Teaching Self Defense & Empowerment to Girls in India-by Shifu/Sensei Koré Grate
On the day before I left Minneapolis to travel across the world, my little Daily Meditation - 365 Tao book read: “You may be contemplating a very bold move in your life”. No kidding, thanks to Dr. Shelley Fernandez-President of the Keiko Fukuda Judo Foundation.
This is the fourth year the non-profit Foundation has been offering classes for girls in Judo and Self Defense within the school systems of Patiala, India. The gang rape and death of 23 year old Jyoti Singh on December 16, 2012 triggered widespread media coverage including the documentary “India’s Daughter” which created an opening for India to begin to shift the ancient attitude towards girls and women. The program honors Shihan Keiko Fukuda’s legacy of “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful in Body, Mind and Spirit” and the girls are learning how to be all that and more. The first year started with demonstrations led by Navneet Gill, Raman Jeji and Navneet Jeji, with the support of Sensei Jai Gopal Sharma-Retired Head Coach of Judo-National Institute of Sports (NIS). By the second year, there were three schools committed to the program, one of which is the British Co-Ed High School and Principal Rose Kucharskyj who transports girls from the “outskirts of town, i.e. poverty level” to participate in classes. For those who don’t know, this is a very rare occurrence in India. By the third year there were nine schools, and this year there are twelve.
Sifu Sonya Richardson, Head Instructor of Hand to Hand Kajukenbo in Oakland, California, and I traveled for twenty-four hours with Dr. Shelley Fernandez from San Francisco to Newark at 9:00 AM November 3rd, and landed in New Delhi on November 4th around 9:00 PM. On November 5th, Ashish-our driver expertly navigated the six hours north-west drive to our “non-hotel” the Bara Dari Palace in Patiala in the Punjub district-our home for the next ten days. (*see my writing/poem about the driving in India the drivers are truly BLACK BELTS in abilities!)
Raman, Dr. Shelley, Sonya
After resting and cleaning up, we were invited to Raman and Navneet Jeji’s home for a traditional Indian dinner by Mom! Truly a gift; the spices are both subtle and powerful-a form of art! Mr. and Mrs. Jeji, Navneet and Dr. Shelley visited at home while Raman took Sonya and I sightseeing to the Punjab Museum, historical grounds that were part of her heritage, and shopping for traditional Indian shirts and scarves (Kurta’s and Dupatta’s). We needed “dressy” clothes to attend important events. While we were teaching we stayed in our uniforms the entire day, and didn’t bring much more than a few comfy articles to hang out in.
Mrs. Jeji, Dr. Shelley, Raman, Navneet
Monday November 6, Sifu Sonya and I taught our first class of the Five Fingers of Self Defense & Empowerment-(Mind, Voice, Escape, Fight & Tell) at the Government Senior Secondary School (GSSS) Old Police Line-to girls in 6th-7th grade. We were scheduled for one hour for each session. We were scheduled to teach in five schools per day for six days. Sometimes the hour turned into twenty minutes due to protocol of visiting the principal and having Marsala Chai tea and cookies beforehand (having jet lag, the Chai and sweets really helped us keep going!). After three days, we had taught all twelve of the classes enrolled in the Foundation program. We were able to return to many of the schools to teach a second class to go over what they learned, and add a few more techniques. The girls ranged from six to twenty five years old- and even though it is illegal now to talk about the caste system-we noticed that the girls from the “community program-bussed in/untouchables” were the most appreciative of everything we taught, and were deeply inspiring for us. We taught how to stand up tall, do a power pose, how to say “NO” loud, how to yell commands, how to escape grabs and chokes, how to throw someone who grabs your Dupatta (traditional scarf won by all girls and women), how to do a hammer fist to someone on a scooter who pinches you from behind, how to strike vulnerable/soft targets with natural weapons, and that it is OK to talk to someone you trust, ask for help, and not be ashamed that someone harmed you, or tried to harm you. We did this all within an hour, or less which made us CONDENSE the material, especially when a lot of what we said had to be translated into Punjabi or Hindi or both. Then we were off to the next school-which was a 15-30 minute hair-raising drive amidst cows, scooters with five people astride (sometimes a baby), dogs, people walking across highways (at night too), no stop lights, no speed limits, and always driving into the “empty spaces” no matter which side of the road they were on.
Sensei Jai Gopal Sharma, Raman Jeji Translating
(Pic left) Shifu/Sensei Kore’, Sensei Jiwan Sharma, Sensei Divya Sharma, Sifu Sonya, Dr. Shelley, Navneet Gill, Raman Jeji, Sensei Shallini Tariyal
Being a day ahead of the US, we were also keeping track of the election, and ironically, the people from India were rooting for Trump. It was a very sur-real experience to say the least, as on the day Trump won, the Indian Rupee in 500 and 1000 denominations were banned/taken out of circulation by their Prime Minister Modi. The 500 and 1000 rupees were the only denomination we were given by the exchange banks in the US…that was a shocking day. We had a new president, and we were poor. Thanks to our host family-the Jeji’s, and our credit cards, we worked it out, but still, we came home with “monopoly money” that our banks won’t exchange back.
On November 10th, we were asked to have the high school girls from GSSS Multi-Purpose School to demonstrate for the “DC-District Commissioner”- which is like the mayor of the town-and a big deal. We taught one class with these girls for less than an hour two days previous, and they were one of the newer additions to the Foundation with only one week of Judo. Navneet Gill and Raman had a meeting with the DC to request support from the government to continue offering the classes in the coming year as it is growing so fast, and the Foundation is barely keeping up. The DC took time out of his busy schedule to come see for himself. As we waited for his entourage and escort to arrive, we quickly put together a demo of Judo and Self Defense techniques with Sensei Shallini, Sensei Suchicka & Sensei Cuomo. We all worked together flawlessly, and when he arrived, the girls put on a twenty minute perfect demo. He publically thanked us afterwards, and invited us to a special concert the following evening with Kanwar Grewal-who is a famous “Sufi-ish” chanting/singer. I was enthralled by his voice-and found out later that he was singing-chanting about protecting women and girls. We were all brought up and honored on- stage with an award for the work the Foundation is doing for girls. We had to leave early to attend yet another special invitation from Principal Rosa from the British School for an annual staff party. The night before she had invited us as honored guests to attend “Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of William Shakespeare-Romeo & Juliet. Can I just say that we definitely felt appreciated and that India has the best music, young theatre performers, dancers and the most delicious food!
A high-light of our trip was the story of a young girl named Adiba, one of the original Sanaour Community Group that was bussed to the British School daily. She trained for a year, and had to quit because her dad got sick and her family needed her. She was a promising Judoka, and was truly missed, so Dr. Shelley, Navneet G. and Raman found out where she lived and went there. Adiba lives in the outskirts of town where all the garbage is dumped…she lives in poverty, actually IN the dump. Our dynamic trio talked with Adiba’s family and it was decided that the Foundation would sponsor Adiba and her cousin to attend/come back to the classes. Each day a driver has been hired to pick them up, take them to school, and drop them back home: safe and sound-which will help change their lives just enough to make a difference. We got to work with Adiba for the demo for the DC and she was out-standing! I am so happy to be a part of a Foundation that makes this kind of change actually happen.
Dr. Shelley, Adiba (center) & her Cousin (left)
Our last day of teaching was very special. Navneet Jeji is the art teacher (and fabulously talented artist) at the *Patiala Government College of Education, where she teaches women to be art teachers. She worked very hard and arranged for Sonya and I to do a “Gender Sensitisation: Lecture, Demonstration and Interaction” self-defense class for over seventy young women at the college. It was received with valued enthusiasm. As AWMAI’s Executive Director it felt like the exact way to end a trip of a life-time: “Teaching the Teacher, Sharing Knowledge with the World”-mission statement in full.
I am home now, still processing this adventure, and working towards AWMAI’s next events (TBA-stay tuned)
Thank you to Dr. Shelley Fernandez for keeping Keiko Fukuda Shihan’s legacy alive and for being the person who keeps fighting for justice and peace in every breath you take.
We will always have a space in our hearts that holds each and every one of those girls in Patiala.
A special Thank you to our attentive and open-hearted hosts and organizers:
Mr. & Mrs. Jeji, Raman & Navneet Jeji & Mrs. Gill & Navneet Gill (pic above)-We are now Family Forever.
The Sikh way of life is still vibrating in my soul-truly a Path in alignment to what I trust and believe in.
List of Schools sponsored by the Keiko Fukuda Judo Foundation in Patiala, India
GSSS (Govt. Senior Secondary School) Old Police Line Girls School
GJSS Multi-Purpose Junior Branch
GSSS Multi-Purpose Senior Branch
GSSS Model Towne Girls High School
GSSS Victoria Girls High School
GSSS Victoria Girls Community Youth
GSSS British Co-Ed High School
GSSS British Co-Ed Sanaour Community School girls
Mahiendra College (Boarding School)
GSSS Pheel Khanna Co-Ed School
GSSS Civil Lines School for Girls
GSSS Tri Pri Co-Ed School
*Patiala Government College of Education
A Letter to Keiko Fukuda Shihan (in Heaven)
By Koré Grate-Nov 6, 2016
When I see the signs you send,
I know you are near, supporting and guiding us…
Even though you are in a place we cannot touch with our earthly hands, or eyes.
The feeling of You and the Ancestors is unmistakable-both joyous and sad.
It is the Inspiration of your dedication and kindness
that presses into our hearts, into our lives,
carrying us further than we ever imagined.
May we express your Legacy honorably and generously to all come on this Path-
“Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful-in Body, Mind and Spirit”
Thank you for the life you lived.
And thank you for loving Dr. Shelley so she could bring us on this adventure together.
About DRIVING in INDIA
By Koré Grate-Nov 7, 2016
The weaving in and out
Like many rivers
All going in different directions
Why is it that without the perfectly aligned white lane lines,
Dividers, traffic lights, or stop signs, or speed limit signs, or signs that read:
“Cars Only”, “Bike Path”, “Jitney Stay Right/Left”, “Pedestrian Crossing”, “Watch for Cows”,
“Watch for Dogs, Goats, Monkeys” “Yield to Scooters-Especially those carrying babies”, “No Parking”, “Park Here”, “Only two per motorcycle”…
Without any markers or division what so ever- without all that direction and control:
India seems to work just fine.
The expert driving is like a martial art.
The Yielding, seeking empty space, taking up space, using the horn as voice and communication, knowing when to speed up and when to slow down, letting go of a pre-destined path, or who is “right” or “wrong”, awareness of everything going on around you, adjusting in micro movements-
In practicing that every day in every moment of one’s life…
Being a driver in India appears to me to be quite a high rank.