A Sister in Brotherhood Spaces

By JL Umipig

It’s been 2 years now since I arrived to Central Park on a spring evening and was welcomed by Guro Njoli and two of my brothers of Pekiti Tirsia Kali (PTK) Vin and Chris. And I recall so distinctly why I returned after that first moment- it was the feeling of being held in a process of betterment and strengthening through comraderie. From day one, my brothers of MSMB and PTK held me to a caliber of that encouragement to better and strengthen my being.

I a20161126_105810m one of the few Womxn who consistently trains with the brothers of PTK Elite and MSMBNYC. In two years I have watched sisters come through and I emphasize to them why I continue to train which consists of the reasons that most people do, to have consistent physical regiment for my fitness and health, to be able to defend myself when the time comes, and to strengthen my body and confidence. But also I continue and commit to PTK and MSMB because of what I felt in that initial moment that I began learning with this circle: the camaraderie and mutual betterment of self as a practitioner that I feel growing with my brothers. There is a real pride we have for the betterment of one another, the push to excel as a family unit, detached from competition amongst those in our crew. They push me to go hard, to be able to hold my own amongst anyone, no matter their size or their strength level.  There is a belief that I feel from the respect my brothers hold for me, that when we train, our genders have nothing to do with our ability to train hard, and be able to step up to the challenges of body, mind and spirit that our practice teaches us to stand up to.

Our guros hold us all to our strengths, and also hold us to strengthening our weaknesses. I see how each of them in their teachings see the value of each individual in the group, and I watch the camaraderie between them that is model to us all. It roots our circle, the way they are able to respect and hold one another in collaboration and in unique styles of giving knowledge to our training. And as the little sister in the crew they rarely mention my gender, only with the recognition of how to apply their teachings to the very real degradation and violence Womxn face on the daily and how to use the learnings for my protection and ability to be prepared should I be confronted with the realities of misogyny and gender violence in this world. They teach me to use my size to my advantage, and help me understand my power to survive.

When we talk about Kali, we orient the learnings around the ability of Pilipino ancestors to fight and survive in battle with their colonizers, who were often larger and more equipped than them. These teachings of Pilipino Ancestral practices and traditions is the other reason I stay. My guros value this and respect the roots of the a20160625_114602rt, they help us understand the context and it brings me closer to my ancestors in a new way of understanding. I feel them in my movements. I feel their spirit of survival and resistance. And they and my brothers make room for me to share my learnings and cultural practices and values as a healer, activist and artist in connection to our training- another way they welcome what I have to contribute to our circle of my strengths.

“Respect everyone, Fear no one” our MSMB mantra is core to the way we train, is core to the way we learn, is core to the way we build camaraderie. Every time I come to train, I feel valued, respected and cared for as a member to this circle of warriors. I believe that is how my ancestors intended this practice to be upheld. So I bring myself fully to every training and every gathering, ready to step into my power. Sure, every now and then the testosterone is real, the frustrations of having to deal with my femininity being sometimes a hindrance because I can’t hide I am a Womxn physically and there are instances of societal stereotypes that surface (that’s real), and the moments of having to step it up extra notches to have new members that are men see me the way my brothers who I’ve trained with from the beginning is real as well. But what outweighs all of that is that my brothers will always remind me I am valued, that I am seen and I am held and so the humanization is real, the honoring is real and the love that makes me feel Family in this circle of brothers is real.

 

Jana Lynne (JL) Umipig is the creator of “The Journey of a Brown Girl” www.thejourneyofabrowngirl.com  Director, Producer, Actress, Educator and Organizer she currently resides in NYC. JL image5has worked with different community organizations developing curriculum and programs that integrate theatre and visual arts with activism and leadership development, working with schools, community organizations, detention facilities, and rehabilitation and support group centers. She believes in the power of the arts to activate and move the human spirit for individual toward community empowerment and transformation.  She creates with the intention to connect human experience and spirit between all communities.

Forum for Community Action at FICA Seattle

By Njoli Brown

I was graciously invited by FICA Seattle to facilitate a conversation on how cultural orgs can effectively engage in social action.  In Seattle there are a large number of groups which participate in the ethnic/cultural arts of Latin america, Africa, central – SE Asia and so on.  But, aside from the artistic endeavor, how many make the determination to actively and positively effect, in profound and long term ways, the communities within which these arts were sustained through centuries of struggle and an infusion of intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy?

The first thing that came to mind for me was a discussion on the spate of ongoing disturbing events throughout our communities, but it seemed that the first step needed to be a deep dive into “identity.”  One of the most common falsely held presumptions in groups is that, “if we’re all here then we’re all ‘down.’ ”  But before getting to the “what” we’re doing, there’s a lot of figuring that has to go into the “why” so that when it becomes difficult and laborious there’s a foundation that we’re working from in common.  I give FICA a lot of credit for often trying to provide opportunities for critical evaluations of itself by its members.

How does this collection of people see itself?  Does the collective mission align with each individual’s personal mission?  Are we willing to lose members if we determine the mission is of tantamount importance? From where are we garnering vital information and through what lens are we evaluating it? Do the actions we hope to take stay true to the missions we’ve established for ourselves?   Etc, etc.  There is a lot to be said for a group which decides to wrestle with itself and deal with the discomfort of recognizing the failings, doubts.. the humanity of all its members.

There is a long history of misdirected actions which can often times do more damage than help. Often times these are a result of not establishing all the predetermination that will provide you with the fortitude to stay in the process for the long haul.  Simultaneously, there are advocates who have, at times, been discarded without a dedication to the difficult conversations which provide soil for effective growth and leadership.  I hope to hear more from the participants of this recent forum, to hear if they found worthwhile takeaways, if there are plans for next steps, suggestions.  I also hope that other groups will make use of the currently aroused energy to figure out how they can utilize their organizations as nuclei for positive change.

*Gratitute to co-facilitator, Jabali Stewart, and to Mestre Silvinho (FICA Seattle), Leika Suzumura and Chelsea Rae for getting the ball rolling.

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Training, Well Rounded

By Njoli Brown

I was recently having a conversation with some other martial arts instructors of various styles.  One of the things that came up was the fact that, for the most part, along with the physical stimulus that training provides, one of the things that’d kept us involved for so long was feeling a sense of richness through involvement with the people and  ideas of another culture.  Now, I don’t want to say that this is or must be an interest for all students.  But for us, in common, it’s been an integral part of our practice and, as such a priority in our instruction.

So how do we convey that to our students?  As importantly, how do we convey that in a way that doesn’t diminish the reasons that each individual has for investing their time and energy into an activity that often has no reward other than that which the participant gleans?

Is it timely?  Sometimes a moment presents itself.  Perhaps a situation occurs, a movement or idea reveals itself and, in this time a historical or cultural reference is the perfect framing feature.  It might give context for a way of doing things or for the evolution of a concept.  It might, as well, give some insight into the mindset of those figures who had, at times, practical reasons for the design of their craft.

Is it enriching?  For many students, having a deeper knowledge of the practice to which they have dedicated themselves gives them a greater sense of purpose.  They come to see themselves as guardians of ideas and, in the most fortunate of instances, as researchers who dispel myths and contribute to  the archive of developmental resources.

Is it relevant?  Class isn’t the time to bloviate about all of your past accomplishments, about the awards you’ve won or the opponents you’ve beaten. Check yourself and, if it isn’t in service of the practice maybe keep it til you’re out having a drink with your buddies.  Remember that your stories and the ideas they convey become part of the culture of your school as well.

Integrating history and culture into the practice of your students takes a real sense of scope and a strong concept of what you hope for your community to embody.  You are shaping values in subtle ways.  It can be tremendously enriching or it can be the “turn-off” that pushes hard training students out the door. Done well, it turns your students into teachers and re-creates the story as a living thing.

The Art of Risky STEM

When I reflect back on my experience as a student during my middle and high school years I don’t have a lot of instances when I can recall real joy or excitement happening during most of my academic classes.  I do recall though, being driven to succeed in those courses because I felt like they were a pathway to participation and accomplishment in my artistic endeavors.

This is not to say that I always thrived and/or exceled in those academic spaces but that I recognized them as tied directly to my aspirations, for better or for worse.  I’ve been thinking about this tremendously during an era where it seems that the arts are continually excluded from the scope of educational development in schools.  Yes, there are co-curricular programs, many of them funded through state and federal grants. But, in truth, when these programs are included as “add-ons” they are relegated to a space of secondary importance.  Simultaneously, we forget that at the core of mathematical and scientific discovery is the capacity for abstract thought and the creative translation of this into its physical being.

So, if school systems will continue to devalue artistic pursuits, how will educators develop the practice of creativity in their young people? Risk.

One of the most vital aspects of creating something new is the recognition that, perhaps, it might somehow fail.  Perhaps, you might change and so your perspective on your design might change as well.  I am prepared to see my design as a reflection of myself.  I am prepared to have others examine and find fault.  I am prepared to excel and prepared to feel defeated at times.

Inspiration is tied directly to risk and the success or failure of STEM programming is tied inextricably to these both.  Are we, as educators, feeling inspired by our STEM objectives?  Are we invested in inspiring our students?  Do we recognize that this feeling is the drive that carries students to look “beyond the numbers?” Along with all of this, are we willing to take the risk of exploring our own creative humanity in the context of the classroom?

I’m leaving this with a lot of questions which I should continually ask myself.

A Teacher’s Gratitude

So I just returned from another trip out to the Philippines.  This trip was, for the most part, a training endeavor for my practice in the Filipino martial arts but on every count it was spectacular.  Not only did I feel my learning expand day by day but, as well, in the company of some pretty fantastic people, I had the opportunity to explore the region in a way that was completely new to me.

So much knowledge was being shared student to student, teacher to teacher and teacher to student.  I felt I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge an aspect of teaching that can sometimes be overlooked.

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Tuhon Nonoy & Guro Njoli

Common knowledge, teaching can be extremely difficult.  Not only that, it is often one of the most culturally, and definitely financially, undervalued professions in our society at large.  But I wanted to speak not only to the amount of respect and gratitude that our educators deserve, but also of the special role that gratitude plays in effective teaching.

Although the training was often hard driven under intense heat and uncertain sand, the words I consistently heard from instructors were “thank you.”  Seems like such a small thing.  But being acknowledged for our presence, our time, our acceptance of our faults and shortcomings, created a recognition that the teacher acknowledged as well their own humanity and reliance on us, as participants in their process.

Over the past year or so, in every class I do, no matter how difficult, I’ve been trying to be more and more diligent about beginning with thanks and ending with the same amount of gratitude.  Teaching is only itself with the presence and attendance of students.  Optimal learning happens when teachers allow themselves to learn and to access their own human connectivity and when students find themselves connected to the process.

Additionally, not only can we create available spaces in which students can learn, but educators must also, provide tools so that learning peers and community members can demonstrate gratitude by supporting a matter of growth which will ripple effect throughout the environment.

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Sign language insert in the menu of a local Palawan restaurant

One evening we went to a local restaurant to commune and to bond.  As we entered I noticed that on almost every wall there were posters of American Sign Language.  It was curious but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why this was relevant in the context of all the random kitsch wall adornments.  When we sat and I found another copy of the sign alphabet inserted in the menu I was so impressed, in reading closer, to find that it was meant as a tool for clients to use in support of the staff members who were deaf and hard of hearing.  Such a profound demonstration of gratitude!  We do not just hire deaf staff members, we don’t just hold the expectation that they will completely accommodate a hearing culture, but we also give our community tools and insight into the importance of broadening our vision of who makes up our society .

All of this said, it can be an important thing when we recognize that positive actions can influence and inspire in ways that read as actual visible productivity.

 

Connecting to Matriarchal Heritage

Article by JL Umipig

Another wonderful opportunity has come our way.  Sister JL Umipig has decided to contribute some of her reflections on her lifelong journey into a study of culture, heritage and self.  Hopefully this won’t be the last time we are able to feature her voice.  Thanks for letting us host you here on OnBlast!

-Njoli-

When I first learned about the Babaylan, a figure that connects to the matriarchal heritage of my Filipino identity, I opened my spirit to the understanding of a power within myself from a very young age that I saw in all the wom*n in my family and those I exchanged with in my communities of image6Pinays. I grew as a youth activist in the Filipino community in Southern California, connected to my people’s histories of struggles in relation to the United States and other conquering countries. And I was taught to be angry and to fight the system that oppressed my people by being organized, by being aware of policy and by being ready to rise up and speak up with urgency. There is so much to be angry about in this world, so much to weep for, so much that can hold us in places of discomfort and I wanted to fight to change that.

I often drew away from the “militancy” of organizing and really focused on on the cultural aspects, the artistry, the expressions. I knew that I could be, but I was and would always be an artist. I was searching for a different means of organization, something that would feed my artistic soul, and ease the activist in me from burn out and resentment for problems that just would not change. It wasn’t until I found the Center of Babaylan Studies that I realized the power within me was missing something very important, a connection to spirituality. In time I have learned to connect my artistry and activism with my spiritual learnings.

 

image2I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, when I was doing my Graduate School studies at New York University. My initial feelings in my program was a want to use my work to root in my identity as a Pinay and I began to delve and explore this through the lens of other Pinay who were raising other young Filipinas to feel empowered and proud of their identity. I began with my network of organizers, radical educators and artists who were working mainly on the presence of Pinay in relation to systematic oppressions and transnational feminist struggles. These were women who raised me to see the fierceness of Pinay, the way we are essential to every movement and how powerful we are in presence. In this process I was reintroduced to the concept of the Babaylan, I had heard it once in poetry as a youth organizer, but didn’t delve until I was in this process of excavating Pinay roots. This is when I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, and my life shifted with great clarity. I was being fed and nourished with this unfolding of my heritage connected to spiritual power and practice.

Elders from the Center for Babaylan Studies gave to ab abundance of spirit knowledge, in writings, conversation exchanges and through many gifts of reminder written, spoken and energetically and spiritually given. This uncovered in me my roots as a Pinay, that moved beyond the herstory in America and before Spain, the herstory that was not on paper, but that lived in the presence of living ancestors that reflected my self and pushed me to go deeper and deeper to know how my roots lived in me though so much has tried to abolish them. They grew in me the most miraculous recognition of our interconnectivity to one another as living beings and have helped create me to break through the constructedimage3 divisions and fear that have stopped me for seeing others whole, from seeing my self whole. They helped me to find language that I never had to describe the way I feel and relate it in my every day,the two I hold as my greatest values are: kapwa (the shared self), how we see ourselves in others and we see value in the other as we see value in our own being, loob (the inner self), who we are at our core that makes us interconnected to everything.

Recently I was given the opportunity to share in holistic presence with a gathered group from the network of the Center for Babaylan Studies including two of the elders who had guided me on my journey of creation in self and artistry the past 5 years- Leny Strobel and Grace Nono. We ventured to the heartlands of Ohi-yo surrounded by sky, mountains, trees and clear waters embracing us. The conference was centered in reconciling our learned beliefs and those that we have forgotten- strengthening our spiritual connection to all people and all living things, the earth, our ancestors and the Great Creator. I left feeling so reawaken and rejuvenated, feeling more deeply than ever the power of this journey I have chosen to walk again and again- the journey of knowing and loving myself whole so I can love all else more wholly. In seeking to learn of my Filipina Roots I entered a portal into knowing myself as human, as spirit. Kapwa, loob – we are together, we are of one another, we are are other, we are one.


 

Jana Lynne (JL) Umipig is the creator of “The Journey of a Brown Girl” www.thejourneyofabrowngirl.com  Director, Producer, Actress, Educator and Organizer she currently resides in NYC. JL image5has worked with different community organizations developing curriculum and programs that integrate theatre and visual arts with activism and leadership development, working with schools, community organizations, detention facilities, and rehabilitation and support group centers. She believes in the power of the arts to activate and move the human spirit for individual toward community empowerment and transformation.  She creates with the intention to connect human experience and spirit between all communities.

A more extended account of the trip can be found in her blog “Pa ng Biag iti Kayumanggi nga Pilipina” (http://kayumanggingapilipina.com/ ).

Bx 41, Bx 12… They Don’t Love you

Not in service, Not in Service, Not in service

25 min, 35

Why should I expect the bus to show?

The streets haven’t even been cleared

The snow has gone black and slush

5 doormen, 5 custodians

An ex-con, a new mom

Students, grandmothers, teachers

We all, a slow trudge to Fordham

A slow trudge to Grand Concourse

D train

B train

81st

The M79, the route is clear