Community Spotlight: Valley Women’s Martial Arts & Lotus Peace Arts
There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
out of which blooms the unshatterable…
One crisp autumn evening in 1977, leaves swirling around our feet, a college friend and I entered the unfinished basement of a department store in downtown Northampton to attend a women’s karate demonstration. Sitting in a gray metal folding chair, I watched the teacher and several students perform bold moves, shouting and shining and breathing into the shadows. Women in the martial arts were just beginning to become more visible at that time. I had never seen such action before.
Decades have not dimmed the memory; in a single flash it was clear that the next phase of my life had begun. My spirit woke up more deeply that evening to a timeless and familiar sense. The young woman I was, facing fear and determined to grow, recognized the intrinsic wholeness in shards of uncertainty. Kara – Open. Te – Hand. I held out my palms to discover the lotus, unbroken and unshatterable, already in bloom.
The gem of this moment continues to evolve. As Fate unrolled her changeable path, I chose, heart and eyes open, to become a founding member, then a leader of Valley Women’s Martial Arts (VWMA). As my practice and teaching revealed layer after layer of challenges and gifts, I created Lotus Peace Arts (LPA), a web of community programs for participants from all walks of life. Forty years and onward, joy in this work sustains me as I share what I learn.
Begun in 1977, VWMA is a collaboratively led nonprofit membership organization that includes LPA. Located since 1984 at One Cottage Street, the gateway to Easthampton’s Cultural District, we celebrate the Three Jewels: Community, Education, Transformation. Our certified teaching team of experienced practitioners offers instruction in Shuri-ryu Karate, Filipino Modern Arnis, Taiji Qigong, women’s and LGBTQ+ empowerment self-protection (ESP), poetry and spoken word, Power Girls, Karate Peacemakers for children and families, Labyrinth Through Fear: A Gift Event TM , and a variety of other integrative arts activities. The following excerpts from younger Dojo members’ writing are reflective of the school’s core values.
Isabelle Cassavant, Power Girl:
The Tao keeps me rooted and I embrace the confidence. I honor the kind energy for generations to come. Just being present on earth and in the universe is a gift. Stick up for your rights, sing out and let the true crane, snake, tiger, leopard and dragon burst forth from inside you. I believe in myself.
Alexandria Cassavant, Power Girl:
As I go back to my crane,
all the power that I made
building up and releasing itself,
the power is still inside me,
from my center and in my heart,
running through my soul.
Dana Hanson, Power Girl alum:
I’ve been witness to countless other black belt celebrations, but now that mine is here, it feels like a transition: from follower to leader; from student to teacher; but most importantly, a transition from child to adult. It marks an accomplishment that I’ve been working towards my whole life.
In learning, sharing and teaching movement and poetic arts that are deeply rooted in centuries past, as well as fully alive and constantly shifting in the present, I become more aware of the ways that time and space spiral. Being on an artist path has led me around the world and shown me more clearly home at the same time. The following excerpt from “Enter This Space” by María Luisa Arroyo, professor, community activist, and former poet laureate of Springfield, MA, speaks to the power of this collective work:
For forty years and counting,
you’ve taught us
that it is
to touch the sky
to feel the ground
to reunite our breathing
with our bodies
to heal ourselves
with the fierce
of martial arts
take off your shoes bow at the threshold
enter this space
you – as you are I – as I am
Integrative arts education priortizes intergenerational cultural exchange and offers radical (root) tools with which to promote positive transformation. Ingrid Askew, founder and director of Crossing the Waters Cultural Exchange Institute, and I created Labyrinth Through Fear: A Gift Event™. We offered this program as a three-week intensive this past March in Langa, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. The “Triple Ripple” movement poems at the center of our “sites for revelation” are as follows:
I am because you are
You are because I am
We are all connected through spirit – Ubuntu
This fear I face
is a deeper breath I take
is the courage I share
One of the young women who participated said this about her Labyrinth experience:
I took a step towards finding myself. I truly doubt that my transformation would have happened anywhere else. This was meant to be. I feel like I can now truly say that I am an artist. I entered a space with no judgment, where I was welcomed with warmth, where I could share and listen and be heard. That is scarce in society, and I would like to create that space for others as well.
This is the dream come true: finding more access to our inner power as we learn and share everyday skills to improve the quality of life for all. I arranged the following short poem from core principles of the three movement languages that I practice and teach – Taiji Qigong, Filipino Stick Arts, and Okinawan Karate:
Follow the natural
Flow, that which comes from within.
As the lotus flowering rises
Above the mud of the river pools,
Vast, vast, vast
Is Divine Wisdom.
Breath, gesture, word – may You-I-We flourish in peace. VWMA & LPA classes are ongoing, and we invite you, whoever you are, to try out a free class at our wheelchair accessible studio in Easthampton. We offer workshops, private and semi-private lessons, special events, and performances at our Easthampton location and at venues throughout the area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more information please contact: VWMA & LPA, www.vwma.org, 413-320-3248 (cell).
UPCOMING VWMA & LPA SPECIAL EVENTS AND WORKSHOPS
LABYRINTH THROUGH FEAR: A GIFT EVENT
Facilitated by Ingrid Askew and Janet Aalfs
Truth School 3-part Workshop: Sept. 22 & 29, Oct. 6, 1-3pm, age 16+
at the Pan-African History Museum USA (PAHMUSA), Springfield
Though this workshop is FREE; participants MUST REGISTER at www.truthschool.org
Labyrinth Through Fear: A Gift Event is a workshop that offers participants the opportunity to explore fear as information, and to ask:
What am I afraid of?
What do I want?
What can I do to keep moving through?
In an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard that the group creates together, unknown gifts of the Labyrinth will reveal themselves. Through movement meditation, sensory exploration, free writing, and open-hearted sharing, participants can offer and receive practical everyday skills that are designed to transform fear and adversity into courage and hope. All are welcome, age 16+, and there are no pre-requisites for this class.
WOMEN’S AND LGBTQ+ EMPOWERMENT SELF-PROTECTION WORKSHOPS
at One Cottage St. #319, Easthampton, wheelchair accessible
Tues. 6:30-8pm, Oct. 2 & 23, Nov. 6 & 20, 2018, age 16+
Take one or more workshops. Suggested donation: $15 per workshop; $50 for the series
These workshops offer empowerment skills and safety strategies for participants of all abilities, fitness levels, and learning styles. Activities and discussions are designed to deepen and expand confidence, self-esteem, and feminist social justice awareness. Self-protection skills strengthen mind-heart-body-voice integration in areas such as limit-setting and personal boundaries, calming down, being an effective ally, dealing with a safety emergency, etc.
NWMAF Certified Instructor: Janet Aalfs, 40+ years of ESP teaching experience.
FOLLOW THE FLOW
VWMA & LPA integrative martial arts workshop for children & families
Sat. Oct. 13, 10-noon, age 6+, Free, One Cottage St. #319, Easthampton, wheelchair accessible
In this 41st anniversary Dojo celebration event, we will explore movement connections among various arts, and have fun learning movement skills that flow. We will follow principles at the core of all the arts: Follow the natural/ flow, that which comes from within./ As the lotus flowering rises/ above the mud of the river pools,/ vast, vast, vast/ Is Divine Wisdom.
Shinshii Janet Aalfs is founder and director of Lotus Peace Arts at Valley Women’s Martial Arts in Easthampton, MA, a non-profit community school since 1977. Poet laureate emeritus of Northampton, master instructor of Karate (7th degree black belt), Arnis (6th degree black belt), and Taijichuan (Jian Mei branch), community activist, and integrative arts educator, she has been teaching and performing weavings of martial arts, dance, poetry and spoken word locally, nationally, and internationally for 40+ years. She received the 2013 Leadership and Advocacy in the Arts Award from the Center for Women and Community, UMass/ Amherst, and the 2016 Founders Award from the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation. She was inducted into the Modern Arnis Black Belt Hall of Fame, 2013, and received a Pioneer Award. Her poems and essays have been published widely in journals, anthologies, and online. One of her chapbooks, Lubec Tides, was a finalist in the Bright Hill Literary Center poetry contest. Her full-length books include Reach (Perugia) and Bird of a Thousand Eyes (Levellers).