How African Martial Arts in the United States influenced “Western” Boxing and Wrestling
The Dance of War by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1825 (Wikimedia commons)
This is the second article on a series about the martial arts of Africa and the African Diaspora.
Martial Artist and Owner of School Of Arms Media
As the work of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. shows us, the Slave trade between the Americas and Africa had several distinct periods.
In the late eighteenth century, the emphasis by plantation owners was to get slaves whom had marketable skills; these would be those skilled in a variety of crafts such as metalworking, pottery making, fabric dyeing, and other marketable skills. This was also before the era of “King cotton,” and these skills were hired out to bring income into the slave-holding household.
Many of these people were taken from Central and West Africa, bringing with them their skills in military, as well as local martial sporting traditions. In the deep South is where many of these people were taken to; a unique cultural fusion occurred, which created a unique form of ritual dance, ritual combat, and martial art/sport.
In the deep South of the United States, a Martial Sport tradition evolved among the enslaved peoples called “Knockin,” “Knock boxing,” or “Kicking and knocking.” This was a composite style that derived from a variety of Central and West African Martial Art/sport systems. This composite style included head butting (an Angolan practice), kicking and hand striking, which were taken from the Angolan Engolo (Martial Art) tradition of foot sweeps and high kicks; as well, wrestling/grappling methods culled from Nigerian MGBA and the Senegalese art of Laamb.
These “low” sports, as Fredrick Douglass described them, were encouraged by plantation owners. This encouragement had nothing to do with any sense of altruism, as Frederick Douglas surmised, this was “among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection.” If you were kept busy fighting for scraps among each other, then important things could be pushed to the wayside; like reading, writing, or even planning an insurrection.
Coming soon part two…