It is a difficult thing to teach Martial Arts in America, but to limit your students to women only makes it more so. Clearly teaching Mulan Fa Chuan is not about money for me. (Actually Mulan Fa Chuan teachers are forbidden to use their teachings as their primary source of income.) I do this because I want to do what is right. I do this because women need to study martial arts and Mulan Fa Chuan helps make that possible. If we look at the statistics we begin to see the need. One in every three women experience a violent sexual assault in their lifetime and almost one half will be assaulted in a domestic situation. Women make up over half the population of the United States yet only three percent of the Martial Arts students. Looking beyond these statistics though, there is yet a deeper issue that tells us women need to study Martial Arts. Most women we meet see themselves and feel themselves to be victims, or at least potential victims even if they have never been assaulted. This is cultural and biological. Cultural in that women are taught growing up that they are the fragile weaker sex and need protection. Biological in that strength and size seem to validate that idea. If a woman thinks she is weak then she will live that way unless she does something to change. To be born a women in most modern cultures is to be born a victim, to live as one, and then die as one with little help out there to break the cycle. This is apparently true even in "modern" Western countries. It is the chain women live with which drags down their self-esteem, and confidence and tells them to accept conditions that a man would ever tolerate. Martial Arts can break this chain like no other therapy. Nothing is as effective. True Woman's Liberation is Self-Liberation and Mulan is it's fast tract.
My Journey to becoming a Mulan Fa Sifu is unique in that I am the only one of my rank in this hemisphere, and, I think that I was being prepared for it all my life. I will talk about my training prior to my present position but I will not list my teachers because I do not have their permission to do so and it is also inappropriate for a Martial Artist to go on about their laurels. I was 17 when I started studying Tae Kwon Do. I thought it looked cool so I tried it and loved it. I was the only woman in our Dojang and our teacher was very hard on us. He had serve with the Korean Marines in Viet-Nam and he believed in discipline. Tae Kwon Do at that time was not considered a sport and he disliked competitions. For him everything was about self-defense. I rode a bus to get to our school at least three times a week. I studied for a couple of years and then one day our school closed. No sign or warning at all. I felt like I had lost my home. I went looking for another art to train in and had heard of a man teaching Gung Fu in his garage. He could speak almost no English at all and when he did it was so thickly accented that I couldn't understand him anyway. There where no colored sashes, no uniforms no heat on cold days and no air-conditioning on hot ones. It was very hard and involved a lot of physical endurance. Again I was the only woman and although our Sifu treated me like any other students it was obvious my classmates didn't feel the same. One of the difficulties of being a woman in a martial school is that you either get treated like a "girl" or get abused by someone who wants you to quit. I stayed with him for two years and then he moved to San Francisco. Somewhere along my path I also studied traditional Jujitsu and San Shou Kuai Jiao. I loved San Shou especially. I hated wrestling but throwing someone hard made sense to me. I also studied Tai Chi Chuan and spent almost a year studying Muai Thai in Thailand. It was a great experience and our gym trained women. At first they didn't know how to treat me but I could spoke Thai politely and casually as well so I was treated like all the other students. Besides Martial Arts I also had formal training in Chi Gong, Taoism, the I-Ching, and Chinese medicine.
I was already in my fifties when I met the grand master in Yarowat Bangkok. I was at a very busy market. It was extremely crowded with small stalls filled with vendors. Something caught my attention at the end of one of the avenues of stalls. Something looked especially attractive and colorful and I was very drawn to it. My destination turned out to be a peaceful and quiet Taoist temple amid the chaos of the market. I arrived at the end of the prayers. I stood with the others and patiently waited to offer incense. I didn't recognize any of the deities on the alter but I was very sincere and wished for my dream of teaching martial arts to women to be fulfilled. When I emerged I saw a woman waiting for me. She motioned for me to sit down next to her and we started talking, mostly in English. I had the feeling that she was looking through me, that she already knew my history and what I was looking for. This woman turned out to be Shigong Yun herself. Because she is a very warm and accepting person I didn't mind and I didn't become nervous. We talked about martial arts mostly. She seemed to be familiar with everything in the arts.The scope of her knowledge was amazing. Finally she said, "I want you to teach martial arts to women in America for me". I was shocked. It was everything I was looking for and had even prayed for less then an hour before. Because of my background adapting was not difficult, in fact it was relieving to find someone with my goals who would oversee my own training and also the connecting idea behind the Mulan training made sense. I could see connections between the different arts that I had studied but not seen before. I also saw that this was an art that was "user friendly" to the human body, I could practice it for years to come. A martial art for women must be different then one for men. It has to factor in height, weight and strength differences to be effective. Mulan Fa Chuan does that. It focuses on the attacks women most commonly have to face, uses sequential movement for maximum power while targeting vulnerable points, teaches how to overcome the height and strength difference between men and women and has Ethics and Tenets that women respond to.
I opened the first Mulan Fa Chuan school in the Americas in November 2017 (2560). My students are of excellent quality. They are sincere, they work hard and I'm working hard to make our art grow. Although developing a Martial Arts school is difficult I see it as an opportunity and challenge. It's a great privilege to teach Mulan Fa Chuan and I look forward to the day in which other schools will open their doors here in America.
Sifu Joanne Jeneski teaches in the USA at Blue Heron Martial Arts in Massachusetts .
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New: American Sifu writes about Mulan in America