In between the noise of the fast-paced modern world, there is a martial art that many may have never heard of, yet remains as one of the oldest fighting styles in North America. This hybrid system that has survived through the ages is known as Okichitaw (Worth Young Men) – Canada’s one and only aboriginal martial art.

Okichitaw: Watching Over the People

Derived from Okichitatawak, or the Plains Cree First Nations (societies within the indigenous community), the martial art of Okichitaw is a fighting system developed in 1997 by Canadian martial artist, George J. Lépine. It incorporates the philosophies, principles and warfare skills existent in the Canadian aboriginal tribes and warriors long ago.

The martial system’s name comes from the word Okichitawak, a term used for young warriors that had proven themselves in battle. Due to their skills in warfare and their ability to protect their tribe, these Cree warriors came to be referred to as “the people who watch over the people.”

Lépine’s Beginnings

Okimakhan Lépine demonstrating a technique
By Flmgnra (Own work (Original text: self-made)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lépine first delved into the world of martial arts during his youth, where he trained in a myriad of martial arts such as Hapkido, Taekwondo, and Judo. On top of his training, Lépine was learnt in the ways of tomahawk throwing and hand-to-hand combat – all skills he would later incorporate into Okichitaw.

His journey into creating this Native American-based martial arts began during his time in Winnipeg, Canada, where he was taught Taekwondo. Due to his indigenous ancestry and background, Lépine was encouraged to explore the martial practices of his native roots by the people around him. Through the right guidance, he would then begin his ongoing journey to preserve and disseminate the cultural heritage of his ancestors.

The Principles of the 7 Grandfather Teachings

Amidst the tomahawk throwings and aggressive combat movements, Okichitaw also places great importance on seven principles known as the Seven Grandfather Teachings. Originating from the Anishinaabe people – a group of indigenous peoples of Canada and United States – these seven principles were a set of teachings passed down on how we humans should treat each other.

In the book The Mishomis Book written by Edward Benton-Banai, it states that Seven Grandfathers once asked a messenger to examine the human condition. As the messenger went about carrying out this request, he noticed the mess in which humans were in. As he journeyed on, the messenger eventually encountered a young child, which he hoped to teach the good ways of life to. This exchange resulted in the Seven Grandfathers appointing each child with the messenger’s teachings. These words of wisdom eventually became known as the Seven Grandfather Teachings.

  1. Wisdom – We should aim to cherish knowledge in all its forms. Since Wisdom is something handed down by the Creator, it was meant to be used for the good of the people.
  2. Love – We should aim for peace, thereby knowing love. Whenever people fall on hard times, love is what helps push them through. It should be something we all have, unconditionally.
  3. Respect – We should aim to honor everything that is around us – all creation. There is so much beauty in the world we live in, thus, we should come to respect every piece of it.
  4. Bravery – We should aim to have a fearless heart, facing whatever trials and tribulations with integrity. There will always be moments in our lives where we are faced with unpleasant situations. Knowing how to do what is right even when we know the undesired consequences is to have bravery.
  5. Honesty – We should aim to face every situation with as much truth as we know how. Our words and actions define us, and for that reason, being honest with ourselves is the best way to be honest with others.
  6. Humility – We should aim to be aware of our place in the world, knowing full well we are all a part of Creation. With that realization, we should always remind ourselves that neither one person is better than the other. We are all equal.
  7. Truth – We should aim to speak truth, holding ourselves accountable to know and familiarize ourselves with these things. We should not lie or deceive since ultimately, that is being dishonest with ourselves.

Training in Okichitaw

By Flmgnra (Own work (Original text: self-made)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Using the weapons of the Cree warriors, students are taught how to handle a Gunstock War Club, Long Knife and Tomahawk. One of the primary differences between Okichitaw and any other martial arts is that many of the hand-to-hand techniques are held and based around the handling of said weapons.

Many Okichitaw attacks involve the use of the forearm, and are aggressive in their execution. Having incorporated his experience in Hapkido and Judo, students also learn various pulling, throwing, and tripping techniques that get the opponent to the ground in a matter of seconds. A large part of the training is knowing how to use one’s body and speed to quickly approach your opponent. Once entering the attacker’s space, practitioners employ direct, aggressive strikes to neutralize their enemy.

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