The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa and How to Apply Them As Martial Artists


Today is the first day of Kwanzaa.  Many of us know of  Kwanzaa, but not many of us know its origins and how it is celebrated. Today, I would like to talk about what the holiday truly means, and how we can apply its core principles to our lives as martial artists and practitioners of swordplay.

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a seven day celebration that starts on December 26th and ends on January 1st.  Each day of Kwanzaa has a different word and meaning associated with it, and these are called the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa.  These are:

Umoja (Unity)

Kujichagulia (Self Determination)

Ujima (Collective Work & Responsibility)

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

Nia (Purpose)

Kumbaa (Creativity)

Imani (Faith)

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Kwanzaa was borne out of the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s in America. African Americans, tired of racial inequality and oppression, were standing together and demanding a time for change.

In 1965 Doctor Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa as a way to help bring the community together and to strengthen the healing process, while also continuing forward with the civil rights movement and the work that needed to be done for future generations. Incorporating African harvest festivals and traditions, Kwanzaa was a way to celebrate Pan-African culture while encouraging growth and prosperity within the community.

Even with the victories the civil rights movements have had, there has been a lot of struggle, pain, sacrifice and opposition. There were grievances, a lot of sorrow and consequently, much healing that needed to be done. Going about this change was far from an easy task and even to this day, racism is still prevalent in North America as we see with #BlackLivesMatter and #icantbreathe dominating the news and social media.

 

How We Can Live the Seven Principles Through Our Martial Arts

This time of year–regardless of what we do or do not celebrate–many of us are thinking about what we want to bring into the new year.  For martial artists and athletes we often try to set goals, or think about what we want to bring into our next year of training.  When I look at the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, I see aspects that I wish to bring into my training as a western martial artist and into my community at my school.  Since today marks the first day of Kwanzaa, this post is going to focus on the ways that we can bring the Seven principles of Kwanzaa into our training and community as martial artists and athletes.

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Umoja (Unity)

Umoja is all about family and community.  I know that I see the people I train with at my school as extended family and the people I have met in Western Martial Art (WMA) and Historical European Martial Art (HEMA) organizations around the world has given me a wonderful sense of belonging to an incredible community.  When we think of Umoja in regards to martial arts, we can ask ourselves: “How are we working to build community and belonging within our schools?  What can we do to to make our schools and communities open, welcoming and inclusive to everyone?”

Kujichagulia (Self Determination)

When we meditate and think on Kujichagulia, we focus inward on our own, personal journey as martial artists. How do we define ourselves as martial artists and what do we do to create and actualize our goals?  Through self determination and commitment we can name what we want to see for ourselves and put into action what we need to do to get there.  Never give up and keep on training!

Ujima (Collective Work & Responsibility)

What are we doing as martial artists to build and nurture our community? How are we working together to take on problems and find solutions? Ujima is about working together and standing in solidarity as we tackle problems as a united group of individuals working to better our martial arts community.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

When we think about Ujamaa, we ask ourselves what we can do to work together to see our martial art as a business grow and prosper. How do we build, expand and support the schools, martial arts gyms, and training centres? When we buy new training equipment, are we supporting local businesses and friends within our martial arts community?  What are we doing to promote our martial art and how do we give back to our schools and training centres? And how can we do more?

Nia (Purpose)

Every martial artist feels a drive and purpose to better themselves in their art. What fuels our desire to push through and improve upon ourselves?  Nia is all about developing our community through developing and nurturing ourselves.  What is it that drives and encourages us and how can we help support that in others that we train with?

Kumbaa (Creativity)

Creativity! Inspiration! Application!  As martial artists we are always looking to discover new ways to better understand our art.  Kumbaa is all about doing as much as we can to make things more beautiful and beneficial. What can we do to inspire ourselves and others? How are we creating new ways to grow, not only as individual martial artists, but also in a manner benefiting our community and nurturing new ideas and potential?

Imani (Faith)

When we think about Imani, we are touching on something far beyond spirituality.  As martial artists we practice faith by believing in ourselves: our capabilities and our potentials.  We encourage faith in others by supporting them and helping them reach their own goals. What can we do to help nurture faith in ourselves and in our martial arts community as a whole? We can start by believing in ourselves and believing in the strength of our community.

 

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As we get ourselves ready for the new year, let us think upon the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa and how we can apply them to ourselves as martial artists and to our community as a whole.

I’d like to personally thank Dorla Harris who shared much regarding her own meditations on each of the Seven Principles and how she, her family, and community have applied them throughout the years in which they have been celebrating Kwanzaa.

From myself, and everyone else at Academie Duello we wish you happy holidays and we look forward to seeing you all in the new year!

devonboorman Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
Read more from Devon Boorman.