and Support


Volume I

Winter 2021

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: / That even as we grieved, we grew. / That even as we hurt, we hoped. / That even as we tired, we tried. / That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.                                Amanda Gorman, "The Hill We Climb"

In This Issue:

from Executive Director

Shifu/Sensei Koré Grate

May We Go to the Places That Scare Us

Pema Chödrön            

In the early 1990’s when I was a baby black belt, I was encouraged by the late, great Professor Coleen Gragen and Sensei Annie Elman to propose classes and hopefully be hired to teach at one of the annual women’s martial arts camps. They both thought I could do it, as I had shared some skills from my art at their schools.  I was terrified and honored at the same time.  I had no idea how to approach this mountain, other than look up and see these two larger-than-life heroes of mine looking down and smiling at me, beckoning me upward.  I had been attending annual conferences of both NWMAF (National Women’s Martial Arts Federation), and PAWMA (Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists), as well as serving on the board of directors. I was used to organizing and making sure everyone was happy at camp, but I didn’t think I was ready to stand in the Teachers Line-Up, especially next to them.  I was used to being a student.

Yet, they believed in me. They were patient and supportive, and gave references, so I decided to go for it.

I felt that a lot of the participants at the camps and conferences were tentative when going to the mat (taking falls), so I designed a special class just for that. Sixty participants attended my debut class, Learn to Love the Mat.”  It was amazing and 1996 Learn to Love the Matoverwhelming.  92 percent of the participants were BRAND NEW to rolling and falling! I had three advanced students from my dojo assisting, to help keep everyone safe. The class was well received, and it was requested over and over again in the following years. To this day, I continue to enjoy designing and teaching classes to beginners as well as advanced students, especially at the annual camps and conferences.

But I’m not telling this story just to reminisce. I want you to see yourself in my place! Being intimidated, thinking you are not good enough or high-ranked enough, holds you back in your  process of growth and potential.  I needed to be gently pushed, urged into my light, supported and believed in.  Prof. Col and Sensei Annie did that for me.

Prof. Col shared this quote with us, from Pema Chödrön:  

May we go to the places that scare us.

May we lead the life of a warrior.

Allow me to gently urge each and every one of you in our AWMAI organization - and especially those who think you are not high enough ranked, experienced, etc. - to take the chance. Reach out, trust the process of learning and experience, and get involved. Step Up!  AWMAI offers so much support and information for newer instructors!  We’re looking forward to welcoming you.

from Financial Director

Sensei Katie Murphy Stevens

Why are you surprised?

Think about things that have surprised you. Surprise happens when something is unexpected.

There are big surprises, like when your cat pounces on you in the middle of the night (you moved!). Or when a giant tree limb falls to the ground for no apparent reason – this literally happened one time at a summer outdoor martial arts event. (I saw it happen. Thankfully, no one was injured; but the limb came very close to a grandma in a walker-seat.)

We can react to surprise in different ways. Shock (crazy cat!); disbelief (did that branch really just crash to the ground?!); reassessment (google search: sudden branch drop syndrome); action (move your family away from the tree that just dropped a giant branch).

Other surprises are more subtle. Sometimes we are surprised when a person acts in an unexpected way or has an unexpected idea. We’re expecting one outcome, then all of a sudden there they are, doing something we never thought they would; or, there they are coming up with a great idea. We react with surprise, and they see it.

When I was young, it was kind of neat to surprise others by surpassing their expectations. I still remember when, in kindergarten class, we were supposed to memorize our home address. When it was my turn, I recited my address, and the teacher said it was correct! I thought to myself, “Wow! I got it right!” This may seem like a small thing, but I think the memory has stuck with me because it was a profound experience. I surprised myself – in a good way! It was one of the first steps on my path to self-confidence.

But in the course of a lifetime and a career, I’ve come to have a more jaded view of surprise. Let me explain.

Very early in my day-job career, my boss asked my opinion about two different options for wiring a new network cabinet. With the confidence of an inexperienced worker, I made a quick decision, identified one of the options, and said it was the best. A few days later, my boss came back to me and said, "I've spent several hours doing analysis on the two options. I liked the other option better and kept trying to make the numbers say so. But I give up; your recommendation is the best way to go." My boss was surprised I had envisioned the best solution.

As my career progressed, I can't tell you how many times that scenario played out. Even though I gained experience, developed a measured approach, used careful analysis in my decision-making, there continued to be surprise at my good outcomes. While I had confidence in my abilities, it took a long time for others to share that confidence.

Over time, my track record became well known and my ideas were more easily accepted. But I had to ask myself, why should it be surprising that I – the individual I am, the person I see in the mirror, someone who is smart and creative, who has a lifetime of experience, who has proven herself time and time again – why should it be surprising that I can do what others cannot?

Then I turn that around and ask myself, am I surprised at the abilities of others? How does my own point of view limit my expectations of others? And, does that narrow their avenues of success?

It is easy to look for commonality and norms. It is natural to accept a person who quickly fits in with the existing group. It is common to expect success from a person who matches the mold of already-established successful persons. But for the person who surprises – the person who falls outside whatever “norms” I’ve accepted (consciously or not) – the “easy, natural, common” expectations can be harmful.

Think about it in the dojo setting. Perhaps the bravest action new students can take is merely to walk through the door. Once inside, they will ask themselves if this is a place where they can see themselves learning, working and enjoying being part of the group. If they cannot see themselves in the group, they will not stay.

As a school head, it is my role to welcome newcomers and to encourage them in martial arts training. If I am insincere in my welcome, it will show. If I am surprised by their abilities, it will show.

Imagine if my kindergarten teacher had expressed surprise every time I succeeded at something – not just that first time, but over and over; and not just the one teacher, but other people, too. My path to self-confidence wouldn’t have been so smooth. 

As an instructor, I need to be open to the abilities of everyone who walks through the door. In my own heart, I need to do my best to be immune to influences that will tend to make me prefer – or shy away from – old, young, rich, poor, same race, other race, mixed race, big, small, introverted, extroverted, thin, stocky, muscular, domestic, foreign, flamboyant, plain, long hair, short hair, bald, tall, short, bearded, clean shaven, hairless, him, her, they.

Whatever preconceptions I may have, I need to see to the heart of the person. The study of martial arts is not for everybody; but I believe it is for anybody who has the desire and will, anybody who wants to build and contribute.

No matter who I welcome into the dojo, I'll do my best to expect success – no surprises.

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from the Editor

Master Didi Goodman

A Meeting You Don't Want to Miss

This issue of AWMAI News is dedicated to getting you registered for a very special and important annual conference: Teaching the Teacher 2021 - A Virtual Event, coming up on February 26-28.

I was planning to list all the reasons to attend, culminating in "Best of all, _______!" But I couldn't decide what was best because, like the Zen story of the butcher (my favorite), "Everything is best!"

Whether you're a regular attendee, an occasional drop-in, or someone considering whether to attend for the first time, this is the year to do it.

This is the year to attend, because:

  • No travel or lodging expenses!
  • A sliding scale registration fee that lets you attend for as little as $5. (We hope you'll support the conference at the level you can afford.)
  • A truly outstanding group of instructors and classes (see below).
  • A timely and important panel discussion with a fantastic lineup of panelists (see below).
  • A Hall of Fame induction ceremony for three extraordinary martial arts instructors.
  • Some fun and much-needed social and networking time, orchestrated by our event-planner extraordinaire, Sijeh Sarah Sponzo.
  • We all need to see our old friends, make some new ones, and talk with folks who understand how hard this past year has been for martial arts schools. Let's enjoy some personal and professional respite together!

So, read on to get more details, but above all, get registered! Here's the link.

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from Events Director

Sijeh Sarah Sponzo

After all the planning…it’s almost time!

One year ago, I started my update for the pre-conference newsletter with the sentence above. That sentence was followed by, “We’ll see you very soon in sunny Florida!” with an overview of things to know, reminders about the weekend, an note on spa specials, a packing list and travel tips.

What a difference a year makes! Shortly after we returned from a fabulous weekend in Florida, 2020 turned a bit upside down. It’s been a year of challenges and learning a new way to move forward. We have been living in “unprecedented times” and have learned to “pivot” in both our personal lives and business. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that we could magically return to life as it was one year ago.

But, the sentiment I started with is still true! After all the planning…it’s almost time!

The Board has planned what we believe will be a valuable, fun and productive weekend. There is an amazing lineup of teachers, a great variety of classes, some fun social time, awards and of course, networking with the finest group of women martial arts instructors anywhere!

Although we are spending time together virtually this year, we are still excited!

We are also excited that we'll get to return to seeing each other in person a year from now. COVID vaccines are rolling out. Indicators show that travel and group gatherings will open up later this year and we will be on the road – both literally and figurately. That is something to look forward to for sure.

Austin is waiting for us! We are looking forward to working with the team at the Holiday Inn Austin Town Lake to make our live comeback in 2022 a huge success. I know the team there is looking forward extending a big Texas welcome to AWMAI.

So, you don’t have to make a list, pack your bags or travel safely for this year’s conference. But, we are still looking forward to seeing you and having a great weekend. Get ready and we’ll see you on Zoom!

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AWMAI is for Newcomers Too!

People sometimes think the AWMAI Conference is only for school owners and senior instructors. Not at all!

Classes offered are very useful for someone just beginning the journey toward becoming a martial arts instructor. Of course, there are plenty of classes for school owners, senior instructors, and assistants – but if you are on the newer side, please don’t hesitate to join in! This group demonstrates an openness of sharing and support that is rarely seen.

AWMAI’s 2021 Conference coming up in February is an outstanding opportunity to meet, greet and learn from elite women martial arts instructors. Each has a wealth of knowledge about teaching. And, they want to share that knowledge.

The conference will be entirely online this year. If you have wanted to attend before but have been limited by the cost of time and travel, this is the year for you.

See what AWMAI is all about. The registration cost is affordable to anyone. And the travel cost is zero.

Hope to see you online in February!

Sensei Katie Murphy Stevens

Teaching the Teacher 2021: Instructors, Classes, and Panel Discussion

AWMAI is proud to announce our very highly qualified teaching staff, and the timely and useful topics that will be presented at Teaching the Teacher 2021. Read below, and register now to ensure you don't miss any of this event!

Grandmaster Laura Armstrong has been training and teaching in the martial arts for over 30 years, primarily in Arnis/Kali/Escrima and Aikido. She is head instructor and owner of Combat Science – Martial Arts of Asia, and in addition to martial arts, teaches self-defense and empowerment seminars to groups and corporations. She has served on the boards of directors of AWMAI, the Ontario Aikido Federation, and WEKAF International (the World Escrima Kali Arnis Federation).  Having been an internationally ranked competitor and three-time world champion, as well as a Team Canada Coach for WEKAF full-contact stick fighting competition, Grandmaster Armstrong knows what it takes to get to the pinnacle of success and help lead others there. She has devoted herself and her communications skills to modeling leadership, and teaching others how to “step into their greatness.” If you’re a head instructor – or anyone concerned about leadership – you won’t want to miss her class at this year’s conference:

  • How to Keep Your Students Engaged - 7 Steps to a Powerful Engaged Team

    Sensei Deb Cupples discovered martial arts in her teens – and rediscovered it in her 30’s. She opened her own martial arts school in 2006 in Colorado Springs; earned her 4th degree black belt in 2015; and in 2020, graduated her 50th black belt student. Sensei Cupples is an energetic, dynamic, and principled instructor who welcomes students of all ages and abilities, and demands the best from them. She loves creating, learning, and sharing what she has learned. She taught at AWMAI’s Teaching the Teacher 2020; her class on managing behavior in children’s classes was a favorite, and we are delighted to have her back teaching something school owners will appreciate during these difficult times:

    • Generating Revenue During COVID-19: Ten Easy, Low-Cost, Low-Risk Ideas

      A native of Harlem, Shihan Darlene DeFour graduated from Fisk University and received her doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Hunter College of the City University of New York, where her academic research has focused on the ways violence in the form of racism, sexism, as well as physical violence, affect health and everyday life experiences.  In addition to her work as a Social and Community psychologist, Professor DeFour has trained in martial arts for 39 years and was inducted into the AWMAI Hall of Fame in 2012. She is a 9th degree Black Belt in San Yama Bushi Ryu Ju-jutsu, the first woman in the system to hold this rank and the Shihan title. She also holds a 6th degree black belt in Kushinda Ryu Shotokan karate. She was a founding co-chair (with Lauren Wheeler) of the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation Anti-Racism Council in 2008. In 2010 she introduced a course on Applied Microaggressions Defense to the martial arts and self-defense instructors communities, designed to address the subtle forms of racism that often permeate classroom settings. This class, as well as others she has given over the last decade, were designed to highlight the need for anti-oppression training as a core competency for all self-defense teachers and other professionals committed to social justice. We are honored to have Professor DeFour serving on our panel discussion (read more below), as well as teaching a timely and much-needed class in her area of expertise; and we’re glad this year’s schedule makes it possible for everyone to attend:

      • Revisiting Microaggressions

        Senpai Kyren Epperson holds a Ph.D. in South Asian Studies, and a second degree black belt in Jin Sei Ryu Karate-do. They are co-head instructor, with their partner Amy Jones, LSW, of Jin Sei Ryu Karate-Do Chicago. The two are also co-founders of Culture of Safety, LLC, a woman and queer-owned business dedicated to creating cultures of safety through martial arts, empowerment self-defense, assertiveness, and mindfulness trainings for kids and adults throughout Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Dr. Epperson has practiced meditation off and on since childhood, and formally began studying a Thai Theravada Buddhist-based samatha tradition in 2012. They are now a certified meditation instructor through the Samatha Foundation of North America, teaching weekly community classes in Chicago. We look forward to benefitting from Senpai Epperson’s perspective on the meditative aspects of traditional martial arts training in a class entitled:

        • Meditation for Martial Arts Teachers

          Sensei Delina Fuchs, Rokudan (sixth degree) in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, is Head Instructor and CEO at Chico Kodenkan martial and healing arts academy, one of the oldest dojos in the Danzan Ryu system. She began training there as a student in 1978. In addition to her 44 years’ training in Danzan Ryu, Fuchs Sensei has more than 30 years’ training in Aikido, Iaido and Jojitsu; and holds certifications in massage and healing arts. She is on the English Department faculty of Butte College in Chico, CA. In 2018, she was inducted into the AWMAI Hall of Fame for the second time, recognizing her more than 40 years of dedication to martial arts. Sensei Fuchs’s classes and demonstrations are always energetic and inspiring. This year she will be sharing some COVID-era instructional and jujitsu techniques using a quarantine training partner anyone can build at home:

          • "Pillow Uke" Drills and Techniques for Non-Contact Training

            Kimberly Ivy is the founder of Embrace The Moon Taijiquan and Qigong in Seattle, Washington. She has 44 years of experience in the Martial Arts, and is ranked 6th Duan Wei in Chen Taijiquan. Kim is ranked Shodan in both Judo & Aikido, and also has thirty years of study and teaching in multiple forms of Qigong, most notably Luohan Gong Qigong, where she is one of the few people in the United States who is certified to teach the historic system. Kim has been hosting international workshops and teaching events for over 30 years. She continues to travel internationally for study and enjoys rich and ongoing relationships with her teachers and colleagues all over the world. Kim is successfully navigating the unexpected during 2020, maintaining both her robust personal and teaching practices during our unprecedented times. Her class offering at this year’s conference is an opportunity for much-needed healing, energizing and self-care:

            • Yin/Yang Walking & Self-Massage for Energy, Balance and Healing