By Njoli Brown
“For every century there is a crisis in our democracy, the response to which defines how future generations view those who were alive at the time. In the 18th century it was the transatlantic slave trade, in the 19th century it was slavery, in the 20th century it was Jim Crow. Today it is mass incarceration.”
I know that most of us have entered into this work of social justice because we have a general concern for the welfare of our youths and for our society as a whole. We work to design relevant programming that provides skills that are translatable in real world situations. In order to better understand better those situations it’s important on our part to develop an understanding of the historical dynamics at play. For, as positive a message as we desire to bring into educational institutions, we have to remember that the specter of prison still looms large in the minds of our parents as a track which statistically competes with the likelihood of college for our students. How do we combat this? How do we engage in the conversation? One of the first things we can do is to well acquaint ourselves with the issues so that we can provide empathy and mindful, intentional and action based programming.
Look for community meetings, lectures and literature to enlighten you on, not only the current happenings in your communities, but the legacies within which these communities have evolved. The Schomburg offers a tremendously educational range of events, the Unitarian Universalist Association website is on my reading list this month. Make winter the time to check out an exhibition or round up your squad to engage in some coffee and real talk or to redefine your role in the justice structure, investigating ways to empower your own level of engagement with Restorative Justice Initiative.
Let’s get you started…
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, speaking at University of Chicago.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, speaking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Question. Resolve to be an advocate of progress. Engage and act.
By Njoli Brown
One of the most powerful things we can give to our youth is the realization that they have an actual capacity to effect change. In my autumn projects in Brooklyn and the Bronx I decided to utilize concepts from civil engineering to develop
a sense of the importance of design in the nature and timbre of a community. But even more importantly, the objective was to mature the capacity to critically evaluate our environment to recognize ways in which it could be changed and/or supported.
The process was collaborative and grounded in the work of establishing leadership skills, common values and collective empathy. Through discussion, writing, movement and art we dove deep into the most difficult work of putting language to our ideas, debating and, at times, compromising.
We concluded the project by creating an interactive public gallery wherein participants could post questions as a pathway to research and activism.
By Njoli Brown
Every summer I spend about a month and a half out in the Northwest. I’m getting my hiking in, connecting with family and friends, yeah, hard life. But I also consider this the time where I earn my keep. I hit my boxing training a bit harder, I work my silat, try to make the rodas and capoeira classes I can and I double up my gym time when I’m not in the mountains.
Back in NYC I have a fantastic group of students and colleagues who’ve been generous over the past few years to work with me as I develop and to dedicate their time to learning what I have to teach. Now, I’m lucky in having some fantastic teachers who’ve spent years giving me the tools and the kind of support it takes to let me feel confident imparting their gifts. But all this being said, the worst thing an instructor can possibly do, is rest on his/her laurels. How many of us have seen the result? Too many.
Now this is obviously taking into account those with debilitating injuries, mental or physical conditions (ie age, disease), etc. Even so, I recall an event where my capoeira teacher taught his workshop from crutches. I also know a student who spent her year of physical recovery translating articles and interviews of old mestres from Portuguese to English. I figure, the least I can do is model the kind of consistent growth I ask of my students.
So, what does that look like. No, it doesn’t have to mean an extra 4 days a week at the gym or a complete overhaul of your training regimen. But what it does mean, is taking a good look at the holes in your game and exhibiting the kind of diligence it means to clean them up. Conditioning slipping? Perhaps show up that 20 minutes before class to jump rope (low impact on the knees and high return on the effort). Be okay with showing your students what it looks like to work before you work. Feel like you’re losing those fast hand mechanics? Get yourself to a boxing gym and ask folks who know the science to help you clean up your technique. Speed is as much muscle elasticity as it is strength. When was the last yoga class you hit. Local community center… free. Maybe I’m hurt and out to the physical game for a while but am I innovating in ways to train my mind?And maybe, just maybe, you need a reminder of what it’s like to not be good at something.
Push yourself, find the time and earn your keep.
*Thoughts? Suggestions? Definitely kick them down.
By JL Umipig
It’s been 2 years now since I arrived to Central Park on a spring evening and was welcomed by Guro Njoli and two of my brothers of Pekiti Tirsia Kali (PTK) Vin and Chris. And I recall so distinctly why I returned after that first moment- it was the feeling of being held in a process of betterment and strengthening through comraderie. From day one, my brothers of MSMB and PTK held me to a caliber of that encouragement to better and strengthen my being.
I am one of the few Womxn who consistently trains with the brothers of PTK Elite and MSMBNYC. In two years I have watched sisters come through and I emphasize to them why I continue to train which consists of the reasons that most people do, to have consistent physical regiment for my fitness and health, to be able to defend myself when the time comes, and to strengthen my body and confidence. But also I continue and commit to PTK and MSMB because of what I felt in that initial moment that I began learning with this circle: the camaraderie and mutual betterment of self as a practitioner that I feel growing with my brothers. There is a real pride we have for the betterment of one another, the push to excel as a family unit, detached from competition amongst those in our crew. They push me to go hard, to be able to hold my own amongst anyone, no matter their size or their strength level. There is a belief that I feel from the respect my brothers hold for me, that when we train, our genders have nothing to do with our ability to train hard, and be able to step up to the challenges of body, mind and spirit that our practice teaches us to stand up to.
Our guros hold us all to our strengths, and also hold us to strengthening our weaknesses. I see how each of them in their teachings see the value of each individual in the group, and I watch the camaraderie between them that is model to us all. It roots our circle, the way they are able to respect and hold one another in collaboration and in unique styles of giving knowledge to our training. And as the little sister in the crew they rarely mention my gender, only with the recognition of how to apply their teachings to the very real degradation and violence Womxn face on the daily and how to use the learnings for my protection and ability to be prepared should I be confronted with the realities of misogyny and gender violence in this world. They teach me to use my size to my advantage, and help me understand my power to survive.
When we talk about Kali, we orient the learnings around the ability of Pilipino ancestors to fight and survive in battle with their colonizers, who were often larger and more equipped than them. These teachings of Pilipino Ancestral practices and traditions is the other reason I stay. My guros value this and respect the roots of the art, they help us understand the context and it brings me closer to my ancestors in a new way of understanding. I feel them in my movements. I feel their spirit of survival and resistance. And they and my brothers make room for me to share my learnings and cultural practices and values as a healer, activist and artist in connection to our training- another way they welcome what I have to contribute to our circle of my strengths.
“Respect everyone, Fear no one” our MSMB mantra is core to the way we train, is core to the way we learn, is core to the way we build camaraderie. Every time I come to train, I feel valued, respected and cared for as a member to this circle of warriors. I believe that is how my ancestors intended this practice to be upheld. So I bring myself fully to every training and every gathering, ready to step into my power. Sure, every now and then the testosterone is real, the frustrations of having to deal with my femininity being sometimes a hindrance because I can’t hide I am a Womxn physically and there are instances of societal stereotypes that surface (that’s real), and the moments of having to step it up extra notches to have new members that are men see me the way my brothers who I’ve trained with from the beginning is real as well. But what outweighs all of that is that my brothers will always remind me I am valued, that I am seen and I am held and so the humanization is real, the honoring is real and the love that makes me feel Family in this circle of brothers is real.
Jana Lynne (JL) Umipig is the creator of “The Journey of a Brown Girl” www.thejourneyofabrowngirl.com Director, Producer, Actress, Educator and Organizer she currently resides in NYC. JL has worked with different community organizations developing curriculum and programs that integrate theatre and visual arts with activism and leadership development, working with schools, community organizations, detention facilities, and rehabilitation and support group centers. She believes in the power of the arts to activate and move the human spirit for individual toward community empowerment and transformation. She creates with the intention to connect human experience and spirit between all communities.
Article by Christophe Verdot
Well respected in the martial arts community, our brother, Christophe, has chosen to speak about his personal journey with healing and veganism. These opinions are particularly his own and based on his path and experiences. Hopefully it gives us all some inspiration to ask questions, do research and work toward a practice of self-care. Thanks for letting us host you here on OnBlast!
Martial artist and vegan still sounds counter-intuitive for many people in 2016, seeing martial artists as strong men who practice violent fighting arts and vegans as weak, skinny, long hairs who worship flowers and birds. But this is far from a full reality. My reality is quite the opposite. I’m just a simple person like anyone else but I make sure to understand what I do and why.
I started martial arts around 8 years ago, as I arrived in the Philippines where I still live today, at that time I wasn’t vegan, in fact, I was a junk food lover and a meal without meat wasn’t a meal to me. Like many, I was like that because society formatted me that way.
After several years my body started to fall apart… I was focusing on working out and martial art training (on Pekiti-Tirsia only at that time) but wasn’t giving any particular attention to my body and how I was fueling hit. I ended up with 4 bulging disks, a misaligned cervical column, narrow vertebra disk space etc. At that point I started to think differently. After seeing many different specialist (Osteopath, Chiropractor, Physiotherapist, Surgeon etc.), after countless cracked bones and PT sessions with no, or only short terms results, I decided to take a different path. If no one was really going to be able to help me and most of them giving me the same advice (from “do more work out” to “stop everything”, “put ice!”, “no! ice is for the dead, put warm!” etc.) then I would study my case myself!
I started with lot of books and research on anatomy and back problems. This lead me to see the body as a whole and treat it as an entire chain as opposed to what most were doing, trying to simply remove the pain on the specific tender area. I understood that flexibility, mobility and motor skills were the key point and all work together!
After meeting my friend Nico, a strength and conditioning coach in Philippines, I started to follow the work of Tim Anderson called “Original Strength.” It was very interesting in that it focused on basic motor skills. As he explains, babies start crawling then move to quadrupedal to end up standing. All of these steps are very important as they build the necessary strength from one to another! Going back to these kind of exercises was definitely helping me along with following Pete Egoscue’s work “Pain Free Living.”
I worked for almost a year on motor skills with my friend, Yut, who was an Olympic athlete in Japan. II started from zero, relearning the proper mechanics of walking, skipping, running etc. It wasn’t easy at first and I felt really stupid not even walking correctly! But finally I found what was, for me, the perfect way to combine all that in a very fun way, Animal Flow. It mixes mobility, motor skills, flexibility with quadrupedal exercises as a main base! I went deep into it, traveling to Switzerland to practice and learn it. Recently I became the first Animal Flow instructor in Philippines. Animal Flow is also perfect to develop strong stabilizer and postural muscle; a must do in your weekly routine.
All this is to say that learning to understand, why and how, is the best way to progress, either in martial arts or other parts of our lives. Some doctor had gotten to the point of saying I should stop everything, never carry more than 10% of my body weight, no more contact sports, etc. I’m glad I listened to myself and did my own research. This all, additionally, improved my martial arts practice like nothing else had. Good body mechanics are always the best whether you swing a stick or throw a punch / kick. It all depends on good mechanics.
What about veganism? Well… that was part of my healing and progression… I’ve now been vegan for 2 years. After my dad passed away from heart attack at age of 65, knowing that his dad also passed away from heart attack at age 55, and that this can be hereditary, I naturally started research how to lower the risk and I was very surprised to find that meat consumption was one of the main causes, especially red or process meats! I realized how other associated products were bad for human too, such as milk, which is definitely not suitable for human consumption… and from all the research I came across (ie animal cruelty, meat industry conditions and exploitation) I didn’t want be part of all that anymore. We now know and have scientific proof, along with tons of examples (athletes etc.) that we don’t needs meat to live and perform at the highest level, so why should we continue?
When you you first become a vegan, you might be extremely affected by your new awareness of the violence and suffering caused by animal exploitation. You tend to think the entire world should be vegan tomorrow. I’ve been there too, then, with some distancing my mind changed a bit. I still believe the world, one day, will be mostly vegan as it is the only way to preserve our planet and unsustainable to feed everyone on meat. But now I fight a different fight to stop the stop spread of false information. No, we don’t need meat to live well. No, vegans don’t lack vital nutrients and aren’t weak, etc. because of this nutritional choice. I also advocate for the availability of more vegan options in restaurants, groceries and so on. We should at least have the possibility to choose! When you truly go vegan and start reading the ingredients of everything you buy you realize that many industries are putting animal products everywhere, from bread to the french fries in MacDo for example. This is absolutely unnecessary.
The vegan diet made me feel a lot better inside, mentally and physically. I eat mostly raw and it is incredible the amount of energy I get from it and how my performance has increased. I’m now 37 years old and have never been this physically active and this fit in my entire life. I now teach Pekiti Tirsia Kali 3 to 4 times a week but also go to boxing and BJJ classes along with learning Filipino Silat and even beginning to work on Zhan Zhuang postures. Not a single day without practicing and all this is powered only by plants ! It has now been almost a year since my back was last messed up. Previously it was a regular occurrence about every 2 months.
My take away advice is to research and try to understand if you want really move forward or fix a problem, applying martial arts philosophy to diet (protect the weak, don’t harm or kill if not necessary) and to my health (do your own research, study and take care of yourself at all time) . With all this, a martial artist’s journey is very personal and each one should do what is right for her or himself.
Guro Christophe Verdot is originally from Bordeaux, France and has made a home in the Philippines since 2009 to train in and teach the Filipino Martial Art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali. He established Pekiti Tirsia Kali Global City after receiving his Guro rank from Tuhon Rommel Tortal on May 06 2012. He is now Guro Dalawa under Tuhon Bill McGrath and Pekiti-Tirsia Global City is an official Pekiti-Tirsia International School.
Contact and infos : http://pekiti-global-city.com/
By Njoli Brown
I was graciously invited by FICA Seattle to facilitate a conversation on how cultural orgs can effectively engage in social action. In Seattle there are a large number of groups which participate in the ethnic/cultural arts of Latin america, Africa, central – SE Asia and so on. But, aside from the artistic endeavor, how many make the determination to actively and positively effect, in profound and long term ways, the communities within which these arts were sustained through centuries of struggle and an infusion of intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy?
The first thing that came to mind for me was a discussion on the spate of ongoing disturbing events throughout our communities, but it seemed that the first step needed to be a deep dive into “identity.” One of the most common falsely held presumptions in groups is that, “if we’re all here then we’re all ‘down.’ ” But before getting to the “what” we’re doing, there’s a lot of figuring that has to go into the “why” so that when it becomes difficult and laborious there’s a foundation that we’re working from in common. I give FICA a lot of credit for often trying to provide opportunities for critical evaluations of itself by its members.
How does this collection of people see itself? Does the collective mission align with each individual’s personal mission? Are we willing to lose members if we determine the mission is of tantamount importance? From where are we garnering vital information and through what lens are we evaluating it? Do the actions we hope to take stay true to the missions we’ve established for ourselves? Etc, etc. There is a lot to be said for a group which decides to wrestle with itself and deal with the discomfort of recognizing the failings, doubts.. the humanity of all its members.
There is a long history of misdirected actions which can often times do more damage than help. Often times these are a result of not establishing all the predetermination that will provide you with the fortitude to stay in the process for the long haul. Simultaneously, there are advocates who have, at times, been discarded without a dedication to the difficult conversations which provide soil for effective growth and leadership. I hope to hear more from the participants of this recent forum, to hear if they found worthwhile takeaways, if there are plans for next steps, suggestions. I also hope that other groups will make use of the currently aroused energy to figure out how they can utilize their organizations as nuclei for positive change.
*Gratitute to co-facilitator, Jabali Stewart, and to Mestre Silvinho (FICA Seattle), Leika Suzumura and Chelsea Rae for getting the ball rolling.
By Njoli Brown
Today during our LEAD session we talked about the role that vision can play in transforming things that we do for ourselves into tools we can use to support our communities. Such an important thing to remind our young people that service isn’t always a grandiose thing out of reach in our everyday. Look for ways to use their passions and interests as the vehicle for engaging their generosity and empathy. http://ow.ly/i/lyefa
By Njoli Brown
It’d be simple enough if it was just about stepping in, training and stepping out. But recently had a conversation with students about the importance of fraternizing. Spoke about how some of the most valuable things I’ve learned in my time both in capoeira and kali were learned outside of class on my mestre’s stoop or over breakfast or building instruments, at my mandala’s favorite hangout or on the beach. Taking the time to connect with your teachers and your comrades reminds them of your investment and of the value you place in their investment in you. It’s where life talk happens and context for all the training gets explored. http://ow.ly/xz2J300ome9 http://ow.ly/i/jwNgS