Interview by Shihan Glen Beck
Q: Dr. Snipes, where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in the South Bronx and Harlem in the mid-70s during a time that the Bronx was literally burning, and after church Sundays in Harlem, it was like a fashion show. James Brown kept us on the good foot and ‘New Birth’ sang to the ladies what we young dudes couldn’t say. Nuyorican congas kept the block hot and water from the fire pumps cooled us off. Handball courts, pinball machines, mini-bikes, and Kung Fu movies were essential to one’s well-being. The incredibly talented actor, Adolph Caesar, made the worst movies sound like a “can’t miss it” hit. Heroin junkies nodding in the hallways were still trying to play big brother, warning us youngins, to stay off the ‘white horse.'
Q: Demographically, what kind of a neighborhood was it?
A: The neighborhoods were very social; Black, Italian and Puerto Rican families knew each other by name. You could “buy on credit” from the corner hardware store. We swept sidewalks, the front stoops of local beauty salons, and fold up ‘Bid Whist’ card tables bookended the block. Street gangs like the Black Pearls, and the Black Spades paraded around in custom denim cut-offs. They policed the blocks just in case the Savage Skulls wanted their ‘colors’ back. Grape Kool-Aid and a quart of ‘Ferocious Lion’ orange drink cost a Quarter and Boston Rd “Ernie’s” would sell you a sausage sandwich with cheese for a buck-fitty. Harlem was rougher than the Bronx in those days. Kids could play outside until dark, you just had to make sure you were back inside by 10 pm with the P.S.A. that rang across every T.V. set in New York State, “Do You Know Where Your Children Are?
Q: Could you tell us about your introduction to martial arts?
A: In 1974 at the age of twelve, my training in Karate and African Dance began at the YMCA on 135th Street in Harlem, NY. The center offered weekend classes for both boys and girls. The great La Rocque Bey was director of the African Dance program and then GM Dr. Moses “Musa” F. Powell and Soke “Little John” Davis pioneered the Sanuces Ryu/Kumite Ryu classes from Brooklyn, New York. Being a very short, skinny, ‘black boy’ with a runny mouth and a few good street fights under my belt, my mother, Marian, thought it was a good idea that I join my cousins in Harlem who were taking classes with LA Rocque Bey. At the end of our dance class, it was our responsibility to clean the floor for the Karate class that followed; it was an order, not a request. When I saw those brothers looking cool as hell in that Karate gi, I begged my mom to join the classes. Days when I didn’t have bus fare to ride, I would walk from 169th & Boston Rd in the Bronx all the way to the “Y.” I carried my rolled-up gi hanging from my yellow belt like a real ‘Karate man.’ You couldn't tell me nothing!
Q: What was the national origin of the system(s) that you studied?
A: The root foundation of the art form they taught was Japanese and Filipino. However, the style of training was uniquely Black and distinctly Harlemese. I recall often the African drummers staying and playing for the Karate classes. We were trained to be tough, tight, precise, and presentational; not only did your techniques have to work in the ‘street’ but you also had to ‘look good’ executing them. Knuckle pushups and deep horse stances kept us all in check.
Q: What was your final rank in that system?
A: Moving to Orlando Florida in 1977, I proudly wore the rank of purple belt, and back then, that rank meant something. It would be three years before returning to New York and achieving the rank of black belt in 1980 under the guidance of Dr. Powell, Kushinda Lamarr Thornton, Kushinda Marcus Salgado, and GM Sijo Abdul Mutakabbir. In 1980 while attending Purchase College as a Theatre Arts major, I began training in Capoeira under Greg Troy, senior student of the great teachers and DANCE BRASIL founders, Mestre Jelon Vieira and Mestre Loremil Machado, Capoeira would become my primary practice for the next 10 years.
Continued in the 6th edition https://deadlyartofsurvival.com
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