Board of Directors
Serving on the AWMAI Board of Directors is a rewarding and fulfilling job.
Read the Board Position Descriptions and apply today!
Jennie Trower began training in Krav Maga in 2002, becoming an instructor 10 years later. She soon realized that the methods, marketing and environment of most schools in that system were missing the mark for a wide audience who wanted practical, effective self-defense training taught in a supportive and welcoming environment. Jennie was motivated to start her own self-defense business, then co-founded another a few years later.
The worldwide events of 2020, which directly affected her onsite business model, and personal challenges led to the closing of both businesses in 2022. While Jennie took a step back from teaching, she stepped forward into the world of emergency management, finding many parallels between it and self-defense.
Today, Jennie lives with her teenage son in Austin, Texas, where she has spent most of her life. She works at a digital marketing agency, serves as both a disaster action team and government operations liaison with the American Red Cross, and still teaches private lessons and customized events. Jennie is proud to serve as the new executive director of AWMAI and is looking forward to this next chapter, both personally and professionally.
Click here to email Executive Director
Melanie Fine was promoted to Renshi Shihan (6th degree black belt) in Hakko Densho Ryu Jujutsu in 2014, after a long journey in martial arts. She began training in 1976, first in Tae Kwon Do, then for 18 years in Tang Soo Do under Master Maynard Stanley at Karate Temple in Cincinnati, OH, where she achieved 3rd degree black belt.
She started her first school, a branch of Karate Temple, in Columbus, OH. There she met Sunny Graff, and was introduced to the women's martial arts community through NWMAF's Special Training. She attended Special Training in 1985, and soon joined the NWMAF board of directors, serving 5 years as Treasurer and 2 years as Chair. She served as archivist and unofficial camp photographer for many years.
In 1994, Melanie met Shihan Dara Masi, and soon decided to become her student in Jujutsu. The following year, she moved from Texas (where she had been living) to New York, to join Shihan Masi as co-owner of Suigetsu Dojo.
Shihan Fine also holds Teacher Certification in Yang Style T'ai Chi Ch'uan under Master Wasentha Young, is certified in Zheng Gu Tui Na (Chinese bone-setting massage). She has a special love for the healing aspects of her martial art.
Melanie has been honored by the NWMAF as Member of the Year, and inducted into the AWMAI Hall of Fame for over 40 years of dedication. She is a lifetime member of the Hakkoryu Martial Arts Federation, the National Women's Martial Arts Federation, the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors, and JuJitsu America; and a member of the American Judo & Jujitsu Federation.
Melanie has attended over 25 Special Trainings, numerous AWMAI conferences and PAWMA camps; and spent quite a few years assisting Shihan Dara Masi with the development and organization of the AWMAI.
I am grateful to have been involved in the birth and evolution of this organization. I never cease to be amazed at the endless opportunities for networking, learning, sharing, and making new life-long friendships. And all while having so much fun!
Click here to email Certification Director [photo by Sheila Haddad]
Parnee Poet is Tagalog and Kapampangan, born in the arkipelago referred to as the Philippines and raised in the suburbs of Peoria, Anishinabewaki, Odawa, Mississauga and Sauk Territories (East Lansing, Michigan), where I had friends from all over the world. My dad, Anacleto Sawal Paras, Jr., is Kampampangan and graduated from Michigan State University with a PhD in Agricultural Engineering and my mom, Florita Enrile Paras, is Tagalog and worked as a nurse and celebrated mine and my siblings’ birthdays with memorable birthdays every year. I lived in the diverse MSU community at Spartan Village. Our food and languages were celebrated annually with “International Night” at Spartan Village Elementary School. I spent most of my adult years in the Anishinaabe Territory, where I studied English literature, photography, biology, conservation, nursing, massage therapy and martial arts, my love of nature was deeply cultivated by Gitche Gumee’s crashing waves, northern climate with trees and slopes. After building a structure modeled from traditional wiigwams, of the Anishinaabe of the Gitche Gumee region, I lived in the hybrid “wiigy” and off the grid for two years, further deepening my appreciation of sustainability and living with the earth’s rhythms. At the urging of a new friend, Meisha Lamb, I spent over two years living in the rainforest of the Tlingit, Métis and Dënéndeh Territories (Haines, Alaska), surrounded by over 3000 feet tall mountains and going for long walks with my dear friend, Sissy, a Husky mix.
I started studying Cuong Nhu Martial Arts in January 2003 in Ishpeming, Michigan at Northern Lights Dojo with Sensei Richard "Bud" Place, Sensei Shane Robertson, Sensei Tim DeMarte, Sensei Jeffrey Scott and Sensei Michael Holman. After passing my Cuong Nhu Black Belt test in May 2010, I opened the first Cuong Nhu Wisconsin school, Tara Dojo, in Oceti Sakowin, Myaami and Menominee Territories (Appleton, Wisconsin) in January 2011. I teach self defense and Cuong Nhu Martial Arts classes online and in person.
Besides studying martial arts/self defense, I offer massage therapy, breathing awareness and I create art in Miami, Menominee and Oceti Sakowin Territories (Northeastern Wisconsin). I can be found on instagram: instagram.com/TaraBreathe.
Click here to email Administrative Director
Sijeh Sarah Sponzo began training in martial arts in 1998, studying Tai Chi and Kung Fu. She is now a Senior Instructor at the Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy in Middletown, Connecticut, under the leadership of Sifu Daniel Ostrow. She also trained with Grandmaster Tat Mau Wong and holds a 2nd degree Black Belt in Choy Lay Fut.
In addition to her regular teaching schedule, she especially enjoys judging and coordinating tournaments, both in her own school, and with various organizations, including the International Chinese Martial Arts Championship (ICMAC), New England International Chinese Martial Arts Championships, Disney Martial Arts Festival, and AFACT Karate.
Sarah has an academic background in English and Education, and works as an Account Director for a medical communications company. In her free time, she loves to cook, read, spend time with her cats and dogs, and dream up her next travel adventure.
"I am always honored by the trust that my teachers have put in me and particularly humbled by the faith that parents and students put in me to guide and teach them and their children. I am especially privileged to follow so many great elder sisters and to help lead many wonderful younger sisters on the path of martial arts."
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Sensei Katie Murphy Stevens began her study of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu in 1990. Her perspective in the martial arts has grown and changed over the years - student, practitioner, teacher, work horse, mentor, artist - from one perspective, to another perspective, and sometimes all at once and mixed together. She credits many individuals as inspirations, especially her sensei: Sensei Cynthia Frueh who started her on her path, Professor Jane Carr who guided her transformation for 20 years, and Professor Sheryl Hager who is her current sensei and has been a steady source of support for many years.
Sensei Stevens earned black belt rank in 1995. She has been a school head of Makoto Kai in Woodland, CA since 2002. She received the rank of Rokudan in 2020.
Sensei Stevens has studied the healing arts of Danzan Ryu. In addition to ongoing classes in Danzan Ryu healing arts, she is a 1995 graduate of the Danzan Ryu Seifukujitsu Institute intensive massage course.
Sensei Stevens devotes time teaching at regional and national seminars. She hosts clinics, tournaments and conferences. She has served in administrative roles in the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation from 2003 through the time of this writing in 2023. She has been the Financial Director of the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors from 2016 through the time of this writing in 2023. Sensei Stevens believes in supporting organizations that teach and preserve the martial arts.
Sensei Stevens began her martial arts practice for some self-defense training and fitness, but she stays for the deep friendships and her love of the art.
"AWMAI is a grass roots organization. Our annual conference is a meeting place where we can teach, talk and enjoy martial arts. Our members truly want to contribute and to see each other succeed."
Click here to email Financial Director [photo by Sheila Haddad]