DOS Culture: 52 Blocks - The Only Indigenous American Martial Art

Black Americans are constantly told that we have no culture or cultural contributions to speak of... However, this couldn't be further from the truth.

As the descendants of American Chattel Slavery, the inheritance of our ancestors' legacy is rooted in pain and suffering. However, much of this suffering as is the case with many historically oppressed peoples was the catalyst for the innovation or in many cases the outright creation of something unique and in its own way- beautiful. Take for instance, this video:


This video I believe is an excellent representation of DOS culture at one of its purest forms. With the melancholy piano and aggressive rap beat and lyrics of Ace Hood’s “Yeen Bout Dat Life” contrasted with the seamless and free-flowing over the symmetry of shapes and rhythmic movements that comprise the science of 52. 


Here, the music, the martial Art, and the Practitioner all come together seamlessly in a poignant yet uniquely beautiful display of Black American culture.  The Art much like the song is rooted in pain and comes from a vibration of violence yet conveys a story and in its own way presents something both unique and beautiful. 


52 Blocks is as Black as it gets.  While not defined by it, Black DOS culture is inextricably tied to the legacy of our ancestors and the subsequent fallout of our inherited struggle. 


Much like the art of Capoeira in Brazil, 52 has its roots in Slavery being born out of necessity in high stress and violent situations such as most recently and notably the US prison system in the early 80’s as well as the early 1900s with legendary Black champion boxers as Jack Johnson, who was notorious for his dexterity and defensive fighting prowess in the era of early segregation. The roots of 52 can be traced even earlier to the barbaric Virginia Slave fights and prominent figures such as Tom Molineaux, another highly skilled defensive who later went on to win his own freedom and travel to England to shock the world of bareknuckle boxing forever. It was with this history and compounded experiences that shaped what would later be refined into a martial Art known as 52 Blocks. 


Despite lacking a codified and regulation in the form of "katas" or drills like most other traditional martial arts such as TaeKwonDo, Karate, and Kung Fu - 52 Blocks has managed to rather uniquely, survive through the lived experiences of its practitioners. Because of this, no 52 Blocks practitioner is the same and all-together unique in their own way as the primary means of training in the art was through free-styling or “shuffling the cards” as it were. This “DIY” method of training also can be observed in the prison calisthenics movement and early breakdance/breaking culture as well and serves to showcase the adaptive resourcefulness and creativity of DOS culture. 


In recent years, 52 Blocks has come into prominence with many instructors such as Lyte Burly, Diallo Frazier, Sensei Mo and Farris Daniel preserving the art and bringing it back from the realm of near- mythology with larger-than-life figures as Mother Dear and Big Ant into practicality. They, alongside the many new practitioners including rapper Ludacris, keep the art alive and simultaneously showcase the undying resilience of our art - our culture. This resilience is thankfully starting to be seriously recognized in popular media as in BET’s film “Gunhill” in 2014.


On a personal note, getting in touch with this aspect of my culture was both eye opening and important in a way that I can’t describe. The knowledge that we, as Black Americans, indeed do have a rich culture complete with our own martial art in the same way as Asians or our Brothers and Sisters in the Mother land do is a fact of immeasurable value. At any rate, I am glad that our art is finally receiving recognition and that we at last have a change to share and showcase an under appreciated aspect of our culture with the world.