About Us


Thousand Waves Martial Arts & Self-Defense Center, NFP fosters fitness, healing, empowerment and peacemaking by promoting healthy minds and bodies through violence prevention, self-defense and traditional martial arts programs for adults and children of all ages. Our members apply the skills they learn at Thousand Waves to transform their lives at home, school, work, and in public spaces. This creates a powerful community spirit of civility, self-worth, and compassion in action. Through partnerships with schools, other non-profits, businesses and government agencies, we also bring the tools of violence prevention and personal empowerment to diverse communities. We encourage everyone’s participation regardless of racial or ethnic background, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or fitness level.


In 1984, Nancy Lanoue and her partner Jeannette Pappas moved to Chicago with a crazy dream—to create a safe and beautiful place for women to explore their physical selves, get stronger, and feel more empowered. Lanoue came to Chicago with a new black belt in Seido karate and a decade of experience in the feminist self-defense movement in New York.

In Chicago, Lanoue and Pappas started the Women’s Gym, a feminist health club that offered training in Seido karate and was the forerunner of Thousand Waves. Pappas died in 1989, and in 1991, Sarah Ludden moved to Chicago and joined Thousand Waves, studying Seido karate and teaching a second martial art, Kajukenbo kung fu. The school had 50 women and 20 children students.

That number doubled by 1995, when Thousand Waves began offering mixed gender programming, so that men and women, boys and girls could train together, and heal from violence as allies, and Thousand Waves could become a more welcoming and diverse community. That same year, the school moved to its present location at 1220 W. Belmont. By 2000, the school had 200 members.

Thousand Waves had always functioned as if it were a non-profit organization, striving for diversity and equal access to its services, providing scholarships, and developing a spirit of volunteerism. In 2001, it incorporated as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit. Today Thousand Waves continues to be sustained by volunteer efforts that enable the expansion of anti-violence and empowerment programs reaching many more adults and children both within the school and in the greater Chicago area.

The school now has over 400 active members. It has also expanded its commitment to teaching self-defense and supporting communities outside of the school and its local neighborhood. More than “just” a karate school, Thousand Waves is the realization of that decades old crazy dream: a safe and beautiful place, setting waves of self-empowerment and violence prevention in motion.

Group in gym fighting stance-web
Self Defense Group Program
Mother McAuley, February 2015

Board Denise Volunteers ASK-web
Punch & Kick-a-Thon 2009
Sensei Rebecca and Senpai Denise working
with an Adapted Seido Karate student

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• Little Kicks may take clases on either M/W/Sat or T/Th/Sat
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