by Shinshii Janet E. Alfs
When a lion found me in a dream
I'm sharing this poem because it expresses something about the process of transformation that I feel every day in my practice of poetic movement arts including Tai Chi and Qigong, Shuri-ryu Okinawan Karate, Filipino Modern Arnis, and interpretive dance. I think of these arts as gestural languages that share countless stories from around the world about how human beings are connected through, and affected by, all forms of life energy. The word poetry comes from the Greek word, poiein, meaning “to make” or “to do.” Ars Poetica is Latin for “the art of poetry.” In everything I do, I work to notice metaphor, how one thing carries over to another and makes something new, the “third thing” at the crossover point of the infinity symbol. Most of all, I practice wonder, which wakes me up even more to joy, and the feeling of being deeper and more expansively alive.
Enjoy your healing (holos, integrity) practice, whatever it is, and keep flourishing!
In Peace and With Gratitude,
Photo of Jennie
I’m technically back in Austin, but my mind constantly returns to the many great moments at our conference in San Diego. Thank you again to all the instructors and participants for sharing their skills, knowledge, talent, creativity, experience, focus and attention. I learn something (many things) new and valuable every year, and each time I come away more inspired and in awe of this amazing organization and each and every person in it. This year even more so.
We have a unique value proposition as not only martial artists and self-defense practitioners, but as instructors, business owners and mentors. AWMAI serves a purpose that no other organization does. It’s this focus on teaching and professional development that sets us apart and that I believe more people could add to and benefit from.
As we get back to business as usual and start making decisions about the 2024 conference (TBA ASAP, but can’t wait to see you there!), my vision is stronger than ever that I want this to be a year of intentional growth for AWMAI. I want to reach more instructors and business owners who could benefit from our organization and who would add even more depth and richness to our membership. And I want to provide more opportunities for connection, inspiration and education before we meet again at next year’s conference.
I need your help to reach both of those goals. First, membership. If there are folks in your community or studios who you think would benefit by being a part of AWMAI, please reach out to them. Share your experience, point them to our Facebook account, and have them check out our website.
Second, if you have ideas for programming, features or events you’d like to see in between conferences, please let me know. I can’t promise that we can make everything happen, but I can assure you that your opinion and your ideas matter and will be considered.
I am proud and humbled to take on the role of Executive Director. I’m excited for what’s to come...
and I am here for you.
by Master Wasentha Young, AWMAI Co-Founder
Wearing the moon on the head,
Wading the stream to the shore of
Grasping the Bird’s Tail,
Aware of the space between the Universe and Earth,
Seeing with feet,
Movement flowing, standing, and radiating from the center,
Humbling bowing in gratitude for the prowess.
Spreading Wings of the Great Spirit
Open heart to the gifts of the Universe
Accepting Its nourishment
Cleansing the Sea of Vitality
Reaching upward, inward, and downward for cleansing
Embracing the omnipresent sensuality of energy
Sijeh Sarah Sponzo
Photo of Sijeh Sarah and penguins in Antarctica
Oh. My. Gosh! That was amazing – a fun, inspiring, meaningful, celebratory whirlwind of a conference weekend!
Going into this year’s conference I felt very confident that we had a good venue, a great line-up of teachers, lots of registrations and a plan for a successful event. I knew that it would be fun to be back in person and I was very excited for that! But I didn't anticipate just how emotional I’d feel as things unfolded.
Mother Nature decided to throw a little something at us last minute and I started to worry a bit about everyone arriving safely. Once I arrive there is always a lot to do and get ready for. I was busy and focused on checking off my to do list. Then, I started seeing familiar faces! It was amazing, no little Zoom boxes, but real live faces that came with hugs!
I was also happy to see quite a few new faces this year. Whether you haven’t been with us for a while or you have just found us – yay! I hope that you enjoyed yourselves and that we’ll see you at another event soon.
I don't think anyone can deny the restorative power of being together. The learning, camaraderie, laughter, a few tears, good food and fun makes us feel good.
My goal is to make each conference better than the last and your feedback is valuable for making that happen. Thank you to those who made suggestions and gave feedback on the program evaluation. We’ve already started planning for 2024 and I am looking forward to making some decisions and announcements soon. Drop me a note if there is anything that you’d like to suggest that might not have made it into the conference evaluation.
Enjoy the boost and great feeling from San Diego, we’ll be seeing you soon at some new events and start thinking about 2024. We’ll be back with more info very soon!
by Sensei Nicole Welsh, Mac Tíre Bán Martial Arts
Photo of Sensei Nicole Welsh
It comes in so many forms! But when you nourish the heart and the clouds disperse from your vision, it's like an indescribable unveiling of self love and affirmation.
An affirmation that this is the right course, in that moment. Time is ever changing. You are ever changing. Clarity, unclouded by self doubt, trepidation and worry is such a great feeling .
It’s empowering and becomes a driving voice to make your dreams reality.
So many of us serve through our martial arts and we come to teaching not only for the passion of the art itself but for a love of the people we serve. This, in itself is an enduring quality that requires nourishment and there is no greater nourishment than that is received from great mentors, partners and other practitioners holding fast to similar values, and visions of community, of family.
Nourishment comes from a sense of belonging that accepts you for who you are and values your creativity, values you as a beautiful human being as you are, for who you are .
None of us are flawless. We learn from not only our own mistakes, hardships and road blocks, but from others, that are wiser, more knowledgeable and have experienced the world in differing ways. When we are willing to be vulnerable and share our wisdom, we too may learn.
All of this provides nourishment so that we can become our best selves and when we become our best selves, our strong and empowered selves, we are an unstoppable collective to reckon with.
Take the time to do those things that reconnect you, reaffirm your vision and go forth and shine for your people and the people that come in to your life. It’s truly a beautiful thing.
Photo of Incoming Executive Director, Jennie Trower and Outgoing Executive Director, Shifu/Sensei Koré Grate
Extending Aikido, The Art of Peace
by Jamie Leno Zimron Sensei, AWMAI Co-Founder
Congratulations on the fabulous 25th annual 2023 Conference led by Shifu Koré Grate, the brilliant Board and all whom attended, awesome women martial artists and instructors! Kudos to all those who taught, and whom received Hall of Fame recognition. I really missed being with everyone in San Diego, though I was happily teaching in Oaxaca, Mexico. AWMAI is always close and deep in my heart, and every picture and post beams with amazing energy and inspiration!
In May, 2020, with the pandemic and Zoom setting in, several women colleagues and I co-founded Aikido Solstice Seminars. Sharing dissatisfaction with the biased power-archy, we saw new opportunity to set forth differently in virtual training events. From the start, we established these guidelines:
1) Diversity in choice of instructors, with a balance of veteran and younger / white and BIPOC / straight, cis, and LGBTQ / American and international teachers
2) Hold panel discussions addressing relevant, innovative, and controversial topics
3) Drop rank designation and simply call instructors “Sensei”
4) Zero tolerance for disrespect or abuse.
At our inaugural 2020 Summer Solstice Seminar, the hands-down most inventive class was taught by Atziri Servin Sensei, a “next-gen” teacher in Oaxaca. Have a look! She co-runs a dojo with her partner Jason, on their property with his thriving glass-art business and a permanent dojo building under construction. They are nurturing an Aiki community of adults and kids dedicated to training free from power trips, harassment, discrimination, or abuse of any kind. Atziri recently presented her work on Gender & Sports at a conference in Mexico City, and is developing protocols for dojos to ensure safe spaces for all students.
While I was in Mexico in February, it was a pure honor and delight to be invited to Oaxaca Aikido. After class one evening, a super-sweet and talented Japanese family living there treated us to a performance of traditional Okinawan Shamisen music. Along with beautiful training and sightseeing, Atziri, Jason, and I discussed (over delicious meals!) the damages and dangers due to misused power in the martial arts. They are deeply enjoying sharing and expanding their Aikido knowledge, in a pure atmosphere of respect and love, and away from organizational dictates and politics. While passing on worthy tradition and wisdom, they are freeing themselves to evolve training in ways that match their values and genuinely serve people, the world, and these times. For us all, I think it is total joyful inspiration and magic to be fellow travelers on this training path!
Since leaving the founding board of AWMAI in 2004, I have been serving on the board of Aiki Extensions, helping to develop Training Across Borders programs and bring The Art of Peace to many places and forums. Upon Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine last year, my colleague Julian Harel and I went from Israel to refugee centers in Poland to conduct Aiki-based Somatic Stress & Trauma Relief sessions with women and kids fleeing for their lives. Soon I will be visiting dojos in Kosice, Slovakia and Uzghorod in western Ukraine with my longtime Israeli Aikido friend, Anat Ben Meir. We are going to meet the founders of the Aikido For Ukraine Project, Aikido kids and instructors, and internally displaced Ukrainian families.
Last month, the Project helped bring several busloads of kids from Uzhgorod to the 3rd annual Aikido Festival for Youth, held in Prague. Roughly 140 children and 40 adult teachers and assistants from ten dojos in three countries trained together by day and slept on the mats at night. Our upcoming Aikido journey is designed to keep raising awareness of the war’s effects and funds for needed humanitarian supplies, while building bridges of friendship through teaching and training everyday.
Sensei Katie Murphy Stevens
Photo of Sensei Katie demonstrating an arm bar on Master Terri Giamartino
Sensei Katie's 2023 Hall of Fame Speech
There are some crazy techniques in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu! If I would have known that ahead of time, I probably would never have started training. I just would not have believed I could do those impossible things. I'm glad I didn’t know, because I did start training... and I loved it. Over time, little by little, I did indeed do all of those crazy things.
While I was coming up through the ranks, I focused on the physical techniques. They were very tangible. My body was getting stronger. My coordination improved. I had better balance. Those were the outward results of my martial arts practice. Very plain to see. At the same time, under cover, out of sight, another transformation was happening: a transformation of mind and spirit. I've come to believe that the mental transformation is just as important, if not more important, than the physical transformation.
I faced a huge challenge when preparing for my Sandan exam - third degree black belt.
I was working really hard! There had been plenty of time since my last exam to develop my skills... but it didn't seem like I was getting results.
I had doubt.
I started looking externally. Maybe they just didn't like me. Maybe this wasn't the place for me.
I really had to think about it.
I realized that I had to have faith. Faith in the tradition, faith in my instructors, faith that the work I was doing would pay off. I had to have belief... Belief in myself. Belief that I could improve the weak areas of my art. Belief that I span the gap.
Once I made that leap of faith, things fell into place quickly. I had a successful exam and was on my way forward. From that point on, I held on to that trust, faith and belief.
I also realized that there was a core of people around me. A community that I could rely on for support. There was my sensei, of course, Professor Jane Carr.. and there were several others who looked after me and helped me. They held me up during the tough times and celebrated the good times. Their actions reinforced that the trust, faith and belief were worthwhile.
Trust, faith, belief, community. These are some of the treasures I've found along my martial arts journey.
Thank you for the friendship.
Shihan Melanie Fine
Photo of Shihan Melanie's dogs during snow storm
It was with great sadness that I cancelled my flight to San Diego the day before the conference. This has been the worst weather experience of all my years living in the Sierra Nevada foothills- and the timing could not have been worse! While you were all partying (ok, learning stuff too!), we were melting snow in a pot on the wood-burning fireplace for drinking water because our power went out and then our backup generator failed! What a week…
by Shifu/Sensei Koré Grate, former Executive Director
Photo of Xin-Heart in calligraphy
Many years ago at a Warrior Heart Retreat at Manzanita Village in Warner Springs, California we did a “workshop” based on Joanna Macy’s practice of the Elm Dance. While slowly dancing in a circle to music, right foot cross in front, then left foot cross (think Hava Nagoya) we connected to the suffering in our lives, in the country, in the world, and then at certain moments raised our arms coming into the center-saying out loud, naming the suffering and pain. This continued in both directions, returning together and naming, yelling, screaming the depth of pain in our hearts, reminded to “Expand the Heart to hold it ALL”. Expanding the container-expanding my heart.
At first I thought I would explode. Letting myself hear and feel everyone’s pain was intense, saying the pain I was holding out loud into the center was powerful, and I felt protective of my circle, thinking that so much was being claimed, how can we hold all this?! Slowly, the dance continued and I could feel my container getting bigger, my heart holding all that pain and suffering. It was something I will always remember, and rely upon.
1) I didn’t die
2) It made me feel filled with love-so much love- that like the
by Shihan Nahid Farzinzad, IKU Honbu Chief Instructor and
International Kyokushinkai Union (IKU) World Women Chairwoman
Photo of AWMAI 2023 Demo Participants
It was truly a pleasure to have been able to spend this past weekend with the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors (AWMAI), alongside IKU Director, Kaicho David R. Farzinzad.
I am looking forward to seeing everyone again at next year’s event, to partake in fellowship and friendship, and to partake in one of the great joys of my life - sharing my over forty two years Kyokushin Karate experience.
I would like to express my gratitude towards the AWMAI Board of Directors and Management, for how well they have treated me. My regards also go out to Mrs. Dara Masi and Mrs. Melanie Fine, of the board of directors, who were unable to attend due to inclement weather.
Finally, I am thankful once for Kaicho David R.Farzinzad; he has always assisted and supported me in my goal of being of service to society, and this weekend I particularly appreciated his remarkable speech about unity.
My warmest and sincerest regards go out to all of those from AWMAI, their families, and the members of their organizations.
By Sifu Marcie Wombold, Self Discovery Self Defense, Renton, WA
If you’re new to AWMAI and/or a new instructor, this article is for you. I’m going to share my reflection and what I learned from attending the 2023 AWMAI Conference.
This was my first year attending, and my third year running my own martial arts and self defense program. Having attended, I can’t imagine not going every single year from now on.
First, the conference is fun! Everyone there has good energy. There’s good food and laughter. There are expressions of respect and appreciation, and lots of love for each other. In our work, when we give so much to other people, this is an opportunity to refill and rejuvenate.
The conference is about making connections. I had opportunities to talk with people who I have admired for years, and I met people whose stories and contributions have already enriched my practice and what I teach my students. I was able to talk one on one with master martial arts instructors, in addition to attending their incredibly useful and relevant classes.
AWMAI is also an opportunity to talk with and train beside instructors from many different disciplines, seeing the commonalities between us, and appreciating the beauty and power of the martial arts in a broader way. For example, my personal training never included demonstrations, but now that I’ve seen them in action, I understand the value to student learning and school cohesion.
Another insight I gained was related to owning my own business and supporting its growth. I work full time as a school teacher in addition to running my school. There are times when doing both feels like a lot and I’m exhausted. I don’t have a big enough program to replace my teacher’s salary, and working during the day prevents me from taking on clients or offering classes that would help my program grow. So, what should I do? Listening to others share the realities of what they are up to was helpful to me in formulating an answer. I found that I wasn’t alone in what I was experiencing. I’m not the only one working full time. I’m not the only one focusing on work-life balance. I’m not the only one who sometimes has only a few students show up. I’m not the only one who is figuring things out as I go... and because I’m not the only one, it also means I'm not alone. I’m one of many people who are doing their best to share what we love with others. I’m one of many, and that feels good.
I could go on about the other personal insights I gained from the conference. Discoveries I made in conversations. Questions that the masters helped me answer. It occurs to me that, just like the martial arts, conferences are reciprocal systems. We get what we give. When we seek, we find.
I came with questions, and I left with answers... and more questions! :) ... most importantly, feeling inspired in the work and in this life.
If this next year is your first year in AWMAI, I hope you come to the 2024 conference. When you do, here’s what I hope you remember:
Photo of Guru Anil Natyaveda demonstrating with an Urumi
Urumi, you dance
Please mark your calendars for our first-ever Teacher's Lounge event, a one-hour zoom session for current AWMAI members. We'll open with a brief group discussion and then join breakout rooms for conversation and networking centered around different relevant topics, from teaching to business to purely socializing.
Plan to join us on Sunday, April 23, at 2 p.m. CT.
We look forward to connecting with you soon!
by Dr. Cheryl Rock
Photo of Hapkido Practitioners (L to R): Grandmaster Sunny Graff, Shihan Diane Wallander, Dr. Cheryl Rock, Jokyonym Sherrie Rathje and Sensei Erin Huey (PAWMA Board President)
I would like to express how thankful I am to have been in the company
of such AMAZING women. I finally found a cohort of sisters in martial arts. As a new practitioner to the field, I feel so refreshed from
being among you all.
Hapkido is not the most popular style in Martial Arts. Finding other women Hapkido practitioners has been like looking for a needle in the haystack. However, at AWMAI, I struck gold and was able to find four sisters who practice Hapkido! The future for Women in Hapkido is bright!
I was so honored to provide two copies of my new publication The Bagua Plate: An Integrative and Practical Approach to Health and Wellness to the AWMAI raffle! Parnee was the lucky recipient of one of them!
My book may be purchased from Barnes and Noble or Balboa Press. It integrates Martial Arts Philosophy, Food Science and Bagua Feng Shui principles.
by Zosia Gorbaty Hanshi
Photo of Zosia Hanshi, by Jennie Trower
I began piano lessons when I was five. I had no choice since my father was a concert pianist. Every Saturday my mother and I would get on the subway taking us downtown to the Third Street Settlement Music School. My studies included music theory as well as piano. Twice a year we were required to play in the bi-annual concert. I still have the paper programs! I remember sitting backstage, waiting for my turn to play, butterflies filling my tummy. I didn’t really enjoy those performances, but I had no choice. They went on for eight years until I entered Music & Art High School where I played oboe in the orchestra. My solo days were finally over!
Fast forward to my martial arts career. I have been performing my martial art since the 1980’s. Unlike my piano performances, it has become one of my most joyous experiences. Last Saturday I performed in the AWMAI conference demonstration. As I waited for demos 1 and 2 to be over I reflected. There were no butterflies in my tummy, only excitement and anticipation. As I flowed through my three minutes of performance I could feel joy and exhilaration flood my being. I was performing because I love my art and love sharing it. The response from the audience was overwhelming. For me it confirmed I had achieved my goal, to touch their emotions, to impart joy into their lives for those three minutes. Live performance is a two-way street. Deep heartfelt Thanks to the most wonderful, supportive audience. Till next time!
Sensei Parnee Poet
Photo of Incoming/Outgoing AWMAI Board:
Missing: Shihan Melanie Fine
(L to R): Sensei Katie Murph Stevens, Shihan Sarah Sponzo, Shifu/Sensei Koré Grate, Master Didi Goodman, Sensei Parnee Poet, Jennie Trower
At the 2023 AWMAI conference, at first, it felt strange to see everyone in person and then within a few hours, it felt great!
Gathering with you was inspiring, just like putting this newsletter together...
Looking back, I remember Koré's wisdom, that we need allies to help us as an organization and also personally. We can’t ostracize ourselves from people who can help us, that happen to be men or "different" than us.
I remember the words of our Ally, IKU Director, Kaicho David R. Farzinzad "UNITY!"
I remember Didi and Koré. Thank you so much for all you have given; seen and unseen, acknowledged and not.
I remember our Founders: Master Barbara Dickens, Dara Masi Shihan, Master Wasentha Young and Jamie Zimron Sensei. Check out Master Wasentha and Jamie Sensei's articles in this newsletter. I hope to learn more from them.
I remember to keep doing my work, to understand, to find resolution, to rest and repeat.
I'm also looking forward to learning more from you and building a stronger AWMAI with Murph, Melanie, Sarah and Jennie this year.
Suggestion for Summer 2023 Newsletter:
Read anything good lately? A training manual, biography, or martial-arts-related novel? Write us a review!
Post-Conference Inspiration: Write about something memorable you heard, learned, or shared from the 2023 conference.