When somebody's sparring with me, and I see something coming at me - a fist or a foot that's coming, and I know it's gonna break me up… I want that. Because I learn how to mobilize and learn how to adjust to that particular situation, you see. Some people play tennis. Some people deal with golf. I don't feel like I'm getting that kind of confrontation. That thing coming at me - that's a negative aspect, you see. But the positive aspect is when I survive. And as long as I'm living, as long as I'm alive, as long as I'm in this environment, there's certain things that not only my self, but everyone should do to be able to survive. I find that it's very important for me to understand the idea of martial art.
Yara is a Yoruba word that means to be nimble or flexible. Actually it's spontaneous improvised, and it's reacting according to that particular situation. Yara is composed basically of West African dance movement. Warrior movement. A lot of movements that influenced me over the years. And to me it was only natural, just to flow into this type of movement, since it was part of my culture and lifestyle.
And the mantis story... I met guys, man, who was studying in Chinatown. And they had a complaint, man. They were really complaining, man. And their complaint was that if you weren't Chinese, you wouldn't get into the inner core, man. So that started to hit me. I said, “Wow, man.” These guys have been studying|that for a long time. That they were on the outskirts of things. I said, so I can't depend on anybody that's very protective - culturally or ethnic-wise - of what they do. I said I think I'm gonna have to evaluate this whole situation.
What is martial arts? What's Kung Fu? Where did it come from, man? Well, I started reading books on Chinese martial arts, the history of this art and the history of that art. There was many times, man, when I was reading about this so called grandmaster - he'd be up in the mountains meditating, and he saw this and he saw that. I said, “wow - I could do the same thing, man. I'll just go out in nature 'cause that's where they got it from.”
And I remember one guy, he was doing this praying mantis in Chinatown, and he got upset because he approached his teacher, and his teacher said that he wasn't allowed to teach certain things to non-Chinese. And I said, “this is no good.” And it was praying mantis. And he came and tried to show me praying mantis. I said, I'm going right to the praying mantis. That's the boss, not some human.
So that's when I looked in the magazines - plant magazines - and I saw a place where I could get these praying mantis from and I ordered them. I said, I'm gonna let them go. And I watched them and all their moves - ha! So I went to the best teacher. I went to the praying mantis himself. And that was better than what any human could teach me, 'cause if you go to another human, he may have a limitation. Maybe he can't move a certain way, right? If he can't move a certain way, then that means I'm not gonna get full mantis. I'm gonna get only a little bit of the mantis. But if I go to see all these different mantises, I'm getting the whole praying mantis, you know. I mean. I'm getting the whole praying mantis, man.
So that's how my stuff came. It came from going right to the source. When human folk want to shut you out, 'cause they don't like the way you look, they don't like the way you talk, or else they're very culturally or ethnically locked into their own set, then I'm gonna say, well, what's the origin of what they do? So I say, wow, it all goes back to this, here. It goes back to hanging out with nature."
Milford Graves on Yara
Statement from a student of Yara
I studied Yara for 9 years with the founder of the system Onisegun Milford Graves. Firstly, the word Yara is from one of sthe languages from Nigeria called Yoruba. The word means to be nimble and quick. Onisegun Milford Graves is a Modern Renaissance Man and one of the worlds deepest thinkers. He is a famous Avant Garde Free Jazz Percussionist Extraordinaire. He is an Herbalist, Acupuncturist, Vegan Culinary Scientist, Horticulturalist, Botanist, Professor of Tenure at Bennington College of Vermont, Medical Music Tonaligist, Master Builder, Powerful Martial Artist and Husband and Father of 5 children. Yara Mind Body Arts was conceived from his mind when some athletic friends in the community requested him to start to hold classes in his basement of his home. This was a laboratory for some sweat and guts, knock down drag out experiences that have been documented by him on video. He is an avid procurer of valuable historic data.
The 9 years that I trained with Onisegun Milford Graves I saw many practitioners bow in submission from all styles of Martial Arts. When he first went to Japan in 1977 some Japanese Martial Arts Masters took him to the beach to give him a ki test. They blindfolded him and from behind his back they punched at him on 10 different occasions to test his sensitivity to ki. He got a perfect score. The Japanese Masters acclaimed his abilities to be equal if not greater than O-Sensie Ueshiba. In 1993 I was priviliged to accompany him with a classmate while he was on tour. In the country town of Gugo Hachiman we put on a musical and martial demonstration in front of several Japanese towns people including the Mayor as well as many martial artist. They were curious and quite attentive to our performance. Onisegun Milford Graves gave the audience his realistic approach to combat using African and African American dance movements that have combative applications. Though wiry he is very strong with full body power. By him being a Trap Drummer he has phenomenal coordination with his 4 appendages. He has mysterious power, which has been cultivated like the ancients in Kemet (Egypt). He practices the sciences like Imhotep or Zoser of old. He often says through study of Microbiology and watching viruses, bacteria and the like, he found Martial Techniques. He really thinks out the box.
Growing up in South Jamaica Queens and going to Boys High School in Brooklyn Onisegun Milford Graves had his share of fights in the Jitterbug era, before children started toting guns. The main difference in the Yara Closed Door Temple, which was a garage Onisegun Milford Graves converted into a Temple with International ambiance was that the majority of the teaching occurred while you were battling on the floor and often it was with Onisegun Milford Graves. I fought enough seemingly for a life time and had sustained a few injuries myself and afflicted a few on others at certain times. There was one Energetic Form that was similar to Tai Chi and Chi Gong that everyone started with. We would also do anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes of calisthenics prior to Onisegun Milford Graves entrance into the class. Shortly after his admittance we’d start banging. You would get the impression you were in an New York Stylized Shaolin Temple with contraptions and apparatus set up all over the small Temple space. He also had a heater that made the Temple quite arid in the Winter, you thought you was in an high altitude because you could hardly breathe cause the air in the Temple was so thin. Sometimes you were fighting for 1 hour with no breaks without mats. It was rough and tumble. It really helped build your endurance. It was like UFC way before UFC came out.
Yara had elusive kicking, punching, grappling and moving push hands, which was a combination of Sumo, Wrestling and Tai Chi Push Hands with a hip polyrhythm. The first time I attempted it I found it to be the most exhausting thing I ever had done in life. But after a few months it felt rather great.