November is Native American Heritage Month. My Martial Arts GrandMaster, SiTaiGung Glenn C Wilson, is part American Indian. It made me curious to start looking around to see what other influences Native Americans have had on Martial Arts.
To my surprise, I actually found a Native American Martial Arts style that is internationally recognized.
In general, the concept of having a Martial Arts in Native American culture is understandable. If you study the Native American history, their culture had seen many conflicts. Coupled with strong philosophies around balance and the earth, the environment is very similar to what created Chinese Martial Arts. However, unlike Chinese cultures, much of the Native American history is oral, not written. Thus, it is harder to find more formalized systems that we've grown to accept as indicators of Martial Arts.
Nevertheless, I did find a few Martial Arts forms that attribute themselves to being Native American based. One in particular piqued my interest: Okichitaw. The biggest distinction for me is that this is perhaps the first Martial Arts style that has claimed Canada as its origin.
Founded and developed by a Canadian, George J. LÚpine, Okichita is said to be a Plains Cree First Nation fighting style. LÚpine is trained in traditional wrestling, tomahawk, and hand-to-hand techniques that are traditional to the Plains Cree. He took this training and, with the sanction of Elder Vern Harper, organized and codified the techniques. This allowed the style to be recognized as a formal Martial Arts.
The name, Okichitaw, comes from the Plains Cree name okichitawak, an honorary title for warriors that have proven themselves in battle. Warriors in Cree society are known as "people who watch over people."
The training of Okichitaw begins with weapons very early on. The primary weapons are the gunstock war club (nontoni towin mistik), tomahawk, and long knife: all weapons which might have been found among the Cree. These weapons make it unique compared to Asian-based and other modern Martial Arts styles. Hand-to-hand techniques are practiced with the assumption that a weapon would be present, though not required to execute the move.
As with many Martial Arts, the study of Okichitaw is as much about the combat as it is about the spirituality. Okichitaw promotes self-control, respect, and many of the traditions of the aboriginal society it came from.
The main headquarters for Okichitaw is based in the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto.
For more information about Okichitaw, please visit their Native Martial Arts website.
A short video of the Okichitaw Gunstock and Knife in action at the World Martial Arts Festival in South Korea.