Volume VII

Summer 2024



and Support


The next Teachers' Lounge is

Sunday, August 18.

1 pm Pacific

2 pm Mountain

3 pm Central

4 pm Eastern

10 pm Central Europe

8 am Australia Central

This is a members only gathering

and AWMAI 2024 conference attendees are welcome to join this session too.

You will receive a Zoom link two days

before we gather.


Thank you for your service since 2018.

Welcome to the AWMAI Board, Amelia!

Photo:  AWMAI 2024 Board of Directors, left to right;

Parnee Poet, Amelia Jones, Katie Murphy Stevens, Melanie Fine, Jennie Trower and Sarah Sponzo

Congratulations to the

AWMAI 2024 Hall of Fame Recipients!

40+ Years

Janet Aalfs
Nahid Farzinzad
Wendy Lathrop
Lisa Santi
Helen Yee

50+ Years

Sunny Graff
Jaye Spiro

60+ Years

Yu Wen Mei

Seeking Members For Our Spotlight Feature! 

  • We'd love to showcase YOU, our members and YOUR schools/businesses in our new ongoing "Member Spotlight"
  • Be highlighted on our social media pages (Instagram and Facebook)
  • Get featured in our quarterly newsletter
  • If you're interested in being in the limelight, or would like to nominate a member to be in the spotlight, please send the following to
    1. Your/Their name, title, rank [we will only use first name and last initial]
    2. Your location [if you choose to share]
    3. Your style and years of teaching/training experience
    4. Your favorite part about teaching
    5. What you find most valuable about AWMAI membership
    6. A photo that we can share publicly [headshot or action shot]
    7. Contact information in case we have questions and need to reach you [will NOT be published]

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Shihan Diane Wallander

Featured in Martial Maze

I am so honored to have been featured in the 17th edition of Deadly Art of Survival, released three months ago, and also to have been the subject of the latest edition of the Martial Maze/Modern Combatives Podcast, which was released Easter weekend. 

Watch Shihan Wallander Featured in Martial Maze

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Health and Wellness in the Martial Arts

Dr. Cheryl Rock

As a trained Nutritional Biochemist/Food Scientist, my philosophy of life is to help others experience wellness and abundance through transformation and self Mastery by "Food First Approach".  Specifically, I am honored to collaborate with my mentor and colleague SidaGoo Dr. Odette Russell in presenting on the topic of health and wellness which is deeply rooted in our ethos as health professionals as well as Martial Artists.  In this webinar/workshop, Dr. Russell and I will be providing you a wealth of strategies, unique tools and solutions (Dr. Rock's book) to acquire self -confidence and become actualized about personal strategies towards health and wellness goals which impacts all aspects of life.  We look forward to you attending our online event.  Register ASAP as seats are limited!

Here are the details:
Topic: "Health and Wellness in the Martial Arts"
Who: Everyone including those who are not Martial Artists
When: August 3rd, 4 pm EST
Where: Online via Zoom
How: Register Here

Please share this info with others you think would benefit!

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Outgoing Certification Director

Melanie Fine

It is with equal amounts of sadness and joy that I write this final entry as AWMAI Certification Director, now retired!
I have been with AWMAI since it’s inception and although the path has wandered a bit, the basic core values of the organization remain steadfast and strong.  It has been a privilege and honor serving on this board.  Thank you Koré for convincing me to step up.  Thank you Didi, Sarah, Katie and Jennie for your friendship, caring and support.

Like no other, this has been the most engaging, challenging, and rewarding board on which I have served.  Through COVID, cancer, snow storms, personal challenges and other world-changing upheavals, AWMAI board members stand by each other and support each other selflessly and without complaint.  AWMAI is about networking and the sense of cooperation and mutual aid on the board is the perfect microcosm of this.

I wish Amelia and all future board members the positive, rewarding benefits I have enjoyed in my service to this board. 

I believe Didi summed it up perfectly the need for AWMAI and reason for service to the board:

"As long as our colleagues continue encountering glass ceilings, abusive environments, patronizing instructors or classmates, or just the demeaning experience of being unseen, unheard or unacknowledged by the men standing next to them, we need AWMAI (and PAWMA and NWMAF). Whatever we may or may not have experienced in our own lives, we all need to stand up and support each other.”

Hall of Fame 2024 Speech

Wendy Lathrop

The following is the speech I wanted to give on being recognized for 40+ years in martial arts, but could not read through my tears of happiness.  Thank you for such a great honor and opportunity to express my gratitude.

The Speech that Wasn’t, April 13, 2024
In 1982, a friend and I turned thirty.  “We are so old!” we said. “Let’s find something to keep us in shape.”

Looking for something we could do together and start at the same level eliminated dancing and tennis.  But there was a karate school in our neighborhood within walking distance, so we would have no excuses about our cars not starting.  At the height of Saturday Black Belt Theater on television and the heyday of Bruce Lee, we were oblivious and knew nothing about martial arts, so we went to watch a class.

After 15 minutes we decided, “We can do this!” and signed six month contracts.  Little did we know all we had seen was warmups.  The actual classes were much more complicated, and my friend quit within a few weeks.  But my stubborn streak made me stay on to get my full six months’ worth.

Despite frustration learning the movements, I’m glad I stayed. My dancer’s roots came to the rescue by breaking each technique into smaller parts; where a hand went, how a
foot pointed.   The big dramatic moves of Tang Soo Do suited my love of flair just fine.  The hardest part was overcoming years of abuse and the resultant fears and self-doubt, especially when sparring.  That would take many years and never fully dissipate

About a year into this new world, one of the men in the nearly all-male school approached me with a copy of Valerie Eads’ “Fighting Women News”, opened to a page advertising a martial arts camp just for women. “You should go to this,” he said, “but you should ask Grandmaster Shin for permission first.”  We were in the school of the man who had brought T’ang Soo Do to the United States, and traditional formalities were important.

I shyly approached Grandmaster Shin, and he gave permission.  “But,” he said, “you must report back to me about what you have learned.”  I bowed.  “Yes, Sir, Thank you,
Sir,”  And so began the next stage of my entire life.

At that first Special Training with NWMAF in 1983, I met four women who would open my very being:  Bobbi Snyder, Nadia Telsey, Deb Cullings, and Barbara Feldman. They gave me
friendship, encouragement, freedom to be myself. In time, many more would enter my life, shining brightly to help me open up to the world around me and free the innermost
reaches of my heart.

I am here today, 42 years after that first tentative entry into the world of martial arts, because of so many women - more than I can name, some of them here today - who have helped me become more myself. Today is a celebration of their successes, their examples, their love and friendship. I thank all of them – and all of you - for being who you are.

Executive Director

Jennie Trower

Greetings, everyone!  However you spend your summer, I hope it’s filled with good times and good company. 

It’s been three months since we were together at the AWMAI Teaching the Teacher Conference in Columbus.  The board and I are still riding the wave of positivity from a fantastic event and reading all the feedback from the surveys.  Thank you for taking the time to complete those!  To all the attendees and instructors, thank you again.  You made it great.

The conference forged new connections, reunited old friends, and provided the opportunity for us to learn from, appreciate and celebrate each other.  I am focused on keeping the momentum going. 

If you’d like to support and participate in AWMAI, please consider doing the following:

  1. Make plans to attend the next Teachers’ Lounge session in August 18 at 3pm CT/1pm PT/4pm ET.  While this event is a benefit for AWMAI members, we are inviting any conference participants who are not yet members to join us for this session.  We always have a great group of folks willing to share and discuss a variety of topics while offering support and helpful suggestions. There’s no need to register, and a Zoom link will be emailed to members and conference attendees two days before the Lounge.

  2. Tell a friend!  We currently have less than 200 active members, but we know there are hundreds more instructors out there who could benefit from – and enhance – our organization. Help us spread the word!

  3. Stay in touch via email and our social platforms (Facebook & Instagram).  Be on the lookout in the coming weeks for an announcement about the 2025 Teaching the Teacher Conference, which will be the 25th anniversary of this amazing conference!

If you are reading this newsletter but not yet a member of AWMAI, we welcome you to check us out and see if our organization is a good fit for you.

Be safe, be well and hope to see you soon. 

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Incoming Certification Director

Amelia Jones

Doctor Sensei Amelia Jones

As I sit down to write my first article as Certification Director, I am still reverberating from the events in Columbus, OH. I have to admit that I was skeptical, at first, of the location. But the city turned out to be ideal in many ways.

  • Ease of access to an international airport. 
  • Relatively low priced airfare with many direct connections.
  • A walkable downtown with restaurants, cultural sites and open space. 
  • The Renaissance hotel was a beautiful setting and all accolades to the staff. They were superlative.

The conference itself surpassed even the high expectations of the board. This organization has produced many great conferences, but we will have to double down on our efforts to make next year, our 25th anniversary, even more amazing. All of which is due to the incredible range of instructors, participants and awardees. Many thanks to all who contributed in every way, hopefully we all take a moment to bask in the glory of our success! On a more personal note I would like to express the greatest appreciation to Dara Masi Shihan and Melanie Fine Shihan for their nurturing encouragement and vision, without which we would not be where we are today.

In my official capacity as Certification Director, I want to remind you of what our organization offers:

  • Rank Recognition is an official peer recognition and celebration of your current rank. An AWMAI Rank Recognition Certificate also indicates to your students and colleagues that you are a member of an international community of women martial artists representing myriad styles and systems.
  • Rank Promotion is available to members who desire rank advancement to the ranks of 2nd - 6th degree Black Belt, but currently do not have a teacher to promote them.
  • Honorary Rank Promotion is awarded in recognition of a woman's outstanding training spirit, as well as her contribution to the martial arts community and women's empowerment.

More details can be found here. For further information please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

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Events Director

Sarah Sponzo

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  So many people helped make this amazing conference weekend…well…AMAZING!

The City of Columbus was welcoming – I know that many attendees had nice strolls around the downtown and some of the great neighborhoods, dined in some of the local restaurants and maybe did a little shopping.

The Renaissance Columbus Downtown created great spaces for sessions, performances and awards. The Chef and his team created some great meals, and the meeting services team took great care of all the details.  My colleagues on the Board came together in person after months of planning as a solid, strong, enthusiastic team.  We had fun and worked hard.

A super line up of teachers made us think and play...  and YOU!  You all made the weekend joyful, inspiring and restorative.  There were old friends to catch up with and new friends to get to know.

We are already enthusiastically planning for 2025.  It’s going to be a big one - our 25th anniversary celebration!

Thank you for your feedback and suggestions, we’re looking forward to making an announcement very soon so we can start getting excited for 2025.

If you have anything that might not have made it into the evaluation or you just want to chat, drop me a note


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Financial Director

Katie Murphy Stevens

Wow!  AWMAI 2024 Teaching the Teacher in April in Columbus, Ohio was awesome! The sharing of skills, perspectives, friendship, compassion, conversation and fun were off the charts.

It seemed like each part of the conference was the best part.  Seeing old friends and making new friends.  Taking fantastic classes from fantastic instructors. The Saturday afternoon demo! The banquet!  Listening to the stories and words of the Hall of Fame inductees was breathtaking.

Our craft is one that is passed from person to person. We learn from the examples of others.  Yet each person's own manifestation is guided by the lens of their unique point of view.  That is why it is called art.

Start planning now!  Join us for the 25th gathering of AWMAI Teaching the Teacher.  We'll let you know the dates and location as soon as possible.  Set your sights on a wonderful weekend of learning, sharing and inspiration.

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Administrative Director

Parnee Poet

Another year is turning, after six years and part of the AWMAI inception, Melanie handed her responsibilities to the ever capable and thoughtful Amelia

At AWMAI 2024, we learned from each other and continue to reflect on our time together and what AWMAI means to us. 

As I've said before, we are a part of our rich her-story and their-story of self defense and martial arts.  We hope you join us for our twenty fifth anniversary celebration and help enrich our legacy together.  I am grateful for all the teachers and siblings that have shaped our time and lessons, the ones I never met, the ones that I met through you and all your wisdom. 

Thank you so much to Tih Penhil for taking photographs to remember these powerful moments.

To twenty five more years stronger together!

AWMAI 2024 Conference

Thank you to everyone that donated raffle prizes for the fundraiser!

Gratitude and Healing from AWMAI 2024

Jaye Spiro

Being at the AWMAI 2024 Conference was healing for me and many of us. We have all suffered and now we arise, healing from conflict. During our three days together, we experienced rejuvenation of our spirits. I felt this in myself and witnessed it in others. I am grateful to have received and participated in the acknowledgement of our collective value and the celebration of our varied and stunning accomplishments.  

I am grateful to Jennie Trower and the AWMAI board for creating a space for us to come together to feel the joy that is within us for martial arts and teaching. We are connected with a rare and common ethics which guide our work in creating for a more peaceful, fair, strong, beautiful and safe world.

The instructors from Mejishi performed an anti-war piece for the conference demo this year. The back story is that for me, as a Jew, I am especially moved to stand up against violence of all forms. Those of us with decades of martial arts experience remember our early roots in the anti-war movement. My generation - the elders from the 60's - were connected with many movements.  We stood up against racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia. But with the horrors of the Israeli-Hamas war recently - I felt such despair.  One day, when I was feeling hopeless, I looked at Mejishi,  the small school I founded 45 years ago in Detroit. I saw Arab students training with Jewish students, and African American and Caucasians practicing our arts together. I realized that we have to keep doing this in Detroit where the pain of racism is so deep. The scars  of Anti-semitism and Islamophobia are gaping wounds in our community.  We must continue building places where Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus and people of very different racial and ethnic backgrounds can build authentic relationships. 

Strengthened by the AWMAI conference, we went home to places far and wide feeling energized.  We are refreshed and determined to continue to bring the spirit of healing through martial arts practice into the world.

So Much More Was Revealed

Tih Penfil, Guro/photographer

As I saw images appear in my lens, so much more was revealed.  Beauty, grace, strength, focus, intention, joy, camaraderie, sharing, and more.  It was a pleasure to capture these images and then be able to share them.  As I went through 2650 images, cull them down to approximately 1260 and worked on them...memories/feelings came back to me.  That this sharing continues year after year, generationally infused for continuance is a gift to one and all.  I look forward to many more years of coming together to share these gifts.

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Spirit of Collaboration

Janet Aalfs

The recent AWMAI conference offered multi-layered gifts.  What an honor and a pleasure it was to share my work, to learn from so many wonderful instructors and practitioners, to receive a Hall of Fame award, to celebrate the shining group of awardees including our beloved Grandmaster Wen Mei Yu, and to feel everyone's generous energy.  My gratitude is vast.

For me, this event was a beautiful and skillful weaving of three core principles (from the Latin cor meaning heart) that our many diverse movement languages include:

  • Healing – awakening compassion for individual and collective suffering;
  • Creative expression – being more honestly and genuinely oneself while appreciating other unique selves;
  • Protection – expanding and deepening overall awareness and life-sustaining skills of all kinds.

Martial arts has "art" in it twice.  Although martial is associated with the god of war, Mars is recognized through ancient roots as a deity of agriculture, fertility, abundance, and the underground.  Martial arts = abundant creative energy = the fabulous AWMAI Board who promoted an
atmosphere of collaboration, support, inclusion, and openhearted learning from initial introductions all the way through to the closing, and beyond.

This Poemotion© piece I performed during the class I taught, “Connecting Martial Arts Systems,” expresses my appreciation of the many ways and methods we share through intertwining roots*:

I fell
because of wisdom,
but was not destroyed:
through her I dived
into the great sea,
and in those depths
I seized
a wealth-bestowing pearl.

(excerpt) Makeda, Queen of Sheba, Ethiopia, ca. 1000 B.C.E.
From Women in Praise of the Sacred, edited by Jane Hirshfield.

Follow the natural
Flow, that which comes from within;
As the lotus flowering rises
Above the mud of the river pool –
Vast, vast, vast is Divine Wisdom.

Line 1: Jian Mei Internal Martial Arts
Line 2: Filipino Modern Arnis
Lines 3-5: Shuri-ryu Okinawan Karate

Shinshii Janet E. Aalfs is founder and director of Lotus Peace Arts at Heron's Bridge/ Valley Women's Martial Arts in Easthampton, MA, a not-for-profit community school since 1977.  She has been sharing her work locally, nationally, and internationally for more than 45 years.  Poemotion© is the name Janet has given to the weavings of poetry and movement arts that she enjoys creating and performing.

*For more information about skills for cultural exchange: “Lotus Peace Arts: Cultural Exchange Through Martial Arts Roots,” compiled by Shinshii Janet Aalfs from “101 Skills That Will Open Doors to Effective Self-Defense Education Across Cultures,” created by a diverse panel of violence-prevention
and peace-building educators at the annual Self Defense Instructors Conference (2007 and 2008). Panel members: Darlene DeFour, Michele Elefante, Janet Gee, Zosia Gorbaty, Lynette Oliver, Lauren Wheeler, and Sarah Trembath, panel facilitator.

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Women Teachers Honoring Women Teachers

Ilona Bito

It was an honor just to be in the room at the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors Hall of Fame Banquet.  The dinner punctuated a very full weekend of professional development workshops.  The awards ceremony inducting this year’s 30, 40, 50, and 60 year career honorees activated a sense of meaning, gratitude, and respect for the work we do.  Amelia conducted the room so gracefully, a true Master of Ceremony, pulling on my heartstrings to lead me down the long and winding path to mastery.  Honoring the careers of women martial arts instructors, complete with triumphs and challenges, injuries and healing, the Hall of Fame reminded me that I am really only at the beginning of my journey.  To each person who in their way encouraged me to stay the course and be patient, thank you.

As a first time attendee reaching the halfway point in the weekend, I was only just getting used to the general temperature of the water as I splashed around, checking my diving mask and snorkel, meanwhile rare, exquisite, giant creatures were floating past the whole time!  Who knew I had been rubbing elbows with Olympians!

Meeting Sunny Graff and Helen Yee for the first time was a highlight for me- here are women who won their first championships in the year I was born.  They could relate to my experience having mostly trained with men.  In no time we were troubleshooting how to get our students to meditate.  I appreciated that here are masters who after all of their accomplishments clearly love to teach and continue to dedicate themselves to start over again and again.  Koré Grate’s true love for her students, as young as four, made a very strong imprint in my mind with a smile and a sparkle, feeding my fire to find focus in the chaos and creativity of early learning.

I heard a few seasoned members called this annual gathering a Nirvana, or a safe haven, free of judgement and competition. Personally, heaven for me would be a gathering where hundreds of women from different martial disciplines get to play push hands together.  April 27 was World Tai Chi Day.  At the New York City event, I’d say that roughly, out of about 70 people playing push hands, I saw four other women participating.  Two were there for the first time, and quite surprised by this gap in representation, feeling a little disappointed and confused, and relieved that we found each other.  I just share this to reflect that, while women in martial arts now have more role models than we might have 40 years ago, there is still need for AWMAI, still work to be done.

I wasn’t sure I was going to attend the Hall of Fame Ceremony on Saturday Night, but I am so glad that I did, and I realized that night that my first conference experience would have been incomplete without it.  Sure, I could read the illustrious bios of the honorees in the conference book– a good substitute for those who could not be there in person.  This was my first year joining AWMAI, and I didn’t think I had a personal connection with the honorees, or that the banquet was really for me, but I was wrong.  Of course, it is for the honorees, but in a larger sense, it is for them to inspire and uplift other women martial arts instructors, so everyone in the room with their different, but overlapping experiences, played an important role that evening.

The medicine you want is not always the medicine you need.  While what I most wanted was to practice with other martial artists like myself, what I most needed was to step back and gain perspective from those who have led the way.  I was so surprised about how fired up I got about what I expected to be the ‘boring’ parts, like a workshop on business models. Hearing honestly from Wasentha Young, Nancy Lanoue, and the active participants in the discussion made me feel excited about growth, adaptation, and mutual support.

This ceremony as well as the wisdom shared in workshops served to deepen my gratitude to my own teachers back home, both women and men who have not only given me the opportunity to learn and train for which I am thankful everyday, but have also had to don many hats and navigate the stormy seas to lead schools in NYC.

Other highlights included the demos- which were unlike any I’ve seen at tournaments- sincere presentations carrying a message, from Jay Spiro’s call for ceasefire, to Lisa Santi’s heartwarming celebration of three generations’ shared practice.  I returned home feeling prepared with a few new games to celebrate skill, safety, and the art of play, and reconnected to the joy and creativity at the center of my teaching.  I want to add to my gratitude that my participation this year was made possible by the organization’s scholarship fund, as well as my family’s support with childcare responsibilities.  My time to socialize was limited, but I look forward to being in the network and meeting again soon.

This article was posted on Ilona's blog.

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Mail: AWMAI, PO Box 4309, Davis CA 95617
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