Last weekend a street in Jamaica, Queens was named after SWAM House of Discipline, one of the oldest, and most popular martial arts dojos led by African American Muslims. It was so inspiring and uplifting to spend the weekend at SWAM to honor and celebrate them and their leader Sijo Mutakabbir who is such a visionary. So many members of our community showed up to celebrate this honoring of the dojo and its contribution to the Jamaica, Queens community and the values it upholds. Some folks even travelled from other states and countries to be here in Queens for the occasion!

Black Muslims in front of the SWAM dojo celebrating the renaming of a street in Jamaica, Queens after the dojo.

SWAM and dojos like it bring together a mix of martial arts, community activism, healing, uplifting the spirit and body, and so much more. This is exactly why I’m collaborating with SWAM to share the culture, traditions and history of martial arts in the African American Muslim community through my Muhammad School of Language and Martial Arts project. SWAM house will be offering classes and demonstrations starting this September.

Sijo Abdul Mutakabbir, founder and director of SWAM dojo, along with community members celebrating the new street name.

SWAM upholds many values I admire and want to spread in our community, which is why martial arts is an integral part of Muhammad School of Language and Martial Arts -It’s in the name! SWAM dojo isn’t only about developing physical strength, it’s also about developing spiritual fortitude, and cultivating wisdom and strength of character. The dojo is also involved in community activism making it a space for learning and healing. SWAM runs a highly effective drug prevention program which has helped save countless lives, not just of drug dealers and possible users but their families who would’ve been negatively affected as well. Martial Arts teach us to build self esteem and self respect, it’s not about how strong the body is but about the type of people we train ourselves into becoming.

Martial Arts class at Muhammad School of Language and Martial Arts.
Nsenga Knight | Muhammad School of Language and Martial Arts, 2015 | Installation at Project Rowhouses, 2511 Holman St Houston TX | Round 43: Small Business/ Big Change | Oct 24, 2015 – Feb 29, 2016 

Muhammad School of Language and Martial Arts installation and social practice project is largely inspired by and highlights how the Black Muslim community utilizes the space of the mosque with a temporal approach that is sensitive to the unique cultural, social, spiritual and geographical needs of Black and Muslim people in the urban communities of the East Coast. Mosques were not only spaces for worship, but also for education, physical training and contemplation. For instance, martial arts classes would take place in the mosque when the space wasn’t used for prayer. This has resulted in a strong tradition of martial arts in New York Black Muslim communities that is rich, exciting and unique, creating new martial arts styles and gaining respect from the larger community.

The unique approach that Muslims have applied to Martial Arts in our communities has played a critical role in building our confidence and spirit; allowing us to more fully express the strength of our beliefs and lead powerfully. As minorities, both racially and religiously, we could have seen ourselves as victims but instead we developed powerfully as strong believers in mind, body, and spirit; and able to defend and fight for our beliefs if need be.

Nsenga Knight | Muhammad School of Language and Martial Arts, 2015 | Installation at Project Rowhouses, 2511 Holman St Houston TX | Round 43: Small Business/ Big Change | Oct 24, 2015 – Feb 29, 2016. Exterior with original signage.

Finally, If you are an arts administrator, organizer, or educator interested in sharing my artwork with your audience or community, use this inquiry form to request my participation and to share your project with me.

Nsenga Knight and her eldest son with Sijo Mutakabbir, the founder and director of SWAM House of Discipline.
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