A Special Message from Our Executive Director

11.28.2016 by Ryan Libel


Thank you for being a part of the Thousand Waves community. I know that recent events have left many of us feeling uncertain, frightened, and even a little hopeless. But as we enter a season that celebrates gratitude, generosity, and new beginnings, we can all be proud of the fact that Thousand Waves is here offering quality programs that counter the forces that divide us.

Over the past couple of weeks, many members have told us that they have appreciated the constancy of our presence, of their martial practice, and of our community’s work toward violence prevention – I know the work and practice have been sources of refuge and hope for me. In an effort to help process the hurt and vulnerability many are feeling, we just held a community discussion and screening of the film Soundtrack for a Revolution. The film was a beautiful reminder to our assembled group of the overwhelming adversity faced by those nonviolently fighting for civil rights, of their sacrifices, and of their ultimate successes.

Read Senpai Ryan’s message.


But at the same time, much work remains to be done. Since November 8, we’ve been receiving a constant stream of inquiries about self-defense programs from a variety of constituencies who are feeling under siege. Of course we’re responding to those requests as best we can, and will provide scholarship assistance to groups who can’t afford our program fees – just like we always do with all our programs. We’ve also added a free community self-defense workshop to our calendar on December 10 that will have a special focus on allying and intervening on behalf of victims of identity-based violence.

Current events are really bringing into focus many of our deepest principles at Thousand Waves, though our work is relevant regardless of the political climate or the time of year. In the realm of the martial arts, our children learn a code of ethics that insists we be strong in body, kind in heart, and respectful of others. Training adults see in our partnerships the strengths and weaknesses that we all share, reinforcing the ties that bind us as humans, stoking compassion and pushing us all to be our best.

This is our last Kiai! Newsletter of the year, and as with other non-profit organizations, it’s our custom to remind our community during this season of giving that we cannot do our work without your financial support. I hope you will take a moment now to consider what Thousand Waves means to you, and to make a generous gift that will carry our work forward into 2016.

At Thousand Waves, we are proud to make our community a welcoming place for all as we work toward our mission of fostering fitness, healing, empowerment and peacemaking. Thanks again for your support and partnership as we all strive with patience to be the change we’d like to see in our world.

Ryan Libel
Executive Director

Debriefing The Year We Thought About Love

11.28.2016 by Ryan Libel

Poster: The Year We Thought About Love

Back on Friday, September 23, at Thousand Waves, Senpai Pamela Robert, Senpai Amy Jones and I hosted a screening and discussion of the award winning documentary The Year We Thought About Love, a film by Ellen Brodsky chronicling a year in the life of LGBTQ youth theatre troupe True Colors.  The group performs in schools and community groups around Boston, dramatizing members’ personal stories in an effort to expose a wider audience to the trials and triumphs of queer youth.  Senpai Pamela Robert came to me with the suggestion for the film early in the year, and as we discussed the details of our Thousand Waves screening/discussion, she invited me to help facilitate a similar event for one of her classes at Roosevelt University, where she serves as chair of the department of sociology.  The Roosevelt screening ended up happening a week before our Thousand Waves screening.  Over lunch recently, Pamela and I held a debrief:

Senpai Ryan and Senpai Pamela discuss diverse audience responses to the film.


PR:  We had two very different audiences – Thousand Waves community members, and students in my Gender & Society class – each proved to be inspirational.  The open-mindedness of the TW community was evident in the audience’s responses to the film.  For me that was not unexpected. Thousand Waves has been successfully growing an empowered and compassionate community of voices for justice for decades.  

RL: I know Roosevelt has a lot of non-traditional students, but it’s also safe to say our audience was a bit older at Thousand Waves!

PR: Yes, and a college classroom is a very different audience, where teachers face many individuals whose views on gender and sexual identities range the full spectrum from the hetero-normative female/male only binary, to celebration of gender and sexual fluidity.  Fifteen years ago, a student, who initially thought she couldn’t get past reading the first few chapters of Stone Butch Blues, charged me with assigning pornography.  When faced with reading it or dropping my course, the student reluctantly read it, and, came away from that experience with a much more affirming view of trans people.  Fortunately, personal and societal beliefs have been evolving over the past 15 years, and the class discussion about The Year We Thought About Love confirms that. 

RL: Your students certainly seemed receptive to the concerns of the LGBTQ community – one thing that struck me about the film and the discussion was the normalcy of the subject matter for both of our audiences.  In some ways that stood in contrast to the experiences of the youth in the film, many of whom were struggling with unaccepting home and school environments.

PR: My class’s discussion centered on the voices and actual experiences of students from the LGBTQ community. I don’t think everyone in the class was on the same page, but acceptance and celebration of gender and sexual fluidity was certainly the norm.  I had them do a blog reaction to the film, and their comments on the film were nothing short of remarkable and a privilege to read.  Students choose a particular type of love – self-love, familial-love, religious love, or romantic love to blog about on the class discussion board.  Some wrote eloquently and passionately about self-love and the obstacles faced by themselves and the LGBTQ community, including the interplay between finding and loving oneself, and then still having to wonder if societal acceptance would follow.

RL: That reminds me of what one member of our TW audience spoke about – the impact of shame on acceptance of oneself and the need to engage with communities like Thousand Waves where that kind of acceptance is a given.  Clearly for the youth in the film their theatre troupe is one such community.

PR:  I know you were struck by the young man in the film whose church community was less than accepting – some of my students wrote about the paradox of religious-love, particularly institutional religion as force of stigmatization for some, while others find in their communities of faith a place where members of the LGBTQ community turn to for support.

RL: Thanks again for bringing the film to our attention, and for having me to your class!  It was a great experience.

PR: And thanks to you – and to Senpai Amy – for all you did on the TW event!

Senpai Ryan Libel is the Executive Director of Thousand Waves, and a 3rd Degree Black Belt. Senpai Pamela Robert is a member of Thousand Waves Board of Directors, and a 2nd Degree Black Belt. She also chairs the sociology department at Roosevelt University.

Our Work with Homeless Youth

11.28.2016 by Amy Jones


At the end of 2015, we received a grant from the LGBT Fund of the Chicago Community Trust to do six 12-week series with four agencies that serve homeless youth in Chicago. At the end of November, we will conclude this year of grant programming.  As the primary instructor for all six programs, I’ve learned a lot through working with these youth.

While unfortunately virtually everyone is at risk for violence, that risk is not evenly proportioned.  In several of the series, we talked about facing an armed assailant.  As an introduction to the topic, I asked participants how many of them had been threatened or injured with a knife or a gun.  Inevitably, most of them would raise their hands.  It broke my heart to see that, but I had learned to expect it.  Violence is a part of their daily lives, to a much higher degree than other self-defense participants.

Read more on the special violence-prevention challenges of homeless youth.


The biggest difference between these workshops and the ones we do with other groups, in addition to the much higher incidence of violent experiences, is that the participants by and large have little trouble setting boundaries.  We consider boundary-setting a core skill, and spend a lot of time on it in most of our workshops.  The companion skill to boundary-setting (the other side of the spectrum, if you will) is de-escalation.  In our shorter workshops, where we only have time for one or the other, we focus on boundary-setting because we’ve found that most of our students find it the most relevant to their lives, and also the most difficult.  For these workshops, the reverse is true.  De-escalation – both of self and others – is harder for the participants, and it’s also something they’re desperately in need of.

Another consequence of surviving repeated or sustained violence is that it becomes normal for you; it seems like an acceptable way of solving problems.  The line between perpetrators and victims gets hazy very quickly – a lot of our participants are both.  As an organization dedicated to peacemaking (it’s right there in our mission statement), this is a delicate issue, especially because we’re not pacifists.  We believe that if someone is being physically attacked, it is their right to physically defend themselves.  What I’ve come to understand is that when our participants have responded with violence, it is because they feel threatened – for them, it is self-defense. 

So we talk a lot about rights and responsibilities – that just as it is their right to feel safe, strong, and respected, it is their responsibility to find ways to make those around them feel safe, strong and respected, and to refrain from violence as much as they can.  I let them know that I do not define them by their worst actions; that I believe that they are good people.  Because I know if they believe that I think they’re good, they can more easily see themselves as good.  And we lead them in a meditation session at the end of each workshop, as a way of helping them learn to regulate themselves.

During our final series, I was working with one participant in particular.  During his first week, he had repeatedly used threatening language, to the extent that I had serious concerns about his capacity for self-control.  So in his second week, I asked if he was open to finding a new, more peaceful way of responding.  He said he was interested in it, but that he had issues with anger.  I told him what I said above – that I do not define him by his worst actions – and the change that came over him was remarkable.  I saw hope in him; hope that he could find new responses that could allow for new possibilities in his life.  By the end of the series, he shared with us that he now has a regular breathing practice, and that he is having more success in controlling his anger. He has a long road ahead of him, but I believe that there are paths there now that were not there before. 

Everyone is worth defending.  Every life has value.   Working with these participants is not easy.  But it feels like some of the most important work I’ve done.

(This article appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of TYRFT: The Self-Defense Newsletter of Thousand Waves.  It has been updated for Kiai!)

Senpai Amy Jones is the TW Violence Prevention & Self-Defense Program Manager and a 3rd Degree Black Belt.

Ten Questions for Maria McKiever

11.28.2016 by Thousand Waves

Maria McKiever is a 4th Kyu Green Belt training member.

Kiai!:  Briefly, how did you come to train in Seido Karate at Thousand Waves?
MM:  I was looking up Martial Arts studios and was deciding between Muay Thai and Karate. I visited Thousand Waves, then a Muay Thai training center, and preferred my experience at Thousand Waves.

Kiai!:  What is one thing you’d like to change about the world?
MM:  That everyone could have equal access to resources, whether it be food, water or education.

Kiai!:  What is one thing you do well? 
MM:  I’m fairly good at public speaking.

Kiai!:  What is one thing you do not do so well? 
MM:  Stick to a simple schedule, lol.

Kiai!:  Who from history do you admire, and why? 
MM: Wilma Rudolph. Battled with what was essentially Polio from birth, she went on to become one of the fastest women in the world in Track and Field. Impossible is nothing.

Kiai!:  Other than Chicago, where have you most enjoyed spending time?  
MM:  On the childhood street where I grew up in Hempstead, NY.

Kiai!:  What quotation have you found inspiring or interesting?  
MM:  If you know better, do better

Kiai!:  What foods do you like best? 
MM:  I like all good food equally, lol!

Kiai!:  What is a book that has been significant to you?  
MM: I don’t remember the title, but it was a book on mindfulness that helped me work on my anxiety.

Kiai!:  What are your musical favorites?  
MK:  I mostly listen to the jazz or classical music station on my Pandora, but Beyonce too.

“Thousand Waves Member Spotlight: Ten Questions for…” is a regular feature of Kiai!
In the next issue, Jonathan Murphy will answer these same ten questions.

Junior Black Belt Test

11.28.2016 by Thousand Waves

Saturday October 22, 2016 was a big day at Thousand Waves. On that day, we tested and promoted Senpai Charlie to Junior Nidan (2nd degree Black Belt) and six other young martial artists to Junior 1st degree Black Belt. The six new Senpai are Senpai Dylan, Senpai Caroline, Senpai Willa Marie, Senpai Nicholas, Senpai Danny and Senpai Liliana.

See photos from their test.

The Junior Black Belt candidates line up as the test begins. They are from left, Charlie (2nd degree Black Belt/Jr Nidan), Willa Marie, Danny, Caroline, Nicholas, Liliana and Dylan.
The candidates warmed up with a couple rounds of karate tag. In this photo, Danny partners with Liliana.
Basic karate technique was thoroughly tested. Here, we see Willa Marie, Nicholas and Liliana showing their best side punches in horse stance.
The candidates’ karate was challenged by partners holding target pads, and then by breaking boards. Here, Sensei Alan brings out the best in Willa Marie’s jabs and reverse punches.
Caroline breaks a board with a hammerfist.
Nicholas breaks a board with his front kick.
Dylan breaks with his side kick.
Senpai Charlie was testing for his second degree of Junior Black Belt, the Junior Nidan. Partnering with Senpai Ruben in this photo, he demonstrates his ability with the bo staff.
The new Junior Black Belts pose for a photo with their teachers.

Congratulations to our Fall 2016 Promotees

11.28.2016 by Thousand Waves

Our students have been busy learning their material and testing for their next belt level – it's been a busy couple of months. Congratulations to all of our dedicated students who achieved a new rank.

Junior Color Belts
November 19, 2016

See everyone who was promoted recently.

Junior Color Belts
September 17, 2016
Youth & Teen Color Belts
September 17, 2016
Youth & Teen Color Belts
November 19, 2016
Junior Black Belts
October 22, 2016

See photos from their test.

To 2nd Degree
Junior Black Belt
(Junior Nidan)

Senpai Charlie

To 1st Degree
Junior Black Belt
(Junior Shodan)

Senpai Dylan
Senpai Caroline
Senpai Willa Marie
Senpai Nicholas
Senpai Danny
Senpai Liliana

Adult Color Belts
October 29, 2016

To 3rd Kyu
Advanced-Green Belt

Jonathan Murphy

To 4th Kyu
Green Belt

Mario Cruz

To 6th Kyu
Yellow Belt

Sunil Agnani
Jim Polson
Jeff Stone
Michael Washington

To 7th Kyu
Advanced-Blue Belt

David Thill
Maya Mills
Jackie Seijo
Vivek Venkataraman
Tom Cosgrove