Is “Black Karate Federation” a racist designation?

Steven Barnes
4 min readFeb 23, 2021

A guy posted a note asking if, since there was a “Black Karate Federation” he could start a “White Karate Federation.” On the surface, this is a reasonable question. Drill down a little and no, it isn’t. Here’s the pattern as it specifically applies to the BKF:

1) There is long-standing oppression or exclusion. In the 1960’s, blacks were excluded from many schools, and because competitions were non-contact, white and Asian judges could and did cheat black competitors simply by denying their points. There was a famous incident where Chuck Norris witnessed Steve Muhammad being cheated over and over, and finally stood and screamed “give this man his God Damned points!”

2) The BKF was formed as a sort of union, to develop the leverage (through group action) to force the judges to judge fairly, as well as share martial knowledge.

3) There are groups designated Irish, Italian, Greek, Jewish, and so on. “Black” is used in America because whites stripped away tribal affiliations, language, and history. WE DON’T HAVE THOSE DESIGNATIONS ANY MORE. And it was deliberate. To ignore the fact that those national and ethnic pride organizations exist/existed for other groups, is to be ignorant of history. If there was a “Nigerian” or “Congolese” or “Ethiopian Martial Arts Association” people wouldn’t react like that, and the parallels would be obvious.

4) There are of course people ignorant of the fact that ALL indigenous peoples have their own martial arts. So while the BKF didn’t include native African arts initially, like all peoples we began to modify what we learned from Japanese, Okinawan, Korean, and Chinese arts to match our psychology, physiology, culture, rhythms, and environmental needs. And the changes were as huge as what happened in basketball or boxing once we introduced rhythmic and positional variation to the games. Steve Muhammad, known as the greatest fighter to emerge from Ed Parker’s Kenpo system (Mr. Parker told me personally that the BKF had done more to actually express the “Art” of his martial art than any other group) altered the mathematics of Parker’s dynamic sphere of motion to express a linear explosion to move in and out of range as opposed to the “drop a rat in a blender” circular zone of death that is notable in the original art. Yeah, there is justification to consider the changes as important and essential as those made when the Arts migrated from China to Okinawa, or Okinawa to Japan, or from India, China, and…

Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts.