AWMAI E-News

August 2020

Volume III


In This Issue:


from Executive Director Shifu/Sensei

Koré Grate

 vir·tu·alvərCH(o͞o)əl/Adjective-Almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.

That’s for sure! I have been trying to choose intelligent words that are not redundant - avoiding things like “in these difficult/trying/turbulent/unprecedented times.” So I will refer to this era we are in as "an opportunity to be creative, to expand and restructure the way we teach” - from “hands on” to "hands on the computer keyboard." It's the Virtual Experience: Zoom Classes!

My style of teaching stems from a Taoist principle of “The words are not the Experience." Like most of you, I normally announce what we are doing, then demo a technique, broken in sections, then have students practice for a bit, then I walk around and “adjust” them usually using few words, mostly TOUCH so they can FEEL what they are doing. Having them on my computer screen in tiny squares in their bedrooms and kitchens has been interesting.  I can’t really see what they are doing, especially when I am not wearing my “up-close glasses." My first Zoom sessions went something like this: “Did you sign up for Zoom? OK, now click the link…and….Welcome to FEMA ZOOM Class! (bow in) How are you all doing?” With that, the unmuting and muting began …or didn’t. By the time I listened to each student say how they were doing (which was important), twenty minutes of our free forty minutes was gone. Then they’d start chatting about odd things with each other; kept changing their Virtual Backgrounds (which was like looking at them in oil on a beach).

I had to switch gears quickly. First, I upgraded to unlimited time on Zoom. Instead of them asking questions during the class, or me trying to see students clearly enough in the tiny squares to help adjust anything, I prepared lectures and kept them all muted. I stopped allowing them to chat. I assigned a higher level student to Co-Host to monitor late arrivals.  At the end of each class I would ask if they had any questions and allow them to raise their hands and unmute. As a treat, before we hung up, they could show off their virtual backgrounds.

After a couple of months of Zoom practice – and practicing Zoom – it is working much better.  We are doing Liangong Series One, Two & Three every Monday night for one hour. (If you want to join us, let me know!  I will send you the link.) We are now having a single one-hour class each week in person, in our dojo/school, with a limited number of students. All wear masks, arrive in uniform, bow and go directly to an ‘X’ on the floor, with six feet of space in all directions. We follow a long list of safety practices – including handing out a “what to expect when coming to the dojo” list to all the students, asking them to stay home if they have any symptoms, installing hand sanitizers, purchasing two air-purifiers, and keeping our fans a-blazin’ and windows open for ventilation.

We practice Safe Distancing, which is the same as what we teach to be safe from an attacker: two giant steps apart, or 6 feet. Our classes at the dojo are very VERBAL since we can’t touch each other.  I started using a six-foot Bo staff with a spongy unicorn speared onto the end for physical feedback - to “direct” their hand, head, foot, etc., and I sanitize it after each use. Mirror drills are popular.  We limit cardio (masks feel like they suck the wind out of you), do a ton of core work, a lot of stance work and balancing drills; and we follow our syllabus, which is chock full of partner work, as best we can.

Finding new ways to teach is definitely expanding parts of my brain.  I am actually stoked each week figuring out how to teach techniques and principles without the feedback of a partner, or a pad, or anything besides air.  Continuing to practice, even if it’s uniquely strange, is the most important thing we can do to keep everyone engaged and connected, even if it’s mostly VIRTUAL.

So let's STAY ENGAGED! AWMAI 2021 will be VIRTUAL!

By the time February 2021 is here we will be experts at Zooming! NWMAF & PAWMA will have offered online classes this summer too, in this new world order.

 Please be safe, be well, stay positive, VOTE, SPEAK UP and keep fighting for justice and equity in the world.


from Events Director

Sijeh Sarah Sponzo

AWMAI is Pleased to Announce our First-Ever Online Event!

Teaching the Teacher 2021 –

The Virtual Experience

February 26, 27 & 28, 2021

Get ready for an event that brings everything you love about Teaching the Teacher right to your home or dojo!

  • Networking
  • Skills Sharing
  • Lectures and Workouts
  • Practical Discussions
  • Catching up with Friends and Colleagues

Plus: The AWMAI Hall of Fame and Rank Recognition Ceremonies, where women martial artists receive the recognition they deserve. Honor and be honored by your colleagues and peers; invite your friends and family! This year's Hall of Fame will have an international audience, and it's free for your guests to attend.

We wish we could meet in person, but there are some real advantages to the virtual experience:

  • No travel to book
  • No flights to schedule
  • No lodging expense
  • Plenty of social distance
  • All your instructors can attend!

We are looking forward to making this a fun, productive, social, and memorable weekend.

More information, including and agenda and registration information will be coming soon – we can’t wait to see you!

Apply to teach! Click here to open our online application form.

Apply for the Hall of Fame! Click here to learn more, and begin the process - for yourself, your instructor, or a deserving colleague.

Apply for Rank Certification! Click here to learn more.

Be a Sponsor. Increase your visibility while supporting AWMAI and the Conference. Read more here.

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from the Editor

We’ve got some great material to share with you in the current AWMAI News. But before I say more about it, I want to thank Shihan Melanie Fine for putting together the last couple issues for me while I dealt with some family matters—and also thank her for moving the newsletter into its new email format.

Now that I’m back, I’m going to resume my persistent calls for you to contribute to future issues! We want to hear what you’re doing, and what you have to say. You don’t have to write a long essay (although you could); it could be a short piece, a single paragraph, a poem, artwork, or photo. It could even be a question – something to put out to our membership for answers.

Not sure where to start? Try our" Article Starter"! (See below.)

As a group, we have tremendous knowledge and experience. Let’s share it with each other. Let your voice be heard!

This issue has a guest article from Sara Nelson of Minneapolis. Sara is a former student of Shifu/Sensei Koré Grate; she now teaches English at a Montessori school. Her deep concerns about social justice and racial equity in education are relevant to all of us in our roles as teachers.

You’ll also find articles on the subject so many of us are immersed in right now: How to keep teaching and running our schools in the era of Covid-19. Look for creative ideas from Koré Grate, Katie Murphy Stevens, and Ricki Kay.

We’re also fortunate in this issue to have poetry from Janet Aalfs and Maria Doest, and paintings throughout by our own former Executive Director, Zosia Gorbaty. Read about her journey in the arts below. Enjoy!

– Didi Goodman, Administrative Director


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Article Starter: How are you getting and keeping new students in the Zoom era?

"When we had to go virtual, I had no idea whether I'd be able to recruit new students to my classes. And if they came, how would I teach them? Well, here's what happened... Here's what I've tried so far... Here's how things are going for me now."

Send your submissions to admin@awmai.org. Deadline: September 15.

Kudos to the NWMAF for their Virtual Conference

I was honored to teach recently at the NWMAF’s Virtual Training Camp, and I want to applaud them, first of all, for not letting the pandemic cancel their event, and secondly, for doing a great job organizing it. They were creative in their planning, supportive of their instructors, and from the look of it, had a very good turnout. And – it’s still going on! I’ve made it to a couple of the bonus classes spread over the past weeks, and hope to make it to one more. And I want to acknowledge that their success in putting on a Virtual Special Training – and our experience of the event (the entire AWMAI board attended some part of it) – has inspired us in our own thinking about what AWMAI will be able to offer at our own conference. Thank you for that. We're also looking forward to PAWMA Camp, September 11-13. And see you at Teaching the Teacher next February!

D.G.

Congratulations to 2020 Hall of Fame inductee Silvia Smart on her new Empowerment Podcast!

Check out Episode 1 at this link.

As The Chi Flows!

by Hanshi Zosia Gorbaty

My father was a concert pianist and I was brought up playing piano from age 5. My mother and I would take weekly NYC subway rides down to the 3rd Street Music Settlement to study music theory and perform in their concerts. Later I attended Music & Art H.S. where I learned the oboe and conducted the orchestra. Music has always inspired me. I never thought I had any ability as a fine artist. Stick figures were my wheelhouse.

Last September I signed up for a Chinese Brush Painting class at our local Saddleback College Emeritus program. Also known as Sumi-e, ink wash painting is a type of East Asian brush painting that uses black ink. This style emerged during the flourishing culture of the Tang dynasty in China, 618-907.

To my surprise, I discovered that not only did I really enjoy it, but others appreciated my work too! Both my classmates and my teacher were very encouraging. I began posting my paintings on my FB page, hoping to give my friends a distraction from all the bad news. One friend even bought a painting. I give you all this background because I am 71 years old and want to say “it’s never too late to try something new and find an undiscovered joy in your life!”

Whether it is music, fine art, or martial arts, each one elicits an emotional response if it has real value. Each one requires concentration, breath control, and chi flow. During these very stressful times I believe it is extremely important to search within to find some peace and refuge. I encourage you all to try something new, something different, something that gives you joy. Here are a few of my pieces I hope you enjoy.


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"I give you all this background because I am 71 years old and want to say it’s never too late to try something new and find an undiscovered joy in your life!”                  -Zosia Gorbaty


A SIMPLE WORD


A simple word like peace.

Two hands together, we bow.

Paz     Uxolo     Pax


Dawn breaks

yet does not shatter glass.

Joy flies out.


First the sun, then the river, finally

a swan. The moon is mute, yet softens

every jagged stone.


Clouds feather.

Petals flame.

The ground receives our pain.


Even the dead

branch blooms

a thousand shadows.


by Janet E. Aalfs

Reprinted from Anthology 2017: Celebrating Writers of the Pioneer Valley, Carol Edelstein and Robin Barber, eds.


Yin Yang

If you train for the art,

you shall find the power.

If you train for the power,

you shall find the art.

For the art is the power

and the power is the art.


by Maria Doest, Godan



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Now More Than Ever

by Ricki J. Kay

Since I started in the martial arts in 1974, I have been dedicated to what it can offer others. And since my first program for pre-schoolers in 1995, I have especially enjoyed watching and helping these little ones have so much fun through exercise in martial arts. I love helping children learn and enjoy. 

So you can imagine how saddened I am by the current restrictions on martial arts schools. At a time when children truly need role models, social interaction and a place to find themselves, dojos across the country are having to close, or operate under very difficult conditions. I understand the safety protocols necessary, but fear the impact these conditions will have on our younger generation.

Now, more than ever, our society needs the martial arts. The dojo is a place where community is built. It’s a place where children can move, grow, learn, and interact, dance to their own drum and be accepted. They have instructors to look up to, who listen and care about them, who welcome them as they are. It’s a place where the shy kids have a chance to speak up, and those who aren’t picked first on the playing field can excel at a physical sport. In the dojo, children are accepted for their efforts, not judged for the color of their skin, or the grades they get, or the amount of money they have or don't have. It’s all about their individual hard work, and they enjoy the physical interaction that goes along with it.

But at present, our interactions have been reduced to media presentations. Kids miss their friends, their routines, and physical touch! In these conditions, fear can grow, along with a loss of self-esteem. It’s important for us, as instructors, to do everything we can to counteract that.

Here are a few things you can do, even on Zoom, to help young students feel connected. Make a point to greet everyone personally. As soon as possible when they enter the dojo or appear on screen, recognize them by name in a positive tone. “Hello, Susan, it’s so good to see you. Hi, there, Jared, I am so glad you’re joining us today.” Let them know you see them and are happy to have them participating. 

Use students’ names often during class. The children have been missing their friends, and they might not be able to see everyone, but they can hear who's present. Call out names to create teams, and they will work hard for each other. Call out names to recognize good effort, and they’ll all work harder to match.

Students working out at home alone can feel disconnected from the class and instructor. Some have trouble participating at all. You can help ensure their good effort by appealing to their honor: “Show me your very best 5 push-ups,” or, “your very highest kicks.” You can appeal to their age and maturity: “You’re only 6 to 9 years old, but your techniques look as strong as the the older kids!” Take the time in every class to build their self-esteem while encouraging excellent techniques.

And don’t forget fun! Have challenges in every class, like a scavenger hunt around the house, a balance drill, or a fitness contest. At the end of class, because everyone has missed months of interaction, you might even want to leave 5-10 minutes to ask questions, voice concerns, just chit-chat and say thank you. Thank the students and ask them if they did their job. What is their job as a student? To do their best on each and everything, in school, at home and in the dojo; and to have FUN! And tell them if you did your job. What is your job as an Instructor? To do your best on each and everything, at home, at school, and in the dojo. And to have fun.

I pray that our community of instructors and schools can weather this storm, and continue to make a difference in our students’ lives.

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One Foot in Front of the Other

by Sara Nelson

I live one block off Lake Street in Minneapolis, one mile north of the intersection where Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, and one mile west of the Third Precinct police station that went up in flames. Back in May, I watched buildings a block away as they burned. I joined neighbors in sweeping up broken glass. 

The elementary school where I teach lies another mile west of what is now the George Floyd Memorial. It’s a private Montessori school, serving children ages two-and-a-half through fourteen. The school community is predominantly white, though we work to attract more families and staff belonging to the Global Majority (or Black, Indigenous, People of Color – BIPOC).  There has always been a dedicated group of staff working hard on issues of equity and justice, pushing for the school to embrace anti-bias/anti-racist education. At the same time, many have felt we were already providing peace education - so couldn’t we please just deal with snow-hoarding on the playground?

Suddenly, following the horrific video showing a white cop kneeling impassively on a Black man’s neck while bystanders beg him to get off, everyone is interested in anti-racism.  Webinars on anti-racism abound and sell out within hours. Videos by Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo and Resmaa Menakem show up in my email.  I’m profoundly grateful that people now seem ready to really do this work – and I’m frustrated that it has taken this long, that it has taken yet another Black person’s life before we white folks have chosen to act, before I have really doubled down on my own efforts. I try to imagine what people of the Global Majority, who have battled the horror for over four centuries in this country, are thinking and feeling right now.

I’ve learned a lot these past twenty-plus years teaching young people, all while trying to center issues of equity, to show them how to battle racism. I’ve grown personally and professionally as I’ve tried to shape a school into a community that values everyone in our city, and that actively aims to repair the damage my people have done. I’ve learned I can’t do this work alone. I’ve learned I need to “decolonize” myself before I can teach my students well. That means doing my own work without asking my BIPOC colleagues for help, but at the same time making sure I listen carefully to what they have to say. I’ve learned to look hard at the water I swim in, the racism that surrounds me, that brings about my own unconscious biases.

At times, I’ve berated myself for the mistakes I’ve made – then realized that self-flagellation and perfectionism aren’t helpful. As a white educator, I’m going to make mistakes. The best I can do is to learn from those experiences, just as I’ve so often advised my own students: Sometimes the best lessons are a little painful; often the epiphanies that come from our mistakes are the ones we remember best.

I’ve learned that many of my colleagues, and many of the parents at my school, want to talk with the children about race, but are afraid. They feel unprepared to do so, untrained, at sea. This is particularly disconcerting when it becomes clear that doing it well is not about getting a binder full of lessons, or listening to an expert once a year; rather, it’s a life-long journey, and often a lonely and uncomfortable one.

So, those of us interested in this work have to band together. We need to create a community that shares wisdom, knowledge, and resources; pulls us up when we fall down; keeps up the work when some of us need a respite. We need people who can call us out or call us in, keep us accountable, help us see and learn from our mistakes. We also need leaders and administrators who support the ongoing work, beyond just bringing in a trainer for a two-hour workshop now and then.  If there is no commitment at the top of the organization, there won’t be significant change.

It takes courage. Many of us don’t want to be uncomfortable – and we don’t want to make others uncomfortable. This can cause leaders to shy away from taking stands they fear are controversial, for example, saying “we affirm all families,” but not, “we affirm LGBTQ+ families” – the “all lives matter” equivalent for the issue of marriage equality. Such statements leave marginalized groups feeling betrayed.  

Over the course of my career, the school has experienced a range of leadership styles, and anti-racism efforts have taken many forms. Back in the late ‘90s, there was SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) training, with professional development opportunities and outside experts. We did some good work, but a period followed where it was overshadowed by a leadership focus on other issues. Later, a dedicated group of staff brought in more experts, to talk about intercultural competency and racial identity development, but our efforts felt piecemeal, like a lot of talk and not much action. It felt like wading in wet concrete.

Subsequently, our Equity and Justice Committee convinced the administration to have the entire staff take the Intercultural Development Inventory, a test that measures intercultural competence (defined as the ability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to differences and commonalities). It helped us see intercultural competence as a continuum, and our initial assessment as our starting point on the continuum. But while understanding yourself is key, and this work was helpful, it didn’t battle structural racism. It didn’t make us look at our own racial identity, or help us figure out how to teach little children to understand why their friend has a different skin color, or the older students to understand redlining or the school-to-prison pipeline. And so the work must continue.

We’ve come to see that, until we at our school have people of the Global Majority in positions of power, we have not succeeded; and we have to listen to our BIPOC colleagues. We have sought ways to empower colleagues and students in the planning of school assemblies, making them more relevant to current events, bringing in new songs and stories that better reflect the Twin Cities, and assuring teachers who are sad to see old favorites go that, really, it will be ok.

The arrival of a new principal coincided with the pandemic, with the murder of an unarmed Black man just blocks from th e school, and with unrest the likes of which none of us had ever seen. But this principal has been willing to put the time in and seems interested in pushing the school to really walk the walk. Even before the world started to crash down on us in earnest, he was willing to listen, and to support our ongoing work on anti-racism and equity in education.

Rather than shying away from controversy, we were able to put out a strong public statement, one that made promises, that delineated clear changes we wanted to make to be a better school for our community, one that would hold us accountable. We asked if we could hang signs on the school supporting George Floyd. While some worried that our windows might get smashed, the principal gave us permission and helped us figure out the best ways to hang signs.

This summer, a large group of us are working on the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge from the Food Solutions Network. We’ll be digging into the various readings and videos, with scheduled times to meet and talk. Another group of us attended a two-day webinar on dismantling white supremacy culture in schools, and we have a group of Montessori teachers from all around the Twin Cities that meets regularly to share resources and inspiration, holding each other accountable. We are committed, working on our own personal transformation, as well as figuring out the next steps for the school, including hiring some part-time equity directors. We are talking about ways we, as a school, can make reparations to the Black community and to the Native community whose land we use.

I feel hopeful. I have a better sense of what my own whiteness brings to the table. I see the racism in myself and around me more clearly. When I screw up, I can pick myself up, dust myself off, and figure out a better way. I see more people at school willing to embrace this work, knowing it will never end, that it’s more of a lens with which to view the world than a set of answers that will suddenly make everything ok. We talk about having “Failure Friday” or a “Celebratory Mistake Wall” - to keep us accountable, and help us remember mistakes are the way we grow and learn.

Joe Truss of Culturally Responsive Leadership introduced himself as “a recovering white supremacist and an aspiring anti-racist.” I’d like to think I can describe myself that way, and that I can say this of my school. We are working together; we have a leader who is willing and courageous enough to take these next steps. We may falter, but we will keep walking.

Melanie DeMore wrote a wonderful song the day after the 2016 election. She posted it on YouTube and a bunch of the staff learned it and sang it as we marched in the Women’s March. The song goes, “Put one foot in front of the other, and lead with love.” This is all we white folks can do. And we have to keep doing it – it is a life journey, and it is worth every step, difficult though it might be. That song is worth a listen; you can hear it at this link. When the going gets rough – and it will get rough – we’ll hear her lovely voice in our heads, and it will give us strength.

Sara Nelson is a teacher of Junior High School Humanities and English. She studied martial arts for ten years with Shifu/Sensei Koré Grate.
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Partner Practice in the Zoom World

by AWMAI Treasurer, Sensei Katie Murphy Stevens

In Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, virtually all techniques are practiced with a partner. We get up close with grabs, throws and groundwork. I like to say, "If it's not hands-on, it's not jujitsu."


Now what!?


To stay safe during jujitsu practice, we have been holding online classes. Each person is working solo in their own space. We have figured out ways to use props in our solo practice.


When dreaming up props, I try to make sure they can be built from common household items and that the items aren't destroyed during use. The props should be roughly the size and shape of whatever 'thing' they are supposed to represent.

Props can be ultra-simple.

A beach towel can be turned into a pretend arm. Roll
the towel in a tight roll. Make the length of the rolled up towel about the same length as your arm. Then use several sturdy rubber bands to keep it rolled up. Put one band every four inches or so.

Optional: If you want a stiffener, straighten an old wire hanger and roll that into the core of the towel when you roll it up. This does destroy the hanger, but you probably have about a million hangers any
way. For safety, make sure the ends of the hanger are well within the towel, no closer than a few inches from either end of the towel.

Now you can practice hand positions for wrist locks and different ways to wrap an arm for an arm bar. Since the ends of the towel are floppy, you can practice motions that twist the wrist in all the different directions that a wrist moves.


It is fairly simple to make a full torso prop.

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The torso prop can be built using a uniform jacket, pillow, rolled up beach towel, pool noodle and spare belt. The construction does wreck the pool noodle, but they are fairly low cost.Put wedge-shaped cuts in the pool noodle to allow it to b
end at th
e 'shoulders' and 'elbows'. To find the right spots for the cuts, lay the pool noodle across the shoulders/arms of the uniform jacket. Mark where the shoulder joints and the elbow joints would be. It doesn't have to be perfect. Then cut a small wedge at each spot. Make the depth of the wedge about half of the way through the noodle.

To build the prop, put the pool noodle through the jacket sleeves. The pillow makes up the bulk of the
torso. Thread the rolled towel between the pillow and the pool noodle. Tie the belt around the waist to hold everything together. You can rotate the pool noodle to position the cuts  to allow the 'arms' in either a forward or behind-the-back position.

Now you can practice different groundwork positions. Beyond the basic hold-downs, you can practice going from standing to a groundwork position, transitions between groundwork positions, and going to standing from a groundwork position.

If you build the torso prop onto a chair, you can comfortably practice different standing joint controls on shoulder, arm and wrist. To incorporate the chair, drape the uniform jacket on the back of the chair and then build the rest of the prop.

Props don't completely solve the challenge of solo practice, but they go a long way. We can work on body movement and positioning in a way that allows us to progress in the study of jujitsu. We'll have some fundamentals that we can put into play once we are all back on the mat, together again.

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