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A Black karate master from Kansas City will represent the U.S. at a world kickboxing tournament

Two people pose in fighting stances in the middle of a large room. One is a man, right. The other appears to be a young boy. They are wearing boxing gloves. Other young people wearing martial arts clothing stand watching.
Lawrence Brooks, IV
KCUR 89.3

Lifelong martial artist David Muhammad has used a background in karate to launch his kickboxing practice onto the global stage. The two disciplines have fed his thirst for competitive combat, and helped him build a diverse community in south Kansas City.

David Muhammad has been involved in the martial arts world for more than three decades. He credits his father, Rudolph Muhammad, for his growth from student to skilled fighter to karate instructor.

“I started martial arts, officially, when I was 3 years old,” Muhammad said. “So that's all I really knew, is coming up to the school on Saturday mornings, getting up early and helping set up for classes — that was just what we did.”

Today, Muhammad is a sixth-degree black belt in the Chung Do Kwan school of taekwondo and Shotokan style of karate. He’s also studied Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai for many years, and is the head instructor of Integrity Martial Arts Academy, off Red Bridge and Holmes roads.

“We have the longest-running Black-owned martial arts school in Kansas City,” he said, tracing the dojo’s history back more than 30 years. It was formerly known as Kwanzaa Martial Arts Academy.

This month, Muhammad, also dean of students at the Barstow School, will fight on Team USA for the second time, at the European Kickboxing Organization’s Senior World Championship in Portugal. He’ll compete in two kickboxing disciplines.

Muhammad said his transition to kickboxing began three years ago, and has been built on the foundation laid by his karate practice.

“As I evolved, I wanted to experience what it felt like to fight full-contact, for my own development and for my students' development,” said Muhammad. “I wanted to challenge myself, that's really what kind of led to it.”

A man wearing shorts and T-shirt and boxing gloves leaps in the air toward another man who is standing with a padded glove hitting the jumper's knee. They are inside a training area where other people are preparing for a martial arts contest. The man standing is wearing a T-shirt that reads "Team USA, K1, National Team."
David Muhammad
David Muhammad
David Muhammad, center, practices the flying-knee attack while training with other fighters and coaches at a Team USA training camp in Chicago.

“Brian Carroll, he's a Muay Thai instructor here in Kansas City, he was my first one to really help train me (in kickboxing), along with Trey Ogden, who has a gym out in Overland Park.” he said. “I just wanted to be a student again and push myself, and so that's what it was: I just needed another challenge in competition and decided to jump into that water.”

Earning a spot to fight on the national team in two disciplines is quite the accomplishment at any age, and Muhammad, 38, is honored to be selected. But he remains humble.

“It's easy to be the big fish in a small pond, but you go out there and everybody is the top guy from where they're at,” said Muhammad, who has also competed for the USA Karate team.

“So it's an amazing feeling. It's a uniting feeling, especially at a time like now, where you see so much division. You see the power of sport; how it pulls us all together, people from all over the world, united through a common engagement,” he said.

Making his mark

Kickboxing world champion El-Java Abdul-Qadir met Muhammad years ago, as a competitor on the national karate circuit. The 48-year-old, who is based in Syracuse, New York, is a coach for the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations’ USA team. With more than 30 years of fighting and training under his belt, Abdul-Qadir understands the transition from karate to kickboxing.

“It is a difficult endeavor, but I want to say that the hardwork and dedication that Mr. Muhammad possesses makes it something that I believe would've happened,” he said. “I'm not surprised that it is happening for him.”

Abdul-Qadir, who travels to Kansas City to help Muhammad train from time to time, said Muhammad is a consummate student who follows fighters from around the world for new techniques, styles and tips.

“He recognizes the importance of continuing education, being able to be up-to-date on the newest strategies and the newest mind frames to continuously learn,” Abdul-Qadir said, noting how Muhammad passes that knowledge down to his students. “His humility and passion and knowledge is not only exuding from him and allowing others to learn from him, but he's intentional about how he distributes it to people.”

Qadir is sure Muhammad’s teaching style will produce a kickboxing or martial arts champion eventually.

A man stands in the middle of a large room surrounded by students who are kneeling on a mat. One person is wearing a kickboxing outfit and appears to be swinging a kick at the man who is their instructor.
Lawrence Brooks IV
KCUR 89.3
At his dojo in south Kansas City, Integrity Martial Arts Academy, David Muhammad trains a class of beginners aged 7 to 12 on how to correctly execute a high kick.

Influencing the next generation

Isobel Delgado-Walton has trained in martial arts since she was 9, and earned a junior black belt from Muhammad’s academy. She became a kids’ instructor for the school after a concussion sidelined her from competition. In some ways, Delgado-Walton represents the promise of Muhammad’s methods.

“It feels like I'm kind of finding my purpose,” she said. “Teaching kids is very fulfilling to me, watching them learn and getting to feel like I'm a part of something bigger — like a community.”

“It's very fulfilling and it definitely helped me out in a time where I needed that in my life,” Delgado-Walton said.

As a biracial kid who lives in Kansas City, Kansas, Delgado-Walton appreciated the multicultural atmosphere that Muhammad, a devoted Muslim, creates at the academy. It helped her feel included, not ostracized, she said, and it gave her the opportunity to learn and grow with people who didn’t look like her.

“I didn't feel like I really had a place or like I knew where to go,” Delgado-Walton said. “He helped me with anything that I needed through these years. He's always been there to give me resources — like, I do art and I've painted a mural at the dojo.”

The experience has helped her in other areas of her life, too.

“Doing karate actually really helped with (playing the) piano, (and) my grades. I think it teaches you a lot about discipline and respect,” she said. “That's one thing that I've really gained from this sport is knowing to push myself, knowing where my limits are and knowing when to push those limits.”

A young girl standing at left is wearing large pads on her hands and assuming a fighting stance in a large workout room. There are two young students wearing martial arts clothing standing in line with boxing gloves on appearing to practice with her.
Lawrence Brooks IV
KCUR 89.3
Isobel Delgado-Walton works with beginner students aged 4 to 6 — the dojo calls them "little tigers" — at Integrity Martial Arts Academy in south Kansas City.

Muhammad also offers leadership training and seasonal camps for all ages. He said the experience is transformative for kids and their families, who come from different cultures and religions, and who reside in cities across the metro.

“What I always say to my staff is that the hardest thing for a family to do is walk in that door. They've made so many choices, decisions, that we don't know about,” he said. “There's people who are intentional about saying, you know, ‘My child, who goes to Leawood Middle (School), needs diversity and there's a Black-owned martial arts school with their last name Muhammad, and I'm going to take my son to that program.’”

The academy’s positive influence doesn't end when students step off the mat, either.

“What comes out of that is an ability to be super-intentional about the community we're trying to create,” Muhammad said. “The martial arts is just the vehicle to build in a community, at the end of the day, and so I'm super ingrained in that: creating an excellent product, martial arts-wise, but also creating excellent human beings.”

As for this month’s trip to Portugal for international competition, Muhammad doesn't talk about kickboxing much with his karate students.

“It's not something I brag about,” he said. “This entire experience is for me to be able to have more to give to them. … I'll have more conviction and more confidence, and I'll have more truth behind what I'm saying.”

“And then if people find out, you know, that's great,” he said.

As KCUR’s race and culture reporter, I work to help readers and listeners build meaningful and longstanding relationships with the many diverse cultures that make up the Kansas City metro. I deliver nuanced stories about the underrepresented communities that call our metro home, and the people whose historically-overlooked contributions span politics, civil rights, business, the arts, sports and every other realm of our daily lives.
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