"The BAM" Way
Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Grandmaster martial artist Willie “The BAM” Johnson has one of the coolest nicknames ever. It definitely served its purpose as an intimidation factor while he was becoming a seven-time world champion on the competition circuit. But there’s more to the name “The BAM” than just that. It’s also an acronym that perfectly sums up what Willie Johnson is trying to do with his Point MMA program. It Stands for Better Attitude Makers. We Had the honor to have a quick chat with the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Famer about his amazing journey.
What got you interested in martial arts?
BAM: Coming up in the neighborhood that I did in Baltimore, Maryland there was a lot of adversity at home and on the streets. One thing I did to escape from it was going to the kung fu movie theater, and of course, they would play Bruce Lee movies. Watching Bruce Lee's movies gave me hope to face that adversity. I saw a lot of myself in Bruce Lee and Immediately got inspired to express myself with what I saw him doing.
What was your initial martial art style?
BAM: if I were, to be honest about my initial style, I would say it would have to be the streets. Before I could learn any traditional form, I had to learn hands-on to defend myself. Coming up in the inner city for the most part you have to develop your own style. As Bruce Lee said, it's good to be fluid and open to all ways, trying not to be crammed with a classical mess of a system. Having that type of foundation would actually help me express myself more when I would eventually learn actual structured systems like Kung Fu, Changquan and
You've had some unfortunate obstacles in your early adulthood, but was able to bounce back even stronger. What do you attribute to helping you do this?
BAM: Like most people who tend to get into trouble at an earlier age, my mindset wasn't where it should've been. I didn't have the courage to stand up for what I believed in, which led to me being distracted by trying to please other people and do things for other people. I thought I had to sell drugs, I thought I had to boost and do all of these nonsense things. After I was locked up in a maximum-security prison, I put myself through a major re-examination. I then made a commitment to God to empower the next generation, and break this vicious cycle that affects most inner-city kids, so they won't have to live through the hell that I did. And of course, I went back to martial arts, the ultimate tool of self-empowerment. I literally made a whole blueprint of how I was going to make myself better.
So before you went in, you were already a martial arts champion?
BAM: Yeah. I was already a world champion. I was part of the first all-black martial arts traveling team that went to mainland China to train. This was back when no one was going to China, mostly because they weren't allowed as far as training. But I was over there actually teaching, not just martial arts, but also the inner-city culture of where I was from. But no matter where or who I am teaching, I always inspire people to accept themselves for who they are and have knowledge of self. And having that knowledge will prevent those insecurities from creeping up and having you do silly things, and you can spread that positive knowledge back through the community where you came from.
Most definitely. And speaking of inspiring people, you were part of a show in the early 90s that definitely inspired a lot of young black men to get into the martial arts. How did you get involved with WMAC masters?
BAM: While I was away, A lot of people wanted to work with me because of my reputation in the martial arts world. For example, the production of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie wanted me to audition for one of the turtles. So when I got out, I went back into competing, and became a world champion again. At that time I was the first African-American Wushu practitioner to be number one in fighting, forms, and weapons. During my undefeated run, Karate Illustrated magazine wanted me to be featured on the cover with another competitor. I chose Richie Branden, my number competition, to be featured with me. Richie then told me about an audition that was happening for a new TV show, and we both got a part.
WMAC Masters was such an excellent show. What happened, why was it canceled?
BAM: The fans, which we had plenty of, loved the show. We even had an 800 number, which got plenty of traffic regularly. The cast/martial artists all got along with each other, all empowered each other. We were way ahead of our time with that show. But ultimately the money men, the gatekeepers of the industry, didn't have a lot of faith in it. Even some of the grandmasters on the board of the show would call it make-believe. So the days of that show were numbered pretty early on, unfortunately. But it has developed a very strong cult following. I still get recognized from that show to this day.
Tell us about your martial arts program Point MMA
BAM: With MMA, we try to tap into the ultimate freedom of expression through
martial arts. Like myself, most kids coming up in the inner city didn't initially have martial arts teachers. You took your natural ability and just expressed it. And with Point MMA we take your natural authenticity as a child and try to add structure to it, in a way that doesn't judge or criticize, but enhances and empowers you. One of our mottos is, “Are you technically ready?” We are not only trying to develop technically ready fighters for the ring, but also technically ready fighters for life.
And of course to teach them to not forget where they come from.
BAM: Of course. A very important part of my system is representing the urban expression of martial arts. There is a rhythm, there is a flow. It's not just flipping around everywhere. It's a representation of who we really are. Point MMA comes from the inner city. By way of the inner city, we produce greatness around the world.
Awesome saying! With all of your success and accomplishments, do you ever see yourself retiring?
BAM: I can never see myself retiring, I just wanna live in peace. During crazy times like this(the coronavirus pandemic), it's a blessing that I can sit down with my family and have dinner. Having a 13-year-old son teaching his own classes. Even talking to you guys at Black Action Stars, the message of hope will be spread to young kids in the inner city. So long story short, I can't retire. I love what I do too much.
Well, we definitely appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.
BAM: Blessings, my brother.