By Hakeem Alexander
(Exercising Your Mind)
“The thing about fighters is they’re very, very beautiful… because they spend their life suffering; so they have extraordinary character.” -David Mamet, purple-belt, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, writer / director “Red Belt“
In the early 1990s, I, and my good friend Jose Canelo, also known as Gigante, decided to formalize, codify, and document our training and development in the combat disciplines. The foundation of our fight philosophy was and is based on the documents of Li Jun Fan, more famously known as Bruce Lee. Specifically, we focused on Bruce Lee’s “Jeet Kune Do” and his saying: “Take what is useful and develop from there“. Also, “Take what works for you and discard the rest“. Being from the Dominican Republic, with Spanish as his first language, Jose decided to use the Spanish word “mezcla”, translating to “mixture” in English, simply describing the integration of these fighting styles we were exploring.
“It is not for everyone to be without guidance—only a few, and they are exceptional, can make a journey to wisdom without a teacher. You must have extraordinary passion, patience, and self-discipline, to make a journey alone.” -Miyamoto Mushashi; Book of five Rings
Being the very disturbed and violent, street-fighting half of the team, I have always been particularly interested in what would work in crushing my many would be adversaries by any means, and discarding what would not. I would accomplish this, having never moved past the beginners designation or “white-belt” in any martial-art, partly (1) because I moved around a lot, (2) for lack of money and (3) because I was not conditioned to following anyone.
Bruce Lee wrote:
“In the long history of martial arts, the instinct to follow and imitate seems to be inherent in most martial artists, instructors and students alike. This is partly due to human tendency and partly because of the steep traditions behind multiple patterns of styles. Consequently, to find a refreshing, original, master teacher is a rarity. The need for a ‘pointer of the way’ echoes.“
Jose and I allowed Bruce Lee’s words and each-other to be “pointer of the way”. We also met with Mestre Jelon Vieira when he was visiting Fort Lauderdale in 1993 at a Capoeira demonstration. I had never seen anything like it before. It was the Regional / Senzala style, and I was bewitched by the fast action and acrobatic movements, flowing to the sound of the Berimbau. Since that encounter, capoeira has always remained a part of our Mezcla / mixture.
The library of martialist media that Jose and I shared, consisted of Bruce Lee books and films, Capoeira books, Senzala de Santos’ Capoeira CD, the movie “Only the Strong” and various others including video game characters -which we learned through motion capture technology, was based on real movements of martial artists and stunt men. Bruce Lee’s philosophies and Capoeira then, have been the two primary, though not the only influences on our martial arts developments. We had the advantage of being a pair, so we could actually apply through sparring, on an almost daily basis, the techniques, methods and strategies we gleaned from these various tools. One very efficient way of seamlessly blending these arts was by finding the similarities they shared.
“Understanding oneself happens through a process of relationships and not through isolation.”
“To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.” -Bruce Lee
Martial is an adjective meaning of war, or appropriate to warfare. It also means war-like, brave or fond of fighting. One of the definitions of war is hostility or contention between people. I believe I was actually more insecure than brave in my days of street-fighting. As Brasilian Jiu-Jitsu GrandMaster Helio Gracie once harshly condemned “Street-fighters are gutless” . Whatever the case, there was a time when I was definitely fond of fighting.
I started wrestling in high school during 1995, and learned the many combat advantages of grappling. I even once read an article in a local newspaper touting wrestling as an effective “American-Martial-Art” at the time I began. The “Ultimate Fighting Championship” had been around a few years also, and Jiu-Jitsu master Royce Gracie was well known to fighters. One of the wrestling coaches, Ford, saw me jumping around doing capoeira movements on the wrestling mats and told me I was wasting my time with it. He applied a guillotine choke on me and after I gagged, he said, “wrestling is the way to go“. After my poor grades disqualified me from continuing in wrestling competitively in early 1996, I was introduced to and began making noise as the lead singer for Death Metal band “Acrimonium”. I still continued practicing with the wrestling team though.
We played a few shows with a band called “Brutal Mastication“. A few of the musicians from “Brutal”, saw me showing off some capoeira acrobatics on the Fort Lauderdale beach one day and introduced me to what they learned as “Kapthakido” I believe, a fusion of Capoeira, Muy Thai and Aikido. I thought it was an interesting mezcla and proceeded to devour all I could about Muy Thai and Aikido since I had already entrenched myself in Capoeira.
As I understood it, Capoeira utilizes many circular, spherical and flowing movements, Aikido does as well. Also, there are many straight lines and spoke-like, broken rhythms in Capoeira, just as in Muy-Thai. This is the connection I made, and the line of thinking which I sought to weave them together. Another point of similarity is that Capoeira is very much about improvisation and freedom of self-expression, which is very congruent with the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do.
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido is quoted as having said to his students: “The secret of Aikido is not in how you move your feet, it is how you move your mind. I am not teaching you martial techniques, I am teaching you non-violence”.
I am not altogether proud of these following accounts, specifically the street-brawls, as I have matured enormously I think. However, I am not ashamed either, and am glad to have had the experience to understand the martial part of martial-arts.
“The only way you can understand the truth about killing an enemy in combat is by killing an enemy in combat.” – Musashi
Although Morihei Ueshiba meant for Aikido to be a self-defense system where the highest skill is to subdue your attacker without causing much, if any harm; I used some of the techniques crudely to cause a few compound fractures in street fights, using the Steven Segal movie model and Hawaiian “Lua”, a bone-breaking style.
From Thai Boxing, I learned about numbing and toughening my body weapons by striking solid surfaces like trees with my shins. Florida provided many palms for this purpose. I also applied this to my bare knuckles, developing what eventually came to be known as the “demolition-hammer” of my right hand. I have caused quite a few concussions with my bare knuckles, elbows, knees and over a dozen knock-outs through sixteen(16) ounce gloves on “Heavy-Weight” opponents ranging in size from 200lbs to 250lbs.
Using Capoeira’s legendary foot-work, I have used the low-leg sweeps known as rasteira and banda, to knock over attackers armed with bottles, knives and sticks; and have broken the ankles of at least two people this way. Utilizing the vingativa, I once took down a 240lb opponent and then rendered him unconscious with a rear naked choke.
“The Only War to Wage is Within” – H A-
Now instead o
f looking to fight or compete with others, I resolve the conflicts within myself, challenging myself to express constructive ideals. I channel my energies into intense physical training, and use martial arts movements in combat against destructive emotions. As the line from one of my songs called “Shackles” from 2001 says “I’ve murdered all the anger of my past, and found my hate and kicked his ass”. This is exactly like when I was a child, closing my eyes and engaging in combat, defeating hordes of ninja. Now though, instead of senseless imaginary combat and gratuitous violent killing of “bad-guy-ninjas, I use the same process as a type of therapeutic-imagery or, creative-visualization combined with the physical exercises. This does not however, exclude me from entering legitimate fight contests, just no more illegal street-fights.
“The technique is easy, it’s simple. You can learn to do a choke, how to do an arm-bar; but how do you arm-bar your anxiety? See, that’s the higher self, when you turn your tools to work on yourself; how do you choke your depression, or your fears?” -John Machado, 4th Degree black-belt; Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Something that always stuck with me about Aikido was the idea that one could become so highly skilled in the art-form, one could subdue an attacker, regardless of their intentions, without inflicting any major physical damage if any at all. From my perspective, achieving this at first seemed hopeless, because I understood myself as one who lacked the discipline to train consistently enough in one style to gain any level of comprehension even nearing such mastery.
But then I began to notice a subtle change in my experiences, intermittently at first, and soon more frequently. When I once used to get into street-fights when I thought I wasn’t looking for them, suddenly, no one was picking fights with me anymore. Initially, I arrogantly thought that my “tough-guy” reputation was preceding me, but this was not the case. The previous problem was the way I walked, talked, and the type of energy I was radiating. Somehow a mental shift was keeping me out of trouble I realized. No one was scared of me, and that is precisely one of the reasons I was no longer engaging in fights, punch-outs and other hostile confrontations. Something changed in my subconscious and I was no longer giving off unconscious triggers of hostility.
On June 13th, 1997, I was arrested and taken to the Broward County Jail by detectives on charges of “aggravated assault and aggravated battery”. The summer-time sun seemed so much brighter and enticing from “behind bars”. The experience of being imprisoned and not being able to hang out with friends, girls and going to the beautiful Florida beaches was a very traumatic experience for me. But instead of giving in to a deep depression that seemed poised to overtake me, I immersed myself in reading books like “Dai-Sho: Long Sword, Short Sword”, “Shogun”, “Sleeping Dogs” and “The Remington Factor”; Samurai and Spy Novels. I also practiced a lot of Capoeira moves in every jail-house space I could find and wrote lots of poetry.
The charges were all reduced to misdemeanors and I eventually served less than sixty(60) days in jail altogether. Between 1997 and 2002 I would be put in jail for public intoxication, petty theft, and traffic violations, but nothing lasting more than a day or two and a good old “slap on the wrist”. It was around that same time that I was mostly homeless, living in my car or crashing at the home of whomever would allow it or a girlfriend.
Fortunately in the same year, 1997, I was able to gain employment at a Borders Bookstore in Fort Lauderdale. In addition to being a bookseller, I was also the co-host of the open-mic poetry event held there each week, which was a great confidence and skill builder. This was before my first arrest, and even though I was fired because of my incarceration, the positive experience of being surrounded by so many wonderful and interesting books has never left me. I would spend many hours in the bookstore after I was released, reading at the open mic as a guest, and browsing the seemingly unlimited supply of great books at this beautiful inter-coastal location.
One of the books was “THINK and GROW RICH” by Napoleon Hill. The book is a very inspiring and practical treatise on applied metaphysics. I have been using the philosophies in it ever since, to slowly reprogram my consciousness into one that is more fitting to my true desires, and to engage only in transactions that benefit all whom it effects. Along with many other books that can be found in the self-help or personal development sections of bookstores, I tapped into my natural talents and abilities, along with many other skills I developed along the way, and adopted and adapted the philosophy of creating instead of competing.
What I have been creating is how to take what is useful from my experiences and develop them into something greater. I have organized my talents into a system of “Healthy-Living and Self-Defense”. Persistently mining the wisdom of great masters and my own Jihad, or inner struggle, I have found a way to transform and transmute what may have been a destructive force, into something that is balanced and constructive. Now that I have come such a long way, I see that the path is much longer to travel, and may have no end. However, “If I can climb out from such a place, then just imagine where I soon will be”.
By Hakeem Alexander