The Origins of Sho’Nuff (Forgotten Fury: The Masters of The Red Glow)
A Harlem prodigy, on a quest for revenge and the powers of the Red Glow. His journey led him to some of the best martial arts masters in American history. Karate killers, Kung fu warriors, African American female wrestlers, Olympic Judokas, Prison pugilists, Vampire boxers, Indomitable fighting clans and The Most Dangerous Man Alive.
This is how Sho’nuff became the Shogun of Harlem. On the real, this is how I became, Sho’nuff’s Red Glow.
Intro: My Brother’s Keeper
Before dragons, niggas lived above the rim. When Brown Sugar fell in the streets, Harlem birthed corner MVPs. Rucker produced another hopeful. The barbershop still has sessions about Tommy Sheppard’s jump shot. That nigga Tommy didn’t live, he soared above the rim. Those who knew him felt grateful to receive his shine.
There was that night when Nutso tried to get a glimpse of Tommy’s vision. When Nutso flew too close to the sun and singed his wings. When he tried to clap back, when he lost control and caught real air with his Converses, falling to his death.
Beautiful Tommy Sheppard, my pretty nigga, broke down and got lost.
Nutso’s family poured out a little liquor. While Sho, armed with his fallen brother’s Converses, set his heart on revenge. Word to Harlem, word to Nutso, and the dreams that keep falling.
Despite carrying a thug’s tear, Harlem still lived by the way of the gun. Someone wanted to deprive the young brother of his precious Converses. They surrounded him. A beating commenced.
Through the darkness, through the beatdown, there were fists, kicks and the sight of an older God who saved him, using the powers of the Red Glow. A time after the hospital, and the stitches that were removed, Sho found the older God, and thanked him, asking for his name.
The older God told him that he was Supreme, the ruler of the universe. One who wielded the powers of the Red Glow. Sho was determined to obtain this power.
Supreme explained that the Red Glow could only be obtained after ten levels of mastery, that it should not, it could not, it must not ever be used for evil. As Sho set out on his journey, it was explained that each master would be revealed at the designated time and place.
With revenge in his heart, Sho set out on his quest, for the powers of the Red Glow.
This is the story of his journey, how he set out to avenge his brother’s death, and become a master. Armed with Nutso’s sacred Converses, this is how he became the Shogun of Harlem.
This is when I gave him the power, this is when I became Sho’nuff’s Red Glow.
Knowledge: I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow. I first came to Chaka in the motherland, guiding him to create a mighty military force, and years later, I returned to Zulu in Harlem guiding a concrete warrior to forge a style through the rhythm of death.
This is the knowledge, in the form of Zujitsu.
In the late 1940s, like every other young Black man who lived in dreams, Chaka knew he’d be the next Brown Bomber or Cincinnati Cobra, slipping, dipping and giving his opponents canvasback. The rhythm of the ring, enlightened, but the powers of the Red Glow led him on another course.
He’d train with Grandmaster, Dr. Charles Elmore, who would bless him with a brown belt in Judo.
By the mid-50s, for whatever reason, he had visions of being Semper Fi and joined the Marine Corps. Word to Harlem, Chaka warred on niggas. Whoever got the necessary. Despite how thorough he was, how much he repped the colors, the Marines were racist to the core.
Chaka reminisced on some foul shit, an incident with a notable American martial artist and it went like this “I was gung-ho, I was pro Marine when I went in there. After being in the Marine Corps, that length of time (six years) the realization hit me, this is not for me. I couldn’t deal with the racism and the bullshit. One of the first things that happened that started my getting out of there, happened with a martial artist, Don Nagle.
He had a school outside of the Marine Corps base where I was stationed at, and when I went to try and join his school. There were no Blacks allowed. Some years later, at a function in Jersey, I had gotten an award and this same guy came up to shake my hand and congratulate me and I forgot where I was, I exploded. I called him every motherfucker I could think of… I was a Marine just like him and he’s telling me I can’t train at his school because of the color of my skin? Now he wants to shake my hand? That ain’t how I work brother.”
Fast forward to 1962. Chaka has returned to the streets of Harlem. He’s armed with knowledge in unarmed combat, weapons, a black belt in Taekwondo and all kinds of kill-a-motherfucker-shit.
The streets were heaven and hell. At times, Chaka ran with Bumpy Johnson and, other times he did work for Malcolm X. Somehow, he maintained his distance from the Nation of Islam, who tried on more than one occasion to recruit him — excuse me, try to strong arm a brother into the fold. But whatever. Word to Harlem, that ain’t how Chaka rolled.
While Chaka was a manager at the Truth Coffee Shop, he recalled how the Nation tried to force him into the fold, saying “Some years ago, Farrakhan and some other brothers came in there and tried to recruit me and some other brothers into their organization and we weren’t having it. Things started getting a little heavy. We had to show them that we were ready to put bullets in their ass and they stopped coming. We resolved that problem.”
Word to Harlem, while riots and Black activism was in the air, Chaka got up with his own crew of brothers to ensure that the communities leaders, kept things on the Black hand side saying “Years ago, I was running around with some brothers who were activist, and we didn’t like some of the things that were going on in our community, in Harlem. We decided to get together and started roughing up some people, telling people like Adam Clayton Powell, that if they didn’t straighten their shit up, we were going to do things to them…
All of them, not just him, all of the people who claimed to be politicians who were suppose to be covering our asses and weren’t. We decided to take action against them and if they didn’t act accordingly, we were going to put them in the hospital… About 30 guys and we wore black suits, and we went to every function that these people [Civil Rights leaders] had and we told them that we were there. We told them that if they fuck up we were going to break their bones.”
Heroin flooded the streets. The robberies and the stick-up kids increased. After getting jacked in his apartment several times, Chaka moved to the village, where he opened a school, and still couldn’t half step. Just like your favorite Kung fu flick, rival schools and rebellious mothasuckas came to the spot and tried to test.
Chaka recalled an incident, saying:
“His name was John Blair, he was a 4th-degree black belt under master Peter Urban. He was a famous Jazz violinist. The guy was off his rocker. I was teaching a class one evening and he walked into the school. My students gave him courtesy.
He came up to me and said: ‘You can leave now.’
I said: ‘Excuse me?’
He said: ‘You can leave now, I’m taking over.’
All my students stopped moving. It got real quiet.
I said: ‘Brother, don’t make me put some nunchakus on your ass. You better leave while you got the opportunity.’
John Blair thought it over and realized that he didn’t want any smoke with the powers of the Red Glow. Afterward and always, there were those who wanted to test Chaka because of his great name. They didn’t realize that Chaka didn’t do that challenge shit.
Word to Harlem, Chaka desired to end conflicts in death.
With the Red Glow in hand, he enforced the mentality of killing when engaging in warfare. “If I start out from a weak premise, and you’re stronger than me, you’re going to overwhelm me. But if I start out with the attitude that I’m going to fucking kill you, and if I see that you can’t handle what I got, then I’ll de-escalate.”
Word to Harlem, in 1992, Chaka was ranked 10th degree by Grandmaster Peter Urban and after years of study, obtaining high ranks in Taekwondo, Jujitsu, Aikido, Kung fu, he came up with his own style. Word to Harlem, and word to Zulu in the motherland, he put all of his knowledge together and created Zujitsu Ryu.
A style, that not only fuses his fighting knowledge but in addition blends, dance, and rhythm, enabling the warrior to adapt to various people and situations. Chaka broke it down, saying “I use all kinds of music because what I’m trying to do is develop my feelings for different kinds of rhythms. Everybody on this planet including the planet itself moves at a different rhythm. In a fight with multiple opponents, if I can’t adapt and adjust to those different rhythms, then I’m going to lose.”
Word to Harlem, in 94 he received the title of Soke when the world recognized that he was the father of his own style. Word to Harlem, don’t sleep on Chaka or you’ll be dancing to the rhythm of death.
Word to Harlem. Word to Dr. Ernest Hyman’s Iron Palm technique, we need a new team of black suit wearing brothers who put our new so-called leaders in check. Word to Harlem, if you so-called woke niggas, you hoteps — if you don’t represent, we’re gonna break your fucking bones too!
Word to Harlem. Word to Major Leon Wallace, me and some other brothers are in the back of the room with black suits on, we're watching you so-called Black politicians, making sure you stay on point. Word to Harlem, word to you so-called black authorities, we see you. If you fuck up, word to Fred Hamilton, we’re going to take action.
Word to Harlem. Sho got knowledge of the rhythm of death. He was directed to a master in the Bronx. Word to the BX. This is where Sho received wisdom.
Wisdom: I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow. I came to the Bronx when it was burning. When revolution was in the air. When America killed the dreamers.
Amidst the rubble kings, the concrete jungle produced an unlikely warrior, one of the greatest fighters in American martial arts history.
This is how Louis Delgado became, a superweapon, and Karate’s most unknown.
During the 60s, Robert Moses put his plan in motion. His vision, it played on the radio, it made its debut on the charts, as ‘Urban Renewal.’ To most, it sounded like, Negro removal. His master plan ultimately contributed to the destruction of thriving Bronx communities. Buildings burned. Hope deteriorated. The borough rebelled. Warrior tribes and clans grew. Kings and queens got up, and their words went all city.
In the midst of the chaos, I came to Louis Delgado in the South Bronx, back when his friends call him ‘Louie.’ When he was a teen, the streets said he had a nameplate with the word “sucka” written on it and back then, Louie believed it.
Louie had a friend named Hector who used Karate to break shit and pull broads on the street. Hector told Louie, that Karate would give him cred and that the streets would no longer call him a ‘sucka.’
Louie was like ‘Yeah son, whatever,’ until the streets tried to eat him and tattoo the word ‘sucka’ on him permanently. That’s when Louie dug in his soul, found Puerto Rican power, and decided to become a superweapon. That’s when Louie decided to take respect.
Louie’s brother Felix, remembers when the streets tested his brother saying “A girl named Sugar was talking with Louie. Her boyfriend, named ‘Salty,’ got jealous, so he had his boys jump Louie at St.Marys Projects playground across the street from our house.
After that incident, Louie started studying Karate with Hector Sanchez. Everyday breaking boards, punching a Makiwara board, to toughen up his knuckles. After one or two months later he walked through St. Mary’s projects playground again.
Salty and his boys were there. They tried to give Louie another lesson on who was boss of their turf. After beating Salty and his four boys up in front of Sugar, Louie got his reputation for knowing Karate and everyone on the block knew not to fuck with him again. That’s how you got respect in those days.”
Niggas in the hood stayed salty after Louie took respect. But whatever. Louie was catapulted towards his destiny and continued training with his friend Hector at St. Mary’s Community Center, where he eventually came under the direction of Grandmaster Moses Powell. Louie got more cred, got nasty with Jujitsu, took more respect. Got nice with open hand combat, found more respect. Louie mastered knife techniques and the word on the street — Louie had a new nameplate, and it said ‘Don’t fuck with me!’
War was very necessary as the Bronx and New York City hardened for the worse. As the gangs cliqued, Puerto Ricans realized that they needed to form an organization that would protect them, their hoods, their fine ass women, and provide social justice. The Young Lords were born and Louie got politically minded.
“Street gangs that developed were powerful in the 50s and 60s… We could not survive without gangs. They were our defense organizations…” explained influential activist and Young Lord member, Felipe Luciano, who was friends with Louie.
“Fred Hampton was in jail with the presidents of the Young Lords, Cha Cha Jimenez.
He said ‘Why are you killing each other and fighting against Black gangs? Don’t you know we’re being oppressed?’ He really gave Cha Cha Jimenez a political lesson, a lesson in political science. When Cha Cha came back, he was transformed. I thank God for Fred Hampton, I really do.
To convince a Puerto Rican not to fight another Puerto Rican gang or a Black gang… That code was so strong, Cha Cha went to the gangs. Understand the transformation, from unruly impulsive behavior to a political strategy… And Louie is mixed in all of this stuff. He’s reading about it. He knows about it. So while he was affected, he didn’t join the Young Lords, but he knew about us and we knew that he had that spirit in him. Always respected us and said that to me.”
Martial arts was the theme of the day, even in the ghettos. While gang members like Charlie Karate Suarez were using the arts to take respect, the Young Lords were training to stay alive. Facing the looming threat of police brutality, they trained in Shotokan Karate and Kung fu, specifically Fu Jow Pai.
“We learned that you needed just two moves to get out of the grips of the police. Sidekick. Reverse punch. And then run… Our group gained respect because we fought it out with the cops. In those days, there weren’t as willing to kill you as they are today” explained Luciano.
Beyond the Bronx, America was in the midst of revolution and real change. “You had the Vietnam war, the free speech student movement. You had the Black Panther Party, you had the Young Lords, you had a groundswell of young people, looking for answers, and trying to achieve their highest…
This collective movement, a groundswell of young people getting involved in all of these various actives included martial arts. You had senseis coming back from the Korean War or they were coming back from Vietnam.
That was all apart of the milieu of that time… You had these young men who were disciplining their minds and bodies. In that cultural matrix, Louie was one of those guys. He came out of all of that” explained martial artists Abdul Mussawir, formerly known as Monroe Marrow.
Although Louie received a black belt from Moses Powell, it was another master who led him towards the powers of the Red Glow. Grandmaster Frank Ruiz, the ex-Marine and the founder of the Nisei Dojo, a man whose disposition would develop Louis’s fighting ability and ferocity.
Speaking on the Ruiz’s impact, Sanchez said “He was one of the biggest influences Louie had as far as his aggressiveness… I think that was the biggest development, under Frank Ruiz. The training sessions were a little more disciplined and apparently, that discipline woke something up in Louie. He started to see that he had the potential to become a champion.”
Speaking of Ruiz’s personality, Sanchez continued “He was a rough person. You came to workout. No bullshit. You going to work out — you workout, up to the point where you have a heart attack! He had a reputation. All the fighters who came from the school were rough fighters and there was a lot of camaraderie. Louie needed that and that’s one of the reasons we became such good friends.”
During the late 60s and early 70s, Frank Ruiz was known in the martial arts community, for his gruff demeanor, and for his ability to create fighters. He found a way to reach the warrior within Louie, and sculpt a diamond.
“Frank Ruiz was one of the few Puerto Rican senseis of that era. He was probably the most prominent. His philosophy was ‘Win at all cost and if you lose, make sure they pay for it!’ The Nisei Dojo, they were known as headhunters. They were fierce in battle! They were not cavalier, they were not polite in defeat! They would break a guy’s tooth, break an arm… Everyone would know that when you fight these guy’s you have to take them down hard… I trained for a while there [Nisei] it was too brutal… In one sparring session, I lost a crown that I had… If I say that Nisei was not important in the annals of Puerto Rican and Black martial arts, I’d be wrong. Somebody had to be the seal team” explained Luciano.
The seal team, the Nisei Dojo, the ‘University of the Streets,’ was full of Karate gangsters, and martial arts hoodlums. Louie routinely held his own and amongst Chaka Zulu, Earl Monroe, Malachi Lee, Wilfredo Rodan, Owen Watson, and American martial arts legend, Ron Van Clief, who was a sparring partner for several years.
Speaking of Sensei Ruiz and the intense fighting at the school, Van Clief said “Ruiz ruled with an iron fist, there were no exceptions…It was a rough dojo. Sensei Ruiz was the roughest teacher that I’ve ever trained with… He didn’t start Karate until he was like 40. Sensei Urban told me ‘He’s too old to start!’ But he became one of the best. I think Sensei Ruiz was the best fighter to come out of Sensei Urban’s school.
Toughest man I ever met. Knocked me out a few times with a spinning back kick to the head. Wake you up with a wet towel, whipping it across your face… He gave us beatings I would not accept from anyone else. He kicked me in the leg one time, I was on crutches for a year… Then he broke my jaw. He knocked out four teeth, broken fingers, broke ten ribs altogether. He was one of the only grandmasters that I met that sparred with students. Most grandmasters teach from the chair. He was too awesome! He was not just violent, he was ultraviolent!
He would beat you up in front of your wife, your kid… Sensei Ruiz would spin back kick you in the face, and not think about it. Go sit down, have a cigarette and rum and coke and you’re on your way to the hospital. I went to the emergency room several times because of Sensei Ruiz. At least five concussions.”
Louie not only survived in the Nisei, but he became one of the dojo’s best fighters. Hector recalls seeing his friend develop into a champion, saying “I started noticing Louie was becoming more accurate with his techniques. We’d go to the tournaments. I would come in second or third, but Louie always first. I practiced Karate, but Louie was an artist… Total domination” explained Sanchez.
America experienced its golden era in the martial arts from the mid-60s to 70s. Chuck Norris emerged from this period as its icon and a champion. Before Norris became a Texas Ranger, when he was a big man on the martial arts campus, when he was knocking people out, he suffered a memorable loss to Louis Delgado. The ‘L’ came from a kick, that is remembered to this day.
“Chuck Norris was the man. He was the fanfare. Louie was a quiet guy. Nobody knew who Louie Delgado was at that particular time. Chuck Norris was super, super overconfident. Louie did a spinning back kick, caught him on the jaw and knocked him right on his ass” explained Sanchez, who continued speaking on Norris saying “He was super surprised that anyone would try that technique… Louie kind of introduced that as a viable technique…. ”
Former USKA Karate fighter Vic Moore reminisced on the kick saying “Louis Delgado was a great fighter. I saw him fighting Chuck Norris, once. I had beaten Chuck Norris once, but the way Lou Delgado beat him with that spinning back kick, we thought he killed him! He was laid out. He [Delgado] didn’t get the recognition that he was due!”
Keep in mind, back when they fought, Louie was a light middleweight, while Chuck Norris leaned towards the light heavyweight. Despite the size differential, Louie still found a way to get the win.
While the martial arts community was in awe of Norris, and his star, Louie wasn’t. Louie was still determined to take respect “Louie gave no quarter and ask no quarter…. Louie was a warrior… He was a warrior and he didn’t believe in protocol. ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are!’ He was a Puerto Rican raised on the streets of New York” explained Luciano.
Even when there wasn’t a Norris to Chuck, Louie found other ways to move the crowd. “Whenever he went to a tournament, everybody would form rings around where Louie was fighting. He had honed his technique so much, it was beautiful. It was like watching a prima ballerina of Karate” explained Hector.
Louie continued to show and prove. Even the great dragon, Bruce Lee was impressed by his style. There is a video floating about the net, showing Louie practicing with Dan Inosanto, while Bruce Lee repeatedly asks Louie to perform his kicks again.
This video supports Steven Muhammad (Sanders)’s claim that Bruce Lee recorded him and mimicked his hand movements.
But whatever, don’t believe me, suck your teeth with denial if you want. Ron Van Clief, he will tell you “As a martial artist, he [Delgado] was one of the greats. He was definitely one of the greats… Bruce gave Louie a lot of credit for his sidekick… Bruce said, ‘I want my sidekick to be like Louie’s!’”
Louie eventually moved to Cali, even did the cover of Black Belt Magazine, but the martial arts entertainment world may not have been ready for his luminance that shined before any Latin explosion.
“Black folks were getting their due in Karate. Puerto Ricans were still a minority… When it came to exploitation, in the advertising sense, not in the political sense, when it came to pushing people, it was always those who were Black or White… Louie did not have the kind of commercial management to push him to the top. If on the right track, I knew that this guy would be a monster hit” explained Luciano.
Despite his martial skill, those who pour out a little liquor when his name is mentioned, they remember him being an extremely respectable person. “If there is anyone who embodied the term ‘Bushido,’ it was Louis Delgado. Humble, respectful. Reverential of the tradition… He had a core of love and compassion that bellied all of his strengths and all of his exploits and all of his tournament championships and I loved him for that. He admired me and I admired him” said Luciano.
Over the years, while Illmatical has worked on the Forgotten Fury series, refining his Red Glow flow, several martial artists of repute have suggested that Louie, who died at an early age, was intentionally thwarted off his path when he moved to Cali. These were late night calls and confessions, discreet builds that suggested that people were afraid of Louis Delgado, and the powers that be, they wanted and needed his star to fall.
But fuck that, Louie established himself as a champion, and one of the golden era’s best fighters, even if he remains, Karate’s most unknown.
“Louie was one of the best in his era” explained Van Clief, “Bruce said it. I said it, Chuck will tell you the same thing. One of the best of his era.”
By now, I’m sure you feel me, this is the wisdom. I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow. I came to Louis Delgado in the Bronx, the same way, I came to Eddie Torres, leading him to the clave. The same way I came to Colon and made him El Malo, the hustler. The same way my mastery took hold of Christopher Rios when he composed forbidden scriptures.
Sho realized that he too, he could become a superweapon. Like Delgado, who conquered before him, he was determined to take respect, and soon, he was directed to the borough of Brooklyn, to study with a master who’d provide understanding.
Understanding — I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow, back when Brooklyn warriors came out to play, I was embraced by a master who made an indelible mark on the martial arts community that despised him.
He forged a powerful warrior clan and a fighter whom the martial arts world tried to forget. This is how George Cofield discarded tradition and taught survival.
This is how the Tong Dojo and its Gunners ran New York.
More hood, bigger and Blacker. That’s the way the racist 1964, New Yorker article portrayed Bedford Stuyvesant during the 1964 riots that simultaneously took place uptown. Rightly so, Black folks were collectively furious as they should have been, in the wake of a shooting, that happened to a much earlier Trayvon.
Beyond Bedstuy, the entire borough was Do or Die. A 1974 New York Times article, points out that much like the Bronx, Brooklyn was comprised of gangs, the crime in the city.
In the midst of this chaos, a man who was hood, bigger and Blacker than the rest of the borough took traditional Shotokan Karate, remixed it, and created his own gang. For the record, George Cofield was the first Black man on the planet to have a wallet that said Bad Mutherfucker. His spot was the infamous Tong Dojo, located on St. Marks and Flatbush.
The ex-military man placed a “G” on the gis of his best fighters, which stood for ‘Gunners.’ They went to war, and shot opponents down, decorating the Tong with plenty of bling.
The Gunners, their names ring bells in the martial arts world, people like Hall of Famer, Thomas Lapuppet, Speedy Leacock, Speedy Wilson, The Wilder Twins, Alex “Plus One” Sternberg, Bill Swift and a fighter, the martial arts community turned its back on, Dwight “Hawk” Frazier.
After returning from the military, Cofield sought out the legendary martial artist Maynard Miner to refine his Shotokan Karate skills. Miner noticed his enthusiasm, saying “He really wanted to do it.”
Miner would eventually grade Cofield at brown belt after four years of study.
Miner and his loquacious student eventually parted ways. The teacher noticed that Cofield, who was teaching at a community center at the time, continued to deviate away from tradition “He was teaching a whole new different thing” explained Miner.
The newness, the fresh, it was Karate for the world that was Brooklyn. Harsh and violent. Cofield was also a streetwise hustler who imparted the realness to his students. An ingenious teacher who understood how to push his fighters to their potential, and beyond.
“Brooklyn was considered tough, but Bedstuy was one of the toughest neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn. There were gangs, it was a tough area. It was one of those areas, you had to be careful. There were the Chaplains and the Corsair Lords” explained black belt, Bill Swift.
Speaking on Cofield’s personality, Swift said “He was a street guy. He grew up on the street, a hustler type guy. And viewed by most as being very, very mean… His street savvy, his sense of people, was incredible. His understanding of people. This is how he became one of the best instructors in the martial arts. He had a way of knowing what he could get out of you. Which direction to push you to the highest level you were capable of… A cadre of excellence, many people from the Tong became exceptional.”
Beyond the gangster lean, was a man who many young men developed a strong relationship with, some even relating to him as a father figure.
“He was a very no-nonsense instructor, and he was very educational… He was a very streetwise person. To my brother and I, he was a father figure… He taught us not only Karate but how to survive in the street” explained Calvin Wilder, of the Wilder Twins.
A November 1968 Black Belt magazine article entitled George Cofield’s Way of Life describes him saying “He is a tough man to work under, a tough man to know, and a tough man to learn from… He doesn’t care whether his students love him or hate him. All he wants is that they learn from him.”
Despite being pro-black, believing in power to the people, he did not reverse discriminate, opening his doors to people who already had the complexion connection.
“Sensei Cofield was an extremely interesting person. I looked at him like a second father…” explained Alex “Plus One” Sternberg “What was different about him, is number one, he was very intense, he came out of the military before I met him. He was a soldier, he was stationed in Japan.
He trained in Japan and he came back and he trained with another legendary martial artist, Maynard Miner. Miner, as much as the great Karate man he is, he wasn’t a great motivator… Cofield’s style was, to not let you breathe until you did the technique the best you could… Cofield was a tremendous motivator. He pushed you beyond the limit… He was like a drill sergeant.”
There was a time when all roads in Black martial arts ran through Brooklyn, and in the martial arts sense, Tong Dojo and its Gunners ran New York. Coinciding with what is considered the golden age of American martial arts, the dojo’s peak years were from the mid-60s to the 70s.
Although Cofield was a Karateman, all of the Black martial arts masters in the city, regardless of their disciplines or specialties, due to the relationship they had with Cofield, came through the school to teach or share with his students.
“This dojo [Tong] was the headquarters for Black Karate in Brooklyn. All of the Black senseis made their trip down to Sensei Cofield’s one time or another…The senseis that use to come and speak with Mr. Cofield were people like Moses Powell, Ronald Duncan. Duncan use to teach us Ninjitsu…” explained Sternberg.
While walking through East New York with his Karate gi in his hand, Alex Sternberg recalls getting some harassed by some Karate hoodlums, and accepting a challenge, that would change his life.
“I was surrounded by guys who asked where I trained.
I said: ‘Richard Chun.’
One guy said: ‘Richard Chun, that guy’s a fucking faggot! He ain’t nobody!’
That was George Cofield, that’s how I met him.
He said:’You think you’re good in Karate, come take a look at my dojo! Why don’t you train with us?’
I looked at him and said: ‘Yea sure, I’ll train with you.’
I went into the dojo and we worked out. It was a 3-hour class. I used to an hour class. I thought I was going to be dead by the time class was over…
Cofield said to me during the class: ‘Sit yo ass down man, you ain’t no good! You ain’t gonna last! You’re not as good as those Black kids!’
The more he told me to sit down, the more I was going to stand up!”
Reflecting on the level of training he received at the Tong, Sternberg continued saying “I thought they were the best I had ever seen in my life in Karate. They trained harder than anybody else.”
“The training was very intense. It was very focused. I was fascinated by it. To see a collective of men and women training in unison. I could tell it was tough… Back then, the training was very exact, it was very hard. He [Cofield] took no prisoners. Your hand had to be closed, your knee had to be bent. You had to be in form…
He’d walk around with a bamboo stick and hit those parts. Your hands had to be closed. It was conditioning. If you know anything about traditional martial arts, the training is designed for every aspect, every body part. It has to be done right! If you’re out in the street, you’re not going to have a chance and try and correct anything” explained former student Darryl Acosta, who further elaborated on how strenuous the classes were, saying “The intensity of his training program, grown men would cry.”
While white belts shed tears, the Tong Dojo mob got deeper, and their reputation grew. The students dominated tournaments and were equally prepared for the streets.
“Cofield didn’t drive us to be really good for competition. He believed that if you’re gonna spend this much time and work, you need to good if some stuff happens, in the street, you need to be ready. You need to be able to handle it. He didn’t like some of the training that was done by some of the instructors. He felt that they were training mills for money” explained Swift, who shared a core element of Cofield’s fighting mentality saying “‘A thinking man is a dead man!’ A part of that training was, if you have to think about how you’re going to respond to that kick or that punch, you’re too late.”
The Tong even developed a reputation in the street, recalls Khashon Allah, a former Tomahawks gang member, turned Soke “Tong Dojo was the most vicious dojo in Medina (Brooklyn), there was not another school that had a name more vicious than the Tong Dojo… If you wanted to learn the real shit, you go to Tong Dojo!”
That real shit was for niggas who did real things. Cofield created soldiers and when he went to the tournaments with his crew, in many instances instructors would withdraw their students. “Cofield called his top fighters, ‘Gunners.’ You were a ‘G’ on the bottom of your gi… Cofield would not let you compete unless you were a gunner… He would only take his gunners to the tournament.” explained Wilder. “We had two ‘Speedies,’ Speedy Leacock and Speedy Wilson.
Speedy Leacock was older but Speedy Wilson was technically better… He [Cofield] was highly respected… The respect from some of them was admiration for what he had done. He had more of the top fighters in competition than any of them. We won more trophies and the other part was envy…”
The dojo was known for their fierce fighting, which was also due to a style of coaching that Cofield introduced at tournaments. Ron Van Clief recalled Cofield’s genius, saying “He was the first guy that used the coaching system… The art of sideline coaching, he would say “Stepladder!” It just meant double jump kick. They [Tong] organized everything.”
“The Brooklyn Karate scene meant all Black martial artist,” said Sternberg “Our dojo, for sure, was the toughest dojo. The number one name in Tong Dojo was Tom LaPuppet. But even more intense than LaPuppet was a guy named Hawk Frazier. ”
In the late 60s and early 70s, Black Belt magazine would repeatedly report that Dwight “Hawk” Frazier was Tong’s up and coming champion, and discuss his fierce competitiveness.
“He had natural sense, flexibility, and power and was also a good size. He was powerful and he was young… He was good” explained Swift.
The rumor is that he was called Hawk because of his vertical, but I honestly, no homo, it was his physique. Wilder clarified saying “He got that name when Hawk would take his shirt off. The muscles in the back, he could make them jump up like wings…To me, and a lot of people will agree, Hawk Frazier was the best fighter Cofield ever had. He put fear in men. I saw him when he got in the ring, and someone drew his name, they were like ‘Oh my God, not this guy!’
As the Hawk’s power grew, he felt stifled and would eventually leave Cofield. “Frazier wanted to be recognized more and Cofield did not let go of the reigns” explained Sternberg.
“This was the classic tale of the master and the student who did not see eye to eye at one point. Hawk Frazier was dominating tournament play… Hawk Frazier was a prodigy” explained Acosta.
The March 1973 Black Belt Magazine article Hawk Frazier’s Bitter Taste of Glory points out that Frazier won 73 trophies in tournament competition, and would eventually be ranked 9th in the country during the 1969–70 season.
During 69, when the Hawk was soaring, the powers that be imported a French fighter by the name of Dominique Valera to shoot him down. Hawk would lose a controversial match that many believe he won. Without Cofield’s backing, the Hawk was on his own in a world of martial arts that didn’t want him — or his teacher.
After the match, on some pre-hip-hop shit, he grabbed the microphone and addressed the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, without prejudice, you know I won!”
Legendary martial artist, Karriem Abdallah saw the fight. The wounded Hawk was on his own and Cofield did not intervene, and protest for his former student.
“Hawk won the fight, but you have to remember, back then and even now, they didn’t want to give Black fighters the credit… Cofield didn’t speak up for him, even when the match was going. I was there… He didn’t, may have won the fight — He won the fight!” said Karriem.
Hawk’s controversial loss to Valera was similar to defeats from Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis (the Caucasian one). Racism, in the martial arts community, clipped his wings.
Frazier would open up a dojo in the Bronx and eventually leave the martial arts community altogether. The split between Cofield and Frazier might have been a reflection of the struggles that Cofield had with the Japanese Karate Association.
“In the 60, the JKA was run by all Japanese teachers. Philadelphia was the headquarters for the East Coast… Sensei Okazaki was in charge of everything we did. All the JKA dojos under his umbrella. The problem was, Sensei Okazaki, coming from a Japanese background didn’t have sympathy for Black people.
He was a bit prejudice and a lot of the Japanese were a bit prejudiced. Our dojo was an all Black dojo. Cofield was a troublemaker. He opened his mouth, and he didn’t take no shit from anybody. When we would show up and take a test. Okazaki would slow down our progress…
He made up new ranks to slow us down. Cofield was causing him problems. He didn’t want to put up with the Japanese — Black prejudice. Cofield was an exceptionally proud Black person, who was proud before it was fashionable to be proud” explained Sternberg.
When Illmatical sat with Miner, he mentioned that Cofield’s style and personality did not sit well with Okazaki, who emphatically told Miner to get rid of Cofield.
The 1968 Black Belt article spoke of the JKA split saying “He [Cofield] felt the pomposity of the organization overwhelming for his purposes. He broke away and began calling his own shots… Cofield believes that a good Karateman in the contemporary American scene must not be a purist of one form or another, but use an amalgamation of styles”
Still though, aside from breaking from tradition, racism was in the air, and the martial arts world was not ready for a pro-black sensei, speaking on the positives of the hustler teacher Van Clief said “He was a rebel. He had Black power symbols in the dojo… I enjoyed that afro-centric thing about George… Despite his criminality, he was a testament to what a Black man could do in the community. He was a very socially active person… He had lots of kids who started out as junkies and turned out to be lawyers, doctors, dentists.”
A number of the Tong Dojo gunners would translate their fighting skills for success in academics, eventually prospering in business ventures and careers.
“A lot of people came out of that school and are doing different things,” said black belt Irving Boyce-EL “We got the discipline from that place, to live our dreams. We got the discipline from the dojo to live our dreams.”
Although Cofield was known in the martial arts community for being criminal minded, he wanted his students to do better and not follow in his path. Acosta recalled saying “If you look at all of the people that left from the school and how they turned out, how they became successful in their own endeavors… Sensei, one particular day, he actually told us ‘Don’t follow in my footsteps. I want you to become more!’ He wanted you to be something different… What he gave us was the discipline to believe in ourselves. He helped us find our personal best.”
George Cofield created Gunners for the tournaments. Gunners who could survive in the streets and Gunners who used their martial discipline to win in life.
With discipline in hand and the taste of victory, Shonuff would encounter a wandering ronin, a Kung fu master who rented a space at the Tong dojo. While the rest of the martial arts world was caught up with a dragon, Sho’nuff turned his attention towards a man who embraced the Mantis, a man who killed ghosts. You don’t practice Kung fu, you live the culture.
Culture — I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow, when chopsocky had America all in their feelings over studio dragons, I came to a Brooklyn Kung fu master in the form of a Mantis.
Away from the movies, Sifu Carl Albright was getting busy in tournaments and on the streets. This is the culture, Kung fu is a way of life and the Subway Master lives this.
Let me tell you about that time Illmatical saw Sifu Carl fighting ghosts. In the galaxy of Queens, Cobra Kais and Myagis gathered to see who was the best of the best, or some shit. Skinny little lizards did their demos, so-called masters demonstrated forms.
When Sifu Carl grabbed the mic, he moved the crowd with a drunken style. However, he wasn’t doing a demo. He was fighting ghosts. Sifu Carl had death on his shoulders and with each move, his Mantis stabbed, his Mantis killed. Sifu Carl was fighting ghosts.
This ain’t nothing new. Sifu Carl been killing shit for over 60 years. Whether it was in open tournaments, disarming thugs on the New York City subway, or dodging blades in Korea — Sifu Carl lives the Black Kung fu experience.
Speaking of his background, veteran Kung fu practitioner and filmmaker Warrington Hudlin said “His lineage is in a traditional Kung Fu style, not a hybrid or a “made up style.” He has also been a Chinese martial arts practitioner, not a convert from Karate. Furthermore, I am aware of only one American more senior than him in Chinese martial arts and he has already passed away.”
Sifu Carl recalled, that is was his father, who decided his son would become a master killer. “My father was a colonel. His friend was William Fairbairn, a British soldier, he spent time in Chinatown… He told my father: ‘I was a captain of the Shanghai riot squads. I would see the people use the stuff [Kung fu]!”
Sifu Carl’s father decided that his son, at six years of age, should study the mysterious fighting arts of the so-called Orient. The question was whether or not a Chinese school in New York City would actually accept him. Beyond Blackness, Sifu Carl explains that Kung fu was initially only taught to specific clans, referencing a film called Legend of a Fighter, in which a father only teaches his son. Despite his initial difficulties as an outsider to the culture, he eventually made it in.
“Kung fu was never supposed to be exposed to the public. It was taught from father to son. It was taught in the military. Chinese community held it. It took me forever, to try and get into the schools that I was trying to get into… I was in class and Chinese people spitting in the back of my head. Hit me, trying to hurt me, try to sweep and break my leg, because I was American. They didn’t want me there, but the teachers, they saw something” explained Sifu Carl.
Following his father, he was able to travel and continue his passion for the arts at an early age. It was Kung Fu that actually kept him on the strait and narrow while growing up in Brooklyn. From the streets, Sifu Carl took his style to the military.
While stationed in Korea, Sifu Carl continued his training and taught others. His Kung fu school was not received well in Korea, where Taekwondo reigned supreme. He recalls that the Koreans would often throw bricks into the window of his dojo.
Undeterred, the soul on ice continued to rep that Chinese Kung fu. Fortunate for him, his street savvy, and awareness would play a role in keeping him alive during a well-documented incident, which cost several U.S officers their lives. The Korean Ax Murder aka The Paul Bunyan Incident.
“I was there. I was an enlisted man, we fought. They don’t mention the enlisted men, they only mention the guys who got killed. We were supposed to chop the tree down because we couldn’t see across the DMZ. We had to keep an eye on the North Koreans. The tree was in the way, that is supposed to be a buffer zone. They told us to go and chop the tree down. We had the two officers with us to supervise” said Sifu Carl.
Two officers, Captain Arthur Bonifas and Lieutenant Mark Barrett set out to get their Paul Bunyan on, and chop the interfering DMZ tree down. Ostensibly, Captain Bonifas had no idea that two weeks prior, there had been a failed attempt by the South Koreans, to cut down the same tree.
However, the stakes were already high, considering that there was a fight between a U.S. officer and North Korean soldier, which started when a Korean was in his feelings and decided to touch a U.S. officer’s hair.
Sifu Carl continued saying “We’re chopping the tree down and like back in the old days when they had the old pickup truck came, it comes up and these guys jump out with pitchforks, axes, and machetes.
We were like: ‘It’s on!’ We had axes because we were going to chop the tree down. Three of those guys were my students, they trained with me in Korea… They came and the captain was like ‘You can’t be doing this!’
They just chopped him and killed him. Killed the lieutenant. We took the ax, fork, hit one guy in the leg, another guy in the shoulder. They could see that we were fighting. They got back in the truck and drove off.”
The tree was eventually cut down, but it was near-death experiences like this, which fortified Sifu Carl for future trials, including foreign organized competition. Like other servicemen, while stationed in Korea he was able to frequently continue his training in neighboring countries and engage in bare-knuckle competition.
Asia would be the training ground for the perilous subways of New York City, where Sifu Carl would have plenty of opportunities to use his martial skills while working as a motorman for the New York City Transit Authority.
During the 70s, the majority of crime in New York City took place in the subway, where Sifu Carl worked as an overnight motorman. During this time, the New York City subway was the definition of danger, a Vintage News article, noted that there were as many as 250 felonies a week in 1979. The NYC subway was also noted as having the highest rate of crime than any other transit system in the world.
While working the graveyard shift, Sifu Carl showed and proved, taking well over 100 weapons from wannabe warriors.
His lifestyle differs from so-called Kung fu masters who only perform demos. His hands on fighting style has been imparted to his students who’ve competed in local martial arts tournaments. “Most people aren’t really Kung fu. I don’t care what they say! One thing you say it and one thing you do it. How you know it is in the actions. Kung fu is not all about fighting, but I expect to see certain things if you do fight!’
Traditional martial arts and Kung fu need Sifu Carl more than ever. In China, traditional Kung fu has been under attack since MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong, has been on the hunt for tradition Kung fu masters in China, saying that they got cubic zirconia skills.
“Why do people need to go out and beating up everybody to prove something to themselves. It works both ways. The immature person sees someone walking around beating up everyone. The mature person looks at him and says, ‘What war are you in? What are you fighting?’
He [Xu Xiaodong], got jumped outside in the street. He said ‘That’s not a contest!’ He’s doing the exact thing that he’s accusing people of doing. He’s creating the parameters of his world, and as far as he’s concerned, this is what a fight should be.
No. I’m from Brooklyn! When he got his ass kicked in the street by those two guys — that’s the fight! That’s it right there. You want to prove something, that’s where you prove it at… Now you found out that you’re not God… I’m from the streets. As far as I’m concerned you expect somebody to hit you in the head with a brick, or expect somebody to come and sneak up behind you or get jumped, all those things that you don’t have in the ring.
Those people who are doing all that mystical stuff, that’s their world! You’re trying to put them in your world. On top of all of that, those people doing Tai Chi will live to be one hundred. That MMA guy, he’s lucky if he lives to his 70s.”
Away from the subway, the Bed Stuy Sifu showed and proved regularly in New York City open competitions.
In regards to MMA, from 2008–2016, Sifu Carl recalled touring at schools, engaging in grabbling exchanges with Jujitsu students. Many of whom thought he was a paper tiger, not realizing that Kung fu is one of the original forms of mixed martial arts.
Sifu points out that the Shaolin monks discussed mixed martial arts years ago saying “The Shaolin Temple, the original monks, they put out theories about fighting, the first thing they say, fighting is four basic principles, all fighting, no matter what you do. No matter where you go if you don’t have these four fighting principles, you cannot consider yourself to be a true fighter!
If you find yourself lacking in any one of them, you’re going to have problems. The first one is hitting, kicking, throwing and grappling. So if you’re Kung fu man, it’s already telling you grappling. It’s already telling you throwing. For you not to know that it means that your training is not complete.”
Sifu Carl is an 8th generation, 7th Star Praying Mantis. The Mantis, combined styles years ago. Sifu explained saying “Praying Mantis combines 18 different styles… That was before Bruce Lee started combing ins styles. Mantis already did that. Mantis is considered the original mixed martial art. Everybody contributed to the mantis styles. There are 18 styles altogether, 17, plus the Mantis itself.”
Although an advocate of full contact fighting, he doesn’t believe that MMA has any longevity associated with it, not like Kung fu, which has benefits beyond its combative nature. “There’s no longevity aspect of MMA…You want to extend your brainpower… True martial arts is supposed to be about longevity” explained Sifu Carl.
Although he was not a Karate student, he would eventually rent space from George Cofield at the Tong Dojo, from 1984–94, where he had a chance to get to know Karate’s baddest sensei.
During this time, there were plenty of challenges and occasionally, he’d have to smack the shit out of some people, but it was Cofield who actually advised him to walk away from fights. “He’d [Cofield] say look, just let it go. Everyone wants you to show them and you with your ego, will show your best stuff. Don’t tip your hand to anybody, let them think whatever they will think. And when you throw down, you do what you need to do. Don’t be in such a rush to try and show off.”
Staying in line with tradition, Sifu Carl is still very active in the arts, only teaching a handful of students. Those who are serious, and who want to dedicate themselves to the culture of Kung fu.
Sifu Carl explained saying “The road for real martial arts is the road that is less traveled. You look at a bunch of roads and you see all these footprints everywhere and you see the one with the least footprints, that’s the traditional way, that’s the road that is least traveled.”
Sho realized that martial arts was a way of life. If he was going to obtain the powers of the Red Glow, he’d have to live the life. He was sent to the borough north of Brooklyn — from Queens comes the power.
Power — I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow. Know this, from the borough of Queens, comes the power. I came to the borough as I came to rhyme-spitters in Hollis and a rhymeslayer in Queensbridge.
The wrestling world knows Bad News Brown, but before he body slammed in the squared circle, throwing up his black fist, he was raised in Queens, and he would make his mark as one of the best Judo players in American history.
For a moment, let me be Illmatical.
Years before I found Sho’nuff’s Red Glow, I would visit my cousin’s house in Laurelton, Queens.
There, an uncle had an assortment of martial arts films. It was there, where I received my first lessons on Bruce Lee and the mastery of a white beard villain called the White Lotus. The movies set it off, and when we weren’t reenacting scenes or making up our own styles, we were watching wrestling.
Like the Black boys of that day, my cousin and I rooted for and idolized men who for the most part didn’t look anything like us and based on recent comments, probably didn’t care for us or our people.
When I first saw Bad News Brown, I didn’t take him seriously. Most Black wrestlers who were in the league, they were comical and I didn’t think of Brown any differently. One day, while deriding Harlem’s bald villain, an uncle suggested that we should be pulling or at least rooting for Brown.
He made some comment about Brown being an Olympian back in the day. I didn’t take him seriously, nor did I like Brown’s signature move, “The Ghetto Blaster.”
He didn’t have any paint on his face, or muscles that were sculpted by steroids. However, he was big, bald and when he won, he raised a black fist.
All though it was over 30 years ago, I now realize that what my uncle was trying to tell me, what he was trying to suggest, was that beyond the theatrics of the ring, beneath Bad News Brown, there was someone with tremendous power.
His name was Allen Coage and he was raised in St. Albans, Queens. I had no idea that we went to the same high school, nor did I realize the extent of his martial skill, but amidst the 85 snowfall, and even a dissolved relationship with my uncle, the reference to Coage’s Olympic bling stayed with me.
Although born in a Manhattan hospital, at the age of six, Coage’s father had a GI bill which allowed the family to join the influx of African Americans who moved to Queens in the 1950s, ostensibly seeking a better life and home than what was offered in Brooklyn and Harlem.
Coage would eventually graduate from Thomas Edison High School and soon after, following in his father’s footsteps, he moved to Chicago to pursue a career in the baking industry. The trade was calling him, but a poster from Jerome Mackey’s Judo School, spoke to him:
‘DON’T LET THE HOOD BEAT YOU UP AND TAKE YOUR MONEY’
The hood didn’t get his money, but Jerome Mackey’s Judo school did. After seven months of intensive training, Coage took first place at a Chicago invitation tournament.
Colored belts followed. A 1969 Black Belt Magazine article noted that he was extremely clumsy when he began his journey. Despite this, he was attracted to the discipline of the sport. Coaches and instructors took a special interest in the humble giant.
He’d return to New York City, were two instructors played an instrumental role in developing’s his skill, seasoned Olympic Judo instructor Sensei Yoshisada Yonezuka, and legendary Judo player Rena Kanokogi, who actually recommended that Coage study in Japan, at the legendary Kodokan Judo Institute.
The 1969 Black Belt magazine article played a pivotal role in assisting Allen with obtaining funds so that he could study in abroad. Coage noted that his year in Japan was instrumental in developing and making him one of America’s best.
Clyde Worthen, a 6th-degree black belt and former USA Judo Coach, met Coage while training in New Jersey. He followed Coage to Japan in 1970.
In a video interview, Coage noted that that the time the spent in Japan was pivotal for his professional development, despite the intense training he had already obtained in the states.
“He was the best heavyweight in the country at the time… Allen was the U.S. Grand Champion, I was a National Champion, we were some of the highest levels from the U.S. We held our own quite well. We both improved a lot, but he gained a lot of ground. In the U.S. even is the case today, we don’t have the number of players that’s over there, so you get to play with high-level players every single day. Over there, five days in a row… No question, it elevated both of our Judo levels” explained Worthen.
The two became good friends because they were both foreigners and at times, the Japanese didn’t take kindly to strangers.
“At the time, Japan was a pretty tough place as far as fighting for Judo. We kind of had to have each other’s back” explained Worthen “The Japanese at that time, they were very clannish, very protective. It was almost like a macho thing. There were times we would throw one of their good players, it was kind of like, war was on.
They would get kind of angry… You knew it was basically on. That intensity, it would make us more determined to go back and fight harder. We also knew that we had each other’s back. Other foreigners could be there on their own and they would be kind of intimidated if they were by themselves. They would cave in. We didn’t go for that.”
Coage and Worthen had each other’s back and adapted elements of the Japanese style. “We improved being able to play their style… We also learned to defend against that high speed, high-intensity Judo that the Japanese had. At the time, they dominated Judo and they would come at you fast and they had beautiful technique” recalled Worthen.
Allen continued to be a success in Judo, and despite the racial tension in the country, he continued to develop relationships and encouraging younger players.
Former Olympian Steve Cohen spoke on just how great Coage was and his relationship with him saying “He was the best in the country. He had great technique. Allen was a great athlete… For me, he was bigger than life. His intensity level was through the roof. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone who was more intense than Allen… If we were training, he was full cylinders all of the time. There’s Allen’s way and you’re going 110% all of the time… Allen could have been a tremendous coach by the way he got people to respond to him… He had a personal touch. It wasn’t adversarial. You knew that Allen cared about you and you weren’t going to let him down. He was this big tough guy, but he was also your big brother.”
Coage’s resume contains plenty of shine. Olympic Bronze medal. Bling. First African American to win an Olympic award in Judo and the 2nd American to medal in the sport. Bling. National championships. Bling. Gold medals at the Pan Am Games. Bling. First American to win two consecutive Pan Am games. Bling, bling. Black Belt magazine would recognize him as the premier Judo player in 1969, 70 and 77. Bling, bling.
After a stellar career, he’d leave the sport because of politics. He’d transition his skills into the wrestling world, performing in Japan and America.
Before he passed, Coage reached out to young Africans in America who had lost their divinity, those who never saw the powers of the Red Glow. He encouraged and implored his young brother and sisters to change.
An excerpt from his website reads “I’ve been fortunate in my life, the real sport of Judo and pro-wrestling entertainment, enabled me to travel all over the world many times. I saw how other people in different cultures live. What strikes me the most is how our young brothers and sisters of African descent, in the USA have lost their way and are living day to day in a fog of self-hatred and disregard. They have no respect for who they are…
The real cool dudes and the real tough guys are the ones who get an education and help to build a better life, not destroy it. What does it take for you fools to wake up? Are you waiting until there’s no one left to kill? Look at the damage you've done to yourselves and your neighborhoods, wake up my young brothers and sisters, the gangster life is a dead end. The most powerful thing on your body is not big guns or arms or chests, it’s your brain and how you develop it.”
Armed with the power to change, after going all city, Sho’nuff was directed to Ohio. It was there, where he’d learn about a great adversary — the Silent Warrior. An enemy of every black woman and man on the planet, an enemy that fought his fought his ancestors and continues to loom in the shadows of deceit.
In Ohio, four women took on the Silent Warrior and triumphed. He sought them out, their strength, their struggle, their story of becoming the best.
Equality — I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow. Before America saw a civil rights movement, when equality was only a dream, I boldly came to a group of lady wrestlers, fortifying them, enabling them to win the war against the Silent Warrior.
I enabled them to wage war beyond the ring, setting an example for young women and men who’d follow. This is how you overcome racism and defeat the Silent Warrior.
Back in 2006, Chris Borneo was working the beat, when a story came for him. Glorious voices of Black women, savage warriors of an era past. These were not mothers of the continent, but African American female champions that came in the form of wrestlers.
The story of a wrestler, named Ethel Johnson came to him. The names of her sisters, Darling “Babs” Wingo, and Marva Scott followed. The names of others pioneers including Kathleen Wimbley would follow. These women triumphed sexism, which was the theme of the day.
They simultaneously, dealt with, managed and snuffed the shit out of racism, way before there was any civil rights movement. This intriguing story, consumed the journalist, leading him to pen the article A Body Slamming Success and complete the documentary Lady Wrestler a decade later.
Speaking on his conversations with Johnson, the journalist said “I was amazed by the stories she told me. Traveling all over the world. Especially back in the 1950s and 60s, places like Japan, Australia, Latin America, and when she wrestled in the south, she was subjected to the same racism as every other Black person… I thought her story was so amazing, it shouldn’t be limited to this one newspaper article.”
Bornea explained saying “Billy and Mildred created this formula for women wrestlers called, sex muscles and diamonds… Ethel and her sisters trained for hours and hours, like Olympic athletes. They were weightlifting, running and practicing wrestling holds. They learned all the wrestling holds. It was really athletic.”
Bournea learned that while these women were being physically sculpted into warriors, their martial arts training included wrestling, grappling and Judo.
They had the duty of sharing the role of being pioneers in sports and receiving less pay than their fair-skinned counterparts. Being the Wolfe that he was, Billy saw potential in having Black lady wrestlers. “Billy was inspired by Jackie Robinson, and thought that if he brought Black women into professional wrestling, and integrated it the way, Jackie Robison did with major league baseball, that it would help wrestling really grow as a sport,” said Bournea.
Word on the street is that Wolfe was a hound, and when it came to extramarital affairs, his penis didn’t discriminate, however, when he pursued Kathleen Wimbley, he actually went to her house and asked her father to allow her to wrestle. Wimbley would eventually join the league along with the three sisters, pioneering wresting for Black women.
Bournea notes that dozens of women of color followed, and is considering future work on black wrestlers saying “There were dozens of these women… They had fans of different races, but Black people really embraced them. They were doing something very few black people were doing, but also very few women.”
As was the case of Black athletes who broke barriers in organized sports, these ‘Sistas’ were paid less than White counterparts, and had to live by the unwritten rule for Blacks at that time — they had to be better just to play on the field, or get their foot in the door.
They even experienced horrific racism and hatred from White wrestlers. The ladies got fit, battled racism, dealt with sexism and somehow, managed to keep their personal lives in order.
“Ethel kept her wrestling career separate from her family life. Of course, her husband knew, but she did not tell her children she was a wrestler because she did not want them to worry about her” explained Bournea.
Eventually, their children found out and they expressed concern. The women let their children know, that they could physically deal with any man or woman that threatened their safety in the ring. Suckas tested and there were instances where some men had to catch a fist or get a headlock.
The lady wrestlers noted instances while on the road, they would forfeit matches when promoters would not allow Black patrons in the audience. Beyond the basic segregation, Bournea’s documentary highlights that racism wasn’t just masked men on horses, that shit was everywhere, and when shit got real, there were threats of violent and sexual assault.
All of this took a toll on the women and would wear on their personal relationships, but they were sustained by each other and their relationships with other Black entertainers who they met on the road, forming relationships with Joe Louis, Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Charles and the Harlem Globetrotters.
Although travel was a benefit of their profession, the Silent Warrior would follow them to distant lands, often striking at these warriors when they were alone.
Marva Scott wrestled in Japan and was accosted by the mafia (Yakuza), who ordered her to throw fights. The documentary points out that she performed and endured racist taunts in the ring. Alone, without any moral support, she had a nervous breakdown and was placed into a sanitarium for several months. She’d return to the states and wrestle, but the Silent Warrior had tainted her love for the sport she once loved.
The lady wrestlers would continue their journey, opening the door for more Black women, many of whom endured similar experiences of racism and sexism.
Sho’nuff came to several realizations about the Silent Warrior — it wages war on Black athletes and Black people in general. This warrior struck at the workplace and was behind canceled contracts. It operated any place and anywhere that it could, in order to keep Black people oppressed.
In the athletic world, the Silent Warrior was points not scored, trophies not won, athletes who had done their best, often better than others and still were denied the bling.
Sho’nuff got angry. He said, “Fuck that Silent Warrior shit, I’m going to obtain the Red Glow, turn myself into a God, and the world will never forget me!”
God — I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow. As I had often come to fighters who use get it in Ohio, I came to the hands of a vampire whose fists thirsted for blood.
I directed him towards the squared circle where he was worshipped and became God.
Fear him. Behold the Middletown Blackula. Beware of Vampire Johnson.
In 2012, when Illmatical was simping heavy, he’d run into the wrong woman. He didn’t even love her, but she, as tiny as she was, she knocked homeboy on his ass. It was necessary. In truth, he had seen it coming and as most simps do, he fell into depression. Illmatical was determined to get out of the slump. He returned to the place where he transformed his body in the past.
In the boxing gym, his trainer would he’d often suggest that boxers were not like they were in the past. Like they were in the 80s.
His trainer recalled a vicious fighter who preyed on souls in the ring. This fighter was a vampire and unlike Dracula, Wilbert Vampire Johnson, made make his opponents drink their own blood.
As a youth, on the streets of Middletown, Ohio, Wilbert Johnson acquired a taste for drama. By the age of 12, he was fighting almost every day and with anyone he could.
“I was fighting in school and almost everywhere else” explained Vampire “I beaten all up. I was only 12. They were 16, 17, 18, 19. I beat em all up.”
Vampire’s mother couldn’t control her son’s bloodlust. When physical discipline didn’t work, his mother took him to the Middletown Community Center, where he honed his appreciation for blood in a safer environment.
“I was beating up people every day. I went to school and I beat them up too. I got into fights every day. She didn’t know what to do with me so she took me to the boxing gym and I stopped beating up people in the streets because they weren’t fun no more. I was beating them up anyway and I knew I could really beat them up when I started boxing” explained Vampire.
Even at a young age, he recalls that he wasn’t afraid of the rest of the boxers in the gym, stating “I was a bad guy. I told my mother, if I beat them up, you won’t whip me no more?”
Three years later, Vampire would win his first Golden Gloves tournament in Cincinnati and years later, turn pro at the age of 22.
People attribute his moniker, to his teeth, which were actually knocked out when he was playing football, but Vampire explains it differently. He was labeled a bloodsucker in Dayton, Ohio “I was cutting people up, beating them up real bad. I spit my mouthpiece out and said ‘ARRGGGHH!’
Blood was all over the place. They said ‘Look he’s a vampire!’”
Vampire recalls one vicious beating, breaking a man’s jaw and leg with one punch.
“With the same punch... A left hook. He went up in the air and came down!”
Vampire was a product of boxing from a different era, with a hardened journey. He recalls almost beating John Mogabi and a victory over Donny Lalonde, who beat him in a rematch.
The former golden champion Donny Lalonde spoke on the blood-sucking pugilist saying “Boxers from the ’80s spanned from fighters from the ’60s and ’70s. It was much more of a finesse game back then.
It was old school boxing that came from a more mature form of the tough but more crude era of the ’40s and ’50s. Vampire came up with some of the best trainers and fighters from the era that many feels is the true, best generation skill wise and finesse wise.
Wilbert was a very smart fighter that had a ton of ring generalship. It seemed along with the watering down of titles in the early to mid-’80s came a watering down of the quality of trainers. Vampire came from a place that he benefited from exposure to Marvin Johnson and Champ Chaney and all the guys he boxed with at the PAL Club In Indianapolis. He also had good coaching during his success in his amateur career as well.”
Wilbert would go on and win a total of 5 Golden Gloves titles and Lalonde believes that he would have fared better had he stayed in lower weight classes, saying “As I said above Vampire was a smart fighter. He used the ring well. Used his head. He was tricky in there. He had skills few Canadians had so it was interesting and fun to fight him as I was able to see new things and learn from him… I think had he spent more time in lighter weight classes he would have had a longer and more successful career.”
Despite his success as a fighter, Vampire has not been acknowledged by the Middletown, Ohio hall of fame. Regardless, the Vampire acknowledges his own Godliness in the ring saying “I’m the best fighter that has ever come out of this town — ever!”
The God in the ring, the Vampire imparted Shonuff with the desire for blood. Shonuff promised himself that he would not be forgotten.
His bloodlust took him to the West Coast, where he’d join a group of fighters who lived for the bling. A fighting organization of excellence and power. He headed to Los Angeles, to join the best of the best.
Build — I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow. I came to Southern California amidst Black Power and Panthers. I lived in the hearts of a group of champions, who would become one of the most dominant fighting organizations in the world.
Their fists were black, and they organized for the gold.
The true story of how the Black Karate Federation got started will finally be told…
The running story on the net, in print, and in the minds of everyone who thinks they know shit about Black martial arts, is that Steve Sanders and Donnie Williams started the Black Karate Federation aka BKF, after the two experienced racism at tournaments. Your favorite martial arts magazine also ran with this story, but unfortunately, it ain’t so.
Don’t get it twisted, as it is now, in 1969 racism was the theme of the day. The clique wasn’t formed because souled out black belts were getting oppressed by Whitey. It was formulated, so that souled out brothers and sisters could continue their winning ways and stop eliminating each other from competition.
In 1969, three young martial artists, feeling the influence of the Black Panther Party and US Organization came up with a plan. These soul power brothers, were college students and their names were Jerry Smith, Ron Chapel and Cliff Stewart.
BKF co-founder Jerry Smith reminisced on how he was building with the brothers, way back when, saying “‘You know man, we would get more accomplished if we had our own school or organizations…’
They would pit us against each other. We were technically not organized and did not have a school. We knew each other and fought in tournaments. Myself, Cliff [Stewart] and Ron, we were from three different kinds of martial arts styles. Ron Chapel was just Kung fu at the time, he eventually became Kenpo. I was Shotokan Shorin-ryu, Cliff was Aikido and Goju. We had all of this wonderful knowledge of different styles. We decided, why don’t we form our organization!
That way, when we fight in a tournament, we won’t disqualify each other… We realized that if we were in the same school, or under the same umbrella, we wouldn’t have to fight each other until the finals. That’s what happened and we started to win everything. We were all champions already. We were already winning. It wasn’t that the BKF made us champions, but once we formed the federation, we won everything.”
The three had met, while Ron and Cliff were film students at UCLA and Jerry a graphic design at another college. The three homeboys met at a tournament and instantly became friends. They’d routinely meetup for training along with their students. When they entered competitions, they realized they were knocking each other out of the earlier rounds.
“We had been kicking around an idea of having some martial arts organization. That wasn’t a new thing. The problem arose, when we went to competition, all of the guys who were training together, ended up competing against one another. Because we came to the tournament in such overwhelming numbers. There was just no way, some guys weren’t going to fight someone they already trained with. We were trying to solve that problem” explained Chapel.
The three homies decided that they needed their own organization. Ron and Cliff left the concept and design to Jerry. The only requirement that the brothers had for the organization’s logo — it had to include a funkin lesson. The red, the black and the green, with a key — sissies!
“I decided, to call it BKF, Black Karate Federation. The Koreans had their Karate organization, the Japanese had theirs. Why couldn’t we have ours? I decided that it would be BKF. I designed the crest, the hand and the fist” explained Jerry “I wanted to come up with something that would be vicious. At first, I thought about a rattlesnake. Then I thought, a rattlesnake rattles before it strikes you. I didn’t like that too much.
I wanted something that, you were struck before you knew what happened. Then I thought about, just coming back from Vietnam, the Bamboo Pit Viper is considered the most deadliest snake in the world.
In Vietnam, they told us you’d be dead before you hit the ground. When I see the picture of it, it looked like a pretty little snake. I ruled that out, it wasn’t fierce enough. At the end, the Cobra is really a fierce-looking snake. It had fangs, those gills at the side, that was the one.”
The fist was motivated by Panthers who had raised their fist in the 1968 Olympics, while simultaneously representing the founding fathers of the federation. “Each finger at the time was to represent one of the founders. Myself, cliff, there was Ron, Steve and the thumb, was a whole number of people who got the federation going.”
As they formed their organization, they gained attention from the feds. Ron Chapel had shared a dorm with US Organization co-founder Malanu Karenga. While the FBI was stirring up shit between the Panthers and US, they kept an eye on the budding Karate organization.
Chapel explained saying “A whole bunch of eyes were on us that we don’t need… We were teaching the Black Student union and one day we looked up and the FBI stepped out of a wall, from a place we did not know there was a door.”
Regarding the distorted history, and the running story about the BKF getting started when Steve Saunders lost to Joe Lewis, it ain’t exactly so.
Smith clarified, saying “That is absolutely a lie. It’s a good story. It’s a wonderful story if you’re going to make a movie, and you want it to have a good plot, a wonderful storyline. I was there, I know what happened. I remember when Steve fought Joe Lewis.
It was supposed to be a big thing. Steve Saunders versus Joe Lewis… The winner was supposed to get ten thousand dollars and a car. Neither one of them got ten thousand dollars and neither one got a car. The promoter kept the money and skipped out. Joe won the match… Joe Lewis was the heavyweight champion in martial arts and the first heavyweight kickboxing champion. Steve Saunders couldn’t beat Joe Lewis on his best day. Steve was a small guy, a lightweight and Joe was a heavyweight.
Steve interjected his own personality on his own students. It was about ‘We can’t win!’ In reality, he couldn’t win. Don’t get me wrong, Steve was an excellent competitor, hell of a tournament competitor and he would win his division on a fairly regular basis. His issue was that he could not win Grand Champ. He couldn’t beat Joe Lewis. He couldn’t beat those guys at the top and he always felt that he was being cheated. That’s where the whole ‘We’re getting cheated in tournaments thing came from.”
Although racism ruled the air in Southern Cali, the future BKF members were already running the game. “It’s kind of hard for guys to claim racism when they were winning… Our people were kicking major but. Racism yeah, it was everywhere, but it didn’t have an impact on what we were doing” explained Chapel.
“We had the first Black grand champion, at the international, that was Lenny Ferguson. We were consistently in the finals, we were consistently winning every division that we entered. The racism cry comes from Steve and Donnie because it is convenient. Steve was bitter because he could never win grand champion. He would win the lightweight division almost automatically. When it came to the fight off for grand champion, he could never win that!”
The BKF was already in motion when the founding members approached Steve Saunders and asked if he’d join their burgeoning organization. Although they were winning, Steve Sanders was well known. Forming like Voltron, the crew asked if he’d be the head.
While Steve Sanders may not have been able to win the grand championship due to his weight class, which was welterweight, he definitely had fists of legend.
While the BKF co-founders have highlighted a different inception of the organization, Sanders account of racism at tournaments and omission in the martial media, coincide with other Black martial artists who often did not receive the recognition or fair judging that they deserved.
During the late 60s and early 70s, while American martial arts was still emerging. An economic structure was set in place, revenue flowing through the Asian community and to select Caucasians. A Black Grand Champion was the last thing needed.
Steve Sanders who is now Steve Muhammad spoke on his experiences with blatant discrimination, saying:
“I told Ed Parker: ‘They cheated me!’
He said: ‘I know, they’re not ready for a Black champion at this time?’
I said: ‘I’m here now, this is my time. I’m fighting better now than I ever have in my life, I won’t probably get no better than I am now. If they take that away from me, they may never see me again at my best… If you talk to Danny Inasanto, and a lot of the people who are still alive, from that time, you ask them about me, they knew that they were cheating me. At that time they felt it was okay’” explained Muhammad.
“Particular when I was by myself at tournaments, as a white belt and brown belt it wasn’t bad. It became bad when you became a black belt… I was even told, they’re not ready for a Black champion… Mostly what they had were Orientals and Whites winning the tournaments. For a Black man to win the International Championships, it wasn’t what happened back in those days” explained Muhammad.
“None of my instructors at that time would speak up for me. So when I got cheated, I was just cheated. You fight, and you fight hard and know that you’re scoring points, and they can just take it from you, you know what that felt like?
All I did was turn that pain into skill. I got better and better” said Muhammad “I was asked the question, how did you accept the pain, because there was a great deal of pain by winning, still losing and everybody knows that you won, but you didn’t win.
They asked me how I deal with that pain and I said, ‘I turned pain into skill!”
The BKF is widely known for their scene in the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon, which briefly previews Jerry Smith, Steven Muhammad, Donnie Williams, and the late, great Jim Kelly, who was never a member of the BKF.
Word on the street is that he was not even supposed to be in the film, producers actually wanted Woody Strode to play the character of Williams. But whatever.
The BKF founders agree that the organization was formed in 1969. Donnie Williams would stroll into the organization a few years later from Northern California with a brown belt in Taekwondo.
From San Francisco, he traveled to the place where it never rains, in search of the fastest Black man in martial arts. Williams recalled first meeting Steve Muhammad.
“I was looking for Steve because I heard about him with Ed Parker. I heard that this guy was one of the fastest Black guys in martial arts… I went into this place, it wasn’t a Karate school, but they were training in Karate. I was sitting there watching those guys fight, and they were just no good. A bunch of Black kids, just wild and crazy. They had no style, they had no pride.
I said to the people in the school: ‘You know what, I can whoop everybody in this school!’
A little 12-year-old boy said: ‘You know who that is over there? That’s Steve Sanders!’
I literally got up to save my own pride and said:
‘Me and Steve Saunders can whoop all of Y'all!’
Everybody started laughing. I introduced myself to Steve Saunders and we’ve been friends since.”
Although Williams was known as the ‘Clown Prince of Karate,’ his impressive skills would add on to the organization of master builders, who were determined to be the best fighters in the world.
The origins of the BKF federation is often clouded in purple haze, but the accomplishments are real. Some of their premier fighters include Steve Muhammad, Jerry Smith, Tommy Moss, Kraiguar Smith, Donnie Williams, Carl Scott (soul brother of Kung fu who actually received his black belt from Muhammad), Alvin Prouder, Ray Wizard, Sam Pace, Earnest Russell and of course Sho’nuff.
They racked up the bling and forced the martial arts world to acknowledge them “We made them respect us. We kicked their butts. We whopped their momma, their daddy, everything they put in front of us. As a whole had so many champions. We won team competitions at the internationals nine years in a row. They had to respect us, they didn’t have a choice. We were a team of premier fighters. It wasn’t that they loved us, or they respected us, or they liked Black people. They had no choice. They did not respect us for any reason other than we were champions!” explained Williams
“On the West coast, most martial artist who are of a certain age will tell you that Steve and the BKF changed the face of fighting on the West Coast. The way we presented our weapon system to the martial art community. It was totally different than the rest of them. Martial arts is primarily defense. We changed it to primarily offense. We showed them offensive movements with hands and feet.
They really held back the contributions we gave to the martial arts community. We went to the tournaments 300 strong and we came back with every trophy in every age group, belt ranking, we came back with trophies and most of the time they were first place trophies except for the grand champion” explained Muhammad
Without getting on some Tupac and B.I.G. shit, BKF members, recall that the overall skill level was higher on the West Coast, which is reflected by more prestigious tournaments, like the Ed Parker’s International’s and well known golden era fighters like Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, and Mike Stone. However, fighters on the East Coast were known to make up for technical deficiencies with brute force.
“The competition on the West Coast, I think the guys were more technically skilled, but the East Coast, they were rough brothers. You knew that you had to knuckle when they showed up. I think the West Coast was a little more finesse. A little more technical. The East Coast made up for it. They were kick ass” explained Chapel.
Initially, the fighters on the opposing coasts did not know about each other. While Black Belt magazine would note the wins of Black fighters, they often failed to provide feature coverage that Asian and Caucasian practitioners received.
Speaking about the omission in media, Muhammad said “They don’t mention our names. At one time, Musa (Moses Powell) had a team on the East Coast, I had a team of Black fighters on the West Coast, do you know that we didn’t even know about each other… I started finding out about Joe Hayes, Lapuppet, Little John Davis…
I did not even know about fighters on the East Coast until I got on a plane and found out there were fighters on the East that were Black. I only learned about the White fighters from the East Coast. Not the Blacks. And when I went there, I found a whole host of Black fighters that were bad! That was shocking to me and I loved it!”
The clan got their respect, and eventually, they’d take their winning ways into the streets.
Back, before Khakis sagged and beef was settled with drive-by shootings, when the BKF was building and birthing champions, another warrior clan was organizing, and whether they’d realize it, they’d make a permanent mark on Los Angeles, and the rest of the country.
Before the Crips became a movement in L.A., one of their first pieces of territory was the Rio Theater, on Imperial and Western.
“There was a brother in the neighborhood, who was an MTA bus driver. And he lamented that there were no local neighborhood theaters in the Black community. He was bound and determined to change that and so he took his own money and reopened the Rio Theater.
He hit on me because I was the only Black licensed projectionist in the county. In those days you had to be licensed… I was lucky enough to get licensed… He hired me to be the projectionist. I was training some of the younger guys to run the equipment. Because I was there all of the time, he said, ‘You mine as well be the manager too!” explained Chapel.
“We had a problem with the Crips at the time. We were on the corner of Imperial and Western. The Crips were a budding organization trying to make their bones and they were mostly centered around the different high schools. The schools in Southern California turned to gangs…
That was the territory at the time. They were all high school students, it hadn’t really migrated to the streets at that time. We were in close proximity to a couple of high schools, Washington being one of them. The Crips had essentially claimed the theater as their territory. This sparked some clashes. It was a problem.”
There are different accounts of what took place on an evening when a 16-year-old Tookie Williams, Crips co-founder, got kicked in the nuts by a BKF member.
Depending on who you speak to, either organization played the hero or villain, but honestly only Sho’nuff’s version seems factual.
STEVE MUHAMMAD’S VERSION
“At the Rio Theater on Imperial and Western. They had a theater down there.
They called us and asked ‘Do you guys do security?’
I said ‘Yes!’
He said ‘I would like you to do some security at my theater.’
So I said ‘How many men do you need?”
He said, “I don’ know, you tell me!”
“I took 75 [BKF members] down there. That’s when I met Tookie. There were about 25 of them [Crips] in the movie. The guy came and got me and said “All these guys walked in and they did not pay. I want them out of the movie.
McGee went over and said, I want everybody to stand up come out into the lobby so we can talk to you. We were willing to pay for them to come into the movie, but they had to come out and we had to count them to make sure we gave the theater enough money for them. We wanted to show them that, you Black people, we love you. We don’t hate you.
A guy stood up and yelled out: ‘Crips!’
Then about 25 Crips stood up.
McGee told another Crip to move his feet from the chair. He said he wasn’t going to do it.
They yelled out again ‘Crips!’
There were 75 of us so we yelled out ‘BKF!’ and the whole theater stood up.
So Tookie said ‘We got to settle this… You get one of your men, and we’ll get one of ours and well get a room and we’ll handle this!’
So I looked over and saw this little guy, he was a purple belt. I didn’t know he was scared. They were about the same size. Tookie only weighed about 120lbs at that time. He was about 15, maybe 16, really young. So we went upstairs…
We get up there, we tell them to fight. Tookie was talking and had scared this little guy to death… This guy, I can’t remember his name, but he flinched and turned his head and threw a ball kick and hit Tookie in the groin. Tookie went down.”
Tookie said ‘I can’t believe this!’
Muhammad and Williams would become friends after that incident. Williams would eventually send several Crips to train with the BKF, and Muhammad recalls that he’d only accept them if they left the gang. Many stopped Crip walking, started doing katas and never looked back.
BAREFOOT POOKIE’S VERSION
According to the OG, Angelo “Barefoot Pookie” White, the Crips had dabbled in different forms of martial arts prior to that meeting. In between banging and cutting school, he had actually learned some forms of martial arts in Slauson Park.
But on the night, when the BKF stepped to the Crips, the OG remembers it like this:
“They [BKF] was upstairs from us. They came down and challenged us… We were watching the movie, the lights came on and they ran down there, we just started kicking them all, and just fighting.
With Tookie, he went ahead with Oscar, they took Tookie upstairs… Oscar [BKF] kicked him in the nuts… They ran down on us, the whole crew. We fought. That’s all we did was fight, so it wasn’t nothing.”
SHONUFF’S VERSION (“WHO AM I?”)
“They called me because I was the greatest fighter in the BKF.
I told Steve ‘The Rio theater manager called and said there were about 100 Crips down there.‘Me and you, we can take all of those dudes on our own. He insisted that we take some backup.
We called up Donnie Williams, he said ‘No problem!’ A little purple belt by the name of Oscar was around, so we took him too.
We went down there and that was the first time that I stopped a film.
I rolled in with Steve, my main man Donnie, and Oscar. We gave Ron the signal and he stopped the film. Everyone just looked at us as we walked in.
All the Crips stood up. Someone stepped to me and said ‘Who the fuck are you?’
It was really quiet, and I stepped to dude like ‘Who am I? Who am I?’
Immediately, the BKF members who were with me said ‘Sho’nuff!’
The Crips looked confused and then Cliff was like ‘Why don’t Y'all take this upstairs. One of yours versus one of ours!’
So Oscar went upstairs with Tookie and a few others.
I stayed downstairs with Donnie and both of us had about 90 Crips in check. Later on, what I heard was that Oscar kicked Tookie in the nuts. I wish I did it! We left shortly after and everything was cool.”
Eventually, the young Crips turned to guns, and a shooting in the area would contribute to the theater’s closing. There would be future run-ins with the gang, who intimated that they would prefer to shoot BKF members instead of fighting them.
Regardless, there was a level of respect. Tookie and the Crips allowed the squares to exist.
“When Black people started coming to the tournaments and they saw us as a unified school, they were shocked. They had been to tournaments where there were only White people and Orientals… We use to go to the tournament 300 strong” explained Muhammad.
The organization became so well known in the community that other street gangs started to claim that they were BKF.
Beyond tournaments, the BKF made a significant impact in the community when it was needed. Providing young Black men and women positive role models whom they could not only look up to but also emulate.
Filmmaker Erik Anderson, who is working on the BKF documentary Our Fists Are Black, discussed the impact of the organization within the community saying “Ultimately what you want to do as an instructor, is give these kids a sense of pride, in an environment at a time, when a lot of the kids who came and trained in the dojo were fatherless… These gentlemen made no money teaching the martial arts. Steve Muhammad would tell me of how mothers would walk in with their children and say ‘Can you train my child?’”
A number of students were influenced by Chapel and went into law enforcement, protection, and private security. Others were guided by the organization’s code of conduct.
“Kids grew up in our Karate school, as our own children. I have kids, 40 and 50 and till this day, call me ‘Pops.’ Kids were getting into trouble… and in the BKF we didn’t play that!” explained Williams.
The BKF has often been mistaken for a militant Black fighting organization, when in fact, they had a number of non-black members. As the organization has grown and seen several iterations and chapters, the underlying mission remains.
Whether their style was Kenpo, Shotokan or Goju, whether their tribe was African American, West Indian, Caribbean or Nigerian. The BKF remains an example of what can be done as a people and honestly, it makes you wonder why every Black marital artist in the world isn’t wearing the BKF patch, throwing up the red, the black and the green. A symbol of what can be done when the people worked together as masters builders.
With the BKF, Shonuff racked up the bling and made suckas kiss his brother’s Converses. While winning, the ladies, the Foxy Browns, Charlie’s Angels, and Velvet Smooths, they fell at the bedside and as he loved them as he could, but they did not have the power to deter him from his mission.
Born — I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow. I came to a young martial arts prodigy in Chicago, and as I had done regularly in the city, I gave them him the power.
John Keehan transformed himself into the most dangerous man in the world. His name would live on as a myth. The most infamous figure in the history of American martial arts. He pioneered mixed martial arts.
He was also involved in one the most brutal battles in American martial arts history, coupled with his involvement in one of the country’s biggest robberies.
There are some, that say he got away with nearly a milli. With Red Glow in hand, this is how an Irish kid from Chiraq acquired the style and title of Count Raphael Dante.
I came to Chicago in the early 1960s, hoping to empower a hero to fight against the city’s crime syndicate. You see, the city, the government, they were getting strong-armed by The Outfit, the mafia clique who had been the crime in the city, since Capone in the 20s. I hoped that Keehan would become a martial arts untouchable, but absolute power corrupts, especially in the Windy City.
At the time, the city was still trying to figure out it’s ‘Negro Problem.’ Chicago did not, as America still does not, have a place for the descendants of its freed slaves. Larry Hoover’s Gangster Disciples were budding, while J Edgar Hoover and his boys steadily plotted against Elijah’s nation that kept growing, thanks to a young, loquacious minister.
Before Keehan, the city had been exposed to the martial arts, thanks to a Chicago born master named Bruce Tegner, who at one time had flooded the streets with his self-defense books.
Word on the street, even on the corners, is that Keehan came from money. His parents weren’t royalty, but he was better than middle class and after getting bullied in high school, he acquired the desire to get nasty with his fist. As I had done with countless others, seeking my power, I lead him to a master boxer.
Filmmaker Floyd Webb, who has been working on the highly anticipated documentary The Search for Count Dante, suggest that Keehan’s enlightener was skilled in more than fisticuffs, saying “He was trained by a championship bantamweight boxer, Johnny Coulon, one of boxer Jack Johnson’s best friends… He was a private student of Coulon’s. The 115lb Johnny Coulon used Dim Mak. He claimed to have learned during his boxing demonstrations in Asia, in the 1920s, to make himself unliftable.
He did this nerve pinch trick with every major heavyweight from Johnson to Muhammad Ali. Coulon also studied Jiu-jitsu and was an instructor for the US Marines in World War One.”
The master pugilist who left the squared circle and toured with a vaudeville act, dubbed himself as The Man They Cannot Lift. Coulan, unliftable, would have a heavy influence on Keehan, helping him become unfuckwithable.
During their builds, Keehan developed an appreciation for Dim Mak techniques, which is a style of martial arts that focuses on specific locations of the body. In addition, he realized how the general public developed a fascination for the lethal and mystical nerve strikes.
Speaking to Black Belt Magazine in 1976, Keehan verified training with Coulan, saying “I was always interested in bodybuilding, weightlifting, boxing, wrestling, Judo… I studied boxing in Johnny Coulan’s Gym.”
According to Keehan’s ego, he eventually became a championship boxer while in high school.
Keehan also suggested that he was influenced by Tegner’s books on Judo, which probably led him to legendary Judo master Mas Tumora, who engaged in one of the country’s first MMA matches, with a display of Jujitsu vs wrestling. A 1943 Chicago Daily Times article entitled Jujitsu Test Shows Dangers noted that the match went back and forth for over 25 minutes.
The match was highly clandestine, as the US was still trying to navigate and make sense of the so-called ‘Yellow Peril.’ Tumora thoroughly dominated wrestler Karl Pojello, who talked enough shit. In fact, during one grappling exchange, Tamura choked the shit out of Karl in 80 seconds.
Keehan told Black Belt that he entered the Marines at the age of 18 and after that, he joined the army where he studied Tang Soo Do, Moo Duo and other shit you can’t pronounce.
A 1964 Black Belt magazine article entitled Trias and Keehan Head United States Karate Association claimed that Keehan had never been defeated in organized competition.
The article also points out that the young Karate expert fought in kumite competitions and his only loss was a disqualification to Karate champion Gary Alexander — excuse me, when Alexander knocked him the fuck out. He would later tell Black Belt that he had only lost two fights in his entire life.
In a 1976 Black Belt Magazine article, Trias would speak on Dante’s dismissal from the USKA, saying “What happened was that he was given too much power too young and too fast… He had good ideas about promoting tournaments and other activities, but some of his ideas were so fantastically out of reason… Ideas that would include doing or saying anything, whether it was true or false” Dante was officially released from the organization in 1964.
Despite being ousted from a prestigious Karate organization, Dante made his mark in martial arts. Look back, a July 1977 Black Belt Magazine article entitled The Untold Story of American Karate’s History spoke on the Count saying “Keehan managed to fill tournament halls with spectators, something no one else could do at the time. He taught many black belts who went on to open their own dojo and turn out nationally respected students.” One of which, is Chicago Karate legend, Jimmy Jones.
Undeterred, Dante would form the World Karate Federation and try to organize a full contact or “no holds barred” Karate tournament. The August 1967, Black Belt Magazine article Storm Clouds Over Chicago mentioned that every major Karate leader in the country, including Jhoon Rhee and Robert Trias, were against the idea of full contact Karate.
The article also goes on to mention that the contestants would wear groin protectors and boxing gloves. Years later, we have kickboxing and the MMA, but whatever.
He’d move on, acquiring black belts in Aikido and Jujitsu. Word on the street is that he wanted to train with Karate master Mas Oyama, who was known on the strip, for killing bulls with deadly chops. Oyama sensed that young Keehan was obsessed for the wrong reasons.
Keehan was obviously influenced by Oyama, he’d later try to promote a Karate tournament, by driving around with a bull on a flatbed trailer, claiming that one of his students would knock the bull out. It never happened.
Keehan also says, while coming of age, he bumped heads with Bruce Lee in San Francisco. Speaking to Black Belt, he recalls the incident saying “I worked out with him… He was very good. He got a lot of reputation but for what? Did he ever win a championship? Did he ever challenge anybody?… Joe Lewis could have broken Bruce Lee in two. I believe it was Joe Lewis and Mike Stone who did romp over him… He was in movies, he was lucky.”
Webb noted the Keehan was one of the first Chicago martial arts teachers to openly teach Black students, which explains the admiration that many prominent Black midwest Karate masters have for him.
Keehan didn’t discriminate with the lessons, he also taught gang members and brothers from the Nation of Islam. All of this contributed towards a negative stigma in the martial arts world, and a name that would continually be associated with infamy.
With power in hand, the powers of the Red Glow led Keehan to famed American occultist Michael Bertiaux, who lived in Haiti and mastered in Voudon magic.
“Keehan changes his name as part of his belief in spiritual transformation. His spiritual teacher, Micheal Bertiaux says transformation was at the core of his Voodoun Gnostic teachings. His transformation ideas were acquired from reading the histories of ancient fictional characters” explained Webb.
Speaking on Dante, Bertiaux said “I think he wanted to help humanity. I think of all the young kids who were helped by Dante. Many of them were just inspired by him. His flamboyant image. This would appeal to youngsters. He was like a prophetic mystical teacher, that comes into neighborhoods and comes in and opens up his mystical shop… I seem him as a mystical teacher and explorer. I think Dante was a very powerful man spiritually and highly evolved… The public only saw the flamboyant image, that was in a sense a Hollywood image that he had produced for them. Dante was from my perspective, a man who was a genius in his own way…”
With the powers of the Voudon, Keehan emerged from his transformation as Count Dante, beaming with the powers of the Red Glow. Unfortunately, power corrupts and Dante wanted power, absolutely.
A 1965 a Chicago Times article noted that Dante and his homie Doug Dwyer were arrested for attempting to blow out the windows of a Judo spot, ostensibly because the instructor owned them some money.
Reports say that they had been drinking. Dante would later tell Black Belt that their actions made the news because the mob had been responsible for several local area bombings, in order to pressure government officials to release crime boss Sam Giancana.
Real news or not, word on the street is that Dante acquired a taste for drama. After teaching at one of his many schools, in the evenings, he and his team would carouse and do hood shit. Which meant that they’d go out to bars and look for altercations. When he wasn’t with the squad, he’d dress up in leotards and a cape, and walk through hoods waiting for people to get at him — just so he could bait them into a fight.
Floyd’s research indicates that Dante got some money from occult and pornography bookstore ventures, where he got his first exposure to organized crime. He also opened a hairdressing salon where he was able to meet and develop relationships with many beautiful women, including Playboy bunnies. One who eventually learned Karate from him was Barbara Kemp.
An August 1968, Chicago Tribune section of the paper entitled In the Wake of The News, would speak on Kemp’s relationship with Dante “Holding Barbara Kemp’s soft, pretty little hand would be romantic until you remembered that the former Playboy club Bunny can chop a brick in half with one smash of that dainty hand… A Kemp family friend, Count Dante, is one of the world’s greatest Karate men. Believe it or not, he’s a hairdresser. Count Dante’s magnetism and his Karate ability fascinated Barb…”
The same article noted Dante’s proclivity for radical promotion. Kemp mentioned the first World Fighting Arts Championship tournament and said that a personal challenge had been issued to Cassius Clay, hoping that he might participate in the pre-UFC mixed martial arts challenge that would include Judo, boxing, wrestling, and Karate.
No doubt influenced by Coulan, Dante rebranded himself as The Deadliest Man Alive and made bank, buy selling his flimsy book, which was entitled World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets.
In the book, Dante demonstrates several Dim Mak nerve strike techniques and a fighting combination, known as The Dance of Death aka The Kata Dante, which is a series of strikes used to get someone on the ground, and from there, you proceed to stomp them out. The other benefit of purchasing this publication is that it provided the buyer with immediate membership, into The Black Dragon Fighting Society.
According to the corner standers, and spot rushers, Dante pulled in nearly a milli from this scam. Whether it was a million dollars, is highly dubious. However, Dante was thirsty for power, and it corrupted Dante.
On April 24th, 1970, Dante would be involved in an incident that would tarnish his name, and make him a pariah in the martial arts community.
As with any beef, especially an old one, there are so many sides to the story regarding a fight on April 23rd, 1970. The beef cost Dante’s student, Jim Concevic his life. Word on the strip is that the beef was over a woman. Someone suggested that Dante gathered his crew because someone dissed him. I heard someone stepped on his Converses. Regardless, the beef was real and Dante and his crew went to the Black Cobra Hall to settle it.
In the wake of the tragedy, Dante would develop two interesting professional relationships, that teetered on friendship. The first was with Black Belt Magazine writer Mas Ayoob, who actually became a confidant over the course of a year. Ayoob would pen a series of articles on Dante in 1976, including vital details pertaining to the Jim Concevic murder. “I was assigned to write the story on him for Black Belt… In Fall River, I met him there. They were having an event, I want to say Black Thursday or Black Monday, supposedly a deathmatch, which turned out to be bullshit, but it was an exciting spectacle. I got to know John, he and I conversed often on the telephone…
There was the public persona, there was the real Keehan, and he went to great lengths to keep people from finding out which was which… He had created the whole Count Dante thing. He figured if Cassius Clay could change his name to Muhammad Ali, he could change his name from John Keehan to Count Dante. There was a self-created persona there. The guy was real, nobody ever questioned his skill as a martial artist per se. Very charismatic guy” explained Ayoob.
The second was mafia attorney Robert Cooley. Years later, Cooley would devote a chapter to Dante in his book, When Corruption Was King, providing details of the Black Cobra Hall trial. During the several months he got to know Dante, he described him as a maniacal sex crazed fighter, whose ego was way out of control.
Word on the street is that Dante entered the dojo with Concevic and some students. The problem was that the dojo was full of dangerous weapons and one man even pulled out a mace on Dante, who replied by threatening to kill the man. Ayoob’s reportage, suggest that no one knows who threw the first punch, but after a standoff, everyone was Kung fu fighting. Shit got real, and weapons were brought into the mix.
Concevic is in the middle of it and gets sliced up. As Concevic is trying to leave, someone throws a spear that gets lodged in the side of his neck. He manages to pull it out, and as he manages to get to the street, he bleeds to death.
In the end, he had 36 slash wounds and a gaping hole in his neck.
The Count said that he was busy fucking people up while Concevic was getting sliced. Ayoob’s account has Dante hiding under a desk. According to Cooley, Dante was charged with aggravated battery for ripping someone’s eye out and due to something called ‘The Accountability Statute,’ he was accountable for Concevic’s death.
Cooley would hang with Dante, during the months leading up to the trial. At the time Dante was living with two (not a typo) Playboy bunnies and Cooley followed Dante to parties at the Playboy mansion. Even though he was out on bond, Cooley routinely saw Dante engage in extreme violence.
During the trial, Dante’s behavior did not improve. Cooley tried to explain to the judge that Dante had to defend himself. Although Cooley had coached him, as all attorneys do, Dante could not contain his ego.
In his book, Cooley says “Even during my direct examination, he went into all this macho bullshit about how nobody could ever get away with attacking him. The judge kept yelling at him to shut up.”
In the end, the judge was fed up with everyone. He dismissed Dante’s murder charge. The charge against the Black Cobra Hall spear chucking dude. The whole thing was basically thrown out. According to the Black Belt article, Dante suggested that he paid people off in order to make sure everything was dismissed. But whatever.
Although he was free, Dante could not escape the guilt of Concevic’s death. It took a considerable toll on his conscious. “I think he felt a little guilty about that. Maybe more than a little guilty” said Ayoob.
Cooley would settle a beef between Dante and the mob over some business regarding a bookstore. However, the sit-down would ultimately provide Dante with the introduction to the mob he had been looking for. Cooley’s book suggests that Keehan was involved in and possibly orchestrated, what was then, the largest cash heist in history.
On October 21st, 1974, the Purolator vault was deprived of 4.3 million dollars in unmarked bills. Dante even tried to cut Cooley in on the heist before it went down and after it was reported in the news, Cooley visited Dante at his apartment, where he saw several hundred thousand dollars, if not a milli.
“He would call me at 2 o’clock in the morning and tell me there was a contract out on him and he was sitting with a shotgun in his lap,” said Ayoob.
Regarding the Purolator Heist, Ayoob says “Whether he was actually involved or not, I can’t tell you. He mentioned that he knew the players. Words to that effect… He made reference to knowing some of the players. He was a hard guy to pin down… He did get a lot of death threats. He was a very controversial guy who made a lot of enemies. How real the death threats were, I do not know… Martial arts and the Purolator connection. Those were the two that he mentioned. Probably more the Purolator thing.”
Dante’s so-called death, on May 25th, 1975 is equally mysterious. Ayoob wrote that Dante died in his sleep, from a perforated ulcer. Cooley wrote that he visited Dante the night he “died” and that his girlfriend intimated that some people “visited” Dante earlier that day.
When Cooley went to look for the money that Dante showed him, it was gone. Ostensibly his girlfriend knew nothing about it. According to the reports, Dante’s body was cremated and 1.2 million was never recovered.
To add another dimension to Ayoob and Dante’s relationship was something written in the 1989 Black Flame: A Quarterly Forum For Satanic Thought, which has the following about Keehan and someone named Ayoob “John Keehan (aka the infamous Count Dante) was one one of my first instructors in open hand defense in the 60s and Ayoob was one of the Count’s disciples…”
Which makes sense, because Keehan had some involvement in an occult bookstore. When Illmatical reached out to Mas Ayoob, he denied that he was the Satan-worshiping-Ayoob in question. But on the real, how many people could Dante have known named Ayoob? But whatever.
The Satanic reader continued saying “Just admitting this was verboten in the martial arts world after John raided a competing dojo resulting in the death of at least one person involved, but Ayoob has exhibited the Satanic trait of loyalty by giving credit where credit is due.”
Word on the street is that Dante never died. The cremation of his body and an unmarked grave add to his mythos. Associates of Webb made claims about seeing Dante in certain sections of the Chi, during the early 2000s.
There are others, who say that Dante took his money and went into hiding, secretly training Shonuff, until 1980, when he returned to New York City, obviously inspired by the Count, calling himself, The Shogun of Harlem.
With Dim Mak in hand, Sho’nuff searched for Tommy Sheppard, who was nowhere to be found.
Rage, madness, and anger consumed him. On some Black Cobra Hall shit, he stormed dojos looking for the best competition he could find. Accident or not, he killed an opponent and was sent to prison, where, by no chance, he’d come in contact with the final master and the powers of the Red Glow.
Cipher — I’m Sho’nu’ff’s Red Glow. I came a young lord in the Bronx. At an early age, I guided him to forge his style, on the streets.
A fighting style forged in dungeons of pain, delivered through the lessons of Gods and ciphers with beatdowns.
Observe the seven. This is God’s defense. Observe the hands of God.
Let me be Illmatical, just for a second. Unlike your favorite 52 Hand Blocks writers, I grew up seeing God’s defense in Jamaica, Queens. Before the blizzard of 85 that kept the street hot, the Gods were all around me. I saw God’s defense, I saw God’s hands.
I still remember Cory’s last name. Cory Calendar was so nasty with his hands someone had to kill that nigga. Nah, he wasn’t nasty, that nigga Cory was nice, in fact, his hands created ‘The legend of the nice.’
I was in 3rd grade, and some kids from middle school 192, came down to get their Gooch on. Corey wasn’t having it and I remember seeing him destroy this older kid in the middle of the street. He kept bending and extending his left arm, straight out and when son tried to move or do anything, Cory served him with the right.
Blood streamed from the older kid’s face and I pitied him. It was sad. It was savage. It was horrific. Even back then, that shit left an imprint on me. If ever in history, a nigga needed to shoot anyone, it was that teenager, getting his ass beat by a 3rd grade Cory Calendar.
Years later, when I lived in Cambria Heights, a kid named David Gaines use to doing a spinning back punch that he learned from his brother. I didn’t realize it at the time, because things were so simple then.
Eventually, I went to middle school 192. There was a kid name Rashawn who muttered something about being %5 of the nation who knew what was going on. He said he was God and sometime later he cut someone. But whatever.
Whether it was on wax or through beatdowns. I didn’t realize that the RZA was correct. The Gods were all around me then. I didn’t realize that I was witnessing elements of a culture and practitioners of a martial art that was born through incarcerated genius.
The internet is flooded with tons of new 52 masters, but the truth of the matter is that anyone who claims to know 52 Hand Blocks, they have to have been affiliated or have gotten knowledge from the Five Percenters, the Nation of Gods and Earths,
Former two-time world heavyweight boxing champion, Shannon Briggs spoke about getting his 52 Hand Blocks lessons from the Gods, in this Instagram post.
“I learned #52blocks from #KnowledgeBorn aka #KBorn under the ramp up the hill up in Brownsville in #1983 That summer was crazy! #bigK aka #KBorn was like a older brother to me. His younger brother Lil K Born was super nice with the hands and also was my teacher. My mom Mrs.Margie always liked him and tried to keep him out of trouble. He was a wild young brother. He in turn looked out for me a few times and told me one day that he was going to teach me how to get busy. This was after he had just came home from a stint in juvenile detention. I remember that day like it was yesterday.
He slapped me up pretty good that summer but he was impressed that I was eager to learn the art of hand skills and defense. It was an honor for him to show me the technique. The #FivePercentNation had a rally and block party that summer at #IS55 park. I watched the rally up close that summer like I was part of the nation. Why not I thought one of there guys was my teacher. That summer I watched guys like King, Deezo, K Born, Lil K Born, Barkim, Justice, Chilly Wap and Omar from the east building the real terrorist and studied their styles. I mixed them all and became the Champ.”
Khashon Allah, the author of The Fighting Arts of Allah, recalled seeing 52 as early as the 60s saying “People don’t give credit to the Gods. By name affiliation, ’52 blocks’ came from us… The Five Percent Nation was experiencing a second rebirth, the 60s was the first generation, 70s was the second generation…”
Coinciding with Brigg’s IG statement Khashon said, “Whenever a person who really knows 52 learned it, their story sounds the same. ‘Born taught me. Old Man Justice taught me. Somebody from the Five Percent Nation, you know why? The Five Percenters had the jails flooded. We all went to jail, that’s all that’s was in the prisons.”
In the chapter of his book that focuses on 52 Hand Blocks, Khashon relates a story of a God picking up playing cards while engaged in a fight, and the name possibly manifesting from that incident.
Subá Allah, the martial arts instructor for the Fruit of Allah, remembers seeing jail style boxing on the streets as early as the 60s and how effective it was saying “52 started out as Stato… The only one who could beat a 52 fighter was someone who studied martial arts.”
Late Burly is one of the most prominent teachers and advocates of 52 Hand Blocks and may have been one of the first people to place a 52 Blocks video online. Discussing how he learned he said “My cousins did it, I seen a guy named True God knock a guy out by using it… A lot of the Five Percenters were known to be doing it, my cousins Prince Wise, my cousin Divine…
My teacher Wilson Pitts, really opened me up to the world of boxing and showed me where 52, where it's at amongst other martial arts. My perception before, when I met other guys that did it, it was like slap boxing. It was a way to play with each other without being too serious… I didn’t really understand the principles. I wasn’t a good boxer either. I threw haymakers. When I met Mr. Williams Pitts, He was a catalyst for making me understand what it was.”
Douglas Century is one of the first reporters to write about the jail form of fighting. He chronicled his accounts of spending time with the infamous Franklin Avenue Posse, in his book Street Kingdom, and noting the skills of legendary 52 Hand Blocks practitioner Big K.
Speaking on 52 Hand Blocks, Century said “It was such an inside thing. You had to be from a criminal subculture, you weren’t going to get pulled into it. You had to be locked up. It wasn’t like it is now, were people on Youtube privatize for it or sell it… There are people out there that are selling it and don’t know anything about it… Even some of the guys on Youtube who don’t really know it, they still got the movement.
They still got some of the element of it. I wrote about this in 99… There are no cats in their 20s who know this shit anymore. That’s why it’s a dying art. Dudes aren’t using fist fighting in prison, they stab right away.
This existed in 78, 79. I wrote about ‘K’ because his brother, they were a part of a strong arm robbery crew. They didn’t use weapons. They use to boost, they use to take out bread and delivery trucks that carried cash.
These dudes did so much with their hands, they were lethal weapons… I’ve seen K use this stuff to hurt dudes. And he’s not the only one, there are plenty of dudes in Brooklyn I heard about and K’s the one I witnessed.”
Currently in New York City, if you’re talking 52, you’re still talking about the Nation of Gods and Earths, the Five Percenters, and all roads lead to Lord Rahmel. The 52 Hand Blocks Master, who previously trained Lyte Burly in 1994 recalled meeting up again with his former student in 2007 when the student felt that he knew more than the teacher.
“My version of training Burly in the 90s was teaching him a few blocks then I would spar against him and 4 or 5 against me. When I seen him in 07 we sparred but no real training because he thought he knew more than me. He tried Muay Thai, jujitsu against me but it didn’t work. In 07, I knocked burly out with the 2 finger K.O.” explained Rahmel.
In addition to training Lyte, Rahmel has actually used 52 Hand Blocks in a well-known fight, against Doug Century's protagonist, Big K.
Rahmel recalls learning God’s defense at the age of ten, from an uncle who returned from prison. He received lessons and an introduction to the fighting style that would change his life.
“Gods had it  in prison and out of prison. My uncle got taught by a C/O on Rikers Island. He got his lessons in 52 from a C/O from Fort Greene… He came in 1977, he started teaching me about 52, he also taught me the math, gave me a name and everything. He only got a chance to teach me a few blocks… He taught me some basic footwork. I took those blocks and I practiced them every day.
I learned, that these were not the only blocks. There are way more blocks! What made me gravitate towards it, was when I self-taught myself Karate after I broke my leg. Me and my brother had a Karate school in the Bronx…The only thing I didn’t like about fighting was that some people were able to get in offensively.
If your offense was better than my offense, you’re gonna get the best of me. I had no real defense with Karate. When he [his uncle] showed me 52, I said ‘Wow, you mean I have a block for any attack?’
When he started teaching me I got me some students and started practicing at the same time. I use to take one person, and they can’t touch me, then I’d take 2 to 1, then it graduated to 10. This is before I went to prison. It’s all about reaction time and I was able to come out on top. Blocking everything and smacking everyone up.”
Rahmel’s account of being nice with his hands at an early age coincides with the experiences Illmatical had, seeing people back in Queens who were so nice with their hands, they would often humiliate their opponents while delivering beatdowns.
“With 52 you have to be relaxed. Once you start blocking a person up and they can’t hit you, they become frustrated. That’s when you got to take advantage” said Rahmel.
Rahmel’s reception of 52 Hand Blocks, coincides with Century’s account of how Gods would pass on the knowledge saying “Some older head comes out of prison and he’s a master 52 fighter… These older dudes would come home… There are different styles… the Elmira style, the Comstock style, these all came from the different prisons.
Different prisons had different configurations. You have to ask yourself, what would be effective in prison… You’re fighting against the wall, defending multiple attackers, it’s all a reality… People don’t believe it is true if you don’t understand the New York City prison system. Dudes can literally sleep in prison with razors in their mouth…”
“My teacher William Pitts made me research and study, just don’t flap your arms around, know the history of your people. He was trying to tell me the history of my people [Black] which is defense. If you look at any boxer when he goes to a Black trainer, what does he get?
Defense, like offense, must be trained… My teacher Wilson was trying to show me that the makeup of 52, it’s a defensive art” explained Lyte. “Footwork and the all-around look at defense. Footwork is a part of defense. There’s no defense that you can do, that doesn’t need an element of footwork. I don’t ascribe to, you can stand in one place and block… since 52 is so much defense, it can really go with any offense, 52 can go with any art” explains Lyte.
“What is 52 Blocks? 52 Blocks is defense. That means any attack a person comes at me with, and you throw that block, that’s 52. Now, a counter comes off a block… A person could be nice with their hands all day, but if you don’t have that defense, and you’re fighting somebody that is likeminded, A person who has that defense and that offense, it’s not going to be the same fight…
I got defense for any punches, even so, that I can break your hand. I got defense for any kick, I’ll break your leg. I don’t need to mix this with wing Chun, nothing. After defense, what comes?
You can do anything to your opponent. The issue is defense first, it’s going to win the fight… Offensively, I’m able to do anything off the defense…
It’s all about how you use the blocks. If I teach you a block, you don’t have to be in shape. When I was in prison back in the days, I was super skinny, like 150lbs. But after you learn, you can do exercises, to condition your arms” explains Rahmel.
While Lyte’s version of 52 Hand Blocks skillfully fuses it with traditional boxing, Rahmel’s 52 Hand Blocks has different origins. In several of Rahmel’s videos, he’s seen spinning and pivoting, all of which are found in various forms of dance.
“The defense is in the blocks, but the footwork is ancient African dance. If you don’t have the footwork, you’re going to be out of position and get dusted… When I’m using 52, my footwork is African dance and my blocks are the hieroglyphic blocks…
From the knowledge I possessed, that I received, Capoeira all these other arts came from 52. It was called Montu. When you look at the pyramids [Beni Hassan tombs] you’re going to see that the first forms of fighting was Montu, that was a secret science only a select few people could learn, and then you had boxing.” explained Rahmel.
In the famous fight between Rahmel and Big K, there is a portion of the fight where Rahmel does something called The Dance of Death. Whether his actions were right or exact, only God knows, but when I looked at it, the movements were clearly from the Motherland. Speaking of the Dance of Death, Rahmel says “I had acquired that inside [prison] because I learned how to disarm people from their knives.”
Mestra Lampreira, a Capoeira instructor observed the fight video and commented on the movements saying “The Dance of Death, you can see it’s an Orisha, it’s a spirit. Something that incorporates him and at the moment he isn’t in life anymore. He’s energy, he’s a spirit. Where he knows he can die, and he can fight. It doesn’t matter what’s going to happen. The spirits, the Orisha is using his body to that momentum…
Speaking on some of Rahmel’s other videos, where he is training his students, Lampreria said “He’s consistently moving. You never know when he’s going to attack. That's when he’s dancing… He uses his soul when he moves.”
Roger Mayweather, Floyd Mayweather’s uncle, and former trainer explains the development that a professional boxer has, compared to a 52 Hand Blocks or jail fighter saying “When you’re boxing, most people, when they box, they grew up boxing. They have a teaching in boxing. They grew up in tournaments, as opposed to prison boxing, you don’t go through all of those tournaments, you only got so many dudes in prison that box. In the amateurs, you go through the junior Olympics, then you go through the national tournaments and the Olympics…”
The development of traditional 52 Hand Blocks fighters, was prison. Rahmel’s tournaments and junior Olympics, where he developed his fighting ability was almost 20 years in several correctional institutions. Although 52 has its origins in the penal system, it does not mean that it cannot develop beyond the walls where it was born.
At one point in time, Capoeira was associated with criminality “It was very bad back in the days. Once in Brazil, you were not allowed to play capoeira in the streets. Capoeira was for bad people… Capoeira back the day, If the police see you playing Capoeira, or doing movements similar to Capoeira, you go to jail. This was in the 1920s, 30s in Salvador. It was a criminal martial art” explained Lampreira.
The criminality and clandestine use of Capoeira helped contribute to it becoming folklorized, and disputes over the development of its style, much in the way 52 Hand Blocks has developed.
In the book, The Sage of Mestre Bimba, written by Raimundo Cesar Alves de Almeida, Mestre Bimba spoke on the stigma and dangers of practicing Capoeira in the early 1900s, saying “In those days, Capoeira was something that teamsters, sugar mill workers, dock workers, and petty crooks did… The police would pursue a Capoeirista like a mad dog…”
He’d further indicate that the police would physically punish Capoeristas, often resulting in death. In the same way that 52 Hand Blocks has been used to guard against and sometimes utilize razors blades offensively, Mestre Bimba’s students learned how to handle razors with their feet and hands. Mestre Bimba would also carry a double-edged razor, to protect him when he lived in Sao Paulo.
One name that continually pops up in 52 Hand Blocks history, is that of Mother Dear. An individual who several writers have tried to dismiss as an urban legend and whom others have erroneously attributed the title of a 52 Hand Blocks creator.
Mother Dear did not invent 52 Hand Blocks, but he was very real and for the first time, a corrections officer has gone on record, speaking about the notorious fighter who would rape his beaten opponents saying “Rape them or take it… But he was good enough from what I knew, didn’t lose at all or very rarely. Your rep was shot then… He used 52 Blocks, a lot of elbow blocks”
Rahmel stated that he did a year and a half with Mother Dear and explained how he learned the fighting style saying “One of the God bodies was fucking with dude on the low, on some homo shit. He taught the homo dude some of the blocks because he had to leave the facility…. Mother Dear learned, now, all new jacks that would come in the facility, Mother Dear would get cool with them. Once he sees that you have no hand game, he’s knocking you out, fucking you or making you fuck him.”
Rahmel also mentions that Mother Dear really preyed on weak people and those who didn’t really know how to fight. “When he was in my house, he didn’t want to come at me with the hands, because I know 52. He knew a couple of blocks. With 52, with one block, it can hold you down. You can beat everybody, as long as you use it right… everybody looks nice to a none professional… They glorifying that gay dude like he was doing something great. He was praying on weak individuals, seeing that they couldn’t fight and take advantage of them… I use to get tight when people use to say ‘Mother dear, he invented 52!’
He didn’t invent shit!
When he was in my house, he was a church mouse… He didn’t want to fight people who knew how to fight. He wanted to fight people that didn’t know, so he could rape them and take advantage of them.”
“He had the notorious name because of his lifestyle” explains the Corrections Officer “That’s the reason. You probably had people who were as good, I don’t know. But, because of what you lost, or he took… You can try and fight him and lose and get your ass beat, and you’re going to get fucked. A lot of people may have just went along with it too, he was notorious for his fighting. He wasn’t no walking broomstick.”
The former C/O also explained that a number of 52 Hand Blocks practitioners are efficient because they spend countless hours, transformed their bodies using calisthenics. “Most guys with 52 blocks, because of their workout, their workout basically doesn’t deal with weights. Their workout is pull-ups, forward pull ups, chin ups, dips and pull-ups in an “L… Here’ the thing with being locked up, what else do you have to do but practice? You would see kids, 16 to 18 years old, not with a six pack but with an eight-pack.
All they did all day was leg lifts, or do push up or do incline pushups off the bed. All this time all you’re doing is going to chow, going to the yard. If you’re smart enough, maybe you’re going to school. Use your time positively. Most of the time, most of them just worked out.”
According to the internet, Mother Dear was killed when he got his ass thrown off a tier. Since Mother Dear didn’t create 52 Hand Blocks, and since he was a savage, and all he did was rape people, for now, and every 52 Hand Blocks article in the future, I’m throwing Mother Dear off the tier again.
The exact origins of 52 are ambiguous. Despite the history of African American boxing in America, it appears that 52 Hand Blocks, as a science developed in prisons, for defense and was possibly called ’52 Hand Blocks’ at a later time.
Khashon Allah, recalls “One God Born, told me, names are made in the streets. When we locked up, ain’t nobody talking about, ‘I’m gonna do the 52 on this nigga.’ In jail, everyone is trying to survive and trying to get money.”
As guns became prevalent during the 70s and 80s with the rise of drugs in the streets, 52 Hand Blocks started becoming a lost art “There was a principle that got lost, it became too pretty. This is why 52 kind of vanished and the crack epidemic where people brought more guns into the hood and made fighting something of the past. I credit that to being one of the biggest killers of 52” explained Lyte.
However, as with any fighting art, there is a culture associated with 52 Hand Blocks, and like the lessons of the Gods, when you start drifting away from the essence, you lose the culture.
“With most things, you have to have a foundation. If you’re learning 52 blocks from the internet, and social media that’s going to be your foundation. As you know, that’s not a strong foundation. It hasn’t been proven that a person can’t learn 52 blocks from the internet. He [student] has to come in contact with a teacher… There are a lot of moves with 52 blocks that were experimented with during the 70s. It was left there, it didn’t go anywhere else. Only a few people seen somebody do it in combat” explains Khashon Allah.
“When I teach my students, I give them personal training. Sometimes I have to let them graduate, I have to give them 2 on 1, or 3 against 1. I have to train them like that so when a situation happens, in a riot, or when people try and jump you, you can’t panic, you have to know what to do.
When me and my students are sparring, you really got to block or you’re going to get hit. Our sparring is like a real fight, so when it comes to a real fight, it’s like sparring… If your blocks is not fast enough, that means you got to get faster…
Till this day, a lot of people reach out to me and want to learn, but that’s not how 52 works. My spirit has to detect if they’re a good person for me to teach them… You can learn a block from me, but if you don’t know the science behind that block, and you don’t know how to hold your feet, while you executing that block, then the block is irrelevant. You may block somebody’s punch one time, but you won’t know what to do if you use your balance” said Rahmel.
When Illmatical spoke with Subá at Allah’s school in Mecca, he mentioned that regardless of styles, fighting mastery could not and must not, be used out of alignment. Mastery has to be used for righteousness. The powers of the Red Glow would turn on a master if he was not careful.
“Even me being the supreme grandmaster that I am, I still can’t go out and start trouble. I can’ go pick a fight. The mental aspect and the spiritual aspect of 52, is going to shut down my motor skills and my physical. It’s not going to let me accomplish what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m using it in the wrong context.
The art itself is God’s defense… I can’t use God’s defense for evil. I can’t start trouble with you because my shit is going to freeze up. The few times back in the day when I misappropriated 52, it flipped on me. I got fucked up. I don’t misappropriate it. Never! It’s mental, physical and spiritual” explained Rahmel.
There are some who suggest that 52 Hand Blocks isn’t a real art and bits and pieces have been co-opted from Asian art forms. Rahmel addressed this saying “We (Africans) taught the Asians martial arts. It’s a known fact, it’s in the pyramids. Montu was 52 Blocks. That’s the original 52.”
Receiving lessons from Lord Rahmel was Sho’nuff’s final level. It was also in prison, where he came face to face with Supreme, after leaving him years ago, a full 360.
Supreme realized that his student had completed his ten stage journey, that Sho’nuff had realized the powers of the Red Glow. Supreme emphasized his student, that he could not, and must not ever use the Red Glow for evil or, it would turn on him as it had others.
Unfortunately, Sho’nuff did not listen.
The Downfall and a sucka named Leroy
Sho’nuff returned from prison to the streets of Harlem in 1985, still, there was no Tommy Sheppard. The only word on the street was about a guy named Leroy Green who was so nasty, the nigga caught bullets with his teeth.
When the two finally did get it up, the power of the Red Glow turned on Sho’nuff. The irony, the great voyage for mastery, that ended in a loss to a guy who spent his life imitating an actor. Imagine that.
Do not fear. My powers exist, roaming and searching for the next master to take hold of me.
Who am I? Who am I?
You saw me, when I came to Zulu in Harlem, igniting his mind for the rhythm of death. I was there in the Bronx when I transformed Luis Delgado into a superweapon. Did you see me in Brooklyn when Cofield armed his Gunners? I was with Sifu Carl, in the subway, guarding him against the knives and guns. Where where you when the powers of the Red Glow allowed Coage to toss himself into martial arts history?
You saw me on the screen, as 5 Fingers of Death, when I first revealed my shine to those who conspired against me. I was with Musashi in Reigando, often carrying his blade. I’ve been with Serena, swinging, and hurling black ice. In 85, I was with 33 when he dropped 60.
I was there, with the Lady Wrestlers, enabling them to wage war with and defeat the Silent Warrior. I use to get it in Ohio when I empowered a young Vampire and quenched his thirst for blood.
You might have seen glimpses of me, behind Lady Sensei’s blade, in truth, I was often behind Malcolm’s frames. I was there with Shawn Carter when he sold his last brick, but what’s free? Transforming into Jay Z.
I was with the BKF when they created a vision to unite a people for mastery, to strike with Pan African venom — before their enemy even noticed. I was with a promising young martial artist in Chicago, enabling him to become the most dangerous man in the world, all of this before coming to a God, locked down, lifting his soul for righteousness.
I’m what Samuel Jackson could have been. In truth, I am the power behind your 85 cult film, and you didn’t know it. I am mastery. I am there, igniting the shadows for every master.
I live in the minds of all those who are certain but be mindful, if ever out of alignment, I will turn on you. For the purposes of this story, for this build, I’m the narrative of one of Harlem’s greatest.
I’m Sho’nuff’s Red Glow.
© Clarke Illmatical
Clarke Illmatical is a writer from Queens, New York. His writing has appeared in The Amsterdam News, The Norwood News, Harlem Community News, and Queens Politics in New York City. In Asia, his work has been featured in The South China Morning Post, China Global Daily, TimeOut Hong Kong, The Phnom Penh Post, and E-China Cities.
Twitter @illmaticalmind / Email firstname.lastname@example.org