Camp ANV Spotlight: Talking Sticks with Sifu Bill Owens
If, one sunny Summer afternoon, you find yourself near Acta Non Verba youth urban farm, you may hear the sound of sticks clacking together, echoing rhythmically throughout the neighborhood. Bay Area martial arts legends Sifu Bill and Simo Mary Owens are sharing their unique and beautiful martial arts form known as Kusema Vijiti, also called the Talking Sticks, with our campers.
Working in unison with sturdy, short sticks in each hand, the students’ movements are fluid and rhythmic like dancers, yet close observation of each pose reveals the form’s true defensive nature.
Martial Arts as an Art Form
“As a martial arts instructor, you can get tired of teaching aggression,” Sifu Bill reveals. “I want to prepare kids to defend themselves—to ‘go crazy’ if they need to—but I also want them to stay sweet. The Talking Sticks is a martial arts form that allows me to teach self defense, while remaining in the realm of beauty.
“I teach martial arts without the aggression, and more as an art form. I keep it very jovial, rhythmic, musical, and fun. But what you are seeing is a series of blocks, strikes, deflections, and parrying thrusts offensively and defensively. You can take the moves and in an instant, use them in a fight.”
Kusema Vijiti (The Talking Sticks) is a rhythmic stick art form, born out of martial movements, African, and African-American cultural rhythms and sensibility. Sifu Bill Owens and his wife Simo Mary Owens developed this unique form right here in Oakland over 35 years ago. They established the Kusema Vijiti Institute, and have developed a grading system that ranks and gives credibility to its practitioners by levels according to the length of time of study and the knowledge gained.
“Kusema Vijiti develops rhythm, coordination, focus, balance, and timing,” Sifu Bill explains. “Because it is based on a written language of symbols it also promotes reading.” Campers at the day’s instruction quickly spoke up, saying they enjoy the practice, and recognize its combined elements of defense, art, and music.
The class will continue throughout the remainder of Camp ANV 2015, and takes place every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4:00 to 5:00pm. Parents interested in Kusema Vijiti should contact Sifu Bill Owens or Simo Mary Owens at the Kusema Vijiti Institute in East Oakland (contact information below).
Martial Arts Champions Sifu Bill and Simo Mary Owens
Sifu Bill Owens (Sifu meaning Chief Instructor) began his training in 1966 and was awarded his Grand Mastership in 2009. During his years of competition he won over 170 trophies, was rated 5th in the world and #1 in Region One for three consecutive years.*
Sifu Bill was one of ten martial artists invited by the Chinese Wushu Association of Beijing, China to attend the 1985 International Chinese Wushu Championships as a United States martial arts representative. He is presently the Vice President of the Kusema Vijiti Institute and continues to teach his System Blossom Fist at Cascos Martial Art Academy in Oakland.
Simo Mary Owens (Simo meaning wife of the instructor if she practices martial arts) began training in the martial arts under Sifu Bill Owens in 1971. Traveling the tournament circuit, she became the #1-rated fighter in the United States for two consecutive years and #1 in Region One for five years, all while attending school to obtain her nursing degree.
Simo Mary married Sifu Bill and joined him in running Cascos Martial Art Academy. Besides being a business partner at the Academy, Simo Mary specializes in teaching the children’s classes. In addition to her more than 35 years of training in Blossom Fist she has expanded her martial arts training to include Filipino Stick Fighting, Brazilian Capoeira, and Kusema Vijiti (The Talking Sticks). Simo Mary continues to teach and train with her husband Sifu Bill Owens at Cascos Martial Art Academy.
About Kusema Vijiti (The Talking Sticks)
The Kusema Vijiti Institute is located at 7421 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, CA 94605. For more information, call (510)638-9990 or email [email protected].
About Camp ANV
Camp ANV is run jointly by Acta Non Verba and Oakland Parks and Recreation. The program provides quality, educational enrichment in an urban farm setting to low-income East Oakland youth during summer and school breaks, year-round. Camp ANV takes place at Acta Non Verba, located at 1001 83rd Avenue, Oakland, CA, United States. For more information call (510)972-FARM (3276) or email [email protected]
*Martial arts ratings awarded by martial arts industry and enthusiast publications.