On Making My Martial Arts School a “Safe Space”

A rainbow of boxing wraps at VWMAA

A rainbow of boxing wraps at VWMAA

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “safe spaces”. Between constant articles about coddled university students who want to be protected at all costs from the real world, a recent blowup in the online HEMA community about letting Neo-Nazis air their views in martial arts forums, and the needs I’ve seen brought up in my local community in the wake of a disastrous Women’s Self-Defense news segment, there’s been ample opportunity to reflect on how we’ve chosen to mold our own space at Valkyrie WMAA.

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Fighting Fear

At Valkyrie we make it no secret that we’re owned and run by women. We constantly, actively recruit women as students. When the subject of women, fear, and martial arts comes up in conversation, it’s common to assume that you’re going to be talking about fear of being hit, hurt, or injured. Bzzt. Wrong. Thank you for playing. It’s not to say that the fear doesn’t exist, because it does. In my experience, though, it’s something that we’ve prepared ourselves for ahead of time. When you go to a martial arts class you know that at some point you will be punched in the face. You begin to deal with that before you even walk in the door on your first day. It’s just one small piece of the normal flurry of emotions that come with trying a new thing. The problem. The fear that takes you by surprise the…

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A Change is Gonna Come

Valkyrie is now open. It took us years to put in the base work, and six months of headaches, tension and bureaucratic fighting to get the doors open, but here we are. Grand opening was a success, lots of people showed up to support us and there was fighting til nighttime, followed by friendship and beverages. Now we are into the business of being a school. I was asked recently what my philosophy of martial arts was. It was an interesting question, as I’d spent a lot of time leading up to the opening writing about what the school offered people. That’s not the same thing, though. I’ve also written here before about what drove me to start martial arts training, and how my motivations have changed over time.  It’s still not what I would call my philosophy. I had an old student show up last week. She was in…

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Full Time

For the second time in my life, I’m going to be a full-time martial arts teacher. It’s a privilege and a responsibility, and not a thing to be taken lightly. Much has changed in me since my first go around. I’m older and more broken, but I’ve learned so much in the intervening time. There are teachers who think running a school as a business is a way of watering down your art. The valid point they make is that to make money, you have to water down your art. That’s valid in some ways, but it doesn’t consider all the aspects of running a professional martial arts school. For sure, full-contact boxing, wrestling and swordplay out of the gate is going to make a lot of people stick their head in the door, turn right around and walk away and never come back. Most people will walk away. Hell,…

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Ability-Ranked Sparring

Now that Valkyrie has been around for a while, we are starting to see a few things in our method that don’t scale as well as we might of thought. Mostly these are the result of making assumptions. When you start small and grow, you get used to the easy pace of new fighters coming in and getting assimilated into the gestalt of things. When you start to get lots of new people showing up, with different expectations, skill levels, and background things can get confusing. Sparring is one of those areas where things can get weird, and not safe for people. We’ve had a hiccup or two around this recently, and it spurred some good conversation. It also got me thinking about some of my ideas for ranking systems. Generally I’m not a fan of ranking. The problem I’ve found in most martial arts is that the skills learned…

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Assembly

Been sick for over a week. Missed a lot of work, which is going to suck when the next payday arrives. But at least I’ve managed to catchup on my rest and recharge time, which means writing is back to being a nice and easy thing. Being sick last night, I had to rely on the head Valkyries (Squeak and She-Hulk) to help out with the teaching. It didn’t work out the way I expected, but it did work out the way I had planned. We’ve been working through a lot of Maija’s drills lately. They’ve been very valuable to us, and each session keeps revealing new depths that work with our system quite well. The usual process is that I demonstrate the drill, talk about the focus of it for today, and then everyone practices while I watch and correct. If the numbers work out, then I am lucky…

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