Winter Stands for Revolutionary Growth

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.”

– Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP –

 

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.

Martial Arts, Veganism and Performance

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!

books
A few of my references…

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 fricv animal flowend, 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.11337053_10152944970283553_2473717587599288883_o

Contact and infos : http://pekiti-global-city.com/

 

Forum for Community Action at FICA Seattle

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.

http://www.papernopaper.wordpress.com

Building Community in the Martial Design

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

Snowpocalypse

An activity for… well, whomever.

I do this initiative in some of my classes called “Snowpocalypse.”  It starts with everyone in the class taking scraps of paper and writing things they do for themselves and things they do for others, one item on each piece of paper.  The collection of things they do for themselves focused particularly on things that they enjoy, whether at home, in school or out in the world, and the things they do for others should be focused on things they do by choice, not because they are mandated.  Perhaps these are things they do because they bring them personal joy or because they are needs that they see should  be met and they recognize their distinct capacity to do so. Next we ball all of these scraps up into “snowballs” and have a 4-5min snowball fight.  Afterwards we all go about the task of picking them up (yes, this activity cleans itself up) and sticking them in their appropriate places on a Vinn diagram divided into:

  • Things I do for myself
  • Things I do for others
  • Things I do for my community (in the intermediary position)

We take time to look at what we’ve constructed and give space for anyone to move the position of an action to some new category.  We find that a thing which so often one person thought of as completely selfish endeavor, from the perspective of another, was a action of tremendous generosity.  We process this by delving into a discussion around how we can make simple, every day things into opportunities for transformation and building. All this is to explain a process wherein we guide students to understand their capacity to affect change and growth in their communities.  We come to recognize that service and personal fulfillment can be interwoven when each is approached with the proper perspective.  We start realizing that “labors of love” don’t have to seem so laborious. I’m always curious about ways in which facilitators, instructors, educators guide their students on this empowering journey of self-realization and I hope to continue sharing inspiring activities as I encounter them.  And I hope to keep encountering them… so feel free to send some my way.

This is No Kick-Flick: The Responsibilities of an Instructor Teaching Martial Arts to Youths

By Njoli Brown

First of all I want to start this by stating that I’ll be speaking from the perspective of someone who, when instructing youths, primarily works with young people in the middle to high school age range.  As much as I think it is a wonderful exposure for younger students, I also realize this kind of instruction as a distinctive skill set and would say that Picturemy experience has been nominal and insufficient to give any expansive and well founded opinions. That being said, there are many people who see the instruction of youths as a part of the culture of martial arts.  As in many cultural practices, young people hold the key to maintaining the legacy of oral wisdom passed from teacher to student.  But are you ready for the challenge?

So, I’m going to break this down into 3 guiding principles.  I’m sure there are many more which could be relevant to the work you intend but I’m going to focus on clarity, design & outcomes as the reference points to keep your program effective and satisfying both for teacher and student.

Clarity

Before beginning you need some time to reflect on your intentions. This may seem like a given but it’s assuredly worth stating.  Young people have a tremendous aptitude for recognizing your excitement, your enthusiasm and your dissatisfaction.  It’s up to you to create a project that has the space to evolve unexpectedly and also brings you joy.

Is your vision to create a fitness program? Recent statistics have the rate of childhood obesity skyrocketing.  Current count is something like 2:3 people are at weight related health risk in the Bronx and these numbers can be applied to communities all around the country.  If this is your goal, kudos to you.

Are you looking at this martial arts club as an occasion to connect youths to a new kind of cultural engagement?  Completely worthwhile.  Every time we expose our students to new ways of thinking we allow them the opportunity to debate, to reconcile and to measure their own beliefs.  By doing this they go through the practice of forming opinions and strategies which they can use in an ever more diverse and global landscape.

Is it real world self-defense? If you’re willing and able, I can’t imagine a better forum for talking about resolving conflict and facilitating conversations about violence in our communities. In addition, a self-defense class recognizes a very pragmatic desire on the part of kids and parents to look at the issues which threaten our safety and to think about how the incidents taking place in schools throughout the country are affecting the consciousness of students in the day-to-day.

Whatever your purpose might be.  Think about how you are reflecting this in the framing of your sessions. Are you making time to process and allowing your students to voice their opinions?  You are creating a community so that also means that at the same time that you guide it’s development, you are also taking it’s temperature and finding innovative ways of integrating the vision of its participants.  Making time for conversation, both on a group and individual basis, is key to understanding the players and for gaining their trust as they come to also understand the things that you find important.

Design

I am an advocate of the concept of flexible structure when it comes to planning.  For your sake, the sake of your students and the sake of the institution with which you are working creating some short and long term goals for your project gives structure to your vision. These goals may change, perhaps because of the nature or number of students or for a variety of other reasons, but recognizing the necessity of a plan causes you to invest a certain level of commitment to every engagement you have with your group. It also allows you to find ways to weave deeper context into your sessions.  Maybe you can introduce some supporting text.  Is there some video footage?  Are you planning a field trip at a time and place that is relevant to the stage you’ve reached?

In addition to all of this, I believe that my work with youths should be mutually supportive of parents and schools.  Through deliberate design you can have clear conversations with parents about your process and can ask pointed questions regarding the hopes these parents have for their child’s participation in your project.  You can also reflect on ways in which your work might inspire and highlight academic successes as well.  Have you taken some time to investigate the social and academic issues your school system is navigating? You might be surprised to find the ways in which your work is reinforcing (or negating) the educational objectives of your wards.  Learning the language and inquiring about the hurdles, obstacles and achievements of your local school system gives you an increased insight into the pressures that young people are encountering.Picture

Designing a first rate program requires not only content.  It
requires context.

Outcomes

So where is this all going?

Some of your students will decide to stay with you for years to come.  Some of them will be with you for a semester.  Many of them will be with you for any and all the increments in between. Depending on the type of project you are developing, your planning should account for each student’s sense of closure or completion.

Even if this means only the completion of a phase within their development, involving and partnering with your group members in the creation and survey of your design gives a realization of the landscape of their growth.  Performances are great, ceremonies are grand and most young people will carry fond memories of occasions when they have been publicly acknowledged in front of family and friends.  But even if  a large public event isn’t possible, an instructor should realize the import and gravitas which rites of passage hold.   A dinner, a special workshop, the presentation of an annual photo journal, recognize growth and change and young people will often dedicate themselves to its continuance.

Outcomes?  In many ways they are unpredictable.  But of all things I think there is a common sense that we, as instructors, are trying to help in the development of good people who recognize their own value and their roles in the societies in which they live.  This is no “kick flick,” no JCVD film where all the difficulties get sewn up in the end.  Instructing youths in the martial arts is the responsibility of mentors, friends, brothers and sisters who recognize that rocky trails lead to beautiful mountains… and more beautifully rocky trails.


I’ve included the short bio below, solely for the purpose of providing a sense of my reference point and the mediums which I use for this type of instruction.

Njoli Brown

10014694_301877176628584_502611539_nDirector of Martial Science Macto Bicallis, Head of Kali MaBi, Co-Lead of FICA New York

Pekiti Tirsia Kali / Capoeira Angola

http://www.martialsciencemb.com

Njoli Brown began his study of Capoeira in Denmark (1997). After two years of intensive study with group Quilombo do Norte came the decision to study the Angola style of capoeira with a master (mestre) of the art form. In 1999 came a move to Seattle to train with Mestre Jurandir Nascimento who, at the time, had recently moved to the northwest from southern Brazil to start a chapter of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation.

After spending some years in the northeast of Brazil to continue his study, Njoli moved home to New York City and began his work to collaboratively establish a FICA group, along with Treinel Michael”Ligerinho” Kranz, dedicated to training this beautiful art form throughout the 5 boroughs. Alongside this he spends his efforts developing and facilitating a multiplicity of youth and community programs, both domestically and internationally, centering around the use of Capoeira Angola as a tool for inspiring community action and social justice.

Njoli Brown’s practice in the Filipino martial arts began in the Philippines in 2009 with a focus on Lightning Scientific Kali, under the mentorship of Grandmaster Vic Sanchez (Kali Arnis International), and ( beginning in 2010) Pekiti Tirsia Kali, under the guidance of Mandala Kit Acenas (Kali Makati).  Over the years he has balanced his stateside practice between study with Brooklyn – PTK Elite and Kuntaw Kali Kruzada of NYC.  Njoli has the great fortune to spend extensive time, annually in the Philippines for work and study and this has provided the opportunity to connect with the art in dynamic ways, physically, emotionally and culturally.  In 2014 Njoli officially started Kali MaBi at the behest of his teacher Mandala Kit Acenas and works to spread the legacy of Pekiti Tirsia through classes and workshops in the tri-state area and the pacific northwest.

Awarded the title of Lakan (black belt) by Grand Master Vicente Sanchez of KAI in the summer of 2012.

Awarded the title of Lakan Guro by Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia Kali in the spring of 2014

Awarded the Yondan (4th Dan) in Bujinkan Ninjutsu in the summer of 2000

Handing the Reigns to Your Students

By Njoli Brown

Are you setting your students up to take the reigns?

I know there’s still a couple of months left before the school year officially comes to a close but for those of us who facilitate co-curricular programs that time is rolling quickly toward us.  It’s a wonderful gift, the opportunity to bring arts, athletic and social education into schools, but the true gift is seeing your students find the inspiration to motivate their own explorations beyond that.

Often this time of year has us extremely focused on seeing final projects come to fruition, finalizing paperwork and providing a sense of closure for our students, many of whom we are unsure if we will be seeing again since our presence in their school is contingent on the receipt and renewal of grant monies or direct sales.  With all of this said, one of the most empowering things we can do is provide resources and suggestions for means through which students can pursue new found passions.  By doing this we really meet out the goal of generating an environment which acts as a wellspring for ingenuitive young people.

youth activism

Drawing attention to some of the free and low cost opportunities available in your area can often be a first step…

Activism:

(TAP) Teen Activist Project

“TAP is an exciting youth program that engages New York City teens as organizers and peer educators on civil rights and civil liberties.”     http://www.nyclu.org/issues/youth-and-student-rights/teen-activist-project

 

Amnesty International – Youth In Action

“From New York City to San Francisco, from Detroit to San Antonio, young people across the US are standing up and making noise for human rights! No matter how big or small, there is no better way of becoming involved in the global community than by taking a stance on human rights. With over 1,000 student and youth groups across the nation and growing, Amnesty International is leading this charge. The time is now. Lend your voice.” http://www.amnestyusa.org/resources/students-and-youth 

Visual Arts:

Free Photoshop Alternatives              http://gizmodo.com/5974500/10-photoshop-alternatives-that-are-totally-free

Free Arts NYC

“The Teen Arts Program (TAP) provides teens with regular access to NYC cultural institutions and opportunities to explore the arts as a potential academic or professional goal.” http://www.freeartsnyc.org/programs/teen-arts-program/

Literary Arts:

NY Writers Coalition

“NYWC’s workshop method is designed to reduce competition amongst writers and allows writers of all backgrounds, ages, experience levels and genres to work together to grow as writers. Workshop size is limited to ensure that each member receives enough time and attention.

Workshop participants write during the workshop and receive positive, supportive feedback. We do not critique brand new writing, because the writer has not yet had a chance to read or revise it. In addition, it is assumed that all writing done in the workshop is fictional. Workshop leaders also write as part of the group, providing a model for taking risks and showing vulnerability in a group setting. These guidelines ensure that participants feel safe to write and read aloud even the riskiest material.

Writers are given the freedom to find and strengthen their individual and unique voices as well as to experiment with form, style and new genres. In addition, the workshop provides a structure for writers to produce new work on a regular basis. Workshop members become part of a community of writers, easing some of the isolation that writers and those in marginalized groups often encounter.” http://nywriterscoalition.org/programs/programs-for-youth/

Making a Space for Truth

By Njoli Brown

I just finished reading an article about the experience of a homeless teen revealing his predicament to his teacher and his class.  In the context of a project called StoryCorpU, this young man decided to take the huge leap to sharing his situation in a scenario in which he had previously been ridiculed, at times, and even bullied.

What spoke to me most profoundly was the idea that a difficult situation can be transformed with real intention and active strategizing.  This program developed by NPR, the teacher’s willingness and action in working past her own discomfort and a classroom forum where honesty is rewarded.  Now, there’s nothing to say that this all works out with a fairy tale ending.  But the real telling moment is this quote from, teacher, Celeste Davis-Carr…

“I want to see you happy… Just your smile is the best moments of you.”

The idea isn’t that we have all the answers or that we will all magically create the projects that draw out our communal truths in one big dam breaking moment.  But, we can make a practice of recognizing teachable moments and diligently searching out initiatives and activities that will tap into undiscovered potential.  Remembering this, I think, makes us all better educators and allows our young people opportunities to be their best selves.

Check out the article and listen to the student recording…

A Homeless Teen Finds Solace In A Teacher And A Recording

http://www.npr.org/2014/03/07/286921391/a-homeless-teen-finds-solace-in-a-teacher-and-a-recording?ft=1

It’s Already Happening: Integrating the Classroom & Social Action

By Njoli Brown

One of the big struggles that we as teachers and facilitators often encounter is connecting the things we do in the classroom to the much larger world outside.  I know this is a motivation for us all, the hope that our students will take their skills and recognize the application opportunities that present themselves in their day-to-day.  One of the greatest resources we have is the city in which we live. 

Finding a “cause calendar” online will give you a sense of the innumerable social projects going on all around town.  Within the scope of each, there are an array of special events and perhaps one of these is in alignment with your club’s values.As we talked about in our most recent Empowerment Lab, always come back to the values and find the passion there. Field trips, initiatives or even just an inspiration, exposing your students to real world causes can give them some context for the skills which they have been developing and give a tactile sensibility to concepts which can, at times, seem abstract.

Por exemplo…

http://www.nptechforgood.com/2013/12/17/annual-calendar-of-social-good-and-cause-campaigns/

2014 Cause Awareness Days

Black History? But it’s Only January…

By Njoli Brown

Black History isn’t a February thing.  I think we’ve all realize by now that it is a history interwoven into the story which brings us all to our here and today.  I recognize the import of establishing a time to focus on a legacy that has been overlooked for the better part of, well, a loooooong time and continues to be.  But still we lock it into that one month and refer to it as an anomalous affair as if it’s an opportunity to recount fairy tales.  Whether we want to look at our African-American legacy or the innumerable contributions of African peoples over the ages, how do we break that bind that maintains a continually segregationist account of the human story? Truth be told, I’m sure I don’t have the answer.

But this year I’ve decided to make a practice of establishing black history as a substantial and integral part of world history and world history as part of every day’s social study in my classes.

rough africa map

Get it started….

You Don’t Know Africa

http://youdontknowafrica.com/