Greensboro, AL — On April 7, 2011 between 50 and 100 martial arts master teachers and their students will arrive in the small southern town of Greensboro, Alabama, put on their work boots and gloves, and begin building a home for an elderly woman in need. They are in Greensboro because Martin Luther King traveled through there just weeks before his death. They are there because teacher-architect Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee co-founded the famous Rural Studio in nearby Newbern. They are there because of the classic book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; because James Agee wrote about the people of Hale County and because Walker Evans carried his camera down Greensboro’s Main Street.
They are there because community activist Pam Dorr lives there and heads The Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization (HERO). They arrive in Greensboro because of John Bielenberg and his Project M, a Greensboro based team of young artists and creatives who live by the slogan “Think Wrong.” This group of karate, kung fu, aikido, taekwondo, and jiu-jitsu teachers from New Jersey, Hawaii, California, Maine, and so many other more “tourist” or “convention” friendly places, come to Alabama to learn about a kind of martial arts mastery that project founder Tom Callos says is more relevant to teaching self-defense in today’s world that any kick, punch, block, or parry.
“Mastery, genuine mastery, is not found in the physical practice of the martial arts,” states Callos, a 6th degree black belt, “It is found in the way the practitioner uses, in the world, what he or she practices on the mat. To be a Master is to transcend the boundaries and borders of your subject and weave your work into the fabric of your community. This is what Mockbee did, what we experience when we read Agee, when we see the faces and places Evans captured in his photography, and what we hear when we listen to Reverend King today, 43 years after his death. These black belts are here to practice a kind of martial arts that transcends the dojo.”
For the last 7 years, Callos and his team, participants in The Ultimate Black Belt Test, have raised the funds for building materials, then provided the labor to build a number of projects in Greensboro. Two years ago they helped restore a Rosenwald School. The year before that they built a small house for a man who’s dwelling was becoming uninhabitable. While in Town the martial arts teachers have also toured local schools giving demonstrations, tutored local students in math and English, offered classes in diabetes education, anger management, and given self-defense classes to local women.
The team is working to raise $25,000 this year to build a home and help complete a number of small repairs needed by local Greensboro residents. Donations may be given on-line at www.HeroHousing.org/UBBT.
“People always ask me what architecture, photography, building houses, and Martin Luther King have to do with the martial arts,” says Callos. “I tell them, everything. As a Master Teacher my life is my dojo –and everything is I do is a reflection on what I have learned and who I am as a person. This is the ultimate self-defense.”
This year if you come with me to this event you will meet Theresa and get to talk to a piece of history. Here is a preview: