The Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors (AWMAI), our sister organization, recently added many of our PAWMA members to its hall of fame. Read below to read more.
From left: Janice Okamoto, Odette Russell, Denise Gonzales, Janet Nelson,
Hanshi Zosia Gorbaty as 9th degree Black Belt and Inheritor of Zujitsu-Ryu.
Professor Janice Okamoto* as Kudan in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu
Sigung Sonya Richardson has been training in the martial arts since 1989. She received her 3rd degree Black Belt in Kajukenbo, the Gaylord Method, under Professor Coleen Gragen in 2002 and was promoted to 7th degree Black Belt by her current teacher Grandmaster Barbara Bones in 2015. She also holds a 5th dan in Kenpo Karate under Professor Gloria Boldizar. Hand to Hand Kajukenbo Self-Defense Center in Oakland, CA, was established in 1980 by the late Professor Coleen Gragen. Sigung Sonya has served as the head instructor of Hand to Hand since 2007.
Dr. Odette Russell, also known as SiDaGoo, has a Ph.D in Health Psychology. She is an Assistant Director of Wellness and Community Affairs for a wellness clinic in Atlanta. On January 23, 2019, she was promoted to 9th Degree black belt and made the inheritor to the SWAM Martial Arts System. She has received multiple accomplishment awards which include Women of the Year for 2016 & 2017, Grandmaster Contribution & Life Achievements 2016, AMAA Who’s Who in the Martial Arts Hall of Fame 2017, Grandmaster of the Year 2017, Distinguished Lifetime Leadership 2018, and Inspirational Martial Arts Example 2018. On July 24, 2018 she was inducted to the exclusive World Headmasters & Sokeship Council
Hanshi Zosia Gorbaty served as the Executive Director of AWMAI from 2009 to 2014, and the Chair of the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation from 2002 to 2004. She has been a trainer at numerous national and international events for AWMAI, PAWMA, NWMAF, Camp Danzan Ryu, Camp Suigetsu, Jujitsu America, Atlanta's People in Progress, Power Kix MA, Mejishi Dojo, the Friendship Exchange Tour in China, and El Halev in Israel. She is a recipient of the World Head of Family Sokeship Council Silver Life Achievement Award, Masters Hall of Fame, and 30+ Year AWMAI Hall of Fame. In 2015, Hanshi Gorbaty was awarded 9th Dan, and declared Co-Inheritor of Zujitsu-Ryu with Hanshi Benitez
Sifu Debbie Leung started her martial arts practice in 1978 with Shito-ryu karate. In 1981, her training began in Northern Shaolin kung-fu in Olympia, WA Sifu Debbie has been teaching since 1979 in the Olympia, WA area and beyond. She edited the PAWMA News for ten years and also taught at two previous AWMAI conferences. Her school, Chinese Healing & Movement Arts, is an official branch of Jian Mei Internal Martial Arts established by Master Wen Mei Yu.
In 1974, Sensei Nelson attended the University of Florida in Gainesville and began training in the Cuong Nhu Karate Intramural Club. She developed continuing education courses for the State of Kansas and continues to teach women's community courses in Gainsville FL.
Professor Okamoto is a senior student of the late Professor Wally Jay and holds the rank of Kudan in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, Shichidan in Small Circle Jujitsu, and Nidan in Kodokan Judo. She was awarded her Kaidensho (teaching license) in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu with the title of Hanshi. She received her Seifukujitsu (Japanese restoration therapy) training and certification in 1988. She received the Master of Massage certificate from Jujitsu America. Professor Okamoto is the chief instructor at the Alameda Judo/Jujitsu Club in Alameda, CA. and serves as the executive director of the Alameda HS Jujitsu Alumni, Inc.
Professor Gonzales has been actively practicing martial arts since 1964. She started her training in Judo, Dan Zan Ryu Jujitsu and Small Circle Jujitsu under Professor Wally Jay and Professor Lee Eichelberger at Island Judo & Jujitsu Club in Alameda and studied Brazilian Jujitsu under Sensei Casio Wernick and Krav Maga under Sifu McMahon. She is ranked Godan in Judo, Rokudan in Dan Zan Ryu Jujitsu, Rokudan in Small Circle Jujitsu Rank, 3rd Level in Krav Maga and was inducted in 1974 into the Island Judo & Jujitsu Hall of Fame. She was recently inducted into the WHFSC Masters by the World Head Family Sokeship Counsel.
Professor Sheryl Hager, Shichidan, has been a student of Danzan Ryu for 52 years. She was awarded her black belt at the age of 17. In 2012, Prof Hager was awarded the rank of 7th degree black belt. She is a Certified Massage Therapist in Danzan Ryu Restorative Therapy and has served as an assistant instructor in the American Judo & Jujitsu Federation (AJJF) Massage Program. Currently, she is a member of the AJJF Board of Professors and serves as the Secretary and Co- Administrator of Internal Relations. She teaches jujitsu in seminars nationwide and has also taught empowering seminars in women’s awareness and defense through Kaiser Permanente and WEAVE in the Sacramento area