I really admire you for your strength and agility as a kickboxer, but also for being in a field that traditionally might have been thought more ‘suitable’ for men.
Did you find it hard to work your way up in kickboxing, especially as a female, in terms of having support and being taken seriously?
Staying at Champions Martial Arts Academy for all the years that I did- from being a novice student to becoming an instructor and employee- had its challenges. I would say it made it easier having female role models around me- such as Master Ingrid Katzberg and Sensei Anita Katzberg. These two sisters own and run the school (along with Master Farid Dordar). Their strength was so inspiring and motivating for me and thousands of other female students in the city.
Yes. I remember them being highly regarded throughout the school and community.
Yes, and Master Ingrid and Master Farid welcomed all genders to train and compete. I never felt any judgement from either one of them. The only challenges I encountered were from a minority of younger males who felt uncomfortable around me. I competed early on in my training years in eight tournaments and in five ring-fights and I was always the oldest female among the fight team. So that was tough in terms of judgment. And I later faced another challenge when I began instructing. Once again, some males found it difficult to be instructed by a female. This led me to train harder and to show them I am not as limited as they think. Of course now, after fifteen years of instructing, one builds a reputation and I have not had any issues with this in a long time.
Were your family supportive of your pursuing martial arts?
I kept my martial arts training secretive from my family because I thought they would not be supportive. I did think that martial arts was predominantly a male sport and activity, so I feared that my family would judge me.
As I mentioned before, I found myself feeling uncomfortable around some males when training and instructing for martial arts. I think these men were threatened by my passion in expressing my physical strength and even worse, in developing my self-confidence. There were times when they made comments that were sexist. Of course this was at a minimum at Champions. The comments were mostly in my personal life from friends and some family members. This has all changed now.
What brought about some of these changes?
Well, one example is that when I gained some confidence, I asked my family to watch one of my black belt tests and my competitions. They accepted. And they were blown away by the positive support the school offered me.
Interesting. And here I thought maybe the impetus for you going into martial arts came from someone in your family being in the field. Where did the inspiration for becoming a kickboxer originate for you?
I first joined martial arts twenty years ago to learn how to defend myself because I was a victim of an attack. My initial intention for taking up martial arts was revenge. This is the ultimate wrong reason to take martial arts, and I learned this after only a few months of training. Martial arts have taught me confidence, self-respect and self-dignity. These were the very reasons I stayed and progressed. I stayed because I felt I was improving mentally, spiritually and physically.
How would you describe kickboxing or a kickboxer’s life to someone on the outside who might not fully grasp what it entails?
Kickboxing is a martial art. Martial arts is a way of life. It is a philosophy. This becomes apparent when you commit to it long term. The lessons we learn as students are invaluable. Lessons learned are the same lessons our parents and grandparents should be teaching us at home, but do not sometimes, because of family issues, time constraints or other circumstances. A dojo in martial arts is a sacred place where professionalism is available. This is where you learn how to stand up for yourself and for others. Self-discipline is taught by repeatedly practising techniques with the mindset that achieving small goals will eventually amount to bigger achievements.
How do you think kickboxing has influenced your daily life?
Training in martial arts has helped me come out of my shell. I was very shy. My meekness let others take advantage of me, and as a result, I got into dangerous situations. I was also unhealthy and was choosing others over myself. It was so liberating saying no to other people and instead, saying yes to my dreams and desires. When I was living for others, I had no strength to help others. But when I started living for myself and not for others. I became happier, and I learned that this also put me in a good place to be able to help others.
How do you deal with the injuries that often come with kickboxing?
I prevented most injuries by doing strength training on my own. When I did get injured, I understood that my body was a healing machine and that I had to be patient for my body to do its part in healing itself. When you absolutely love something that helps you solve your personal problems, you are patient and determined to stay with it. I could not give up martial arts. I was determined to find any solution to the problems that might come about because of injuries.
Did you always have this kind of discipline and body awareness in your life? I am so fascinated by where this originates in people who take these skills to such a high level as you have.
I have always been pretty active since childhood. In fact, I was a tomboy. Sports have always been in my life. I think natural athletes have body awareness. I have always been interested in how the body works and how everything is connected. It fascinated me to learn how I am in total control of my own body and mind.
I like that you brought up the mind-body connection. Dance Me Free is about the power of Dance –and other artistic passions particularly involving movement- to heal. It sounds like you have a strong belief in this as well.
Growing up, I learned that at times of difficulty, we lose control of our mind and body. Health and wellness was a passion of mine and I learned an appreciation of this from my strong parents. My mother survived chronic depression without medication. She healed herself with exercise and food. My father is living with diabetes and is determined to solve this illness with better food and lifestyle habits.
That is very inspiring. You actually have a website related to this topic right?
Yes, Revolutionizeaging.com is a website with articles that discuss wellness and health as we age. (also on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/siakaskas_revolutionizeaging/)
What made you create the site?
Since some people often let go of their health when they get older, it became a concern for me. Being a martial artist for life helps me stay connected to health and nutrition. I have made many changes over the years concerning my health. The mind and body changes after seven or so years, and I had to adjust to be able to stay productive and creative. This lifestyle forced me to become a student again about aging and health. I found a whole world of valuable information I did not know existed. It got me so excited I could not contain myself so I started sharing the news to others. It is one of my baby projects that is in its early stages but it will eventually become a book.
That sounds amazing. What a great idea!
I have decided to do this for life. Let’s say it is an extension of my being a martial arts instructor. I am trying to be innovative and unique about health. I try to stay updated, and want to let people know being healthy as we age is not boring. It can be fun and sexy.
Oh. I love that. (smiles)
It’s true though. I know that aging can be scary and disheartening, especially in the world of fitness. The judgement around growing older had to be confronted in my mind because I truly believe fitness and health has no age limit. The limits are individual, not measured by ethnicity, gender, class, or age. So finding solutions to prevent age related diseases can only be possible once the aging stigma is lifted first. This is what my site is about. I try to cover mental health as much as physical health as well in the articles.
Speaking of mental health, you also have another passion that I consider very therapeutic as well- visual art. I was very surprised to find out that you draw and paint. I feel like art has this softer, quieter, and more internal quality to it, compared to what we see on the outside in kickboxing. Were you a visual artist first before kickboxing?
I was a very active visual artist before I joined martial arts. You are absolutely right in that art is a quiet activity that is spiritually demanding. Creating this kind of art is a highly solitary process.
How would you describe your style of artwork?
Thank you for asking about my art. My art is changing right now, but I will continue to paint and sketch imaginary characters from my imaginary world. They are a combination of surreal, fantasy, realism, conceptual, graffiti, tattoo and classical images. It is a mix of everything. I work with acrylics, oils and pens and crayons. I absolutely love experimenting with colors. I like to think of myself as an inventor of colour.
Are there particular themes that you tend to concentrate on in your artwork?
I am currently writing a graphic story called Apocalypse Heart. (also on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/apocalypse_heart/) It is about deep human emotions in times of crisis. I try to create a world people can relate to. I want to guide the reader and viewer to a place in their minds and hearts that asks important questions like who we truly are in our lives. Questions like Why are living? Where did we come from and where do we go after? What lessons do we learn here on earth? What happens if we do not learn our lessons before we die?
That is fascinating. I have seen some of your artwork and it is definitely powerful and moving. The images, textures and colours provoke a lot of various emotions. Where can others see some of your work?
I am currently building a website that will show my past and more recent works. People can also go to my Facebook and Instagram page, as well as my Medium profile.
Who inspires you in the martial arts and visual art world?
The people who really teach me about martial arts and visual art are my students, my customers, family, friends, and all the animals, nature and people of the world. My dear friend and mentor in my arts career is Sian Woodward. Sian is the owner of the Graffiti Company Art Gallery and Studio in North Vancouver. I met Sian around 1996. She was my private teacher who gave me wings to soar. It was she who encouraged me to just paint and show my work.
In martial arts, Master Ingrid Katzberg is my all time mentor who has changed my life.
Has kickboxing influenced your artwork? Or has your work with art influenced your kickboxing?
Being an artist reinforced my fear of being around people. But when I was studying martial arts, I noticed how what I was learning from kickboxing helped me talk to people more about my visual art creations. It helped me promote my art. It helped me “show up” at events. It gave me strength and confidence.
On the other hand, my art helped me be a better martial artist in the sense of comprehending the details of the skills involved. As a teacher, I pay close attention to details, and I demand perfection from students, teaching them to see these details too. Martial arts is an art. There are techniques to be learned and to be practised. Martial arts is also an expression of the body. It is an attitude of how to react to life’s challenges. We become what we repeatedly do on a daily basis. That is a part of art. That is a part of training to be a martial artist. I apply this to both these disciplines, and take this lesson into other aspects of my life as well.
Beautiful. Thank you.