Before action actor and martial artist Jim Kelly graced movie screens, Dr. Moses Powell was considered one of the top Black martial artists of his era. Also known as Master Musa Muhammad, Grandmaster Powell developed the Sanuces Ryu Jiu-Jitsu system which is still taught today.
Powell was born on January 13, 1941 in Norfolk, Va. While living in Harlem, New York, Powell encountered Filipino martial arts instructor Florendo Visitacion. Better known as Professor Vee, Powell became so adept at the fighting system that he was training far more advanced students although he was just a green belt.
Over time, Powell mastered the art and began developing his own system in the early ’60’s. After several name changes, Powell settled on Sanuces Ryu Jiu-Jitsu. The style combined the judo, jiu-jitsu, and real-time combat preparation. In an interview, Powell once referred to his fighting art as “streetology.”
In 1971, Powell was the first martial artist to perform in front of the United Nations. Additionally, he traveled around the world demonstrating his art. There are also accounts from former students that he taught his style to the DEA and FBI. American Ninjitsu pioneer, the late Ron Duncan, once shared in an interview that he was responsible for introducing Powell to martial arts.
Powell was also famous for his “one finger roll” which he performed for the first time in 1974 during a sold-out demonstration at Madison Square Garden in New York. According to Powell’s bio, Former Panamanian general Manuel Noriega wanted Powell to train and head his military forces.
Some records show that among Powell’s many students, actors Wesley Snipes and Ron van Clief trained under him. A quick search on YouTube shows several glowing tributes, videos, interviews and demonstrations featuring Powell.