It’s B-R-A-V-E-M-O-N-K. All capitals. One word.
“In the world that we operate in, for me, the names are very important,” the breakdancer said. “In the institutional world, your PhD is your credentials, right? When someone has their doctorate or their PhD, they take it as disrespect when you don’t address them as doctor. It’s like you devalue their training and their expertise.
“And the names in this forum are earned. If you have a wack name, it’s either going to change at some point, or you’re not just going to be relevant. People will look at you as a joke.”
It’s been a while since the last story of how the residents of the Avondale apartment nicknamed The Dojo each came to breakdancing, and BRAVEMONK is the reason. I started playing the interview tape to transcribe his story half a dozen times, each time not feeling up to the challenge of BRAVEMONK’s language.
Here was a 34-year-old Normal, Ill., native who delved into a story of Native American rites of passage, Afro-Brazilian martial arts, Shaolin history and AOL Instant Messenger when I asked his name. How could I write that?
But then I realized I didn’t have to write it. BRAVEMONK already wrote it for me.
Supporters of the site’s ongoing Patreon campaign can hear my full interview with BRAVEMONK through the 1,001 Chicago Afternoons podcast, but otherwise, I felt the best way to capture BRAVEMONK is to step aside and let him speak for himself.
So, with some minor tweaks for clarity and length, here’s the story about how BRAVEMONK got his B-Boy name.
“It’s not just your name, it’s you empowering your name or you embodying whatever the characteristic of that name is.
“To kind of touch back onto you to how names are, oftentimes people get blessed with a name by people, but it’s just like any rites of passage that have been around for thousands of years. I could use native indigenous culture, where there will be someone from the tribe who will go on a vision quest. Upon them receiving a vision, they’ll come down from like the mountaintop and the chief, the elder will have a name for them.
“There’s a divine, there’s a spiritual connection to it. It’s not just, ‘Huh, let me just think of a name.’
“It’s the same thing with capoeiristas. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Capoeira. Afro-Brazilian martial arts. It’s culture, right? What happens is during the roda — for us [breakdancers], that’s like the cipher, the circle — the mestre, the master will give the student a name when he gives them a cord.
“The way he names them is based off of personality, a trait, it can be a physical trait or something.”
Here, fellow breakdancer and Dojo resident ManOfGod joined in BRAVEMONK’s story, telling how his mestre gave him the name Caveira (Skull) during his batizado (baptism, symbolized by the granting of a cord).
“I’m skinny and I had my tank top and everything, like slim outfit, so the only thing he saw was head and hair,” ManOfGod said. “So he called me Caveira, Skull. Because that was the biggest thing on my body, according to him. But that’s how black folks do in general.”
“In more modern context, nicknames. The community will name you,” BRAVEMONK said. “You just get a nickname when you’re in the neighborhood, people develop a nickname for you. Sometimes it might be your first name twice. Ray-Ray.”
Release joined in as well.
“My nickname was my full name back home. Aaron Gray. Everybody just called me by my full name,” Release said, to the laughter of his friends.
“BRAVEMONK, to me, is a combination of some of what used to be said about me when I was younger, but it’s also mainly a divine inspiration. I’ve been into martial arts when I was younger. I started tai kwon do when I was 4, but I always wanted to study kung fu.
“I got every little name in the book because I was this African-American kid, black kid, that was so into martial arts at the time. Dance too as well, but my focus was on becoming a master.
“I had names like Bruce Leroy, which is named after a character off of a very popular movie in the ‘80s called ‘The Last Dragon.’ It was produced by Barry Gordy of Motown. So I would get that nickname, Bruce Leroy. Some people called me Chinaman.
“When I was about 17, America Online became very popular. It got introduced to the world, I think it was AOL 2.0. 56K. Dial-up modem.
“The Internet was a huge buzz in society. It was like the Information Superhighway. And I had wanted to enter into this Information Superhighway with a name that would serve as a call sign for truth and light and wisdom. And I was into martial arts also.
“It said ‘ENTER YOUR NAME.’ I put in Goldenmonk, and it was like ‘EHH ACCESS DENIED.’
“So then I thought about it for a moment and then it hit me, like a lightbulb, like [singing angelically]. And I was like… BRAVEMONK!
“To me, brave represents a fist. It means go and I fight. Monk represents discipline. It means I can hold back. A fist in a palm is BRAVEMONK, you know what I’m saying?”