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Martial Arts & Anti-Racist Practice: Interwoven Transformative Journeys

A Note From Your PAWMA Board


L to R: Sifu Aminta Steinbach, Emmy DeFigueiredo, Sifu Amalia Sanchez, Jaydra Perfetti, Sensei Sam Taitel, Deepa Iyer, Sifu Serian Strauss, and Shifu Sally Chang

Planning our online camp was well underway by the summer of 2020, where we found ourselves amidst national and global uprisings against police violence and anti-Black racism. We had a valuable opportunity, given the ripeness of the moment, to build on the beautiful foundation laid by past boards and membership to put a spotlight on racial justice in a new way. As martial artists, we have a powerful toolbox to draw from. It was time to take a leap into how our community engaged with anti-racism during the short but precious time we were all together at camp.

We decided to expand the camp schedule by adding another dedicated session  where racial justice would not compete with other amazing classes. We wanted to lift up voices within our community and hear from a range of people about how they are working for racial justice in their own communities, both martial arts and otherwise.

The panel discussion we curated, “Activating Our Communities: Martial Arts & Anti-racist Practice,” was designed to engage our community in a conversation about how our training practices intersect with anti-racism work. Panelists were asked to reflect on the ways in which their own martial arts practices both inform and are informed by their work for racial justice.

We offer deep bows of gratitude to our panelists and moderator: Shifu Sally Chang, Deepa Iyer, Jaydra Perfetti, Sifu Amalia Sanchez, Sifu Aminta Steinbach, Sifu Serian Strauss, and Sensei Sam Taitel. We are humbled by each of these fierce warriors and their willingness to share expertise, vulnerability, wisdom, and powerful insights from their own unique perspectives. They engaged with each other beautifully. The synergy the group generated seemed to open up some much needed space within our organization and training communities for these conversations. We are so grateful to each of you for your brave and heart-filled leadership.

As panel moderator Sifu Aminta affirmed in her introduction, the panel itself was merely a jumping off point. “I won’t be tying a bow around anything,” she shared. “I'll be inviting us all to continue asking questions, continue having a conversation, continue the discussion. So we won’t really end here today.” We know that the conversation was juicy, and is always unfinished.

In that spirit, we invite you to watch the recording of the panel with your school or training community, and to continue the conversation using the thoughts it generates as just the beginning. Below, we offer some questions for discussion to guide your conversations, and of course invite you to tweak them as necessary and add your own. And feel free to return to Sifu Aminta’s introduction to the panel as a framing for your conversation as well:

“We are coming here with the understanding that we all have something very important in common: we’re all martial arts practitioners… And while we may relate to that in different ways… most of us seem to interact with our martial arts practice [as] a transformational practice. It isn’t a one-and-done or something you check off in a box. Rather, it’s a journey, it is always a becoming, it is always an evolution… Becoming anti-racist in our practice is very similar to that. There is no final destination, nothing that can be checked off in a box, no one-and-done, no certification. In the end, it really is about making some sort of a lifelong commitment internally, that may be reflected externally in lots of different ways.”

Conversation Questions

  1. What stood out to you during the panel discussion? What are you still marinating on?

  2. What is something you heard that made you question something about yourself or your own beliefs?

  3. Where are your own growing edges in your anti-racist journey? Where do you think you personally need to be putting your attention and energy?

  4. How does anti-Black racism show up in your training community? What are you doing to address it? How is your school working to support BIPOC and POC students and leadership? How could your school take its work for racial justice to the next level?

  5. Who are the elders, mentors, and ancestors who have paved the path for you to continue this work? (If you don’t know, who can you ask to learn more about them?)

  6. What do you see as the potential of martial arts in working towards a more just world? What do you hope our presence can be in our current political context? What do we as martial artists have to leverage as we show up in work for transformation?

We are humbled to have gotten the opportunity to build with each of you in the long journey of our collective work for racial justice, and grateful that, based on the feedback we received, you are eager for more! Please do let us know what comes up in conversation after watching the panel, and what your training community is doing to grow its anti-racist practices.

Just as Sifu Aminta asked our panelists to close out the panel with a salute however they offer it in their own art, we salute each of you here as well. We honor and respect each of our community members, many of whom have been fighting this fight for decades. We recognize that, like our training practices, our anti-racist practices are also transformative journeys. May they continue interwoven with each other, both on and off the training floor.

Further Reflections

This was our first year doing a session like this, and it was clear from the feedback that it was an incredibly meaningful experience for attendees. Here are a few things folks shared:

“The panel was outstanding! It was incredibly thought provoking and inspiring to hear panelists experiences, perspectives, ideas, and struggles. Let's keep these conversations going!”

“Loved, loved, loved, the panel. It was such an honor to listen to the discussion -- my one feedback would be to give it more time!”

“It was really, really inspiring, as a person of color, to hear the thoughts of other POC who were training and thinking hard about how to make their training relevant to their anti-racism path.”

May we each recognize the giant’s shoulders we stand on as we continue to build together in our work to move PAWMA -- and all of our communities -- towards deeper opportunities for action and justice. Thank you for digging in with us, our dear community!

We would love to learn what you and your schools are doing to continue and contribute to the BLM and racial justice work. Please write us at newsletter@pawma.org.




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