In this exciting interview, we conversed with 3rd Dan Cameroonian martial artist, Master Aurelien Henry Obama.
We were really intrigued to learn more about the martial arts from Africa itself which –aside from Capoeira- is perhaps not as widely known as those promoted in Asia and Europe. KFK is moving a step closer to realising one of its goals to feature the best of the martial arts from all corners of the planet. Now, let’s welcome Aurelien!
Raj: Let’s get straight to it, some background if we may, what is your DOB and where do you come from originally? What is your height and weight?
Aurelien: Africans naturally don’t like to give their birth date, age is not written our forehead but it is in our heart and soul, but I will make an exception for you! I’m born in 27th of December 1976. I’m from the beautiful African country of Cameroon perhaps most widely known around the world for their football talent. I am 1.80m tall and my weight varies between 73kg-77kg
How did you first get interested in the martial arts? What age were you?
My father was a Cameroonian diplomat in the USA and Canada in the 70’s and 80’s were I grew up as a kid. I was influenced by all Asian martial arts movies of that time including American action films without forgetting black exploitation films of that time. In junior high, I had already developed a serious interest in wrestling. At the age of eleven, my father put me into a taekwondo school. Later, my father was called back to Cameroon and there I studied karate and learned several martial when I was a teenager. In Cameroon I discovered the traditional form of African fighting and hybrid afro-Asian martial art fighting systems.
Can you give us a glimpse of what martial arts culture is like in Cameroon and perhaps Africa in general?
Due to colonisation in Africa, Asian martial arts like karate, judo and kung fu entered Africa in the 50’s and 60’s. Other Asian martial art systems followed in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Due to international competitions and organised associations, Asian martial arts became popular within Africa. If you ask an African, if they have martial arts in their continent, they will say no, but if you ask them, do your tribes people have a fighting system, they will invariably say yes. Every tribe across the world has a warrior culture and Africa has amongst the oldest warrior culture! Within the villages and traditional occasions, African wrestling is very popular, African warrior dances, stick fighting, sword fighting and many others.
Can you tell us the names of some perhaps uniquely African martial arts which have you studied/practiced?
Missein is a traditional African form of wrestling practice from Beti-fang people of Cameroon. Yen-tai do is a modern hybrid Cameroon martial arts system combining karate and African fighting created by the late Master Yene. People always believe that capoeira comes from Brazil, yet its origins are from Angola and Africa in general. I studied that a bit along with African stick fighting and African warrior dances. There are many African systems close to boxing. Now, I’m creating an African hybrid martial arts system called the Ndum Bewa’a which literally means the fight of the chimpanzee. I’m still learning and researching into my African martial arts heritage!
Did you have a teacher or mentor, who was it? Who do you most admire in the martial arts?
The police officer Master Francois Bertrand EMINI who was African champion in shotokan karate, taught me everything. He believed in me and sacrificed for me to be what I am today. We didn’t always have same vision but he always encouraged my evolution in the martial arts. He’s a great master and a great man. What I admire most in the martial arts is not the fighting aspect but its philosophy of life, its inner beauty.
You’ve been involved in action movies, how many movies have you made so far and can you give those titles?
Student Cot, Living My Wrongs, Fleshes, Touch Not, Invisible Affection, Moneybag, Lost Brother: Waka-waka man, Triple Threat and Slave’s Dream. I’ve also appeared in several video clips, adverts and short films promoting martial arts.
What film projects are you involved in right now and who are you collaborating with?
In Cameroon, I will be producing a martial arts/action film called Le Lien du Sang in French or Blood link in English for which I wrote the script. I’ll play role of the main villain Dr. Nzuma Kelly NTEP whilst one of the best fight directors in Africa will direct the movie and play the right hand man of the main villain. Jean Vidal Ngono, a national taekwondo champion will play the main hero beside Blaise Etoundi who will play his best friend. It is a classic story: good versus evil and having faith in God.
The 2nd film project is Blood Brothers, a martial arts movie which will be filmed in Botswana and USA. I will play an African villain who is a head of poachers who are killing off wildlife in Botswana. It’s written and produced by South African, Sebati Edward Mafate who produced the successful martial arts film Black Cobra/ When the Cobra strikes (2012) starring T.J Storm, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagwa and Jeff Wolfe.
The third film project is Countdown, a martial arts movie to be filmed in Mali. I play a master and military trainer of the main hero of the film, Sekou Doucoure. I will also do the fight choreography and screenplay the film story. The film will be directed by Nelson Vargas from the Philippines.
I’ve also been casted to take part in the upcoming Tony De Leon action martial arts thriller film series, Trigger Reaction in the USA starring a few legendary American martial arts film stars. This movie addresses human organ trafficking. It is a serious problem across the world especially in Africa. For the moment, the script is being re-written to bring urgent attention and highlight the true reality of this international issue. http://triggerreactionmovie.com/
Next year, I will be starring in the upcoming action/martial arts movie, Lost Brother: Waka-waka man as Jake Damose the main hero -a solitary ex-military soldier- searching for his missing brother within an African country torn apart due to a civil war which just ended. The woman he loved, his wife, was murdered. His soul is tortured within, in reflecting upon all the evil he did in his life as he searches for salvation. Now he has to save a young woman from the hands of evil doers who are former rebels turned into hardcore criminals controlling the small town. Africa needs a hero and Jake Damose (alias the Waka-waka man) is that hero. I wrote the film script, I will be the film producer and will also have a fight choreographer working with me.
Latino American Art Camacho, legendary action/martial arts film director, Pavel Nyziak, along with African-American Robert Parham former world-kickboxing champion turned martial arts film star and many others are supporting this film. It has to be one of the most challenging African martial arts films in history!
Which if any of these martial arts actors have you met and or spoken with/what are your impressions?
Tony De Leon, is a warm-hearted person of great integrity. Art Camacho is a great guy and knows to encourage people to fulfil their dreams. I had a chance to speak with Loren Avedon who gave me many tips in the film business along with his good friend, Jalal Merhi. Gary Daniels has been very supportive, Silvio Simac also is a very nice guy. Martial arts actors, stuntmen and fight directors in general, are mostly very open people. They really do want to do movies in Africa and work with Africans in their movies but obstacles and issues surround the producers and investors who are afraid to take the risk in using Africans and shooting martial arts movies in Africa. No matter, I truly believe things are going to change for the best!
Who would you be most keen to work with?
I’m open to work with action talent, be it in American, European, Latino, Asian and/or African action-martial arts movie productions. In every production there is something new to learn from be it from the producers, directors, fight choreographers, stuntmen, cast and crew!
What challenges have you faced making martial arts/action movies in Africa generally, or more specifically, Cameroon?
That nothing good can come out from Africa and that Africans can’t do good films or be action film stars, the disbelief in our people. Of course money is always a problem, lack of equipment, support and film-making experience. Once I understood that I was a pioneer in the field, I had to use my own means to make my own movies to gain the experiences and convince my people that we Africans can have their own home-grown organic action film star finally in the movies! Bruce Lee faced the same struggle to convince people that Asians can become international film stars and he finally became a role model to all of Asia. I strongly desire to do the same thing in Africa. I hope many filmmakers and martial arts actors in Africa may follow my example. United we stand, divided we fall…!
What are your top 5 martial-arts movies?
Enter the Dragon (Bruce Lee), Bloodsport (Jean Claude Van Damme), Fist of Legend (Jet Li), Ongbak (Tony Jaa) and Ipman (Donnie Yen), Undisputed 2 (Scott Adkins & Michael Jai White).
We’re guessing for example, Jackie Chan has many enthusiastic fans in Cameroon, is that so? What can you tell us about African fans of other well known/popular martial arts actors, who else is popular?
Television came to Cameroon in the mid 80’s and people started visiting the cinema halls and video clubs -most young people were watching Jackie Chan films. Almost all the elder generation in Cameroon and across Africa know about Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan is very popular in Africa. People really want to see him to do movies in Africa and act beside the Africans. We hope their dreams will come true one day! Jean Claude Van Damme is also extremely very popular across Cameroon and the whole of Africa! I would go as far as to say that most people did martial arts due to his influence. Steven Seagal, Jet Li, Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Bolo Yeung, Sammo Hung, Sho Kusogi (with his ninja films in the 80’s) and Donnie Yen are all popular!
What is a normal workout/training routine for you, can you talk us through it?
Well I train my karate students three times a week. Day one is basic martial arts forms. Day two is fighting technique and sparring. Day three is physical conditioning including flexibility (to accomplish splits) and weight training. I also do my own private training in the morning before I go to morning mass. This includes the usual press-ups, sit ups, daily leg stretching and I do intensive bodybuilding three times a week. I do private sessions with students in various martial arts which can be sambo, taekwondo, kickboxing, aikido or African fighting systems. I dance to African music or hip-hop to maintain my cardiovascular conditioning since I’m not a huge fan of running. I also like to swim and ride my bicycle. When a film project is coming-up, training is more strategic –then the workouts are oriented toward fight choreography. Day and night, I reflect on the holy scriptures. I believe a true martial artist should be advancing physically, mentally and spiritually.
Can you tell us if you follow any specific diet: what kind of fuel do you intake that best optimises your training?
Well, I don’t really have a specific diet but I don’t smoke, I drink mostly natural juices. I drink a lot of water every morning and throughout the day. I try to eat fruit like bananas, oranges, pineapples and many tropical fruits daily! I eat a lot of traditional vegetable-based African dishes and consume fish fairly regularly with meat once a week as well as dairy products. I believe anything in excess is bad for the health, moderation is the key for most people and if I may, this extends to those that are married or unmarried –and one should definitely control his sexual activities. A lot of sparring with partner is good to be acquainted in fighting. A punching bag is important to develop explosiveness. Additionally, visualisation is very important in the training of martial arts!
What level have you reached in your particular discipline?
In Shotokan karate I’m a 3rd Dan black belt instructor. I’m very open to learning different techniques and developing my own expression in the martial arts but I still continue to teach karate at the University of Yaoundé II Cameroon. I’m a member of the Cameroon Karate Federation (CKF).
What achievement/s would you say has brought you the most satisfaction so far, any high points?
Shiai Magazine: ‘the international African martial arts magazine’ www.shiaimagazine.net is my online African martial arts magazine, the objective is to promote Africans/blacks who practice martial arts across the world and culturally, African martial arts. It has been going for more than 10 years. I write articles valorising African warrior heritage. I can only thank God for everything!
What do you like to do to relax, do you have any pastimes outside of the martial arts?
Dancing, visiting with friends, watching movies/ going to the cinema, acting and drama, eating good food, writing poetry, stories and scripts, going to church.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Fulfilling my dream as an example and role model to all children of Africa that dreams can truly come true if you work hard for it and that you put your faith in the Higher Power! I believe this will lead to making Africa a better place to live in. Every nation, every people deserve to have their own heroes. Practically, we need doctors, engineers, artists, police officers, etc, people who can make a difference. That is my goal, to inspire that every African child can say that they became a hero in some way to contribute in transforming the country and continent for the better!
Imagine you could be a superhero, what power would you choose and what would you use it for?
The power to heal people: I would heal not only the sick across the world but also those who are mentally, socially, morally and spiritually sick. Our society is extremely sick and seriously, we need to heal it! People should discover God in their lives and do good to one another.
Have you noticed an increase of interest in martial arts emerging from Cameroon or Africa as a whole? If so, which styles do you think are most popular nowadays?
For the ages, Africans have always been warriors, now today, you can see many who are champions in boxing, MMA, free fighting, wrestling and martial arts. Although western and Asian martial arts are popular due to sheer volume and reach that circulates money through competitions, teaching, military training and movies, many Africans today are promoting their traditional African fighting heritage and creating hybrid fighting systems. I believe it’s just a matter of time for more Africans to start sharing and demonstrating their special fighting culture!
You’ve already touched on the history of combat geographically speaking, where do you see the direction of martial artists from the African subcontinent heading?
Many black champions in martial arts and sports combat today now residing in Europe and America originated from Africa. We are always proud to see black men and women winning a competition no matter their nationality. We know that things are adversely difficult in Africa but cinema is becoming very popular thanks to Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Most of our movies are based on love, African spirituality, comedy, drama, and epic themes, but now Africans are interested in promoting action films within the continent. I truly believe that the time has come for us to have our own action heroes!
Do you have any message in particular, for martial-arts students and fans alike that you would you like to express?
Martial arts is a school of life, no matter the difficulties of life, martial arts enable us to fight our inner enemies which consist of our fears, failures, weakness, doubts, etc. The martial artist is a fighter, a survivor. Use your knowledge of martial arts to succeed in your studies, in your business, in your worthwhile projects, in your profession and your dreams in life. We need true martial artists to make Africa a wonderful place to live in, by the grace of The One!
Finally what warrior wisdom quote or phrase would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers?
I always tell my students that when they provoke me in the streets, I’m always afraid. I’m not afraid what he will do to me but I’m afraid what I will do to him. If I do him less damage, I will send him to the hospital, if serious damage, I will send him to the burial ground! On both counts, I would have done evil. My conscience checks me, even if I don’t go to prison (because I defended myself) my prison will be my conscience. To prepare yourself for life, be the friend of your own conscience!
Master Obama, we’d like to thank you for your time, attention and agreeing to this interview. Our team was especially interested to feature the lesser-known martial practices from diverse locations around the world. KFK is proud to represent the best martial arts from all over the globe, so thank you for the opportunity. We wish you the very best of success in your mission!