In the mid to late 1960s, a group of young, Black martial artists started training together at various locations in and near Los Angeles. The group included many who had trained within Grandmaster Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate system in addition to that of other martial disciplines such as Hapkido, Tae Kwon Do, Limalama, Tang Soo Do, Gung Fu, Okinawa-Te and Shotokan. Disciplines aside, there was another bond that brought them together, each had grown tired of being cheated at tournaments.
As a reflection of the controversial times, there was a massive push for a united voice in all organized sports, but integration was slow to come, and the blossoming world of sport karate was no exception. All in all, it was largely believed that the martial arts community was NEVER going to allow for a Black International Grand Champion.
It was soon reasoned that standing together, uniting, was the the only alternative to combat such widespread injustice. With the intent of establishing an organization for the marginalized, the group examined how other ethnicities were representing themselves. There was a Japanese Karate Federation and a Chinese Martial Arts Association. Time had come for the Black Karate Federation and with it a badge that would soon command world-wide respect.
To crown the first Black International Grand Champion was the BKF’s clear cut objective, but trying to make good in South Central Los Angeles is a complex endeavor. The Watts rebellion had left massive scars both literally and figuratively, the Civil Rights Movement was at a crossroads and the BLACK PANTHER PARTY was being systematically dismantled by then F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram) that consequently paved the way for disenfranchised Black youth to join the burgeoning CRIPS street gang. Needless to say, these were crazy times.
So what do you get when you combine battle-tested, martial arts talent with that of several distinct, colorful and sometimes clashing personalities? The inimitable Black Karate Federation, who in 1975 finally succeeded in placing the first Black International Grand Champion atop the podium while never failing to serve as a positive influence for countless inner city youth. And this is the David versus Goliath meets Cinderella story of how it all went down as told through the eyes of the young men and women who went through this extraordinary martial arts system.
FILMMAKER // ERIK ANDERSON
Erik has been working in the entertainment industry for over 20 years. His first stop was at the William Morris Agency where he learned how Hollywood ticked, then unleashed his creative beast soon after, producing and writing a handful of feature films until he finally found himself at the Art Center College Of Design where he earned his M.F.A. in Cinema. Today he digs telling stories with heart. See more of Erik’s work at www.andersonerik.com