CICS Longwood High School Sensei Makes History With First Martial Arts State Championship

Written by Chicago International Charter School
20 April 2023
Posted in Educator Spotlight

CICS Longwood’s High School Martial Arts program has taken the gold at every competition they’ve participated in since its inception this school year. Now, they are state champions! This honor pays homage to the program's hard work and dedication but shines a light on its leaders, Craig Alexander and Stephan Metcalfe, both who paved the way for new opportunities and exposure for the CICS Longwood High School community. 

Martial arts is a traditional practice that dates back 2,000 years ago in various countries. Martial arts are prevalent today, and Craig Alexander, a CICS Longwood staff member, makes sure that Black and Brown communities continue this traditional practice with excellence. 

Craig Alexander has been a part of the CICS Longwood community since 2022 and has practiced martial arts at a young age. Martial arts have been a family practice for him since he was a young child and it kept him productive and out of the streets. The impact of martial arts is something he wishes to continue to pass down to his students. 

“My uncle, Raymond Cooper, the first Black martial artist in the Chicagoland area, and debatably in America, started his first dojo in Chicago Heights, Illinois when I was a kid.  Some films also piqued my interest such as Romeo Must Die and The Last Dragon. These films merged a lot of Black culture and martial arts which had not been seen in a while,” shares Craig. 

When implementing a martial arts team in a predominately African-American school, Craig knew he would have to educate his students just as much as he trained them. Especially, since martial arts is not a common practice in Black and Brown communities, but also because Chicago is historically known to be a hub for the sport. There are many notable names in this sport such as Preston & Otis Baker, who were also Craig’s first instructors and creators of the Universal Martial Arts Association (UMAA).  These individuals were dedicated to the mission of spreading this practice to all and eventually other big names followed to train in Chicago such as Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. 

There are dozens of Black dojos in the Chicagoland area, but unfortunately, they are not promoted because there is historical and political nature that surrounds them. When Black dojos opened in the city there was much racial tension. 

Given the rich history of the sport, Craig knew he had a golden opportunity to influence his community innovatively. He also knew he could not do this alone. Fellow sensei and friend of Craigs, Stephan Metcalfe, helps to ensure that the program reaches its full potential and gives his support however he can. 

Stephan, a K-12 CICS Loomis-Longwood alumni and board member of the UMAA, makes it a point to stay involved with Black and Brown communities and credits his introduction to the sport that motivates him to support the school’s program. 

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“I was bullied at a young age and my parents frequently took me to our local YMCA and I always played basketball with another young boy there. One day the boy ran off the court because he had to go to karate practice. I had never heard of a Black kid doing karate so I followed him. I stood in the doorway for about 30 minutes and watched them exercise and show discipline. I was immediately hooked. Afterward, I ran home and told my mother I did not want to play basketball anymore. I wanted to join karate, " shares Stephan. 

While the two share a deep love for the sport, they both had unique exposure to it. Craig’s family introduced him to the sport as a means to be proactive so that he would not get into trouble, and Stephan’s approach was reactive because of his social climate at a young age. Because of this, their overall vision for the program is to strengthen communal ties and instill the lessons of discipline learned through the sport into African-American culture. 

“Our culture doesn’t always emphasize togetherness. Martial arts show how we can discipline our youth while teaching them valuable lessons at the same time. Our goal is not to build little Stephans or  Craigs. We want them to learn about themselves and reach unlimited heights”, Stephan says. 

 These two coaches are much more than senseis, they are brothers who recognize the talents they bring to the school and the community. It is their sincerest hope that in the future they will continue to reach and teach more students about this practice and support them in their bright, promising future. 

“I believe that CICS Longwood has the right leaders and program in place. It is up to us as a community to make a decision and get behind the kids and support them so that they continue to have the resources they need to be successful and receive scholarships to college to further their education,” says Stephan and Craig.

CICS continues to wish our martial arts program all the best in their future endeavors and wishes them the best of luck in their first out-of-state competition this summer, hosted by Grandmaster Khalid Muhammed in Louisville, Kentucky. It is safe to say that our students have found their superpowers and CICS is lucky to have educators that foster them to help them soar to new, unimaginable heights. 

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About Chicago International Charter School 

Chicago International Charter School is a vibrant network of diverse Chicago charter schools that enable students to thrive every day, put them on a path to success in college and life, and empower entrepreneurial educators to pursue excellence through innovation. CICS is serving more than 7,400 students at 13 campuses across Chicago. To learn more, visit  www.chicagointl.org.

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