Sick Hands and Sweet Moves: Aesthetic Dimensions of a Vernacular Martial Art
Abstract

The 52s is a contemporary African American vernacular martial art that developed, according to oral tradition, as an effective means of defense in prison settings. Yet, in 52s, effectiveness is not good enough. Comments by resource persons assert that sick (destructive) hands must harmonize with sweet (artistic) moves. The competent fighter must maintain composure and control while destroying an opponent. Drawing techniques from literally any source available, including boxing, Asian martial arts, folk styles of combat, and dance, this “martial bricolage” is characterized by strategies, rhythms, and attitudes based in the interplay of the sick and the sweet. Comparable tensions are evident in urban folk games (slap “boxing”), dance (uprocking, break dancing), and verbal arts (freestyle rap). This article examines the aesthetic principles shared by these martial, ludic, and performance genres.


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