Four Female Martial Arts Students Test For Their Blackbelt During a Global Pandemic

Four new blackbelts and three Masters after the blackbelt ceremony in October, 2020

In May 2020 four women were scheduled to test for their First Dan Black Belt, but their plans were ruined, as so many were, by the pandemic. They did not lose focus. All four continued training and after waiting six more months they are finally able to test. Brenda Apt, Becklyn Maguire, Rebecca Scanlon, and Vivien Stembridge tested on October 3rd at the Academy in Manchester.

The four women range in age from mid-twenties to almost 50. They’ve all been training at the Academy for 4 to 5 years, and they’ve been training hard. They all came to the Academy and martial arts for different reasons. Rebecca Scanlon, the youngest of the black belt candidates, says she attended a class just because her sister wanted to try it out. After just one class she was hooked. Becklyn Maguire said she came to the Academy to watch a class, but was encouraged to give it a try and ended up going home with a uniform signed up for classes!  The Academy has that effect on people who get to see it up close.

Ms. Scanlon and her sister after getting their yellow belts in 2016.

There are no external competitions at the Academy. The only competition you have is with yourself, and that can be the hardest competition of all. When asked what keeps them coming back to train through injuries, setbacks, and personal life challenges, Vivien Stembridge said, “Honestly, all of it. I love the balance of different martial arts styles and techniques that make up Deahanmoodo [the style of martial arts taught at the Academy]. It keeps me mentally and physically challenged. However, more importantly, AMA is a wonderful community that feels like family.“ For Brenda Apt it’s seeing higher belts do a technique that she can’t imagine herself doing, and then, with lots of perseverance and practice, she does it too!  “I wanted to get better, to do the kicks, jumps and stunts that the other students could do,” Ms. Apt said, “which meant coming back to practice and learn more each week.”

Ms. Apt training in early 2020.

Training at the Academy is focused on self defense. “We learn to fight, but we hope we never have to,” Grandmaster Waldron, owner and instructor, says. Students learn techniques from multiple styles of martial arts including Taekwondo, Hapkido, and Judo. Rebecca Scanlon, who was an avid dancer and gymnast growing up, and participated in multiple competitions and recitals, says the training at the Academy is different. “The focus is on being able to defend and protect yourself instead of competition sparring,” said Ms. Scanlon, “Everything you learn is really applicable to your life.” Yes, students learn how to throw a punch and kick with speed and force, but they also learn how to break free if someone tries to choke them, grabs them from behind and tries to drag them away, and how to escape when an attacker is pinning them to the ground. Maybe it’s the focus on multiple styles of defense that attract such a diverse group of students, including approximately 50% women in the adult classes. 

Students training in the new Academy dojang in early 2020.

So, has being a woman affected how these candidates have felt while training at the Academy?  “I want to say that it [being a woman] hasn’t affected my training, but that wouldn’t be true. There have been times that I have trained with a man and I was afraid. He may have been bigger and stronger than me and I couldn’t see how I would be able to protect myself against someone like that,” said Ms. Maguire. “Those are the times when I prove to myself (and those who try to marginalize me) that being a woman has nothing to do with my ability to defend myself, and that I am fully capable of standing my ground.” She has most definitely proven her ability to defend herself against all types of would-be attackers. Ms. Apt had similar sentiments, “I never really let it discourage me in any way. Sparring and grappling days were a challenge at times, but I never backed down.”

Ms. Maguire trains everywhere!

Ms. Stembridge, an EMT in Manchester, said, “Overall, I have found the men who train at AMA to be respectful and mindful, so the physical differences between the sexes have not really been an issue.” The climate of the Academy is well known to be welcoming to its students and that feeling of welcome and acceptance is infused in the classes. This understanding has always set the Academy apart from other martial arts schools.

Ms. Stembridge getting ready for her black belt test.

It has been said that a black belt is just a white belt who never gave up, and the reason that there are so few black belts is because it takes dedication and perseverance to continue working towards that goal week after week, year after year. Ms. Apt, Ms. Maguire, Ms. Scanlon, and Ms. Stembridge-- we are so incredibly proud of you!

The four female black belt candidates and Master Waldron on test day.


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