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.
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
I was recently having a conversation with some other martial arts instructors of various styles. One of the things that came up was the fact that, for the most part, along with the physical stimulus that training provides, one of the things that’d kept us involved for so long was feeling a sense of richness through involvement with the people and ideas of another culture. Now, I don’t want to say that this is or must be an interest for all students. But for us, in common, it’s been an integral part of our practice and, as such a priority in our instruction.
So how do we convey that to our students? As importantly, how do we convey that in a way that doesn’t diminish the reasons that each individual has for investing their time and energy into an activity that often has no reward other than that which the participant gleans?
Is it timely? Sometimes a moment presents itself. Perhaps a situation occurs, a movement or idea reveals itself and, in this time a historical or cultural reference is the perfect framing feature. It might give context for a way of doing things or for the evolution of a concept. It might, as well, give some insight into the mindset of those figures who had, at times, practical reasons for the design of their craft.
Is it enriching? For many students, having a deeper knowledge of the practice to which they have dedicated themselves gives them a greater sense of purpose. They come to see themselves as guardians of ideas and, in the most fortunate of instances, as researchers who dispel myths and contribute to the archive of developmental resources.
Is it relevant? Class isn’t the time to bloviate about all of your past accomplishments, about the awards you’ve won or the opponents you’ve beaten. Check yourself and, if it isn’t in service of the practice maybe keep it til you’re out having a drink with your buddies. Remember that your stories and the ideas they convey become part of the culture of your school as well.
Integrating history and culture into the practice of your students takes a real sense of scope and a strong concept of what you hope for your community to embody. You are shaping values in subtle ways. It can be tremendously enriching or it can be the “turn-off” that pushes hard training students out the door. Done well, it turns your students into teachers and re-creates the story as a living thing.
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
When I reflect back on my experience as a student during my middle and high school years I don’t have a lot of instances when I can recall real joy or excitement happening during most of my academic classes. I do recall though, being driven to succeed in those courses because I felt like they were a pathway to participation and accomplishment in my artistic endeavors.
This is not to say that I always thrived and/or exceled in those academic spaces but that I recognized them as tied directly to my aspirations, for better or for worse. I’ve been thinking about this tremendously during an era where it seems that the arts are continually excluded from the scope of educational development in schools. Yes, there are co-curricular programs, many of them funded through state and federal grants. But, in truth, when these programs are included as “add-ons” they are relegated to a space of secondary importance. Simultaneously, we forget that at the core of mathematical and scientific discovery is the capacity for abstract thought and the creative translation of this into its physical being.
So, if school systems will continue to devalue artistic pursuits, how will educators develop the practice of creativity in their young people? Risk.
One of the most vital aspects of creating something new is the recognition that, perhaps, it might somehow fail. Perhaps, you might change and so your perspective on your design might change as well. I am prepared to see my design as a reflection of myself. I am prepared to have others examine and find fault. I am prepared to excel and prepared to feel defeated at times.
Inspiration is tied directly to risk and the success or failure of STEM programming is tied inextricably to these both. Are we, as educators, feeling inspired by our STEM objectives? Are we invested in inspiring our students? Do we recognize that this feeling is the drive that carries students to look “beyond the numbers?” Along with all of this, are we willing to take the risk of exploring our own creative humanity in the context of the classroom?
I’m leaving this with a lot of questions which I should continually ask myself.
So I just returned from another trip out to the Philippines. This trip was, for the most part, a training endeavor for my practice in the Filipino martial arts but on every count it was spectacular. Not only did I feel my learning expand day by day but, as well, in the company of some pretty fantastic people, I had the opportunity to explore the region in a way that was completely new to me.
So much knowledge was being shared student to student, teacher to teacher and teacher to student. I felt I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge an aspect of teaching that can sometimes be overlooked.
Common knowledge, teaching can be extremely difficult. Not only that, it is often one of the most culturally, and definitely financially, undervalued professions in our society at large. But I wanted to speak not only to the amount of respect and gratitude that our educators deserve, but also of the special role that gratitude plays in effective teaching.
Although the training was often hard driven under intense heat and uncertain sand, the words I consistently heard from instructors were “thank you.” Seems like such a small thing. But being acknowledged for our presence, our time, our acceptance of our faults and shortcomings, created a recognition that the teacher acknowledged as well their own humanity and reliance on us, as participants in their process.
Over the past year or so, in every class I do, no matter how difficult, I’ve been trying to be more and more diligent about beginning with thanks and ending with the same amount of gratitude. Teaching is only itself with the presence and attendance of students. Optimal learning happens when teachers allow themselves to learn and to access their own human connectivity and when students find themselves connected to the process.
Additionally, not only can we create available spaces in which students can learn, but educators must also, provide tools so that learning peers and community members can demonstrate gratitude by supporting a matter of growth which will ripple effect throughout the environment.
One evening we went to a local restaurant to commune and to bond. As we entered I noticed that on almost every wall there were posters of American Sign Language. It was curious but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why this was relevant in the context of all the random kitsch wall adornments. When we sat and I found another copy of the sign alphabet inserted in the menu I was so impressed, in reading closer, to find that it was meant as a tool for clients to use in support of the staff members who were deaf and hard of hearing. Such a profound demonstration of gratitude! We do not just hire deaf staff members, we don’t just hold the expectation that they will completely accommodate a hearing culture, but we also give our community tools and insight into the importance of broadening our vision of who makes up our society .
All of this said, it can be an important thing when we recognize that positive actions can influence and inspire in ways that read as actual visible productivity.
Article by JL Umipig
Another wonderful opportunity has come our way. Sister JL Umipig has decided to contribute some of her reflections on her lifelong journey into a study of culture, heritage and self. Hopefully this won’t be the last time we are able to feature her voice. Thanks for letting us host you here on OnBlast!
When I first learned about the Babaylan, a figure that connects to the matriarchal heritage of my Filipino identity, I opened my spirit to the understanding of a power within myself from a very young age that I saw in all the wom*n in my family and those I exchanged with in my communities of Pinays. I grew as a youth activist in the Filipino community in Southern California, connected to my people’s histories of struggles in relation to the United States and other conquering countries. And I was taught to be angry and to fight the system that oppressed my people by being organized, by being aware of policy and by being ready to rise up and speak up with urgency. There is so much to be angry about in this world, so much to weep for, so much that can hold us in places of discomfort and I wanted to fight to change that.
I often drew away from the “militancy” of organizing and really focused on on the cultural aspects, the artistry, the expressions. I knew that I could be, but I was and would always be an artist. I was searching for a different means of organization, something that would feed my artistic soul, and ease the activist in me from burn out and resentment for problems that just would not change. It wasn’t until I found the Center of Babaylan Studies that I realized the power within me was missing something very important, a connection to spirituality. In time I have learned to connect my artistry and activism with my spiritual learnings.
I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, when I was doing my Graduate School studies at New York University. My initial feelings in my program was a want to use my work to root in my identity as a Pinay and I began to delve and explore this through the lens of other Pinay who were raising other young Filipinas to feel empowered and proud of their identity. I began with my network of organizers, radical educators and artists who were working mainly on the presence of Pinay in relation to systematic oppressions and transnational feminist struggles. These were women who raised me to see the fierceness of Pinay, the way we are essential to every movement and how powerful we are in presence. In this process I was reintroduced to the concept of the Babaylan, I had heard it once in poetry as a youth organizer, but didn’t delve until I was in this process of excavating Pinay roots. This is when I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, and my life shifted with great clarity. I was being fed and nourished with this unfolding of my heritage connected to spiritual power and practice.
Elders from the Center for Babaylan Studies gave to ab abundance of spirit knowledge, in writings, conversation exchanges and through many gifts of reminder written, spoken and energetically and spiritually given. This uncovered in me my roots as a Pinay, that moved beyond the herstory in America and before Spain, the herstory that was not on paper, but that lived in the presence of living ancestors that reflected my self and pushed me to go deeper and deeper to know how my roots lived in me though so much has tried to abolish them. They grew in me the most miraculous recognition of our interconnectivity to one another as living beings and have helped create me to break through the constructed divisions and fear that have stopped me for seeing others whole, from seeing my self whole. They helped me to find language that I never had to describe the way I feel and relate it in my every day,the two I hold as my greatest values are: kapwa (the shared self), how we see ourselves in others and we see value in the other as we see value in our own being, loob (the inner self), who we are at our core that makes us interconnected to everything.
Recently I was given the opportunity to share in holistic presence with a gathered group from the network of the Center for Babaylan Studies including two of the elders who had guided me on my journey of creation in self and artistry the past 5 years- Leny Strobel and Grace Nono. We ventured to the heartlands of Ohi-yo surrounded by sky, mountains, trees and clear waters embracing us. The conference was centered in reconciling our learned beliefs and those that we have forgotten- strengthening our spiritual connection to all people and all living things, the earth, our ancestors and the Great Creator. I left feeling so reawaken and rejuvenated, feeling more deeply than ever the power of this journey I have chosen to walk again and again- the journey of knowing and loving myself whole so I can love all else more wholly. In seeking to learn of my Filipina Roots I entered a portal into knowing myself as human, as spirit. Kapwa, loob – we are together, we are of one another, we are are other, we are one.
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.
A more extended account of the trip can be found in her blog “Pa ng Biag iti Kayumanggi nga Pilipina” (http://kayumanggingapilipina.com/ ).