The wizard of Cass and Willis
By Steven Malik Shelton
Special to the Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — On any given day (except for Wednesday and Friday) beginning at 6 a.m. sharp, and regardless of freezing cold or sweltering heat, you will find Grandmaster Sekou Bomani teaching and practicing his craft outdoors on the northwest corner of Willis and Cass in Midtown Detroit.
Some say he is crazy; others believe his methods and techniques can be unorthodox; and still others say he follows the beat of a different drummer. Yet, all admit his skill and reputation as a martial artist is formidable and — in some circles — legendary.
The highly respected Detroit-based martial artist, Ahati Kylindi Iyi, is one of Bomani’s former students, as is Deputy Wayne County Executive Heaster Wheeler. And the police chief of Wayne State University is a respecter of his craft, as are countless parishioners of the legendary Shrine of the Black Madonna where he headed up the church organizations’ security and self-defense initiatives.
Grandmaster Bomani is in his 70s and his martial arts lineage goes back over 50 years, beginning with his study of judo under the tutelage of Sensei Louie Furkawa at the downtown Detroit YMCA when he was still a teen.
He was later instructed by judo savant Johnny Osaka as well as by the renowned martial artist, Dr. Asheeda, who worked as head coach of several Olympic and collegiate judo teams. In 1969, Sekou co-founded the Bomani Martial and Healing Arts Academy and became an Olympic judo coach himself in the 1980s.
He speaks fondly and whimsically of the time he spent with the late, great master Dr. Moses Powell, who said, “Being a superstar in the dojo means nothing unless you can apply those same qualities in an uncontrolled, dangerous situation. Being good at performing katas or forms and not being good at fighting is an obvious imbalance. Wearing a belt around your waist, regardless of its color, does not guarantee proficiency. It is hard work and humility that molds the true warrior.” The two sparred together and traded techniques, fighting philosophies and strategies.
Though known to have the ability to store up energy and to release it in bursts of malignant force to drop an adversary to the ground, physically Bomani is a small man — only about 5’7” in height and weighing between 160 and 170 pounds.
“It’s not about how big you are,” Bomani said. “It’s not even about how much you know. What it all boils down to is: Can you fight? Will you fight? Do you have the warrior spirit?”
Bomani has traveled to West Africa to learn the dance systems of the Senegalese masters. He is proficient in the Pencak Silat fighting techniques of the Indonesian Islands and he merges them all with a myriad of dynamic styles and disciplines. He is also a master of the science of redirecting energy and eliminating circulatory blockage with his golden acupuncture needles as well as with the palms of his hands and his fingers.
Bomani, while practicing, exploring and teaching the fighting and healing methods for over five decades, has advanced scores of combat enthusiasts and adherents who are unfailingly respectful and regardful of his knowledge and expertise.
“I teach a form of African science martial arts,” said Bomani in his makeshift office at the Avalon Bakery on Willis off of Cass Avenue. “I teach a form of jiu jitsu, I teach a form of chi gong; all of which has its base in African style martial arts. I tell people that when you study antiquity you will find me there, especially where it relates to the arts and sciences. I’ve been there and done it and I will continue to add to it.”
He is often dismissive of martial arts enthusiasts who seem unwilling or unable to comprehend the legacy of the warrior traditions are much more than breaking bones or pounding someone into helplessness.
“True, the word martial is similar to militaristic, which is of, or related to warfare. But it’s not enough to say that I teach a punch or a kick or that I shoot a gun or throw a knife; I’m talking about the science of martial arts, a science of government, a science of statehood, a science of etiquette, culture, philosophy, math, medicine and spirituality and much more. We must have this abundance. If you came from that, and even if you didn’t but you examine it truthfully, you recognize it came from ancient Kemet and it came from the Bantu, and the Dogon and you acknowledge that it plays a role around the globe.”
Bomani is wearing a t-shirt with the faces of a half dozen or more Black American freedom fighters emblazoned across his torso: Rosa Parks, Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, Robert Williams, Huey Newton, and Fred Hampton. On the table in front of him is a book by the renowned Detroit activist, Jimmy Boggs, as well as several rare volumes on metaphysics. His face breaks into a surprisingly youthful and refreshing smile as he says:
“As African Americans, we were always willing to fight in this nation’s wars in a military fashion. Yet, with a few exceptions, like these heroes and she-roes I have displayed on my shirt, we find we were fighting for everything but for ourselves. But when the day comes when we wake up and take our rightful place, we will let the world know to respect us, to respect our women, to respect our children. You are not going to shoot me down in America — as a matter of fact — nowhere in the world should they be shooting us down. We should have enough respect for ourselves that we are willing and able to protect ourselves and our families. This is the essence of martial arts and I teach many forms including all of the African dance systems along with DIN-MAK. The true meaning of DIN-MAK is synonymous with being a master teacher. One who has spent many years and studied the anatomy of the body in conjunction with what people call the laws of the universe. When you talk about me, you’re talking about a shaman, you’re talking about a medicine man, you’re talking about a preacher, and you’re talking about someone that comes from both outer and inner space, and maybe he is the Black Dot who came here to say that I don’t like the way they’ve messed up my planet and I intend to return some balance to it. And it’s not just me; it’s all of us! A new shift has come into existence and it’s a paradigm shift for a better world.”
Steven Malik Shelton is a journalist, martial artist and human rights advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.