The Might of the Bukwas

Champion Comox Valley MMA fighter breaks stereotypes and uses his power for the greater good


Chris Anderson takes on the haunting persona of the Bukwas—a Kwakiutl First Nations legend about a revered and powerful figure that translates to “Wildman of the Woods”—when in the MMA fighting cage, but in reality Anderson is a spiritual and thoughtful young man who uses his own power to help others.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

In Kwakiutl First Nations mythology, the name ‘Bukwas’ translates to “Wildman of the Woods”. There is a dance and song performed at Potlatches depicting the Bukwas as a haunting figure who is shy and hides his face, and on mornings when he is seen on the beach digging for cockles to eat he shields his eyes from the sunlight, always looking over his shoulder to see if anyone is watching.

The image of this ancient ghostly figure—reserved, revered, and incredibly powerful—now lends itself to the cage persona of local indigenous mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, Chris ‘Bukwas’ Anderson. As the current Welterweight Champion of the Battlefield fight league, one of North America’s premier MMA organizations based in Vancouver, Anderson boasts an undefeated professional record to date of four wins without loss. As an amateur, ‘Bukwas’ Anderson was ranked Number One in Canada and held championship belts in the two biggest MMA organizations in the country.

MMA is a rapidly growing, full contact combat sport, allowing for the use of a wide range of striking and grappling techniques. The sport’s overriding objective is to bring together martial artists and fighters from different backgrounds—including wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu—to find the most superior overall fighting skillset.

The brutal and often gory nature of MMA has dictated that it is a polarizing sport like no other. To win, a competitor aims to inflict body and head shots in an attempt to render their opponent unconscious, or submit the foe by choking or distorting their limbs so that they will ‘tap out’, meaning, in effect, that they give up. It is a controversial pursuit, but there can be no doubting the vast array of skills and the endurance of MMA participants.

Chris ‘Bukwas’ Anderson is not what one expects to find in the sordid realm of professional cage fighting. Whether or not his personality and world outlook is an anomaly in this world is unclear, but 26 year-old Anderson displays a surprisingly gentle demeanour, a quiet voice, and speaks words both contemplative and candid. His movements are without swagger and bravado, his boyish face bears no trace of being pulverised, and, as the story turns out, his actions and motives reveal a young man fighting for far loftier goals than just a championship belt around his waist.

Born and raised in Comox, he attended several local schools before reaching GP Vanier Secondary School, and then dropped out before graduation. “Most of my time in school was spent goofing around or fighting. I tried to play everything in school—basketball, volleyball, soccer and cross country running—but I never really did great at any of these sports. I wasn’t very athletic as a kid,” he says.

At the age of 16, he first saw MMA on television and immediately became obsessed with studying fights and breaking down the movements of the combatants. “I would try to understand everything they did inside the cage and I would watch the same fights again and again, rewinding and re-watching the same move over and over.”

Five years later at a party he met a young man who had already fought a few MMA fights. After talking, the young man offered Anderson a chance to train with him. “At the time I was drinking very heavily and hanging with a bad crowd. I knew it was time for a change but I was having trouble escaping. On my first day of training I was offered a chance to compete on a local MMA card and that seemed like a step forward.”

The ensuing training camp offered Anderson a chance to sober up and find much needed focus. “It was really hard,” he says. “I remember going through withdrawals as I was learning different martial arts and sparring against strong opponents who would constantly get the better of me in the gym. It was the hardest thing I ever did.” But despite the hardships, Anderson won his fight and continued taking fights primarily to stay focused and free of outside distraction.

One constant and integral part of Anderson’s life was the presence of his grandmother, a respected Kwakiutl First Nations elder. Halfway into his amateur career (which yielded 10 wins and 2 losses) he began to quietly learn spiritual teachings and a more profound connection to life and land. He asked a lot of questions about his people and his culture and listened with clear intent, rediscovering great pride in his culture and traditions, a sense of spiritual place and personal belonging. Among many lifelong lessons, he learned from his grandmother of the mysterious Bukwas, the ‘Wildman of the woods’.

At around the same time, Anderson stumbled across the legend of Crazy Horse, a Lakota Native American war leader who took up arms against the United States federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people. A key part of Crazy Horse’s story is that of his ‘vision’. According to Black Elk, a cousin of Crazy Horse, “Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things… It was this vision that gave him his great power, for when he went into a fight, he had only to think of that world to be in it again, so that he could go through anything and not be hurt. Until he was killed, he was never harmed by an enemy.”

Anderson as Bukwas. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Anderson as Bukwas. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

As a fighter, Anderson identified strongly with the vision of Crazy Horse. “I took the vision of Crazy Horse and translated it to form my own vision. It looked something like this—I would show deep respect to my opponents, I would donate my win bonus to charitable causes, and I would practice my culture and come up with a name that identified my ancestry,” explains Anderson.

From that time, his mindset and actions shifted. This shift represented a very neat and impressive segue for a young man looking for something beyond the scope of simply fighting for a living. In a sombre mode, Anderson touches on an issue far greater than professional cage fighting. “It saddens me to say that there are a lot of issues First Nation youth face on and off reserves. Among other things, I think they need positive role models, someone they can relate to and look up to.”

From this rebirth, his version of the Bukwas was born, reflecting both the power of Crazy Horse and the traditions of his own culture. Since that time, he has entered the cage replicating the movements of the wild man, hiding from the lights and cameras and looking over his shoulder, and wearing an ornate Bukwas mask carved and painted by his cousin, Vincent Moon. During this time has won all of his nine fights, not losing a single round in the process, and has collected three belts and been named BC’s most dominant fighter.

His grandmother passed away a week before his first title fight, the funeral held the day before he left for the mainland. “When she passed it made me go even deeper into her culture,” Anderson says. “After her funeral there was a gathering and there was money donated to a charity and we were reminded that she loved charities.” The occasion strengthened his resolve and cemented his vision. “I decided as soon as I began to make money off fighting that it had to go somewhere, that I would have a greater purpose to fight and give me a reason not to quit. I would use the charity of my choice for motivation.”

As a professional cage fighter, in his contract he makes a set amount of money to show up—that figure doubles if he wins. After his first professional victory, he decided to use his win bonus to send money to the Congo to build a well for a community of people who had never had clean water. The process was smooth and rewarding for Anderson. Reminded of the lack of funding on First Nation Reserves for youth programs, Anderson turned his attention to the homefront and funded two Vancouver Island rec centres with brand new sports equipment. “We went to Alert Bay where my grandma was born and we brought the gear and met the kids there. They were very excited and asked for autographs, and that surprised me because no one has ever asked for my autograph before,” he says with a smile.

At the same time, far away in the remote township of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario, the community was battling its own crisis. Secluded and shy, the town had garnered national and international focus due to a case of suicide contagion; hopelessness and despair, compounded by terrible living conditions, had triggered a tragic chain reaction within the community where suicide became all too prevalent. While the cameras rolled, many questions were left hopelessly unanswered. Attawapiskat was a shocking example of the startling fact that suicide rates among First Nations youth are five to seven times higher than for non-Aboriginal youth (while the rate among Inuit youth is 11 times the national average, among the highest in the world.)

From the solitude of Comox, Anderson watched on with a heavy heart. “It was such a terrible situation, especially for the kids and teenagers of the town,” he says. He reached out to the local Attawapiskat rec centre and learned of something that immediately caught his eye.

“The children had made a list of things they wanted for the community and on the list was sports equipment. I knew when I saw that I could get these kids brand new sports gear.” And that he did, purchasing a generous stockpile of equipment ranging from balls, bats and racquets to boxing gloves and nets. “The amount of spiritual energy I received from giving to the community of Attawapiskat was just unbelievable. It was a special moment for me.”

Since that time, Anderson has thrived on training, fighting, and the idea of helping others like the kids of Alert Bay and Attawapiskat. His training schedule is usually hectic, including kickboxing training and elbow techniques, working on his Brazilian jujitsu and wrestling, early morning and late night runs, weights and light swims at the local pool, and sauna conditioning. “An average workout will last at least an hour, sometimes I do three to four consecutive hours and this happens one to three times a day,” he says. “I usually take one or two days off depending on my fatigue, but every week is different based on how I feel.”

Anderson believes a cornerstone of his fighting success is his unique diet. “I try to harvest my own food by hunting and gathering or I go down to local farms for fresh produce and meat. I am very fortunate to live in the Comox Valley where there is an abundance of wild game, berries, and mushrooms and also I have a lot of local businesses that support me like Island Bison and Sieffert’s Farm.”

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Anderson stays connected through nature and meditation.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

He spends considerable time surrounded by the quiet of nature in preparation for a fight. “Going into the woods or heading to a beach and burning sage gives me a chance to think, maybe come up with a game plan or a counter move. It is nice to get out where there are no distractions because it can really open the mind for clear thinking.”

Surprisingly, once inside the ring, Anderson refers to it as “a terrifying experience.

“The feeling inside the cage is hard to explain,” he says. “There are so many emotions and feelings involved. If you could imagine being nervous about competing, experiencing stage fright from the crowd, cameras and lights, and the anxiety of someone trying to hurt you makes for a frightening time.”

Currently, Anderson is set to begin preparations for his upcoming title defence in October to be held in Vancouver. He has the quiet confidence and measure of a young man with not only devastating power in his fists and feet, but renewed cultural understanding and a sense of belonging on his side. He has a clearly defined purpose which paves the way toward his heady goals. He is no longer a small town kid with small town distractions eating at him, but a proud Kwakiutl man with bold aspirations.

“I’m just taking it one fight at a time,” he says, “but with each fight is a new accomplishment outside the cage.”

Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “I really wish my grandmother could see the things I have done. I know she would be very proud. Because before I was small and afraid and unsure, but now I can honestly say that I am willing to fight who or whatever is in my way for what I truly believe in.”

Chris Anderson’s next title defence in the BFL will be on October 29 in Vancouver.