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From: "Pablo Birriel" <birriel@prodigy.net> Save Address Block Sender
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Subject: Article on Jailhouse
Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1999 15:17:28 -0400
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JAIHOUSE THE FIGHTING ART OF SLAVES
 
 
Note: This article although it contains a small amount of historical data is not meant to be a review of the slave trade in America. This information is provided solely to give my reader an understanding of the conditions that brought about the development of this art.
 
When several frightened, cold, hungry, and disheartened Africans gathered to speak in a language foreign to them all no one was aware of the fruit their conversation would bear. The first Africans to set foot on this soil brought along with their muscle  a vast amount of intellect. It was this intellect that laid the foundation for what would become known as Jailhouse.
 
Jailhouse is a martial art that lies hidden within the nooks and crannies of American history and African American culture. It was developed by a group of people that possessed a love for what all Americans are known for worldwide and that is freedom. I would consider the first slaves brought to the United States the ancestors of this dynamic fighting art.  It was this quest for freedom and conditions of bondage which contributed to the birth of Capoiera in Brazil and Jailhouse in the U.S.
 
Africa is a vast continent that is composed of many nations and languages. All of these tribes have their own sciences and history which they pass down by way of storytelling and dance. After reaching a certain age the candidates for what I call "manhood training" were gathered together and taught skills which the village elders considered vital to the survival of the tribe.  Now these lessons could include but were not limited to carpentry,fishing, hunting,politics, history, religion, relationships, and martial sciences.  In the area of martial sciences, each village had its own specialty. There were boxers,grapplers, leg fencers, and still others were stickfighters this was dependent on the way the village made its living. for example, If the village business was selling water the fighters would specialize in leg fencing because they could not afford to drop the containers of their days work.  Unfortunately though, the relationships between many of these tribes dictated that they would never be able to share this knowledge with each other and the history of Africa still bears the scars of many tribal disputes. It is my belief that the primary contributor to these wars was lack of communication. Unless you spoke the same dialect, or another language in conjunction with your own, there couldn't be any interplay between villages and this was how misunderstandings(wars) were started. In bringing them to the United States several things took place:
 
1. A common language was introduced to members of rival clans.
 
2. Animosity that existed between clans was destroyed, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
 
3. Slavery forced all Africans to view themselves as one people.
 
4. Those that survived the dreaded middle passage were bonded together forever by the shared experience and it created a burning desire for freedom.
 
 
It was this last thing that contributed the most to Jailhouse. Individuals that would have normally killed each other instead shared folklore, history, and eventually martial arts with each other. It was understood that whatever their former politics it was not as important as returning to the land from which they were born. These former enemies gathered in holding pens, hence the word Jailhouse, where they shared the deadliest secrets of war in the name of freedom. It is this art that was passed down in secresy from family member to family member not being limited to sex.  It is well known through historical accounts of individuals like Harriet Tubman that women could be just as deadly as men. It was written that Harriet was a tough as any man and could not be found unarmed, she carried two pistols.  In her travels with the underground railroad there were many instances where these skills must have been put to the test, all of this in the name of freedom. It was also because of freedom fighter Nat Turner's slave revolt in Southhampton County Virginia that many people were forced to re-evaluate the institution of slavery in this country.
 
It should also be noted that boxing, as we view it, couldn't exist without the contributions of many slaves and former slaves. For example while slavery was still in full bloom, Bill Richmond gained his freedom and pioneered the evasive movement latter made famous by fighter's such as Sugar Ray Robinson and Mohhammed Ali in England. He became a fight promoter, trainer, and bar owner in England while America still embraced slavery. He was also the trainer of the First black to fight for the English heavyweight championship, Tom Molineaux. Tom was born in Newport News Virginia and fought his way to freedom prior to his fight with Tom Crib in England. It was the advanced counter moving principles of the African arts which gave them the ability to evade and counter , an ability that had not been previously displayed.
 
Jailhouse itself is like a multi-faceted diamond. It has many variations  depending on where and whom you study it from.  However, in forming the system which I call Rekibo(modern Jailhouse) I gathered those techniques and principles that were the foundation or "nucleus" of all the other forms. The nucleus of Rekibo(core techniques) consists of hand,elbow/forearm strikes,gouges,stomps,sweeps/trips, lowline kicking,body strikes, and grappling. These techniques combined with a thorough knowledge of human physiology, physics, mathematics, advanced principles of movement, and escape and evasion assured that the Jailhouse boxer was a well rounded fighter. Capoiera and Jailhouse both have a heavy concentration on movement but the philosophies differ. In Capoiera the tumbling and evasive techniques were designed to take advantage of the vegetation that was abundant throughout the countryside. A quick leap and a flip could carry the capoiersta to safety in the heavy growth,this was not the case with Jailhouse. Jailhouse was a system that had to be executed in the utmost secresy because discovery meant death. The Jailhouse boxer's strategy was to quickly close and finish his/her opponent before they could cry out. The emphasis was placed on closing and striking with high impact techniques  and then finishing with a choke hold. In researching Capoiera and Jailhouse I have found a common thread in the similarity of their names. The word capoiera was a name derived from the name of the cages that chicken were transported to the market in and Jailhouse was derived from the holding pens where human livestock were held until sold. Consider that both arts were founded by a people in search of freedom, both were praticed in secresy, and were birthed in the womb of imprisonment. I can only guess at the knowledge these powerful men and women brought with them from the horn of Africa but as a martial artist and a historian I can only continue forward in my quest for the knowledge of self and truth.
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