The Black Karate Federation, or BKF, represents a significant fact of the black movement in the U.S.A., during the 1970s. We will not detail the black American movements (eg: Martin Luther King, the Muslim movement of Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, etc.). The BKF is also unrelated to the political demands of the above mentioned movements.
It is useful to understand the attitudes of the African American athletes from the USA, in many sports such as boxing, athletics and also karate.
The most famous example is Mohammed Ali, born Cassius Clay, changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964. In 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. Also in boxing, the light-heavyweights World Champions Eddie Gregory and Matthew Franklin, have also changed their names in 1980 and 1979, in Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Matthew Saad Muhammad, after a conversion to Islam.
In athletics, during the Olympics in Mexico City, in 1968, African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze in the 200 meters, performed the Power to the People salute. They were expelled from the Games. A few days later, the U.S. medalists in the 400 meters received their medals wearing berets, in imitation of the Black Panther Party. In 1972, during the Munich Olympics, other African-American athletes were suspended, for a demonstration at a medal ceremony.
In basketball, Ferdinand Lewis (Lew) Alcindor, several years after converting to Islam, changed his name in Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and become a legendary NBA player.
Black Karate Federation :
The members of the Black Karate Federation are not the precursors of black American karate. Fighters like Thomas LaPuppet and Victor Moore were their predecessors.
The Black Karate Federation was founded in 1968, according to various sources. A short excerpt from a documentary about the BKF history : http://www.youtube.com/user/usakaratestory#p/a/u/0/4zHJPiHYGi8
Jim Kelly left and Steve Sanders around the BKF logo
in Enter the Dragon
Steve Sanders was cheated out of a win in a fight against Joe Lewis, possibly in 1969. This defeat has motivated the creation of this federation, among many others. At tournament, the African American fighters were matched up against each other to eliminate most of the best fighters.
The founders of BKF are Cliff Steward, Ron Chapel, Jerry Smith, Steve Sanders, Donnie Williams, Curtis Pulliam and Carl Armelin. Sanders becomes the first BKF president. This federation is primarily active in the region of Los Angeles.
The first school opened at 103rd Street School.
The first school
The training sessions were open to all practitioners and all styles. A portion of the film "Enter the Dragon" was filmed in this school. The links to this video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQReFu7NKpU
Many founders were Vietnam War veterans and/or from the police.
According to the April 1989 Black-Belt issue, 32 schools were opened in total. The BKF then announces 1,000 members, black or white.
The purpose of the BKF was to be a united voice for competitors of color, to improve their training and to keep youth out of gangs and away from drugs.
Steve Sanders, aka Steve Muhammad :
He started studying Goju-Ryu, and after the Ed Parker Kenpo. He also studied with Chuck Sullivan, at the Censhaw School.
Sanders was a Vietnam War veteran and was also a police officer, during a period of his life.
The following results for Sanders :
In 1968, for the Internationals Grand Champion, Sanders loses against Chuck Norris.
In 1968, Sanders loses against Bill Wallace, for the teams tournament, in Chicago.
In 1969, Sanders loses against Joe Hayes, during the East Coast vs. West Coast, according to Al Weiss book, The Official History of Karate in America, p. 115.
In 1969, during a tournament, maybe the Internationals, Sanders is unfairly declared the loser against Joe Lewis. We don't have more details on this fight.
In 1970, Sanders is 3rd in the lightweights, during the 7th annual Internationals in Long Beach, behind Byong Yu and Benny Urquidez, (Al Weiss book, page 132).
In 1971, Sanders wins the lightweight title at the Internationals. He beats Jim Kelly in the first round of the Grand Championship. Sanders eventually loses against Joe Lewis for Grand Champion. We don't have more details on this tournament.
According to the February 1972 Black-Belt issue, during the California Team Championships, Steve Sanders, for the Los Angeles team, draws with Ron Marchini. Sanders also beats Howard Jackson by 2-0.
In 1974, during the Beverly Hills Invitational, Sanders loses against Roy Kurban. The fight is recorded for the film "The New Gladiators". Links to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoJld8Kdrsw
In 1974, during the Pro/Am World Association of Karate, Sanders loses the finals against Joe Lewis, by 4-3.
Joe Lewis (left) against Steve Sanders in 1974
His nickname was "The fastest hands in Karate". He practiced Kenpo, a fast and light combination of blows.
Sanders had Sammy Pace as a student.
Sanders wrote "Kenpo Championship" with Donnie Williams.
The Book with the BKF logo (left)
At an unknown date, Sanders changed his name to Muhammad, after converting to Islam.
Donnie Willams :
Williams was born in 1947. He has practiced Shotokan, and Taekwondo, with Byong Yu. He also practiced Kenpo, with Steve Sanders.
Donnie Williams loses against Howard Jackson in 1973, during the first round of the Las Vegas Four Seasons Nationals, (Al Weiss Book, page 157).
Donnie Williams (right) against Howard Jackson
He is now called Bishop, and has created a congregation in Southern California "Family Church". It's differend to the conversions to Islam above mentioned.
He participated in the production of the BKF Magazine. He had a role in Enter the Dragon and Black Belt Jones, with Jim Kelly.
Jerry Smith :
Jerry Smith is the training partner of Joe Lewis and practices Shorin-Ryu. He becomes one of the first full-contact trainers.
Smith is the BKF captain, during the 1971 1972 and 1973 Internationals victories.
Jerry Smith loses 2-1 against Darrell Lassiter, for the lightweights finals in 1978 during the 6th Prairie State Championships. Lassiter is warned for a blow with too much contact (Al Weiss Book, page 190). In 1978, Smith has maybe a 3 rounds fight, against Glenn Keeney, in light-contact.
Ron Chapel :
He was a police sergeant in California.
Cliff Stewart :
He practiced Goju-Ryu and Hapikido.
Curtis Pulliam :
He loses against John Fishbein at the Demura UCI Karate Tourney, according to the June 1969 Black-Belt issue.
At the Four Seasons Karate Tourney, in Torrance/CA, Curtis Pulliam participates at the All Stars. His results in this tournament are unknown, according to the August 1969 Black-Belt issue.
BKF Students :
It's impossible to mention all the BKF students. We mention Roland Talton, a former policeman who participates in the WSMAC, with this excerpt from a fight : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWLvEd3ykc8. We also mention Lenny Ferguson, the first black American to win the Grand Championship of the Internationals in 1975.
Jim Kelly :
Jim Kelly, better known as an actor, was a Parker Sheldon's student, in Shorin-Ryu.
At the 1971 Ed Parker's Internationals, Jim Kelly wins the middleweights title. For the Grand Champion preliminary, he loses against Steve Sanders, the lightweights champion. A video of his fight against an unknown opponent, certainly during the 1971 International: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2WVWCLel5s
According to the February 1972 Black Belt issue, during the California Teams Championships, Jim Kelly draws with Bob Halliburton. Jim Kelly also beat Walker 4-2.
Jim Kelly was an actor in various movies, including "Enter the Dragon" with Bruce Lee and "Black Belt Jones". Jim Kelly will also be a professional tennis player on the USTA Senior men's circuit.
He is an integral part of the African-American and martial arts cinematic explosion of the 1970s, named Blackexploitation, as "Shaft" for exemple. According to Wikipedia : "Black exploitation, or "blaxploitation" films, are made with black actors, ostensibly for black audiences" and "Blaxploitation films tend to take place in the ghetto, dealing with hit men, drug dealers and pimps. The genre frequently takes place in an atmosphere of crime and drug-dealing. Ethnic slurs against whites (e.g. "honky"), and negative white characters like corrupt cops... were common".
We did not find specific text on the possible involvement of Jim Kelly in the BKF.
Karriem Allah, aka Karriem Abdallah :
Outside the BKF, other practitioners had an interesting development. According to the June 1976 Black-Belt issue, Karriem Allah is 17 years old in 1963. Karriem Abdallah is a student of James Cheatham. Under his birth name, Karriem Allah fights in 1964 or 1965 against Mike Stone, possibly during a tournament organized by Jhoon Rhee, in Washington. Karriem Abdullah loses also against Lou Lizotte. We have no information about this fights.
Karriem Allah fights in 1975 against Jeff Smith, for the title PKA light-heavyweights title. Karriem Allah had apparently no experience in full-contact, a brand new sport at the time. The bout ends with a split decision. Links to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIIzQIcyPtw
Karriem Abdallah vs. Jeff Smith, white trousers
This is maybe the first official defense of the PKA title, but Jeff Smith had already fought at least 4 times in full-contact. The match was broadcast as the preliminay fight of the 3rd battle between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Links to video of a fight between Kariem Allah (now Abdallah), and Maasi, a Bando practitioner, also called Mfundishi Maasi, from New Jersey : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEnnhLLTszI We do not know the date of this fight. Abdullah wins before the limit
Karriem Allah Abdallah (left) vs. Maasi
In November 1967, Karriem Abdallah creates his own system, called "KA System of Karate". Abdallah have been maybe the trainer of the boxing light-heavyweights World Champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, formerly Eddie Gregory and of Eddie "Yaqui" Lopez, light-heavyweight challenger.
Karriem Abdallah is a follower of the Muslim Elijah Muhammad movement, as many African-Americans of the time.
We found no evidence of a relationship between Karriem Abdallah and the BKF.
The above mentioned athletes have helped the cause of African-American in sports, as in politic, giving the best possible use of various media platforms available.
Karate was not the main sport, but it contributed to the recognition of the rights of African American athletes.