Story by Jill Hurst | Photos by Bernie Laframboise
Sensei Jaye told me I’d picked a good time to reach out to her on behalf of Ferndale Friends. “We have an event coming up pn Monday, to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. There’s a pot-luck afterwards. You should attend. Share the potluck. We can talk then.”
Fast forward to Monday evening at Meijishi Martial Arts in downtown Ferndale, a space full of noise and energy as students of every age, shape, size, and gender prepared to share their skills. The program included demonstrations and excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches, reach aloud by the company. I liked watching the young people, who might have been hearing his words for the first time.
Senseir Jaye and her wife and partner, Guro Su, skillfully guided the event. The noise of the onlookers (chairs scraping, kids talking, coats rustling) didn’t seem to throw the students. They kept focus; their generosity and mutual respect was impressive. Student of all levels participate to music. The last demonstrations were executed in the dark with neon glow sticks design and handmade by student (and engineer) Wendy Stringer.
Certificates were awarded, and finally, we celebrated a round of “Happy Birthday” for Logan Stoll, one of the students. The student did pushups as they sang! “Ask about the pushups,” I scrubbed.
During the potluck, I chatted with Jaye and Su. Jaye started training in 1971. She founded Mejishi at Six Mile and Woodward in 1979, open to all but geared toward self-defense for women. Twenty-six years ago, Mejishi moved to Ferndale; a great space, but Jaye worried that moving out of Detroit might discourage African American students from continuing their training. She spoke of a different Ferndale, “with only about 50% occupancy on None Mile” before the gay and lesbian community discovered the area and grew it into the diverse, creative town of today.
Jaye then encouraged me to mingle with students, starting with black belt Karen Brow, who has trained with Jaye since 1979.
Sensei Jaye is among the founders of The National Women’s Marital Arts Federation, which sponsors a camp every summer (this year in Lansing) and certifies self-defense instructors. The MLK celebration started about twelve years ago. Other annual events include the karate-thin for kids, held in the spring, and participation in the Ferndale Memorial Day Parade and Ferndale Relay for Life.
Karen Brown answered the question everyone asks. “Do I use my martial arts training?” She smiles. “Well, I’ve never had to fight anyone, but I use it every day in my awareness of my surrounding and respect for others.”
And…the pushups? Sensei Jaye does not consider pushups a punishment – more of a joyful exercise. When kids are able to do 30 pushups they get a sticker!
It was an honor to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with Sensei Jaye Spiro, Guro Su, and their company of peaceful warriors. As the student handbook says, “All are welcome. All are special.”
Mejishi Martial Arts is located at 247 West 9 Mile Road. For more information on the many classes available, visit their website at www.mejishimartialarts.com or call 248-542-5371
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