The First Lesson

by Kim Ivy

I was inducted along with 31 other women into the first Woman's Martial Art's Hall of Fame, March 2, 2012. We all had over 30 years of training, dedication and service in our field. Some had 40 years, and even 60 years in the arts. We were asked to make a short speech or tell a story at the awards ceremony. This was my offering.


When I received the nomination for the first Woman’s Martial Arts Hall of Fame, I put the email in my “to look at later” folder and promptly forgot about it. Several more weeks past and I received another email that felt as though it said something like, “no we were not kidding, you are one of the nominees.” I opened the “too look at later” file only to find the original email sitting there. I decided I needed to look at it. After pondering the idea for a while and talking it over with Kyoshi Gorbaty, the executive director of AWMAI, I decided to gather my Martial Arts history and submit myself for the honor.

Even though it had been a couple of decades and several moves since I had looked at the box where I kept all my early records, I knew exactly where it was. Inside, beneath faded file folders full of similarly faded handwritten class notes I found my carefully stored early documents and pictures. Seeing them catapulted me right back to the initial sweaty days of Judo and all the fun and hard work at my first Dojo, Rendokan, The Way of the Sword, in Tucson Arizona. My family was very worried I had joined a cult when I told them I had taken up the martial arts. I guess the thought of me, their proper Midwest daughter, donning a thick uniform and perspiring with a bunch of big hairy guys was just too much for them at the time. But despite their protests and those of many of my friends, I kept training. The earliest lesson my first teacher conveyed to me was, “all you have to do is walk through the door, and the rest will take care of itself.” That was September of 1979, before personal computers and Iphones, before digital cameras, Facebook and email. I have been walking through dojo doors with rare exception almost every day since.

So how to sum up in 3 minutes what 33 years of walking through these very special types of doors has meant to me? How to tell the one story that will tell it all? Do I tell you about the time I trained in O’Sensei’s (the founder of Aikido) winter dojo in Engaru, Hokkaido? That in this historic place belonging to the Founder of the Art of Peace, students from Japan, Russia, Germany & America, all citizens of countries who had at one time been at war with each other were now flying through time and space to land right on the mat of the present moment in bone, muscle & friendship? Or do I tell you about the time I was kicked out of my first dojo for a month because I allowed myself to receive a promotion from a different teacher without my own teacher’s permission. And then, many years later my same strict teacher arranged for me to receive the honor of a lifetime – an examination for one of my ranks directly from Keiko Fukuda, Shihan (the highest ranking woman martial artist in the world). Would you believe me if I told you I started my Qigong & Taijiquan training on the advice of a psychic? And how then just over two decades later I was in the birthplace of Taijiquan, Chenjiagou China, in the Taijiquan temple with my teacher Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang, the lineage holder of the family that created Taiji, participating in the first formal disciple ceremony for non-Chinese students and joining the 20th Generation in the Chen Family.

Or is the one defining story that of my own school, its evolution spanning the past 17 years, giving me the great good fortune to work with people of all generations, backgrounds and fitness levels. I didn’t even know I had a school until a student asked what its name was. I looked at her dumbfounded and said, “I don’t know!” Another said, “I thought it was ‘Embrace The Moon’ you are always saying that when you coach us through the form.” (Embrace The Moon is the rough translation of several different movements across the Taijiquan curriculum). I went home that night at once exhilarated that I had a school and somewhat confounded how it all happened to a young girl from Nebraska.

The students that have crossed the threshold of Embrace The Moon love their practice love their friends and me too, but I don’t think that love means anything without something useful. It means nothing without a way to move with a painful arthritic hip or some fluid way to express ones spirit through all the pain and grief of cancer. It means nothing without a clear method to crawl out of depression and into grace. All of this is more important than being on the front page of the Style section of the New York Times.

My first teacher was right. All you have to do is show up. I am profoundly grateful for the training, the discipline and the joy that keeps me coming back. Yet none of these aforementioned stories is the most important story, the one that truly tells it all. That story is told more simply and quietly, that story is the one that is simply the practice, the day in and day out practice. Since I started the Martial Arts over 33 years ago, the world has become a different place: in many ways it is a strange, confusing, hurricane of a place. I truly know, as do we all here, that we who practice are the eye of that storm, we hold a calm center, a hopeful center by doing nothing more than walking through the dojo door, bowing in and training.