L: Sensei Beth Holt
R: Shinshii Janet Aalfs
In September 1977, VWMA held its first classes on Masonic Street in Northampton (now Bela's Restaurant) under the direction of Sensei Wendi Dragonfire. There was a large painting of Olive Oyl on the outside lavender wall of the small building. She was dressed in a white karate uniform, wore a black belt, held a can of spinach in her upraised fist and shouted "Spinach is a crutch!" (Of course, spinach is also a delicious food, and a crutch can be used as an everyday self-protection item). The building belonged to the Common Womon Restaurant located next door when Sensei Beth Holt was one of the chefs. Holt and Aalfs were both members of the original student group that helped to form the school. One year later, VWMA moved to Bridge Street in downtown Springfield, a 2nd floor space above a rug store whose owners were friendly and kind. VWMA began a 20-year ongoing relationship with Professor Remy Presas and Modern Arnis in 1981 at a seminar organized by Wendi Sensei in Connecticut. The following year when Dragonfire moved to the west coast, Aalfs and Holt, both 1st degree black belts, become head instructors of VWMA. Classes were held outdoors at the Smith playing fields and on Hospital Hill. These are major areas of what was known as Nonotuck, settled and developed by indigenous people for some 12,000 years. Makes the 350th anniversary of Northampton in 2004 seem like a blink, and VWMA's 40th, well, like about a 10th of a blink! Later, classes were held in a studio above Fitzwilly's, then in a full-time space on the 3rd floor of Thornes Market in downtown Northampton. In August 1984, VWMA moved to One Cottage Street in Easthampton, the space we now occupy. In this former elastics factory building owned by Riverside industries, a not-for-profit organization that serves people with disabilities, our Dojo is a bridge with a river running below. This portion of the building was washed out by the flood of 1955 and subsequently rebuilt. Look for the newer bricks, windows and iron beams.
In 1993, Janet Shinshii met Master Wen Mei Yu at the National Women's Martial Arts Federation "Special Training" conference. This began an ongoing relationship, and led to VWMA & Lotus Peace Arts becoming a branch school of Jian Mei Internal Martial Arts, with Shinshii Aalfs as chief instructor. Other significant additions that continue to thrive include a children's Saturday class begun in 1987, the "Stronger ME, Safer ME" summer program started with a grant from Xeric in 1994, youth workshops now known as "Karate Peacemakers," and the "Power Girls" program founded by Sensei Sally J. Van Wright in 1996. In 1992, Sensei Beth Holt moved to Amsterdam and opened Kawayan Martial Arts. That same year, Head Instructor Aalfs coined the name Institute for Healing and Violence Prevention Strategies (HAVPS - "have peace") for VWMA's community education programs. The school used this full title until 2015 when Aalfs founded Lotus Peace Arts. VWMA/HAVPS networked with numerous local, national and international organizations over the years, including groups involved in arts, sports, education, health, women's and family services, cultural activism etc.
Our school continues to participate in thriving movements for peace, health, transformation, and justice for all - with an awareness of how important it is to work together. VWMA and Lotus Peace Arts now operate through the work of a Leaders Group, and in connection with many other organizations. The process of formally restructuring as a collaborative began in 2009, and in 2010 became known as Project 33 (our 33rd year). VWMA & LPA keep transforming to meet the needs of members and extended community.
Honoring the Ancestors, Ourselves, Each Other
I. GROWING CONNECTIONS – Community Core values and principles through movement and voice. Intergenerational working together and sharing.
II. GROWING SKILLS – Education Experiencing the arts – forms and poetry. Community activism through the arts. Peacemakers.
III. GROWING THE DOJO – Transformation Intergenerational creativity, leadership, and stewardship. Organizational sustainability – collaborative action.