About the Head Instructors
As experienced instructors, your growth and development is our top priority. Learn to protect yourself and the people you love. Smile more, laugh louder. Become the best version of YOU. Do things you never thought you could, and then shout, “I can’t believe I just did that!” Step onto your path and become a warrior of peace.
My journey into martial arts began in my mid 20s. After kicking a few addictions that had held a tight grip on me for far too long, I remained lost in my ways. In search of a plan to get my life on track, I decided to explore martial arts. I needed structure, but I also wanted an experience that would make my heart sing.
Two years later, and after searching the entire continent, I discovered Poekoelan. With its authentic and fierce fighting tradition, rich commitment to compassionate balanced action, and culture of valuing all people, men and women as both students and teachers, I felt right at home.
Sure enough, my heart sang, my soul soared and I finally began to feel right in my own skin.
From my first sweaty class, I flipped big guys over my back, kicked pads with a strength I didn’t know I possessed and yes, I started to believe in myself.
I thought, “If only I can stick with this thing for three months, I’ll know I can keep a commitment.” And here I am, 30+ years later, on a journey that has led me to places I never even imagined.
From the beginning holds, I learned body mechanics and gained muscle memory to defend myself against attackers who are bigger than I. Through practicing forms, I learned precision and the importance of breath control. While fighting, I learned that I can hold my own with a fierceness that no one can take away.
Silvia has warmth and quiet energy. She holds the space for lots of energy but it’s never chaotic. Everyone is excited but focused. She is the heart. Everybody loves her. You can’t build community without a heart and she is that heart.
From my long two- and three-day tests, I discovered that when I feel I have nothing left, I can call on reserves and resources I didn’t know were there. Untold hours of meditation have helped me find the clarity, peace and focus that come from a quiet mind.
By virtue of countless thousands of hours of teaching, I know that the most meaningful gifts come when we give of ourselves to others. With every thread of my being, I have learned that standing in my own power allows me to open up my heart, to be fully present in the moment and to be fearlessly, unequivocally exactly who I am.
As the co-owner of Naga, I have the pleasure of sharing my journey and love of martial arts and self defense with my beloved husband Jeff Denson. His story is down below.
Jeff and I met in the late 80s while training in Poekoelan. Now married for 22 years with two fabulous kids, we are proud to be part of the Naga community that was born out of our love for this beautiful and multifaceted martial art.
When our kids were really tiny, we moved to be closer to Jeff’s work which meant there was no Poekoelan school nearby. Nonetheless, between both our full time jobs, schlepping the kids back and forth, and logging endless amounts of drive time, we kept up rigorous training and teaching schedules. At some point, we looked at one another and thought, “there must be another way to do this!”
About that same time, a wise old woman said to me, “Your calling is where your deepest joy meets a need.” Like a bolt of lightning, I knew I wanted to spend my life doing exactly what I am doing today; training and teaching Poekoelan, empowering people through self-defense and building a community of people who love and support one another.
From that moment of inspiration, it took us years of teaching at the Garden Home Rec Center, renting space in a dance school, and lugging around unending heaps of equipment before we finally settled on a home for our school.
Since that time, and with every spare ounce of our love and dedication, our Naga community has grown and thrived. We do this because we love it. Every day at some point, I say to myself, “I am the luckiest woman in the world!” And I’ll be even luckier when I get to meet you! I look forward to seeing you on the mat!
Silvia’s Street Creds
Sixth degree Black Belt – over three decades of teaching and training
Master’s Degree in Education with a focus on special needs
Self Defense Teacher Certification Program
FBI Portland CAAA Executive Board: Family, Safety, Community
Instructor at PAWMA (Pacific Area Women’s Martial Artists) Camp, 2019
Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors Hall of Fame 2020
Silvia is loving, caring, nurturing, kind, compassionate beyond belief, and with a high level of skill. She meets each student where they are and gives individual instruction better than anyone I’ve ever seen. No student is ever left behind. Everyone is seen.
Silvia is an amazing teacher, so kind and patient with everyone. She is one of the most genuine and caring people I know!
I was a long shot to even learn a martial art. As a teenager, I played golf and never had a single physical fight. My claim to fame was winning best smile in high school.
When I took my first Poekoelan class at Lewis and Clark college I didn’t even think it was a martial art. The vibe was so different than my stereotype. I grew up on Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
My first goal was to attend the twice weekly class. A modest goal indeed but for a 21-year-old going on 16, I had to apply myself.
Luckily, I found a martial art that allowed me to learn self-defense and a lot about myself in the process! Initially my objectives were learning how to defend myself and increasing my personal discipline. The best surprise was being forced to grow emotionally and to explore a spiritual path.
Though I had a religious upbringing, I hadn’t yet had a spiritual awakening. In Poekoelan what I see as spiritual is hard to express. For certain, my spiritual life is connected to the physical one.
So much of martial arts is physical and needs to be. We learn how to hold ourselves, to breathe calmly, and strike with proper alignment. The spiritual journey begins as we learn the limits of the physical abilities we possess. Once you hit the physical walls because you are tired and spent, you are forced to find another way.
I have learned to develop my mental and emotional attributes. In Poekoelan we engage in a lot of physical contact. We are thrown to the ground, and physically challenged over and over again in both fighting and self-defense. In the face of these challenges, I learned to stay calm and move quickly. Essentially, I had to grow emotionally to keep my anger, frustration, and self-doubt from boiling over.
Mental growth is akin to being cool under pressure and seeing self-defense as a chess game. “Smarter not harder” and “less is more” are key mottos in our art. It is easy to believe muscle and aggression will protect you, but we know better! The physical training is critical, but the emotional, mental, and spiritual training are equally important parts in my Poekoelan journey.
One thing is for sure, I wasn’t born knowing martial arts. Teaching what I was taught and continuing to explore movement in my own training, I continue to learn about the art and myself, and I am so grateful.
As an older person, I appreciate it when Jeff takes time to provide feedback on healing, stretching or modifies a move for me. I’m not certain every person running a martial arts school would do that.
Jeff knows details and he really knows his stuff. That draws me to him. There is no doubt that he knows his stuff. You feel you are in capable hands with him.
I appreciate Jeff’s dedication to the precision and strength of the craft. He expects students to do their best.
The transition from student to school owner was very slow. My wife, Silvia Smart, and I partnered early on to start a school. She started the first class at a community center in SW Portland. We then worked together to bring more classes, which led us to renting a small room, and now, to a long-term lease in the heart of Beaverton.
Silvia continues to oversee the operations, finances, sales, and marketing. I am blessed and honored to be co-head instructors at our school.
Our art has a long history and we are grateful for all the teachers and teammates that helped us and continue to support our mission of teaching Poekoelan.
The style we learned is not common in the US. With that said, the founder Willy Wetzel, integrated the arts of Judo, Kendo, and Chuan-Fa so that our foundation is similar to what you might see at other martial schools.
For sure, the Indonesian cultural uniqueness of Poekoelan is obvious to everyone who watches. You just can’t put us in a box. Before and at the end of every class we bow to express our respect for the teachers who came before us.
Jeff’s Street Creds
Sixth degree Black Belt – over three decades of teaching and training
20 years leading people and driving success in the tumultuous property management industry
Jeff is an outstanding teacher. He is Disciplined and patient and doesn’t miss anything. He’s firm and asks for the students’ best and calls attention to things that need to change. He’s very clear and precise. He almost always does his corrections with a smile. Often with affection. But he doesn’t let anyone off the hook either. These are all attributes of a great guy.