia. Pukulan is a word that means striking. In this case denoting a silat system that places a heavy emphasis on hitting. Pentjak is generally considered to refer to the movements and performance of forms where “Silat” is an expression of those motions for use in combat. So “Pukulan Pentjak Silat” could be seen to mean something like “Striking form based Indonesian Martial Art”.

*Special “thank you” to Jelena Antanasijevic for the photos.

5 Questions: A Stage for Love, Sex and Identity

I was fortunate enough, this past year, to begin both a working relationship and friendship with educator, poet, director, joker and generally fascinating person, Bobby Gordon.  I count myself tremendously lucky to be able to tap you into some of the profound work he has in the making.  Enjoy, as he gets back at my 5 Questions.

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When I think about the directorial projects that I am most proud of, and why I feel that way, I remember this moment sitting at lunch with my friend Amy Burtaine in Carrboro, North Carolina. We are both arts-activist directors and theater of the oppressed practitioners, and were reflecting on the work that we do. She called what we do “creative midwife-ing” and I absolutely love that. Like midwives, we are helping someone else give birth to something creative that was living inside of them, be it a scene, a poem, or a song. What they create is certainly theirs, not ours, but there is something tangible and beautiful about being in the room and assisting them bring this new art into the world. There is something magical about asking the right question, giving the needed challenge or encouragement, and witnessing them seeing themselves as artists in perhaps a way that they hadn’t before. 

All of the directorial projects I am most proud of, had a big element of this sensation. Of being a creative midwife in the trenches, with an individual or a group, pushing them past where they thought they could go, to create a piece of art to try and change the world around them, changing themselves dramatically in the process.

The first project that comes to mind that falls into this category is actually the project that Amy and I collaborated on together, the Sex Squad. The Sex Squad is group of university students working together in a class to learn about sexual health and arts-activism, and then create their own funny, moving, and interactive performances to take on tour to local high school students to supplement their health education. Sparked by a collaboration with the incredible South African activist, actor, and creative midwife Pieter-Dirk Uys, I founded the UCLA Sex Squad through my work at the UCLA Art & Global Health Center, and the project has since grown with groups in action in North Carolina and Georgia (where the groups are known as Sex-Ed Squads), and high school Sex Squads in Los Angeles and Mexico City.

Displaying DSC_0155.jpgThe Sex Squad is a powerful thing to witness in action, because students dive into their own complex and challenging stories, and offer them to the audience through poetry, music, and interactive theater. The performances don’t involve professional actors with scripts about what might be important to high school students. Instead, the performances involve college students creatively grappling with their own real, ongoing issues. The college student actors are incredibly bold and vulnerable, offering themselves to the audience, and they create a space where high school students are invited to be bold as well, entering into the college student stories (using the technique of forum theater from Theater of the Oppressed) to rehearse these real life situations.

In the past students have created powerful works on a number of topics, including scenes that challenge gender inequity, stand up to homophobia, and explore trying to use a condom with a partner that doesn’t want to (and also has more structural power.) That last part is important. These sexual health situations don’t happen in a vacuum, but inside systems and structures of power, so for a young student to really be an advocate for their own sexual health, they have to challenge the systems that get in the way of that (sexism, homophobia, ageism, and the list goes on…) In the best of scenarios, the college students become creative midwives themselves to the high school students creative social change.

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Theater of the Oppressed (T.O.) found me, rather than the other way around. I happened to be at work on a random Tuesday and ended up volunteering at a convening of Imagining America members. I met Brent Blair. The amazing Brent Blair. Brent is a Theater of the Oppressed joker (facilitator/practitioner) and the director of the Applied Theater Arts MA at USC. He told me about his summer intensive, a week of T.O. training. I was in the midst of a million things at work, and preparing to take a new theater piece to a festival, it was not the moment to do an intensive. But something told me I had to. After meeting Brent and hearing about the program, I felt compelled that I had to see what T.O. was all about.

That week of early mornings, late nights, and intensive T.O. workshops told me what I needed to know. T.O. opened a space for play, for wildly and collectively using art to reimagine the world and imagine social change. I wanted more, so I enrolled in the M.A. program which I completed in 2012 and T.O. has been a part of my life ever since.

In my own life, T.O. has been a place to ask questions, to unpack my own privilege (as a heterosexual white American male) and attempt to stand in solidarity with others battling a variety of oppressions without attempting to ride in on any white horses. I’m reminded of the words of Lilla Watson the Indigenous Australian activist, who said, “if you’re here to save me, then you are wasting your time. But if you’re here because your liberation is inextricably linked with mine, then let’s work together.” T.O. is the place in my life for letting go of any savoir complexes I might have and showing up to work together with others. At this moment, in the wake of all of the deaths of young black men at the hands of police, and in the midst of protests and marches, learning to do this work in solidarity is crucial.

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Theater of the Oppressed is all about finding the next question, and because of that it requires constant curiosity. A joker has to be genuinely curious about things, about people, ideas, and opportunities. Ultimately, this curiosity is more important than a desire to draw conclusions. Because there is no finish line for social justice work, or arts-activism, in the real world, finding conclusions is not really so useful. A conclusion means the work is done. But this work is never done. What is useful, is fining a way to celebrate the victories that come, in order to refuel for tomorrow.

I do two things to keep refreshing myself and the groups I work with. 1) We make time to celebrate, either with meals, parties, or events where we are together for no purpose other than to be together and honor what we’ve accomplished. And 2) reflection is a part of the ongoing process. We often look at reflection as something that happens after a project. It is like an epilogue, and because of that, when non-profits are strapped for time and money it is often the first thing that people let go of. However, if you look at arts-activism as an ongoing cycle, then reflection becomes a crucial step in the middle of a cycle where you learn the lessons from the past and prepare to make the next cycle as successful as possible. Reflection becomes the crucial first step in a program happening again, and being even better the next time around. If there isn’t time for this, then a group is limiting it’s potential for creativity and growth.

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Again, things find you. I was working at the UCLA Art & Global Health Center when my amazing boss David Gere told me that he was bringing South African artist/activist/satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys to lead a theater workshop on humor and HIV, and would I like to be his assistant. What followed was two weeks of sponging. Pieter’s use of humor to break apart taboo and create spaces to have conversations about the things that frighten us blew my mind open. It was Pieter’s inspiration and methodology that led to the founding of the UCLA Sex Squad.Displaying IMG_2139.jpg

I’ve found that the issues in sexual health are so deeply intersectional, that you end up talking about a wide variety of issues. To have a full conversation about sexual health, you have to talk about gender, sexism, homophobia, race and racism, ageism, and much more because the situations where these issues come up are not in a vacuum. All of these issues are at present and at play, and it is more a matter of trying to be aware of how.

In my own life, as an artist and educator, I’ve been really interested in masculinity because of the strange way I was raised. My parents raised me in an environment where, as a young boy, I had to talk about my feelings. I knew how to share, how to cry, and when I was in social situations with other boys and issues came up, I’d talk about my feelings. This last part didn’t make much sense to the boys around me who’d internalized that boys don’t do that. Their reactions taught me that something was wrong with me.

And then I found slam poetry. I found Youth Speaks, a fantastic youth literary organization, and not too long after that I found myself on a stage sharing poetry. People weren’t making fun of me for sharing my feelings. They were applauding. In art I found a space to challenge the gender norm and it felt like fully being myself in public in a way I hadn’t in a long time. It felt like being seen. And heard. For who I really was.

My art and activism is in large part about queering masculinity, about opening up a space where men can be different. Where men can feel, and express, question, and not need to subscribe to a system that gives them (us) power, but at the expense of everyone else, and through a hegemonic limiting of what it can mean to be a man.

I should probably say now that I was born into a house where the taboo of sex was not so taboo. My dad was a retired adult film star and my mom (a marriage and family therapist) used to do therapy with pre-orgasmic women, talking them through exploring their bodies. I was taught that sex can be a good thing. I was taught to have a “normal” and healthy relationship with sex, and this made my sisters and I very fucked up in the world.

In 2010 I began working on a one-man show called Debbie Does My Dad, which explored my experiences of growing up with a porn star dad, and coming into my own sexual identity. I knew my dad to be sweet and sensitive. Was he that? Or was he really the stereotype our society has of male porn stars? And if he was sweet, and knew what people thought of porn stars, why would he choose that? And what did all of this say about who I was?

Ultimately in my own sexual experiences, I’ve found that it was a rich and valuable gift to able to talk openly. You have better sex, for one. If you can say what you want, then you just might get it. And if you can ask what the other(s) want, then you’ve got a much better shot at providing it. Silence benefits no one. All it does is reinforce this status quo where men are supposed to know what to do, and women are supposed to go along with things, and the heteronormativity of society makes it so that’s it’s only men with women in this example. If there’s anything I’ve learned about the status quo, is that it sucks and needs changing. For me, gender, sex, and sexual health is a crucial arena for this change. I’ve found it in my art, and in my life, and it keeps getting better because of it.

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In doing work on the topic of sex, I find that international boundaries are of less importance than cultural ones. Even within one city there are a wide range of communities with vastly different cultural norms around sex and taboos. What can you say? What can’t you say? What can you do? What can’t you? And why?
As a cultural field worker, I find the question mark to be my most important tool in navigating this challenge. I mentioned privilege earlier. In many instances, it is my privilege as a white male American with the right business card to be able to travel somewhere and do a workshop. And then it’s my internalized privilege that would have me believe that I know what the workshop participants need, even though their lives are vastly different from mine in so many ways.

It would be really easy for me to go into community unaware of all of this and knock things off the shelves with my unpacked privilege. And I have to admit that I probably have done this on numerous occasions. Ultimately, all this does is reinforce a system that privileges white American men, and does nothing to challenge that or seek equality and liberation.

However, if I can come in with questions, the relationship shifts. Privilege is still very much in the room, but there is least space for something different to take place. I am able to be full of care, but not careful. I’m not walking on egg shells, trying not to offend or to pretend like I know things I don’t. I am trying to own my not knowing with grace and playfulness. I am an outsider in a community, state, or country, and I have to own that fact, and be real about why I’m there. Who invited me? And I have to be transparent if I don’t know anything about what it is like for the people who live there. What I do have to offer, are my skills as a T.O. practitioner, an artist, and everything in my tool kit as a human being.

I have to give up the reigns of where things are going, and be open to helping the group discover where it wants to go. If and when I can do that successfully, the what takes place in the room is a fuller collaboration between the workshop participants as the artists and myself as a creative midwife.


 

Bobby Gordon

Displaying 1965040_10103131762744176_1286777273_n.jpgBobby Gordon is an arts-based activist working with theater of the oppressed, devised theater, spoken word poetry, and an enduring belief in the power of laughter. Earning his B.A. from UCLA in World Arts & Cultures and an M.A. from USC in Applied Theater Arts, Gordon is the founder of the UCLA Sex Squad, an activist sexual health theater troupe, and co-founder of the Melrose Poetry Bureau, a collective that creates live, interactive poetry installations. Currently, Gordon is researching arts-activism in various forms throughout Brazil, while remaining active as the Director of Special Programs for the UCLA Art & Global Health Center.

Current Projects:

Bobby is currently building a study abroad program for UCLA students to study Theater of the Oppressed in Rio.  Also he is actively developing the Melrose Poetry Bureau, a collective he co-founded with Nayeli Adorador, manifesting live and interactive poetry writing.

5 Questions: Art and Learning with Damon Abraham – Kali, Silat and Martial Mindfulness

It is truly a pleasure to be able to include Damon in this edition of NoPaper.  He has a been a mentor to me in many ways without even realizing it and has wonderful insights to share which can be applied to all of our artistic and cultural practices.

Damon Abraham of Kapatiran Mandirigma  talks back to 5 Questions from Njoli Brown at NoPaper

I first encountered the Southeast Asian martial arts between my Freshman and Sophomore years of college.  I was home for the summer when a friend of mine was telling me all about this “Kali” art that he was studying.  At the time, I had never even heard the term Kali or Arnis / Escrima for that matter.  In any case, I had been interested in martial arts for as long as I could remember and had practiced a couple of different arts by this time.  Like most American kids in my generation, inspired by Ralph Macchio I studied at a “Karate” school which was really Tae Kwon Do.  Later I ended up taking some Hapkido.  But I was certainly interested in something more.  Anyway, through this friend I was introduced to an Indonesian martial artist named Paul Prijatna.  His primary art was Kali, but growing up he had learned Pencak Silat from his uncle.  I was impressed by Paul.  He was very unlike the Westernized artists I had met so far and he embodied more of the internal and spiritual aspects of the art that I was looking for.  We had many conversations about energy (i.e. chi), meditation, and the proper conduct for a martial artist.  There was no ego or machismo that I’ve later come to associate with sport fighting etc.  Paul only charged me $50 for several weeks of training and at our last meeting before I returned to school he pulled out my check and ripped it up.  “I just wanted to make sure you were serious”, he said as he handed me the pieces of ripped paper.  While my training with Paul was very short, he put me on the path towards FMA and Silat that I still follow today.

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One thing that I believe to be a personal weakness is not knowing enough about the customs and cultural heritage of the styles that I study.  I am not particularly well-versed in the language and histories of the Philippines and Indonesia, for example.  However, I have visited both countries to study and learn.  And although I have perhaps fallen short in some areas, I have tried to make a sincere effort to know about my teachers, their philosophies, why they move the way that they move, and especially their perspectives on the spiritual aspects of the arts.558465_10201776423876516_283526343_n

For me personally, I feel the best way that I can reflect the art is through embodying it as a personal expression.  Many people try to preserve an art by memorizing techniques and drills and chiseling them into stone, so to speak, as if they were some sort of dogma to follow. To me this makes the art seem dead.  Kind of like Latin, an arguably complete language and yet it is immutable.  It does not live because it is not spoken.  The living art is in constant flux and each practitioner contributes their unique perspective and individualized expression.  Hence, it is through the internalization
of the art that it really remains alive.  And of course, the manner in which the art is transmitted is crucial here as well.  It is my ambition, therefore, to be both a reflection of my teachers and an individualized expression.  At the end of the day, none of us are a source of anything… we are merely channels of that thing.  Training builds that channel within the student, and each student is different.

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Lately, with respect to Pencak Silat and FMA, I’ve been contemplating a metaphor of a squirrel trying to climb two trees.  It is, of course, impossible to climb both at the same time.  In the beginning of our practice we tend to see each trunk independently as well as its differences from the other. And yet at the level of the branches, the trees come together and the practitioner can seamlessly traverse between them.  So it becomes a question of how far apart are the trees and how great is their breadth in the understanding of the practitioner. My personal experience in the way that I’ve learned them, Pencak Silat and Arnis/Kali/Escrima are kind of like complimentary opposites.  The movements and the core physical training, to me, do not seem to conflict.  Likewise, many of the principles are common between them. Hence, I would say that these two trees are close together. However, there can be considerable variation in how the information is conceptualized by the teacher and imparted to the student. This can be true even amongst teachers within a single system.  And I have found that when observing the gross movements between different styles, for example, while they may appear to be very similar, when actualizing the movement with the intent and mindset of the respective style they are very different. Hence, for me it has become less of a matter of “how does art A perform movement XYZ?” and more about “how do I move with this art?” I will say that each art has given me an augmented view of the other as I can take a somewhat out-of-the-box perspective by analyzing a technique etc from the vantage point of another style.  I am sure this must be true of anyone who has learned more than one art.  However, we must be cautious.  It is one thing to be able to shift perspectives and it is another to try and interpret one art through the lens of another.  I’ve seen many students who have slowed their progress through this fallacy. You’ll often hear people say things like “Oh yes, we have that in JKD too.” or “In my art we would do it like this.” As an example, 4 years ago I began learning Kalis Ilustrisimo under Kuya Raul Marquez. At that time, I was already a Lakan and senior student in two other styles of FMA (Kombatan Arnis and Kuntaw Kali Kruzada).  And yet, in my first lesson I had to come to terms with the fact that I really didn’t know anything. Raul’s teaching method was completely unlike anything I had experienced.
Nothing was broken down into simple steps.  There was no rote memorization but rather it was fistfuls of 155271_586912464671838_1492586766_ninformation that I had no hope to process… I just had to swallow as much as I could and try to keep up. The movements appeared familiar, and yet I couldn’t apply them in context. My timing was off, my footwork was backwards, and all of my instincts seemed wrong.  After each lesson, I’d ride the subway for an hour from Queens back to Brooklyn and my head would literally ache.  If you were to ask me, “what did you learn today?” I wouldn’t even be able to tell you and yet I could see myself improving. Hence, I was faced with a choice… I could accept returning to the status of a “beginner” or I could let my ego get the better of me.  Fortunately I chose the former. By putting aside my pride and approaching the lessons with the beginner’s mentality, I feel I was not only able to learn the movements much faster, but to understand the underlying principles and philosophy at a deeper level. Ultimately, this experience proved beneficial to my progress in every style that I practice. I think that most arts run much deeper than we tend to recognize.  Although it is not always overtly expressed, my teachers all seem to embody this appreciation.  Despite their accomplishments and recognition, they are still students of their art.  To me, that is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from them.  If we view ourselves as a rank (black belt, lakan etc), we find ourselves repeatedly disappointed.  We can never really live up to our own expectations of what that rank entails.  However, when we recognize ourselves as beginners, we can only improve. This disposition has not only helped me progress as an artist, but ultimately has allowed me to reap more enjoyment from the arts.

Regarding their differences, perhaps the greatest contrast that I’ve noticed between the style of Silat that I study (Inti Ombak Pencak Silat – IOPS) and the styles of FMA that I practice (Kombatan, Kuntaw Kali Kruzada, and Kalis Ilustrisimo) is that the FMA is very martial focused whereas I would say that IOPS is more holistic.  I mean this in the sense that IOPS is not only external (i.e. martial) but also emphasizes internal aspects (breathing / meditation) as well as spiritual.  Case in point, the Lakutama organization, of which IOPS is a part, has branches dedicated entirely to spiritual and healing practices. I believe that these aspects are still embedded within the FMA, but perhaps due to colonialism are more buried under the surface.  282730_10150246807707161_980330_nYou don’t regularly come across FMA practitioners with a heavy emphasis on internal training, for example, unless they have learned other arts.  Of course, that is a generalization.  For instance, I know practitioners from Mindanao who are very spiritual and have a very holistic approach to their art.  But generally speaking, as it is practiced I feel that IOPS has a more overt emphasis on the entirety of the person going beyond physical and martial applications. I’ve seen IOPS have a profound and lasting positive impact on more people (not only students) than any other art that I’ve encountered. Ironically, while I regret to have had less opportunity to study directly under Guru Daniel Prasetya as I have with my other teachers, I would say that he has had a greater influence over me at a personal level (beyond martial) than almost anyone I’ve ever known. I think that it is unfortunate that more arts don’t incorporate these aspects.

 

A personal challenge for me has been in the realization that life’s time constraints do not allow me to practice nearly as much as I feel like I should.  This is exasperated when learning more than one style.  And the ego can become particularly threatened when seeing oneself surpassed by your peers.  Time spent “advancing” in one art is time sacrificed in another. But as I’ve matured as an artist, I’ve come to worry less and less about the recognition of certificates, rank, title, or the successes of my peers.  I only strive to be a better artist today than I was yesterday.  And when we are at the level of the tree’s branches, it is not about how many drills we know etc… simply, how well can we connect to the roots of the tree?  Is the root of the style inside of you?

In the years that I’ve been studying Arnis, there has definitely been an upsurge in the popularity of the Filipino Arts.  Several action movies have begun using FMA inspired choreography, new schools and styles are popping up everywhere, and there is a ton of videos, Facebook groups, websites, and equipment suppliers that have popped up.  In general, I see this as a positive change but it certainly has its drawbacks as well.  For instance, I’m happy to see people from all over the world making pilgrimages to the Philippines to pay homage and learn from the originators of the arts. Likewise, with how much Western culture tends to be idolized and idealized in parts of Asia, I think that for Filipinos to see Westerners visiting their homeland to learn their native arts hopefully gives a sense of cultural pride.  It is a shame to think about how many Filipinos (and Indonesians) forego their native arts to pursue TKD or Karate etc due to either a lack of awareness or lack of respect for their indigenous art.  On the other hand, the manner in which FMA tends to be embodied in the US is often less than optimal.  There is a lot of ego and insecurity wrapped up in the arts and veiled behind catch phrases like “combat effective” or “battle tested”.  Not to say that the arts are not incredibly effective, because they are.  However, many practitioners seem to study the arts more for the protection of the ego than protection of the person.  As to the competition between groups and styles, in terms of self-defense, our mindset should not be how does one style defeat another.  I’m not training to fight another style. I’m training to defend my person and to defend others.  Therefore, to me all of the saber rattling that goes with “style-pride” is wasted breath.  It is also easy for us to get caught up in pitfalls involving recognition.  This comes in the form of belts, certificates, logos on T-shirts, and even our posed pictures with the masters.  The only proof of your practice comes in the expression of your art.  Is it part of you?  Any other artifice that represents that, to me, is BS. And it upsets me when I see people visit the masters, paying them a trifle then demanding a lesson and a photo opportunity.  How many masters die poor while the styles of their own creation thrive abroad?  Essentially, the real art is an intangible thing.  It lives in us and is ever changing.  But that is hard for us to accept and we cling to the token instead.  That is also why we are more concerned with the number of techniques we carry in our suitcases rather than how well we understand the principles.  I count myself extremely fortunate for the teachers I have had who have instilled this sense into me.

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I think that the most exciting project for me has been my ongoing involvement with the Kapatiran Mandirigma organization which was set up to be a celebration of Indonesian and Filipino martial arts.  We’ve sought to foster a community of sharing amongst styles and artists and have done our best to put a sense of family over politics. This group was created by my teacher, Grandmaster Shelley Millspaugh (Kombatan Arnis), who most certainly has been one of my greatest martial influences.  Shelley believes that as artists we have so much to share and learn from one another, and so this organization serves as a vehicle for us to meet other groups, cross-train between styles, and congregate as a family at our annual camp in Estes Park. I have been extremely fortunate to have fallen under so many teachers with this mentality. Prior to the formation of Kapatiran Mandirigma, I moved to NYC and began learning from Datu Richie Acosta (Kuntaw Kali Kruzada).  To this day I have yet to meet a practitioner with as much uncanny speed, power, and precision as him.  But more importantly, I have yet to meet a more humble person.  Soon after beginning my study of Kuntaw Kali, Shelley to visit NYC and teach a seminar.  Datu also assisted me in hosting Guru Daniel on more than one occasion.  Consequently, Datu became one of the first members we invited to the Kapatiran Mandirigma organization.  I mention this merely because it gives me both a sense of pride about FMA and Silat in the US as well as hope for the future when I see so many artists with various backgrounds come together to foster an environment of mutual respect.  This posture of openness not only serves to minimize conflict, but gives the students an invaluable opportunity to see their own art from many perspectives and to broaden their horizons.  The best teachers are the ones who are forever students.  They are the ones who do not view themselves as “the source” of the teaching, but merely a guidepost for the student. And since the inception of Kapatiran Mandirigma, I’ve seen my teachers grow as much as we have as students. And now the responsibility for hosting the 2015 Kapatiran Mandirigma camp has fallen to me and the other senior members of our organization.  For me, this is an exciting opportunity to bring all of my teachers together in one place.  We hold our camp annually in Estes Park around late June.  The camp is essentially open to anyone, provided they have the right disposition and a willingness to learn.

 


Damon Abraham 988527_570493692973410_1047714983_n

Damon has studied martial arts since childhood but has been learning various styles of Silat and Arnis since 2000.  His formal study began in 2002 when he met Grandmaster Shelley Millspaugh in Kansas City, MO.  GM Shelley is a direct student of Great Grandmaster Ernesto Presas, the founder of Kombatan Arnis, as well as a student of Kuntaw Silat under Bapak Willem deThouars.  Through GM Shelley’s encouragement, Damon has branched out and learned from several other instructors. In 2004 at a seminar in Arkansas, Damon met Guru Daniel Prasetya and shortly after began his study of Inti Ombak Pencak Silat.  While he had some previous experience with Kuntaw Silat through GM Shelley, this was his first introduction into a formalized internal practice inclusive of breathing and meditation disciplines.  In late 2005, Damon and his family moved to New York City where they lived for 8 years.  Soon after he began learning Kuntaw Kali Kruzada from Datu Richie Acosta.  At GM Shelley’s request, Damon also sought out Kuya Raul Marquez of Kalis Ilustrisimo and has been a student of KI since 2010.  Other notable teachers and influences include Paul Prijatna who first introduced him to Southeast Asian martial arts, Guru Michael Leininger (Init Ombak Pencak Silat) who first introduced him to the internal side of the arts, Mas Sigit (Inti Ombak Pencak Silat) the spiritual leader of IOPS, Master Kurt Graham (Kombatan Arnis), Grandmaster Steve Todd (founder of 5 Way Method), Grandmaster Jeff Sprawls (founder of Maju Bela Diri Pentjak Silat), and Master Style Allah (Combate Eskrima Orehenal) who first introduced Damon to the art of the blade.  In 2009, Damon joined the Kapatiran Mandirigma (KM) organization and is currently a senior member & master instructor of KM.  He is proud to represent the KM organization which serves to support many artists and teachers from various backgrounds and styles.   Damon currently resides in Denver, Colorado.

 

Titles and Ranks:

Kapatiran Mandirigma – Master Instructor

Kombatan Arnis – Lakan Tatlo (3rd Degree)

Modern Arnis / Kombat-an (MAK) – Full Instructor

Kadena Kruzada Eskrima – Instructor

Kuntaw Kali Kruzada – Associate Instructor

5 Way Method – (1st Degree)

Inti Ombak Pencak Silat – Guru Muda (4th Degree)

 

5 Questions: Soul & Music with Kojo Johnson

Kojo X Johnson of Bambu Station& FICA DC talks back to 5 Questions from Njoli Brown at NoPaper

I resist classifying my music. First it’s very hard to nail down. I feel like I’m all over the page sometimes when it comes to my inspirations. I have several approaches to music and I think each of them are a genuine reflection of who I am musically. Being multi-lingual/multi-cultural I tend to code switch a lot….maybe that’s what’s reflected in my music as well. …….
Back to the issue of classification, I think the term soul most fully identifies what I am influenced by and what I strive to give to my music. I am a soul singer, on a roots man trod if that makes sense. I’ve heard my self compared to soul singers like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, even Smokey Robinson  … A good friend and great singer/songwriter once said I was like Otis Redding (or some other soul singer) in Bob Marley’s band. I think that’s a colorful way to sum up what you’re hearing and when you think about it that’s a huge accolade.

My most natural stylistic instincts come mostly from the soul and gospel music I grew up on. as I’ve matured and expanded as an artist and as a person I’ve incorporated the influence music from other parts of the black diaspora like reggae, samba reggae, bossa nova, and even capoeira music. I feel completely comfortable flowing between what are considered “separate” genres because for me they all are expressions of diasporic soul. There’s a classification for you: diasporic soul. I think that’s the best yet.

kojoI think what reflects me the most in my music now are my lyrics. I spend a lot of effort trying have my lyrics reflect reality, to tell the truth about what I see, no matter how simple or massive. I can admit now that I probably wasted a lot of time struggling with writing because I was trying to sound as profound as possible while simultaneously trying to stay out of the middle of the story. I was trying to splash lyrical color without getting any on myself that would show everyone exactly who’s life, experiences, observations was behind the song. I think my creative honesty is what reflects more of who I am now. Also, I’m more confident of my purpose and my vision these days. I trust one-hundred percent the music coming from inside my head, from those higher regions. I know what it is i’m supposed to be saying musically and what it should sound like.

Many creative people will tell you that that’s where the battle begins, getting the end product to reflect and honor the inspiration for the project. Early on, when I found my medium of expression I was so overwhelmed at the gift and opportunity to be an artist somehow responsible for storytelling about the human condition the possibilities for expression seemed endless and it was hard to know which instinct to obey first. I think my creative processes reflect that I trust my instinct fully now, even when my ability takes a few steps to catch up.

In a vague fashion, I would say that my life’s experiences and personal struggles have really brought me to where I am. First, I think what I’ve learned through doing a lot of youth and community development work in the inner cities and even in the “out there” ( Brasil, the west indies, Cuba, Mexico and Africa, southern and west Africa) communities, the things I’ve seen in my work abroad have really changed me forever and burned certain messages into me that come out in my lyrics…some are reflections of what i saw and experienced directly (eg violence in the streets, police corruption, the floor of a foreign jail cell) some reflect peoples stories that i heard while working in the community as an anthropologist studying violence. as bad as things are, people still live such courageous lives of resistance and resilience.kojo j

Capoeira really inspired me to conquer my fear of public speaking  and singing.  The mestres of FICA (Fundação Internacional de Capoeira Angola) have always encouraged everyone to sing out, you know, put the feeling on the outside to generate and cultivate the axe of the roda.  I come from a family of gifted musicians, producers, and singers. I always wanted to make music like I saw my cousins doing in North and South Carolina (see: Lendon James, “Pappy” Mckoy, Gayle Fairley, Reel Mob Raab, Robert Fairley, Jr and sooo many others i haven’t named here) …music that moved and stirred people,…inspired them. ….. growing up on soul, gospel, country, bossa nova, rock, jazz, funk…. the little known truth is, I tried to run from being an artist at first, partly because of the negative stigma put on the artist around me at the time. as a young brother without much apparent support it just seemed like a hard trod to be a musician but still I knew I wanted to be a part of that divine calling, that elite society.

I’ve read that artists and healers feel the peaks and valleys of life more intensely than the average person… there have been when I’ve gone through so much pain it dragged me down. so far down that the music was the only thing that allowed thing that would carry me back to the heights. It got to the point where I had so much to reason about with people out there music was the only thing that allowed me . eventually, I kind of adopted songwriting and performing as a way to communicate what I was seeing and feeling since it allowed me the freedom and opportunity to reach out to so many people.

 


 

Who is Bambu Station?

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Bambú Station Band | bambustationband.com

Virgin Island roots reggae band Bambú Station was founded in 1996 by the impassioned lead singer Jalani Horton. After years of performing live, Bambú Station established its own recording studio and recorded and released its first album ”Congo Moon” (High Rotation Records, 1999). From the album the popular song “Heathen Fun”, was selected for a two-CD remix compilation entitled “Walking on Pennsylvania Avenue”, a major relief effort for children with AIDS in Washington, D.C. (www.opensource.com).

In 2000, Bambú Station independently released the critically acclaimed single “Amadou Diallo” in memory of the New York slained West African immigrant. The band personally presented the single to Diallo’s parents at the 2001 Anniversary of the March on Washington. In May 2002, Bambú Station reached global acclaim with their invigorating compilation “Bambú Station presents: Various Artists – Talkin’ Roots I” (Mt. Nebo Records). This groundbreaking album immediately charted worldwide, generating international praise from music critics and radio DJs, and was selected as “Compilation of the Year 2002” by Ireggae.com and won several music awards.

With the release of their album “One Day” in 2003, The Beat Magazine, Reggae Reviews, Urban Ambience Journal and countless other reviewer’s dubbed Bambú Station’s “One Day” as one of the most significant albums of the modern reggae scene. By the years end, with all the attention garnered,“One Day” was selected as “Album of the Year” by both the DC Annual Reggae Awards and Creation Steppin’ Radio. Additionally, the D.C. Annual Reggae Awards selected “One Day” as “Song of the Year 2003” and Bambú Station as “Producer of the Year 2003.” Fans, writers and industry experts all continue to praise the album as “classic”, “very powerful”, and “one for the ages.“

Since its first tour in July 2004, Bambú Station’s fan base has exploded beyond measure with every album and tour. Their Talkin’ Roots Tour 2004 was the first ever tour of a group of Virgin Island reggae artists on the U.S. mainland. The band also headlined at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, released “Break The Soil,” “Talkin’ Roots II,” “Chant of the Lions I” and toured the U.S. mainland solidifying their soul-stirring brand of music.

Through its Bambú Station Foundation, the band is proactive in efforts to positively impact the lives of families, with a focus on children. In November 2006, the prestigious Strathmore Music Arts Center in Bethesda, MD (www.strathmore.org) selected Bambú Station for its Artist In Residence Program, the first reggae band to be selected.

Bambú Station has since performed throughout South America, Europe, North Africa and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. In 2012, Bambú Station released “Children of Exodus” and their first music video, “Leaning On Afreeka” in 2013.

In 2011, Bambú Station returned home to the Virgin Islands and opened Griotlife Studio in Rockas City, St. Thomas. Jalani Horton has been producing several projects and artists scheduled for release in 2014 namely, The INNER LIGHT PROJECT featuring Various Artists.

the Bambu Station Co.
P.O. Box 3981, St. Thomas, VI 00803 | 202-321-2263

We’re Growing!! Check out the new categories…

OnBlast!

Our community talking about their own projects and the issues that inspire them to take action.  With all of the occasions where our art and intentions are misrepresented, OnBlast! is a chance for us to express our passions in our own words.  Perhaps we even inspire others to take the chances they didn’t realize possible.

5 Questions!

5 focused questions taking you into the mind of the artist, the activist, the world changer.  Recently I approached an old friend about featuring him in NoPaper.  When he gave me a “Sure, shoot me 4 or 5 questions and I’ll get’em back to you.” I took the challenge literally.  Precious moments, sometimes we only have a few to get to the root of things.  So I figured I’d design a category centered around my practice of getting to the meat of things.

Black, Brown, Colored

People of color breaking molds and bending paradigms in art, dance, poetry, short stories, social and academic thought.