It has been over a month since the passing of Nganga Mfundishi Tali Tolo Naa from this world. His departure from the physical world has left a vacuum not to be filled , for he was a unique one of a kind human being.
He was my Brother, confidant and comrade for over 50 years. I considered Nganga to be a Martial Arts renaissance man, having mastered 4 schools of Taji Chuan, several methods of Hsing I and Pakua, and a variety of Kung Fu weapon and empty hand forms. In addition he studied and gained great proficiency in acupuncture, moxibustion, tuina, herbology, calligraphy. Previous to all of this, he gained fame as the legendary Chicago Tiger through his great fighting skill in Karate.
He was a quiet and soft spoken man, who gave great thought to his statements before making them. Never boisterous nor arrogant, he was a consummate gentleman. I recall him telling me several months before his passing, that he entered Karate tournaments in the 1960s, not to win trophies, but to hone his self defense skills through competing against highly skilled competitors. He felt that it was also a way of moving beyond the trap of ego, that consumed so many practitioners.
Nganga was a powerful yet gentle man who was fueled by a compassion that motivated him to practice a high degree of tolerance when dealing with life’s difficulties. He would often say ” if we can understand the nature of people and situations, it will allow us to be more tolerant in dealing with them”.
It was ironic, after not having seen Nganga in person for a few years after our initial meeting in Canada in 1963, that he would form an African centered Martial Arts Academy in Chicago Heights, Illinois, at the same time that I initiated African Focused Martial Art practices in New Jersey.
We would share these and other similarities throughout the many years of our comradeship. Recently, we were both hospitalized at the same time, he in Wisconsin and I in Maryland. In spite of our illnesses, we maintained contact with each other. November 20 of last year, I texted him, inquiring about his condition. On November 22 he replied, “not good Shaha, once again , we find ourselves in the same boat”.
Though he was firmly committed to Internal Chinese Martial Arts, Nganga maintained a commitment to the enhancement of the lives of Black people through Martial Discipline. We shared this view for over half a century, and it was the cornerstone of our Comradeship.
It is sad but true that this commitment among other concerns, took a toll on both of us over the years. It is a sad reality that the commitment to liberate the minds of Black people, has shortened the lives of many of our Brothers and Sisters. Specifically, in the case of my Brother, the senseless murder of first his grandson and then his son, took a toll on Nganga. I know this for a fact due to our many conversations after the murders.
The murders serve to highlight a condition that plagues the Black race worldwide, the senseless cooperation in the slaughter of our Brothers and Sisters. We have become the purveyors of death and destruction, in full concert with those who have sought our destruction for centuries.
Some have said to me that my constant reference to such issues is depressing and a set back to the liberation to the Black psyche. I say that to stick one’s head in the sand, invites a kick in the behind. Better to face the bitter truth and move beyond it through the strategic discipline of the mind, than to engage in feel good practices that provide little more than momentary escapes from the reality of our condition.
For decades, I saw Nganga suffer the reality of producing herbal formulas, and martial teachings that addressed the physical and mental challenges of our people, only to receive lip service from those who desired only to benefit from his presence and genius, for their own benefit. Nganga once said to me ” I have developed these herbal formulas, but our people will not buy them, they prefer to purchase from others”. He suffered poverty while his name was bandied about by those who claimed to have “appreciated him”.
In his final days, he had five students who regularly attended his classes, on the day of his transition, except for his children and a student or two, he was alone. Had those who benefited from his Mastery, maintained some degree of contact with him, he would not have spent his final days sick and alone. There are those who will harbor anger towards me for my words here. To them I say, they have mistaken me for someone who cares. If the shoe does not fit, keep stepping. I must be loyal to my Brother who suffered the pain of loyalty to the cause of warrior discipline, for the liberation of his people.
He and I were castigated by an ignorant few, for developing Kupigana Ngumi. They claimed that it was a “fraud and a deception” upon the martial arts community. That it was a made up system, for the benefit of he and me. What evidence was brought forth to support such a claim. We published a paper entitled ” The truth about Kupigana Ngumi”, which explained in great detail, the true nature of our united effort. It is now a matter of public record. Once read, it becomes clear, the level of self hatred and ignorance, visited upon this cultural effort of the 1960s, by those who were not even present during that historical struggle.
I recognize no obligation to be passive or silent in the face of such ignorance, nor have I been concerned with the reaction of the agents of such ignorance. I promised Nganga that I would be loyal to our cause until death, that i will do.
To Nganga’s beloved family, I pray that they take solace and peace in knowing how much he loved them. He said to me, shortly before leaving Ashville, N.C. , “I am returning to the Chicago area to be with my children and grandchildren, to spend some time with them. I want to form a class to teach my grandchildren and all young children, for they are the future”. As I think back to that day, I believe that Nganga knew that his earthly days were growing short. I recall viewing a video that he sent to me, in which he and Ray Jr. (Simaj) performed a section of Yang Secret Form. It seemed that he was passing the torch to his eldest son as they embraced at the conclusion of the form.
I vividly recall the day that I received a text from my son Khalil saying that he was informed by Malenga Charlie (one of Nganga’s current students), that Nganga was close to transitioning. My blood ran cold as contemplating such a great loss . I continue to mourn the passing of my Brother, and most likely will for what ever days remain for me, but I take solace in having enjoyed over a half century of Brotherhood with such an unique human being!
Peace and Blessings to All !!!