The symbol of the art that I train, Poekoelan, is a rose. We are told that each of us is unique and beautiful, but if you grab us, we have thorns. I’ve always loved this imagery. There are the sweet little buds holding infinite hope and promise, the young blossoms unfurling in the sun, rain, and wind, and the seasoned flowers standing tall and elegant and strong.
What I found at the AWMAI 2020 conference in Tampa was a whole garden full of exquisite roses! With the 2021 conference fast approaching, I’m in a reflective mood.
In many ways, I felt like a late bloomer; arriving late to the party, late to the dance, late to class. I’ve been training Poekoelan since 1987 but hadn’t heard of AWMAI till the summer of 2019 at PAWMA when Sifu Melanie Fine invited me to participate.
My teachers had never encouraged setting foot outside our art so I “grew up” isolated from outside relationships and connections. Mine is a story of perseverance in our style despite the dysfunction, generational trauma, and dubious ethics and values. One day I will write more about that journey, but for now, suffice it to say, that when I landed in the AWMAI 2020 Garden of Roses, I felt astounded and deeply moved.
Training martial arts as a woman can be challenging. In my own experience, there were untold instances when men were promoted over me. I was overlooked, unseen, and disregarded time after time. The teachers’ favorites were almost always the guys. Women were often given administrative and behind-the-scenes jobs while the men got the spotlight.
Being a woman running a martial arts school can also be tough. There were years when newcomers would step into my school and assume my husband or one of my male black belts was in charge, and that I was the front desk staff. “Please tell the Head Instructor I stopped by.” There were times that students questioned my skill and talent, bowed to my husband but not to me, or dismissed me outright. When I first meet people and they ask me what I do, I tell them I run a martial arts school. Inevitably, there are still those who turn it into a joke because it makes them feel uncomfortable.
All of this has made me stronger and helped me to blossom into the rose I am today. Though I am grateful for every experience along my journey, I’d like to see these things change! The #metoo movement isn’t just in Hollywood. Martial Arts is a male-dominated field, but women are breaking that glass ceiling too.
And herein lies the magic of the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors! I found myself in the middle of a group of strong and powerful women, many of whom have experienced the same challenges as myself. I discovered a sisterhood of like-minded martial artists who love their training as much as I do. I was surrounded by others who love to teach and are committed to a fair and ethical code.
Breathing deeply at the AWMAI 2020 conference in Tampa, I felt affirmation, contentment, joy, and inspiration. This is a precious garden, a special place and moment in time. These roses have weathered many storms and emerged beautiful, graceful, strong, and magnificent. I am humbled by your leadership, awed by your friendship, and deeply grateful to have found you.