Shifu/Sensei Koré Grate
We Can Be the Change
We had a successful virtual “Teaching the Teacher” conference February 26-28, 2021. It was not the same as being together in person of course, but the classes were stellar and well attended. It was great to see everyone, albeit in tiny boxes on a computer screen. It makes me realize how important our gatherings are—for networking, for support and for keeping relevant in teaching and learning.
Many thanks to the PAWMA board for sharing their ZOOM experience with us, to Sifu Gin Yang and Sifu Gina Kurtz for being awesome in helping with the tech, and for the entire AWMAI Board of Directors for their skills in adaptation and precision.
I was extremely proud of the panel discussion we offered: Opening the Discussion on Power Dynamics with Race & Rank. It was a timely topic, one that can feel uncomfortable, but is vital to moving forward with awareness and inclusivity. The post-panel affinity group/break-out sessions were reviewed as “needing more direction”—and we agree. Thank you to all who let us know, either directly or through the survey, what they thought needed improvement. It's essential to help us do better in the future.
I also want to mention our last class of the conference, Shihan Darlene DeFour teaching about Microaggressions—those subtle, often barely acknowledged words and interactions that are truly detrimental, causing verbal, physical, and spiritual harm. The class was an eye-opener for some, a reminder for others, and like the Panel, was the start of a conversation that needs to continue.
Thank you all for being part of AWMAI, and embracing the task of paying attention, recognizing injustices, and speaking up or taking action when needed.
We can BE the CHANGE!
Shihan Melanie Fine
Hello from Sunny Northern California!
Spring has sprung here, and after a dismal winter of isolation and being focused on care-giving, it is heartening to see spring blossoms everywhere and my partner springing back to life with a vengeance.
The AWMAI Forum also has several general areas of interest: a Member’s Lounge where you can post just about anything, a New Member Introduction for you new folks to get started on networking, Seminar and Tournament Announcements, and COVID-19 (yes, we are perhaps burnt out on this one, but unfortunately it’s still relevant today).
Then there is the Marketplace Area to investigate. Do you own your own business? Let our members know about it and we’ll support you! Have something to trade or sell? Post it in the “Flea Market.”
Our Forum is accessible by members only, so you can feel safe posting about topics that you may not wish the general public to see. It also helps cut down on spam posts. Is it worth taking the time to log into your account? I think so!
Save the Date for Teaching the Teacher 2022!
February 25-27, 2022
Holiday Inn Austin Town Lake
Get this on your calendar now and start making plans for Austin.
We are very excited about meeting each other at a new venue – Holiday Inn Austin Town Lake. The hotel is only 15-minutes from the airport, overlooking Lady Bird Lake. It has nice fresh rooms, lots of meeting space, and easy access to all that Austin has to offer.
We’ll be sharing a lot more information as we continue planning, but for now, keep these things in mind:
Gather your colleagues and friends and make some plans to head to Texas. We’re looking forward to a big Texas welcome and a great time next February.
Keep watching this newsletter and your email for more information!
Sijeh Sarah Sponzo
That was pretty amazing!
I felt confident about a lot of things going into the 2021 Conference. We had a great line-up of teachers, an amazing number of registrations, a nice full agenda, technical expertise and a plan. But, I’ll admit, I wasn’t entirely sure that there wouldn't be a glitch or two…or three. I wasn’t entirely sure that people would really log in. I wasn’t entirely sure that folks would be and stay engaged.
In the end, those doubts were entirely unwarranted and I feel like this was the most successful conference that I’ve worked on!
The weekend flew by and constantly surprised me with many moments that were moving and joyful. I always learn new things, meet at least one new person and reconnect with an old friend or two…or three. This year was no exception. I know that over this past year, most of us have had to pivot (and I am tired of this term) the way we do business out of necessity. I didn’t know how I’d really feel about making that same pivot to an event that is so powerful in person. I’ve come away so impressed with how seamlessly people transitioned to a new venue and a new way of connecting. I was able to do most of the things I usually do at the conference and came away with all the same feelings – invigoration, camaraderie, love, knowledge, success and more.
I’ve said before that my favorite part of the conference is the Awards Banquet. While I missed seeing that room full of inspiring, dedicated and truly wonderful martial artists, I still felt the thrill of being present during these well-deserved honors. One of the best parts was everyone unmuting at the end for cheers and applause!
I know that there was some feedback regarding the quality of the food at this year’s event and I will take that into consideration as we move forward planning for 2022 (J). We really are looking forward to being back in person (although maybe with a virtual component) next time, and I am really looking forward to starting to plan for that. Drop me a note if there is anything you’d like to suggest that might not have made it into the conference evaluation.
Be well, get those vaccinations and see you in Austin!
Master Didi Goodman
Those Crazy Things You Say
We love getting feedback from our members and conference participants, both in person and on our surveys. This year was great, because we had both a large number of participants, and a higher-than-usual rate of returning the survey. Maybe the integration of an online survey into a virtual event made it more likely people would take a moment to fill it out. In any case, thank you for your words--whether they were words of praise, constructive criticism, or suggestions to push us to do better.
My favorite comment was this one: "I took more classes than I had planned on." That's definitely a win for us as organizers, and a testament to the high quality of our instructors and the material they were offering. We knew going in that we'd get sign-ups; after all, it was virtual, and very low cost. But would people just drop in for a bit, or would they commit themselves and engage? We're delighted that we had a high level of participation, commitment and engagement throughout the weekend. We know what it's like to spend that many hours in front of a screen (believe me, we know!), and we appreciate every one of you who participated, whether for one hour or many hours.
My second favorite comment is, to be honest, not favorite, but needs to be mentioned because it came up so often: Many of you requested a virtual component in next year's conference. On the one hand, we loved having participants from afar who would not normally be able to travel to an in-person event. We do want each of you to attend again - every year! On the other hand, putting on a virtual event is hard work; putting on an in-person event is hard work; what would it be to try doing both at once? Would we be able to serve you well in either medium?
So I'm laying down a challenge. Go to your keyboards and give us more words. If you have experience putting on a hybrid virtual/live event; if you have been teaching (or trying to teach) hybrid classes in your school; if you feel you know how it can or can't be done successfully - write about it and send us your thoughts. What has worked for you, and what hasn't? What are the challenges, and how did you handle them? How would you structure an event for success?
The board is discussing the matter, but as yet has made no decisions. Give us your input, if you have real experience in this area - and think about becoming involved!
Extras in this issue: We've got a great article by Nina Thompson that continues the conversation on race begun at the conference; and another in our series of features on artwork by AWMAI members. Check them out below!
Here's a sampling of images and quotes* from the Virtual Conference, in-class chats and evaluations. For more conference highlights, including the complete conference booklet, visit the Conference Highlights web page. You can also find more information on our 2021 Hall of Fame inductees, Professor Nerissa Freeman (30+ years), Sifu Kimberly Ivy (40+ years), and Master Mary Davis Cates (in memoriam), in the Hall of Fame pages.
"I've got so many notes to go over and new ideas to implement."
"Super fun class! I definitely 'found joy' and I'm excited to bring that energy to my regular classes."
"Great ideas to try out - and the instructors' enthusiasm really came across."
"The presentation was very well-organized and managed to fit a lot of practical advice and activities into a very short period of time."
"This was great for school leadership. It brings home the difference between teaching classes and having a school/community."
"Once you open up the conversation, you see there's a lot more going on than you realized."
"So important to unearth these racist microaggressions so we can move forward and heal."
"Important information, and very relevant for me as a self-defense instructor. Really appreciate the instructor's spirit and generosity in sharing knowledge and materials with us!"
"I wasn't sure what to expect...but it turned out to be fantastic! It brought forth a lot of solid information that I can use."
"Of course it would have been nicer to be in person, but the Hall of Fame ceremony brought tears to my eyes."
"Exceeded my expectations! The instructors are knowledgeable and so are the attendees. Some of us have been teaching online for awhile and it was nice to share skills and tips."
"Thank you so much for a wonderful conference. Attended more sessions than I thought would be possible. It did my brain a whole heap of good!"
"This was my first year, and I'm sad I've not made it until now. I am definitely hooked and felt very supported by this amazing community and am excited to get to know everyone in person in the future."
*Some quotes have been edited for clarity and context. Quotes are not necessarily directly tied to images.
Photographs and Artist's Statement by Kerry Kilburn
I came to study photography the same way I came to study biology and to study the martial arts: through serendipity. My adventure really started when DSLRs became affordable when I was in my 50s. A chance encounter with a clerk at my local camera store encouraged me to take a class at my community college. One class led to another, and I was hooked. On photography, that is. But I quickly ran out of courses at the community college, and had a big decision to make – did I stop there, or make the leap to the university level?
On the one hand, I wanted to improve my work as a photographer and to understand more about art in general. Moreover, I could receive financial aid if I was enrolled in the BFA program. On the other hand, the BFA program was challenging, requiring courses not only in photography, but also in drawing, painting, sculpting, printmaking, and other media in which I had neither experience nor, I thought, talent or ability.
Fortunately, I had by that time learned about overcoming obstacles by hard work and tenacity. I’d started martial arts training in my late 30s and had earned advanced rank in Tae Kwon Do as well as black belts in Arnis and Tang Soo Do. Each of those journeys required me to face new fears and overcome new challenges. Most astonishingly, I learned that in the fine arts as in the martial arts, the student who works hard and puts in the time and effort can achieve greater results than the one who may have more inborn talent but who simply coasts along.
I earned my BFA in May, 2019. I can’t wait until I can return to the classroom to pick up where I left off. The journey always continues.
Active Bystander Training: Can we apply it within the dojo?
by Nina Thompson
My first AWMAI conference left me stunned with all the talent and camaraderie in our martial arts community. The panel discussion around race—Opening the Discussion on Power Dynamics, with Race and Rank—was very well done and I am very thankful for all the participants.
At one point, it was asked what a person would do if there was something said by an instructor that was racist. It was a very hard question for the panel. Therein lies one of the dilemmas in having hierarchical systems. And if we think of interrupting racism as a form of intervention—when and how is it okay to interrupt/intervene with someone in the dojo, especially a “superior” or Sensei?
There are many ways to address issues of racism when they splash up. I’d like to start by offering The 5 D’s of Active Bystander Training. First I’ll talk about the 5 D’s in general, and then I’ll look at how they might be used within the dojo setting.
The 5 D’s are an approach to teaching students to stay safe and interrupt racism (or other forms of violence). I’ve made a point of teaching this ever since one of my students tried to interrupt an older, smaller person from getting his backpack stolen by gang members near a bus stop. He ended up with a concussion, and trouble with the neighborhood gang. It was a noble effort, but there are ways to get involved that don’t put us at physical risk. Hence, the 5 D’s.
Here’s an outline of the 5 D’s viewed in the context of interrupting racism:
As martial artists we are trained and capable of escalating a situation, but perhaps not always trained enough on de-escalating situations. In teaching the 5 D skills to our students, some of whom are just stepping into their own power, we can perhaps change that trend. In addition, if we can successfully learn to call people in, as opposed to calling them out, we will inevitably bring our communities together. We as a society need to practice calling people in, and one way to do that is to have firm boundaries—and be visible in maintaining those boundaries. When our boundaries are crossed, we must remember there is a difference between anger and aggression. When boundaries are violated, especially those tied to our values about how other human beings should be treated, we tend to feel angry. But we can be angry without being aggressive (just as, being martial artists, we understand we can be aggressive without being angry).
So, how do the D’s apply in a hierarchical dojo? I think there are many situations where we can simply be Direct, and call people in with a three-part statement. Many of us teach this in self-defense, and the same applies in a case, say, where a training partner says something racist or untoward:
Of course, it’s one thing if this can be said quietly to a partner or assistant during class, and another if the offender was a revered Sensei in front of everyone. Maybe in front of the whole class is not the time to call out the Sensei on his un-woke comment—and that’s where Delay comes in. Perhaps after class, at a dinner, or in private. But sometimes even a delayed, private discussion seems too difficult, given the power dynamics. What then?
I think as martial artists we need to look at the structures in our schools. We are all human, we all make mistakes, and we need to structure our schools in a fashion that can absorb and deal with those mistakes. I train in shotokan, and training in a Japanese style that is arguably traditional, we’ve held onto the tradition of sempai. The sempai role is very important in a dojo environment. The sempai, or senior-ranked student, helps keep the class disciplined, helps new students learn where and when to do what, and also acts as a buffer between the class and the instructor. In my style, if the instructor says something racist or un-woke, the sempai may step in during class, or after, to redirect or rephrase what the sensei said. In addition, a student who experienced something during class but didn’t feel they could approach the Sensei about it, as in the above example, could instead approach the sempai (i.e., Delegate).
In starting my own school I’ve kept the sempai tradition. I’ve heard of other schools having different ways to communicate and address concerns, such as holding community meetings. I’m very interested in how other schools address these issues, but in any case, the problem has to be addressed intentionally. There must be a clear way in which feedback can be given to—and willingly received by—a school’s leadership.
I would love to hear what you are doing in your schools to teach students, particularly young students, to interrupt racism. I hope to read more here!
Nina Thompson practices Shotokan karate and co- leads Jinkaku Karate Group in Portland.
Why only 4 D's? I purposely leave out #5, and ask my students
to come up with it. -N. Thompson