The following story was originally related to my Brother-In-Arms Ustaz Hussein Udom of www.silatmubai.cc and then on my website in the "Combat Journal" section:
In August of 2000, I traveled to Ogun State, in Southwest Nigeria in order to study with some of the indigenous healers in the village of Ode Remo. Ode Remo is a remote place far removed from urban Lagos, where the tradition of martial arts is still very strong. In fact, it is about the only town that the Nigerian army and police steer absolutely clear of. Even Nigerian taxi drivers - who seem to fear nothing at all - will take you just about anywhere in that country except for Ode Remo.
Upon my arrival, I was given an audience with the chief and arrangements were made for my apprenticeship in the healing disciplines. In the meantime, I gave a brief martial arts demonstration to the gathering crowd in the chief’s compound, which seemed to please everyone greatly. I demonstrated some very simple techniques and movements in conjunction with a particular dzikr which I had learned previously in Indonesia. Soon, word spread through the village that an American Allaji (local term for Muslim) who was also an akin (warrior) had come to Ode Remo, which is roughly the equivalent of having a being from outer space land in a cornfield midwestern town!
Soon, the local champion of the indigenous martial art of Gidigbo (African wrestling) presented himself at the chief’s compound and greeted me with typically magnanimous West African hospitality. He was a man who I had recognized from a photograph taken years earlier, which showed him throwing an opponent who was at least twice his size about four feet in the air during a competition. I had also heard the story of how he single-handedly faced down a Christian mob during an intense period of the religious turmoil that so often sweeps through that part of the world, and how he given a commendation for this act of bravery by the regional Oba (governor.)
After a sumptuous lunch of palm oil and hot peppers (I politely declined the bushrat soup) the Gidigbo man and I proceeded to the town soccer field to have a friendly match. By the time we arrived there must have been at least 50 men - machetes in hand from the yam harvest - and young boys trampling each other to get a good view. My opponent drew one of the men from the crowd and proceeded to vigorously throw him around the field, demonstrating some of the flips, takedowns, and locks from his Art. Then it was my turn to demonstrate. I decided that discretion, not showboating, would be more strategic so I did some rather innocuous Silat movements (or more accurately pencak) from various animal forms. After the final formalities, and short explanation of the rules - no punching, first one to hit the ground loses - we squared off.
We faced off, arms touching in the traditional form. My opponent went in to clinch immediately. Instead of clinching though, I zig-zaged backward using reverse-triangle footwork. I snaked my right forearm across his throat until I was able to hook the back of his neck. At the same time, I caught his right wrist - and as his momentum carried him forward, I cast him to the ground using the classic puter kepala throw. He came up, and we squared off again. This time he tried to immobilize my arms. I kept my arms extended from my body, so that even though he had my wrists firmly grabbed, I was still able to spear him with my elbows when he tried to crash in and close. My footwork prevented him from rooting into a firm stance from which to throw me.
After about five minutes of countering and reversing his locks, he finally clinched me. I lowered my center of gravity, waiting to “feel” the opening that would surely present itself while he set up for the inevitable takedown. Then the strangest thing happened. I suddenly became aware of him whispering in my ear! Before I could process the situation, I felt myself losing consciousness. I spoke enough of the Yoruba language to recognize that he was using an incantation. As the energy drained from my body, and I slipped rapidly into a dark void, I felt myself being lifted straight up into the air, as if I were made of straw. With the last vestige of my consciousness, I uttered one of the Beautiful Names of Allah. At that point I surged with enough energy to wrap my legs around his chest (he was lifting me straight up!) and came crashing down on top of him. The match was over.
In the aftermath of the contest, I received the adulation of the children, and at least three offers of marriage from the women! The African wrestler and his entourage disappeared from sight. “Nice going” I thought, I’ve made my first enemy here.
He came to the chief’s compound where I was staying three days later. He shook my had robustly, and said in oddly-accented English: “I want to thank you for all that you taught me. I pray that you will become stronger, and that you will never be defeated.” He then presented me with a traditional West African warriors belt - which I wear proudly to this day. We shared a warm Fanta, and he brought me to meet his wives and children.
He took personal responsibility for my comfort and safety for the duration of my stay in Nigeria. I remain his humble student until today. His name is John Abiodun Ogunleye.