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Did Elijah Muhammad Help Popularize Martial Arts in Black America?

Did Elijah Muhammad Help Popularize Martial Arts in Black America?

martial arts

Photo: Elijah Muhammad on Feb. 26, 1966. (AP Photo)

Malcolm X once said of the martial arts, “I frankly believe every Negro in America should learn Karate and Judo.”

The martial arts were part of the culture of the Nation of Islam under the leader Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad made martial arts part of the training of the Fruit of Islam, the security for the NOI. It still is today.

When asked about the training in an undated interview posted on YouTube, Muhammad said the NOI saw martial artist training as way to protect ones self. 

“Why should we not train in some way to try and protect our own self when we have no arms whatsoever?” he asked. “It is kind of a thing that is good to exercise for a man’s body.”

He also said it was a peaceful way to resolve issues. “In the teachings of the Holy Quran it says that we should be respectful and never be the aggressor,” he continued. “We don’t want to cause violence.” 

The interest in martial arts grew in the Black community around the same like as Muhammad’s tenure as leader of the NOI. He was leader from 1934 until his death in 1975.

Was he responsible for this interest? While that question may not have an indefinite answer, it is true that the number of Black notables in martial arts grew and some were involved in the NOI.


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One of those people was Grandmaster Anthony Muhammad, who was inducted in the Action Martial Arts Magazine’s Martial Arts Hall of Honors in 2014. 

Anthony Muhammad was the National Trainer of the Nation of Islam.

“When you are recognized at this event, there is no question about your skill or caliber as a martial artist,” creator of the Action Screen Academy and founder of the Screen Action Stunt Association, Michael DePasquale Jr., told The Final Call.

Grandmaster Anthony Muhammad said of the honor, “Any accolades that I receive for my training are a representation of my teacher (Dr. Moses Powell aka Musa Muhammad) and is a demonstration that he is still present within me.”  

Another standout in the world of martial arts is Grandmaster Abdul-Azziz Muhammad, another member of the NOI. His first formal martial arts instruction was in the art of Shorin Ryu Karate, taught by Brother Vann who was a student of Sensei Thomas, Martial Arts World reported. He studied at the FOI martial arts courses in the art of Jiu Jitsu. 

Anthony Muhammad earned his yellow belt in Shorin Ryu, one of the oldest styles of karate.

Anthony Muhammad, during his time in New York he also owned and operated a successful security company that provided security for many of the movie director Spike Lee’s projects, New Line Cinema, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures and the Hudlin Brothers film projects. He has provided security on movie sets such as Malcolm X, Boyz In the Hood, Boomerang and House Party, to name a few.

In 1995, he moved to Chicago to become the National Trainer for the Nation of Islam under the leadership of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. 

There’s also Dr. Moses F. Powell became such an expert in Grand Professor Vee’s’ system of martial art that, as a green belt, he was allowed to instruct and teach 3rd and 4th Degree Black Belts, according to his website.

Grandmaster Vee is a well-known and respected martial artist.

By 1960, then Sensei Moses Powell was teaching his own system of Self-Defense, which he called Self-Defense Complete. In 1964, he renamed it Modern Jiu Jitsu.

Sensei is the martial arts term for teacher.

Sensei Powell made an impact on the martial arts world and in 1969, a short documentary was made about Powell and his Sanuces Ryu Jiu Jitsu. The film was called, “SANUKUS.” In the early ’70s, Sensei Moses Powell began to introduce his innovative version of Jiu Jitsu to people in Jamaica, Trinidad, Bermuda, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Nassau Bahamas.

In 1971, Powell became the first martial artist invited to perform at the United Nations and in 1977, Master Moses Powell was inducted into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

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Steve Muhammad learned Tai Chi as a youth. When he joined the Marines, he was exposed to Goju Karate. After serving in the Vietnam War, Sanders became a champion fighter. He won state and national titles in karate and earned his black belt from highly respected teachers Dan Inosanto and Chuck Sullivan. 

In 1973, Sanders played the part of the instructor of Black martial artist great Jim Kelly in the Bruce Lee film “Enter the Dragon.”

In 1982, Sanders joined the Nation of Islam and changed his last name to Sabir Muhammad.

Sabir Muhammad holds a 10th degree black belt and is the author of the book “Bkf Kenpo: History and Advanced Strategic Principles.” 

Despite his skills, he said in one interview in 2017 posted on YouTube it was a struggle to be recognized, until “I became better and better they had to let me win.”

He also spoke of his acquaintance with Bruce Lee, who had films on Sanders, “from when I was a white, brown, black belt. And he’d watch them. He studied Black fighters,” said Sanders. “If he was alive today, he would tell you he learned a lot but studying Black fighters (martial artists and boxers), including Muhammad Ali.”

Grandmaster Karriem ABdAllah almost made his mark in martial arts, but he said the world failed to honor the contributions of Blacks in martial arts. In an interview stated on YouTube in 2012, that rarely would you find a Black martial artists in films. “If they did, they would have him lose,” he said. “You’d never see Black martial arts heroes.”

Grandmaster Karriem ABdAllah is the founder of The “K. A. System of Karate” and he is reportedly the first African American to create his own system of karate based on non-Asian tradition in November 1967, according to his blog.

Photo: Elijah Muhammad, leader of the American black Muslim organization the Nation of Islam, addresses the opening of the annual convention at Chicago Coliseum, Ill., on Feb. 26, 1966. (AP Photo)