This is part of The Shadow League’s yearly Black History Month in Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.
Donavin Britt has the only black-owned MMA school in the “Fight Capital of the World”, Las Vegas.
He is one of only three African-American owners of a Krav Maga school in the United States.
“MMA isn’t intentionally white in the sense of black parents being excluded,” said Britt. “I think what happened is the group of fighters came out of two camps. They were jiu-jitsu guys, who were primarily Brazilian. Then there were Shotokan karate and Western grappling guys that converted to strikers.”
Britt was enlisted in the Army, specifically in a division called Psychological Ops (Psy-Ops). He started training in Krav Maga, which means close combat in Hebrew, then became an instructor and eventually a gym owner.
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“I believe that there’s huge headway for African-Americans to make in the sport of MMA because of our history, our athleticism, tougher backgrounds and what we have done in boxing,” Britt said. “The history side of it, in the sixties during Bruce Lee’s era, those karate tournaments had dominant black fighters. You wouldn’t think so because Black Belt Magazine wouldn’t put black fighters on their covers since they were catering to a majority white audience.”
“Boxing was a way out for so many black kids,” he continued. “I believe MMA could be the same thing but the trainer has to look like the kid, that’s who they trust. It’s like when a young black kid grows up not seeing a black quarterback. We saw Randall Cunningham, Doug Williams, Warren Moon, all of a sudden we knew we could play quarterback.”
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
There is a unique tie with Black America and the martial arts.
Through one of the most polarizing organizations in American history, the Black Panther Party, African-Americans knew the value of self-defense.
“A lot of people always shorten the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense,” said Britt. “I’m from the East Bay of Oakland. The primary focus of the BPP was the self-defense of black people, so you had all these karate schools open. Through the turmoil of the ’60s, many black people were turning to karate to defend themselves. Black Belt Jones, Richard Roundtree and the Blaxploitation movement were examples of martial arts culture for Black America.”
“America is such a young country that it doesn’t have an indigenous fighting system,” he said. “Our fighting system is guns. Look at the Philippines, they developed stick fighting because all the guns were taken away.”
Krav Maga x MMA
Krav Maga is a military self-defense and fighting system developed for the Israeli Special Forces. Like MMA, it is derived from a combination of combat techniques.
Sourced from boxing, wrestling, Aikido, judo, and karate, along with realistic fight training, Krav Maga is for real encounters, not a sport.
Krav Maga was partially unknown to a mass audience up until MMA exposed another martial art to Americans that only understood karate.
It became popular in Los Angeles as a fitness system that Hollywood embraced, but that is not what is was created for.
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Jennifer Lopez and the movie “Enough”put Krav Maga on the map. Tom Cruise trained in art for the fight scenes in the movie “Collateral”.
Britt believes Krava Maga meshes well with MMA. The only difference? There is no expectation of decorum, those who train Krav Maga are trying to survive.
From a tactical standpoint, there is a loss of some tools but in a mentality standpoint, there is a benefit. Bringing a Krav Maga system and mentality with an MMA skill set ultimately creates a mixed martial artist for the street.
Britt is leading that charge.