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Staying Ready: Despite pandemic, virtual martial arts sessions train Pinays in self defense

Staying Ready: Despite pandemic, virtual martial arts sessions train Pinays in self defense

Jamie Yancovitz (Right), creator, director, and head Instructor of Survival Arts Academy. Photo: Darcey De Los Reyes (@delosphoto)

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, womxn and young girls in the Filipino community would come together and train in the traditional martial art form of Pekiti Tirsia Kali (PTK) as a way to combat against violence. 

But now members of this community are learning to train and share stories through a virtual screen.  

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The Survival Arts Academy, a training system for womxn and girls to protect themselves against sexual assault and all other forms of violence, has had to move from in-person workshops to virtual sessions—just as many other activities have shifted to virtual platforms. 

“There is no replacement for the love, care and energy exchanged during our sacred circles and training together, but students continuously say that our gatherings online are what’s giving them the life and strength to keep going, while providing a level of support and comfort during this time when everyone is physically isolated from each other,” said Jamie Yancovitz, creator, director, and head Instructor of Survival Arts Academy. “One amazing feat that we’ve been able to accomplish is to bring our students and facilitators together from NYC to California to the Philippines! Our warrior community stays connected worldwide through technology.” 

Jamie Yancovitz (Right), creator, director, and head Instructor of Survival Arts Academy. Photo: Darcey De Los Reyes (@delosphoto)

Originally established in Bacolod City, Philippines in 1897, the sacred family system of Filipino fighting arts known as Pekiti Tirsia Kali (PTK) was brought by Yancovitz, 31, to Los Angeles. Prior to COVID-19, training retreats were held in the Philippines, New York City, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Since the start of shelter-in-place, Survival Arts has offered virtual training sessions for anyone who had previously been involved with in-person sessions. 

Jocyl Sacramento, community member and Survival Arts participant, got involved with the training initially in September 2019 when she was invited to a retreat. Verma Zapanta, co-facilitator of the Bay Area branch, reached out to Sacramento and others to participate in a daylong fighting arts training and healing retreat.

The first virtual session Sacramento attended was Survival Arts Worldwide Virtual Training in March, which included participants from all over the world. Yancovitz hosted the Zoom call  from the Philippines, and was joined by participants from the regions of New York (Lenape), the San Francisco Bay Area (Ohlone), Long Beach and Los Angeles (Tongva). Names such as Tongva, Ohlone and Lenape are in reference to the indigenous tribes which inhabited  those regions of California over thousands of years ago.  

Virtual training has allowed these womxn and others in the community to connect with people they never would have practiced with if they were limited to in-person sessions. 

Since moving to virtual training online due to the current pandemic, the Survival Arts team has found ways to check in with their warrior community and provide support during this difficult time. 

Yancovitz has worked hard in creating videos for their students to continue practicing PTK training tutorials, and sets aside time during each gathering to have a grounding meditation and small-group breakout sessions to check in with one another. 

“We have also created online challenges like the #10pushupchallenge for folks to continue building bodily strength and encourage everyone to stay fit, healthy, and safe during this time,” said Yancovitz. “Our goal is to keep folks motivated, in shape, and staying ready for whatever life throws at us. Keeping a strong mind, body, and spirit during this time is imperative to fight the virus, while preparing for the future.” 

Due to the physical aspect of training, lessons were really meant to be done in person. As in any sport or martial arts, there is a level of contact and energy exchange that cannot be replicated anywhere else. 

Survival Arts Academy session in San Francisco. Photo: Darcey De Los Reyes (@delosphoto)

“Survival Arts (SA) to me is more than just training. It’s become my family and deep source of grounding and healing. My SA family in Lenape—the New York City Area—has become inseparable (in spirit, and virtually that is) even amidst quarantine,” said Danielle Espiritu, Survival Arts member. “It goes so far beyond just physical training and I think that’s what’s really empowered us individually and collectively.” 

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Espiritu, a freelance education, designer, yoga instructor, manager and creative problem solver for nonprofits, had known Yancovitz for a long time and followed her work through social media in bringing Survival Arts from the Philippines to Los Angeles. 

After Yancovitz invited Espiritu to Survival Art’s first retreat in March 2019, she believed something was calling her to join and has been training, healing and learning ever since. 

“The pandemic is bringing a lot of things up for all of us, the whole world. With that comes a lot of mental, emotional and physical challenges,” said Espiritu. “In being with each other even virtually, and being able to come into our circle as we are, our healing process in this community has propelled us through the difficulties of the pandemic to be our truest, highest selves.”

Survival Arts Academy session in the Philippines. Photo: Darcey De Los Reyes (@delosphoto)

Although the pandemic has brought on physical separation between its community members, the bonds between them have not wavered. In anything, it has somehow brought these womxn closer worldwide. 

The change has allowed people to meet more frequently and has encouraged the members to fight through this pandemic as a collective, in hopes of there being a time when they will be able to meet in-person again.  

Jamie Yancovitz, creator, director, and head Instructor of Survival Arts Academy. Photo: Darcey De Los Reyes (@delosphoto)

“Our work during COVID-19 has proved to be even more relevant and important than it has ever been. We advocate that everyone #STAYREADY for whatever life throws at us, the same way we stay ready for an attacker coming our way,” said Yancovitz. “Our teachings of survival and sacred ancestral knowledge have become even more potent during this time, when folks need it the most, and we’ve created a community that has provided strength and solidarity to one another in an apocalyptic moment where the future is uncertain, and we have no choice but to create a new world.” 

They have a number of videos available on their YouTube channel: youtube.com/SurvivalArtsAcademy

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