The Mind is the Battlefield
Talking transformation through martial arts with Asafo Gyata
Ever heard of Ka-Zimba Ngoma? While many people may have heard of Capoeira, its Brazilian counterpart, less is known about Ka-Zimba, a Pan-African martial art currently being taught at Hamilton House on Fridays. Last week, I had a chance to speak to Asafo Gyata, who has been practising and teaching for many years, about martial arts, wellbeing and social change.
For Asafo, there are two ways of thinking about the origins of Ka-Zimba Ngoma. On the one hand, you can trace its roots to the 1970s and ’80s in London, when its founders began looking for tools for empowering the black community, in an era of heightened racial tension and violence. On the other hand, its origins lie further back, emerging out of extensive studies of martial arts practices across the whole of the African continent, from Angola to Ethiopia. Ka-Zimba Ngoma is a way of distilling these various artforms, and looking at “the whole of Africa as a story”.
Incorporating elements of dance, drumming and poetry, the movements of Ka-Zimba are rooted in nature, and in the postures of traditional work roles. As Asafo puts it, its core stances stem from those of “the cook, the cleaner, the handmaid, the mother, the father — the basic movements of people”. In addition, Ka-Zimba Ngoma classes incorporate words from several African languages, including Yoruba (spoken in primarily in Nigeria) and Swahili (spoken across many parts of East Africa).
In fusing these elements, Ka-Zimba Ngoma has become a vehicle for self-exploration and development; a method of gaining a deeper understanding of self. For Asafo, the transformative aspect of Ka-Zimba is crucial:
The battles we’re dealing with are: how do we become one on this planet? how do we eat well? how do we overcome sadness, stress and worries? Because this is what’s killing people now, more than the battlefield. The battlefield is our own mind, because we’re sat inside of our own minds. Ka-Zimba helps to pull you out of your own mind, to reflect and look at yourself.
Asafo traces many of the difficulties people are facing to the imbalances in the education system, which takes place in a “sitting space” and gives secondary importance to music, the arts and physical activities. As he puts it, we need an education system that “encourages our brain to think outside of the box. We just need to be given tools or opportunities and we will think out of the box. Look at us, we’re magical beings, but they train us in a particular way, and it will restrict our vision.”
Remarking that, “ideally, the whole planet would be doing martial arts”, Asafo argues that practising them decreases conflict, as students become more grounded and aware of themselves, leading to greater social cohesion overall.“You become different beings together if you train. Once you go into that space, you come out, then you reason with each other - the more chances of being loving towards each other, because you know you don’t want to kill that person”.