Hard and Soft, Working Together, Become Complete
Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists

Uniting and empowering a diverse community
of women and girls in the martial arts.

Happy (First Time) Camper

MB Austin

MB Austin Photo courtesy of MB Austin.

A Trunk Full of Baggage

As soon as I learned of PAWMA camp, I did some online research. Would I feel welcome? What about campers with different backgrounds and identities? Would it be a good space for all of us?

Everything I saw looked positive. And then the class listings and instructor bios lit my hair on fire. Did I really get to play with the big kids?! I packed for every contingency: Aikido gi, judo gi, MMA gloves, borrowed shin guards, running shoes, sweats. Raincoat, sunscreen, flashlight, bedding, PJs for bunking with strangers, snacks, first aid kit... Ready for camp or maybe the Zombie Apocalypse.

But was there room in Prius for my personal baggage? Sure, I write about a martial artist. But that doesn’t make me one. Do those early years in judo? The one in Aikido? The karate or krav maga intros? What about those two years as an anti-violence volunteer with Guardian Angels/ Q-Safety Patrol? Or the boot camp fitness classes with MMA and kung fu coaches, that got me so hooked on striking that I bought my own BoB? Is it the dojo time that counts? The belt rank? I knew beginners were welcome at camp – but what about a perpetual beginner?

And then there was my secret mission. My first published novel included a self-defense camp and centers on women using their skills to keeps other safe. What relevance would this fiction have to the real-life senseis/sifus/coaches and students? I didn’t plan to market a work that wasn’t even on the shelves yet; but should I cop to being at camp not just to learn but also to observe, get ideas, take notes?

All the Things, Unpacked

From the moment I arrived, the palpable sense of joy was contagious. One opening speaker talked about how those who would threaten us want our fear, our anger. They do not want us to feel joy; so that must form the heart of our resistance. And a few days together, catching up with old friends or making new ones, insulated from the outside world and pouring support into one another, showed what that could feel like. (“Justice! Peace! Unity!”)

The joy of learning together came home with me, along with other gifts. Classes let me sample ideas and techniques that resonated with my personal interests (reasonable force, street applications, soft-hard blending) and reflect on what I needed to seek next in my ongoing training. And although the common icebreaker questions (What’s your training in/ main style/ home dojo?) were uncomfortable for me, the conversations helped me clarify what I want in my training, and where I might find it after camp.

Partnering with students at different levels of training and from an eclectic range of styles was enlightening. Not everyone kiais, or takes falls, or executes throws, or uses striking, or does mat work. But everyone is diligent in their practice. And the differences I observed between beginners in any one discipline and the seasoned practitioners wasn’t just skill level. It was the ability to put aside the frustration from being bad at something new and focus. The black belts’ strong foundations of transferrable skills, self-knowledge/ respect, and persistence really showed in how game they were to try out anything new a peer or instructor offered. A great humility shone from that confidence, along with marvelous smiles.

Finally, it was a remarkable gift to briefly immerse myself in a world even cooler than I could make up. Fiction lets me invent people (like Maji Rios) who reflect what I see in the world today, and what I wish I could see. At camp, I found myself surrounded by Maji and her friends in the flesh. So many strong, funny, smart, caring and courageous campers with a variety of body types and sizes, ages, personalities, backgrounds, and intersectional identities. Within that diversity, I found a place for me. By the end of camp, I was determined to make that part of my life more real, in the dojo and beyond.

After the After-Party

A heady few months followed camp, full of book promotions and growing into this odd new role of author. In the quiet moments, I shared camp photos on Facebook, made connections there with other campers, and tracked down Seattle’s Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu community.

In January I stepped onto the mat again, once more a white belt. Do I get frustrated with myself? Sure. But I’m training with the gifts from camp tucked into my belt, honoring the insight and experiences I bring while building the muscle memory needed for new techniques and new ways of doing familiar ones (Oh, the ukemi! That’s how we roll...). My bags are lighter now; and the joy is palpable.

MB Austin’s first two thrillers, Strictly Need to Know and Running Off Radar are available now, and the third is underway. All feature Maji Rios, a multicultural, multilingual black belt who works in covert ops for the US Army. Clearly not autobiographical, they are inspired by real people. For more, visit mbaustin.me.

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