Abir Qesheth and its Patriarchs: Say’s Who? Part 1

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There is a preponderance of similarities between two separate cultures that indicates their ancient connection is not coincidence. There exists a strong possibility that the origins of what we call traditional Asian martial arts are not only rooted in the Far East, China, Korea, Japan, but may be influence by, or an adaptation of, the ancient Hebrew martial art Abir Qesheth. If this is the case, why have we not heard of Abir Qesheth, especially if its older than Kung Fu?”

The first time I was asked this question, I didn’t have an answer. As a freshman student at Valley College, in the mid 1970’s. I had to come to the aid of an American actor, Ron Howard, known then for his role as Andy’s son on The Andy Griffith show. Ron was minding his own business, watching his girlfriend’s ballroom dancing class being held in a Quonset hut shaped gym where I was also teaching my martial art class. Ron Howard tried to avoid making eye contact, but soon found himself surrounded by some of my students, in Ghi (uniform). Unbeknownst to Ron Howard, he was about to get smacked around by a knucklehead intent on making a name for himself at Ron Howard’s expense. He said, “I want to be the guy who kicked Opie’s ass and took his lunch money.” Coming up from behind him I seized and escorted Knucklehead back to the center of the mat. I did this using an Abir technique totally foreign to everyone, which peaked curiosities. Just as quickly as they descended on Ron Howard, they follow and encircled me and Knucklehead.

“What the f—k you call that!” shouted Knucklehead.
“Abir, the Israelite martial art,” I answered.

“BULLSHIT NO SUCH THING! Anybody ever hear of it? NO!…Good luck in that kumite, horseshit! Good luck trying to use your whatever there?”

Matter of fact I did, witnessed and testified to by the Aluph (Grandmaster) of Abir, himself, in several foreign publications.

Often times, if we haven’t heard about a particular martial art either in a martial arts magazine or some other source we feel is reliable, then we think that the style, or the person who practices the style, can’t possibly be authentic.

There are those who will attest to the reality of the Hebrew martial art Abir Qesheth. The Wingate College for one. Wingate is the Israeli government’s official body that determines the authenticity of an art and the certifies its instructors in Israel. Credentialed academic scholars have independently investigated and can corroborate Abir’s historical existence as they have found thousand plus year old wall paintings and sculptures with Abir’s martial art movements memorialized in Egypt and other parts of the middle-east. This has helped us determine the authenticity of Abir as an ancient Hebrew martial art system.

Abir’s Grandmaster, Yehoshua Sofer, isn’t concerned about what others may think of him. He is highly respected and revered where it really counts, in “the cradle of the martial art culture,” Asia. Sofer and Abir also have the attention of Europe, impressing Italy’s Rolling Stone Magazine and foreign trade journals like England’s Martial Arts Illustrated, who featured him.

I personally heard Yehoshua Sofer described as a “national treasure” and “…the curator of a culturally rich and ancient Jewish martial art system” by government officials, documentarians and academic scholars, several of which I met with while in and on my way to Israel, May of 2012. I was lucky enough to be present when the History Channel visited Sofer for the purpose of featuring the ancient art of Abir in an episode. The producer made similar comments about the preponderance of evidence as to Abir’s authenticity as an ancient Judaic martial art. The History Channel had done due diligence.

So, what do we know about Yehoshua Sofer and Abir?
Yehoshua Sofer’s family were Habbani Yemenite Jews and part of the 800 Jews who lived peacefully in Hebron with tens of thousands of Arab neighbors. On the night of August 23, 1929, the tension simmering within this cauldron of nationalities bubbled over, and for 3 days, Hebron turned into a city of terror and murder. By the time the massacres ended, 67 Jews lay dead and the survivors were relocated to Jerusalem, leaving Hebron barren of Jews for the first time in hundreds of years.

Yehoshua’s grandmother became so traumatized by the Hebron Massacre, the family sought refuge elsewhere. They resettle briefly in the USA until his grandfather was detained by U.S. immigration authorities and rather than deporting the family all the way back to Yemen or British mandate Palestine, the family was relocated to Jamaica by virtue of his grandfather’s possessing letters of recommendation by British military officials. Thus, they were welcomed in Jamaica, a British colony, (as was Southern Yemen where the city of Habban was in the Hadramauwt region). Thus Grandmaster Yehoshua Sofer was born into a family of Habbani Yemenite Jews in Jamaica.

Yehoshua Sofer’s grandfather had been a special bodyguard and guide to British military personnel and dignitaries, including T. E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) on his journeys from South Yemen north into Saudi Arabia. Family members, serve as bodyguards to the powerful Al Quwaiti and Al Wahidi Sultanates because of their martial art skill in Abir.

The Yeminite people are well known for having preserved ancient Israel’s culture that were once thought lost to history. (i.e. customs, prayers, ancient Judaic texts, as well as authentic dress, diet and pronunciation of Hebrew from the period of the first Temple in Jerusalem which was built in the reign of King Solomon. King Solomon was married to Bilqis, queen of Sheba, who was actually from the Sabean region of Yemen, and not from Ethiopia, as many have come to believe). The Jews of Habban in Wadi Hadramauwt also preserved the ancient fighting methods brought there by the House of King David.

Not unlike myself, who migrated from Canada, the Sofer family moved from Jamaica to Los Angeles in 1963. In L.A. Yehoshua studied Tang Soo Do and received his black belt at age 10, in 1968. In fact, Yehoshua Sofer and Abir is no stranger to me, we rode on the bus together to audit classes of various martial art masters. We studied Kuk Sool Won from S.B. Moon and in 1974, Yehoshua advanced to 6th dan, and worked as a trainer and bodyguard.

We lost touch when Yehoshua moved back to Israel in 1989. In 1993, he recorded a popular Israeli Ragga Hip Hop hit in Hebrew, מטמטם חומוס Humus Metamtem (“Humus Makes You Stupid”). In 2000, he ran a Kuk Sool Won school at the International Convention Center, in Jerusalem.

In 2002, Yehoshua Sofer turned 42 and it was only then he was considered old enough (as required by Talmudic law to study certain mystic texts) to be granted permission from his father, Abir Ro’iim, to establish the Abir Warrior Arts Association of Israel, teaching the style of “Abir- Qesheth Hebrew Warrior Arts (עברית לחימה אומנות קשת אביר) in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He is continuing an unbroken family tradition dating to Israelite antiquity preserved by the school of “Bani Abir” in Habban, Yemen. His rank is Aluf Abir ’’אביר אלוף”Grandmaster of Abir” which according to the documentation I reviewed, as aforementioned, is officially recognized by the state of Israel’s Sport Authority via it’s representation through The Wingate College of Sport Sciences. The word אביר abir in Modern Hebrew means “knight”, interpreted as an acronym אבי״ר, for רופאנו יוצרנו, בוראנו,אדוננו, (“Our Lord, our Creator, our Maker, our Healer”).

The school’s logo spells the word in the Paleo Hebrew alphabet. The letter shapes are significant because of Abir’s “Aleph-Beth Fighting System.” “Abir practitioners learn to assume the forms of the twenty-two Hebrew letters in all of their seven types of combat applications.”

The addition qesheth קשת means “bow, arch” and refers to a method of “always striking with an arched limb in a looping, elliptical, or circular manner”.

Although Aluph Abir Sofer advocates his style as a “kosher” discipline where people from all walks of (Torah) life and religious commitment are welcome to train, the style does incorporate prayer and the reading of Torah texts because “Abir is a religious practice which includes Torah studies.” But it does not mandate what a practitioner’s personal choices are outside of the training halls.

Read Abir Qesheth and its Patriarchs: Kosher Or Korean Hybrid? Part 2

Read Abir Qesheth and its Patriarchs: Israel’s Lost Tribe Roots and Feudal Japan Part 3

Abir Qesheth Wingate Certificate

Yehoshua Sofer is presently holding classes in Jerusalem for those who wish to study the Hebrew martial art Abir Qesheth.

Tel: 972-52-672-0333; Facebook Community: Abir-Qesheth Hebrew Warrior Arts; Aluph Abir, Mori Yehoshua Sofer email:  sofer@abir.org.il; The Israel Abir/Qesheth Warrior Arts Association e-mail: abir@abirwarriorarts.com

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