Saturday, August 14, 2010
Today I went to Oak Forest, IL to Lee's Academy of Kung Fu. I interviewed Bob Bartkowski. Bob is a WIng Chun practicioner I have know since I started the film. I met him, like I did so many people concerned with Dante, over the internet. Bob has a unique take on the martial arts. He is a true fanatic for all martial arts including boxing. His enthusiasm is contagious. He reminded me of the piece above and was talking about how much he loved it when we were prapring for the interview.
I am going to post an excerpt from his interview later.
Monday, July 19, 2010
One of the pictures includes Doug Dwyer with Dante in his slick suit and the pet lion on a leash on Rush Street.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
After months of watching martial arts in old movies from Mr Moto, Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock to the TV show, Secret Agent Man, I was hooked. I was introduced to the practice of martial arts through the books of Bruce Tegner and then, a masterwork by Mas Oyama called "This is Karate." Some friends of mine and I would use Oyama's book as an instructional manual between nomadic special forces guys who gave us pointers. We perfected breaking skills and tensho kata. We sparred badly and had plenty of bloody noses and loosened teeth.
I put in practice on the base and with numerous people with "self-defense" training but my real practice began with my meeting with 16 year old Gregory Jaco in Chicago in the winter of 1967 when my father returned to Vietnam and my family to the suburbs of Chicago.
This was my first Mr Miyagi, a guy barely 2 years older than me. Tough, knowledgeable, charming, my mom would always ask about him years after meeting him. He was older than his actual age, a leader, a comedian, when he wanted to be, with a soft high voice.
He had come to my house through two local Maywood, IL friends, It was the coldest day of the winter. Along with the diminutive Robert Tobias, who would periodically disapppear to study with Count Dante, we went out into the Chicago wind and worked out, Oyama style, barefoot in the snow. The steam rose from our bodies from the exertions. We actually sweated in sub-zero weather. Rob was the first person to show me the "Dance of Death." He could execute all of the movements in less than 20 secs, he was aiming for 15.
Jaco was an instructor before he became a black belt. He taught children in the Robert Taylor Homes for years. We were Explorer Scouts together. Some folks thought that was funny. But not for long. Jaco had the "Godhand." People would look down at his thick frame and walk away.
Jaco did not charge money, you paid for his classes with blood, sweat, respect and dedication. His school gave the most exciting breaking demonstrations, brick breaking, wood, bottles. The women in the class did everything the men did. He would use a samurai swords to cut through apples held in student's necks. He would throw Shuriken (ninja stars) at living targets including ME. Fear was my companion around Jaco, but I mastered it. He never hit me but I had to stand still. My fear would hurt me, not Jaco.
In the Robert Taylor Homes he trained up a crew called the Black Dragon Slayers. But they went rogue. Having driven out drugs dealers with their fearlessness and fight skills, some of them took the places of the defeated dealers. Jaco disowned them he started a new school, The Tornado School of Martial Arts.
Jaco was always bugging people to help his students get uniforms, and we helped, even when we stopped working out with him. Jaco had a wild streak and a good heart. One of his son's and students, Wasulu Jaco, is also known as Lupe Fiasco, yeah, THAT Lupe Fiasco.
I did not see him that often after we became adults. But we always ran into each other somewhere, or I would hear of his adventures and he of mine. The tall baritone voiced Marshall is a painter and Clarence became a Chicago Policeman. The brilliant and itenerant Rob caught a case in the early 90s and is in the Illinois Penal system.
While Jaco joined the Army after high school and become part of the Green Beret Martial Arts Demonstration Team, I left the country to explore the liberation movements based in Dar Es Salaam. I was hanging out on a beach on the Indian Ocean in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania with Goju-Ryu master Shihan Namtambu Camara Bomani auditing his classes, struggling through their 5 mile runs every other day.
Funny how I found yet another teacher/brother of the same kindness and compassion continents away. He was way less wild than Jaco and very grounded. The perfect balance I needed at the time, being 22 and a bit freaked out by my journey though ten years of fighting for social justice in the good old USA. The revolution was winding down in the US, brothers had gone from Black Berets to 3 piece suits. Some of us answered the call of the international and went to West Africa, Many of us to Dar with the intent to led assistance t the fight against colonialism. A foolish few went to Jonas Savimbi in Angola. I am grateful for the people who taught me to think critically and at 22 to know better than to fall for bullshit.
|Natambu Bomani Kamara|
He adopted me as a little brother and we would talk late into the night. Bomani was another teacher who "pulled my coat" to the snake oil salesmen and expatriate poverty pimps transplanted in the area. I always got the last bus and had to walk 3 or 4 kilometers home on dark roads with the distant sounds of Congolese guitar coming from the numerous "dukas" along the way. Warned against the wahoonies (thugs) and mwezi's (thieves), I traveled with my nun-chakus bought at the Borkowski's martial arts store on 66th and Halsted in Chicago. When I last I saw Bomani In Dar Es Salaam he was sweating out malaria at home and I was very worried about him. He pulled through and I heard from him by letter when I got to London. That was in 1975.
|Students of Nantambu Bomani (Top Row, 2nd from right), 1972|
Jaco died in 2007, I sought him out when I started shooting my film 5 years ago. I was looking for Robert Tobias. Jaco had been ill with diabetes and had come out of a coma a year before. He had since obtained a new wife half his age. Nothing kept him down. When I saw him last he was making plans for another school. An amazing group of people came together to honor his memory. We sat in a Church on the South Side of Chicago, with a minister, a muslim Imam, drummers, Saabar dancing and breaking demonstrations in his memory.
He was not rich, he was never a feature article in Black Belt magazine, he was never a big tournament fighter. To him, a point was knocking a guy out. He was sensei to thousands. And hundreds came to honor him. I found a quote from the Tao de Ching for Jaco and Bomani. This fits their spirits nicely.
"A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret."
-- lao tzu
Jaco and Bomani, like all good teachers understood this intuitively. It take special people to teach effectively. It takes care, love and compassion. The best teachers are extremely self aware. They become brothers and sisters to us and ,in many cases, surrogate fathers and mothers as well. This was Hamza Gregory Jaco and Nantambu Camara Bomani. HArd disciplinarians, soft hearts. Iron Hands tending gardens of youth, strengthening our roots, fertilizing our minds and energizing our spirits.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Friday, June 04, 2010
I usually shy away from being on camera. But Jim Q convinced me to do it. I don't envision myself a Micheal Moore kind of guy, but we tried this anyway. We will premiere a new trailer every month as I am working to complete the film.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
SWISS ATHLETES HAVE NOW SUCCEEDED IN LIFTING JOHNNY COULON
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
"Mr. Bomani began his martial arts training in
Africa in the 1906s. By 1968, Mr. Bomani, had traveled to Okinawa and began training with Eiichi Miyazato Sensei at the Jundokan. Mr. Bomani was a student of Miyazato Sensei’s, until Miyazato Sensei passed away in 1999. Since that time he has trained under Koshin Iha Sensei.
Mr. Bomani was responsible for introducing Jundokan Gojuryu to
Tanzania and he founded the Tanzania Okinawa Gojuryu Karate Association. Mr. Bomani was also instrumental in spreading Jundokan Gojuryu through out the United States. He founded many dojos in New York, Washington, Kentucky and Ohio. He has left several yudansha spread across the United States and Africa."
After not being in touch with Bomani for over 20 years I finally tracked him down and we were to meet this Spring as he was leaving the country for awhile. His son called me last week to let me know he had past, he found one of my messages and realized I was not aware of his passing.
Sensei Bomani, though our time together was brief, had a get effect on me. I was surprised his son knew of me and said his father had spoken of me many times. Bomani gave me a way of looking at Africa, past the bullshit, past the vagaries of expatriatism. He showed me how to blend, and communicate with people in a place foreign to me. So it was not foreign to me for long. Knowing him, people took time to know me.
He walked among the common people of Tanzania with respect and love, having married a Tanzanian woman and living in the community instead of the usual expatriate abodes, separate and apart from the real community. He lived with his wife in a simple 2 room dwelling and she cooked on a a small charcoal stove, fresh whole wheat chapati, he was vegetarian and we had that in common. Dar Es Salaam was the easiest African city I have ever been in to be vegetarian. I was hard core back then. Bomani and his wife's extended family taught me how to live like a Tanzanian, away from the restaurants in hotels so many many of my fellow African American expat acquaintance frequented. There was a strong indian presence in Tanzania so I could get dal and puri and whatever veg Indian cuisine I desired back then.
I remember being to his house for dinner many times and a chorus of frogs outside his window during dinner, so loud we could hardly hear sometimes. Chapati and Spinach curry, coconut rice, with fresh baked chapati on a charcoal stove. I learned to make the coconut rice, from a whole coconut, shredding the meat and socking it, making coconut milk.
I remember making the long trek from his home back to the Chicken Farm, where i was staying at the time. I took the last bus and my two mile walk in the dark on a side road outside Dar, re-examining parts of our conversations about identity, nationality, struggle, mission, purpose, and quantifiable results. It was a good time in Dar Es Salaam, the times of Tanzania's first President Mwalimu Julius. Nyerere. We would see him on the beach some mornings when we did sunrise workouts. President Nyerere would wave, alone walking in solitude like he had not a care in the world. Certainly the Moranguzi (Secret Service)was not too far away.
I almost drowned one afternoon workout when I walked far out into the sand to the pictures and the tide of the Indian Oceans started coming in. When I got to shore the water had almost been up to my shoulders and I was trying to save my cameras. Bomani did warn me when I walked out there. He said he figured I would eventually float back to shore one way or another.
He had hundreds of students. I remember the 5 mile runs in formation. Bomani always leading. He was a hard taskmaster. A good friend in the short time I was there. I think we both had malaria at the same time. I left Dar for awhile after that, as my recovery was good but I was having some strange recurrences. I really looked forward to our meeting this Spring. I am really sad about this.