Koré Grate, left, and Patty O'Linger.
The very first camp happened organically in 1978 at Camp Minaluta in the Nevada Hills of California. Sensei Betty Braver, Sifu Michelle Dwyer, Sifu Janet Seaforth, Sensei Jamie Zimron, Sensei Val Rameriz, Sifu Coleen Gragen, and a few more amazing women wanted to train together so they organized a weekend.
Three years later, in 1981, this gathering was given a name, and I attended the “Women Martial Artists Camp”. Camp Minaluta was established for the Sacramento Camp Fire Girls in 1928 — and it was a perfect fit for our group; rustic, natural, with outdoor training among majestic redwood and pine trees scenting the clean, crisp air. We slept in our sleeping bags on the ground in a circle, some used the three sided bunk houses that had low beds with metal springs (the ground was softer!). The main building was made of logs, had a huge open fireplace, 20 foot ceilings, ancient hardwood floors and served as our cafeteria with the kitchen in the back. It was also the site of the registration area, our only indoor training for classes and our demonstration. The bathrooms were outhouses, and the showers were ice cold, unless it was really hot that day, then the sun would warm the water a tiny bit. Back then, Karate folks only attended Karate class, Chinese stylists-only Chinese style class, mat artists-only on the mat etc. People in a mat class would ask me, “Didn’t I just see you in the Kicking Class?” From a traditional standpoint, one should stay in one's lane. I broke the rules and found someone I could relate to in Professor (then Sifu) Coleen Gragen. Professor Col was the one teacher that seemed closest to my style — a fighting style composed of multi traditional arts — with kicking, punching, throwing and falling. From the first day I saw her in the distance walking on a higher path, I knew she was someone special. Kudos to all of you who cross-train now!
The first teachers were ALL amazing and skilled in their arts in a time when women were not welcomed and honored in martial arts. At that time martial arts was a predominately male arena. Those advanced women had to truly fight for their black belts. Women at that time were not usually nurtured and supported, and there are many stories of young males being promoted over women who had trained much, much longer. (Yes, I know this still happens, and micro aggressions are real…). The dojos and schools typically did NOT have a place women could change into their uniforms — the bathroom served as their dressing room. So you can imagine how this all women’s martial camp was not only a treat, it was a movement.
We gained confidence, we felt supported, we got stronger, and took home the knowledge that we were not alone. We had to keep doing this gathering! The next year we created the name, and formed the first board of directors, later acquiring non-profit status.
We didn’t take a lot of pictures back then, and if we did it took a week to have them processed and printed on photo paper by Kodak kiosks, so I am recalling from my own precious memories. I am sure the small but mighty first attendees may be able to share their memories, and I encourage you to always ask the Elders for their stories.
The first PAWMA Board members were: Terri Giamartino (as President), Laurie Chan (as Vice President), Peggy Gordon, Valeria Ramirez, Robin Rosario, Joanne Strang and myself. We were all intermediate level artists, (not black belts) but had the heart to make this happen year after year starting in 1982. And….drum roll….. LOOK AT US NOW! I am so impressed with how PAWMA is evolving! From making sure we gathered every year to starting the Women of Color lunch so WOC felt safe and welcomed, to the very first White Ally lunch this year, to talk about how we can be better allies for Women of Color. Social justice in action; using our martial arts skills, our voices, our passion and connections to truly make a change during a time where it seems hopeless. Aligning with the PAWMA Mission Statement: “Dedicated to promoting women and girls in the martial arts by providing education, role models, and recognition of excellence” We continue to support, celebrate and mentor. We leave camp with more energy to continue the important work for a higher ground for all people. For the Elders to feel honored for their continued work, for the youth to have great role models and believe in themselves, and for everyone to know WE ARE FAMILY, and WE HAVE EACH OTHERS BACKS and can help change the future.
So for all of that history, continuation, and social justice work we are doing — know you are part of it all, and how important it is for all of us to KEEP COMING BACK to CAMP!
Maria Doest, Karlon Kepke, unknown, practicing Capoeira at camp.
Maori women at Camp Elphinstone on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, 2001.
Hand to Hand Kajukenbo demo, led by Sigung Coleen Gragen (front); right: Sifu Jen Resnick.
Aikido class. Kayla Feder and unknown, Terri Giamartino, and Nancy Lanoue.
Miyako Tanaka Sensei, teaching Naginata.
Fukuda Keiko Shihan, addressing campers in Hawaii.
Shifu/Sensei Koré Grate, demonstrating a double sword form.