A Quantum Retrospective, Part Two.
To read Part One, The Original Dojo, 1995–2000, click here.
As Quantum Martial Arts celebrates our Silver Anniversary this year, we’re taking a look back at 25 years on the mat.
After closing the Original Dojo in 2000, Quantum reorganized as a non-profit under the 501(c)(3) concept, calling the new organization “MAPI”, which stood for Martial Arts in the Public Interest. With this new title, the Quantum community packed up the space they’d inhabited for five years and relocated eight miles North, to a warehouse in North Seattle. This new Dojo bore witness to a transforming Quantum, and unlike the multifaceted business preceding it, it had just one priority: martial arts. Master Evans reflects, “I felt freer. All I had to do now was teach karate.” Quantum’s new business structure as a 501(c)(3) also helped in fortifying the community and redistributing leadership.
Master Evans explains, “It made everyone a stakeholder and shareholder in the future of the Dojo, and it changed my experience because it made it easier for me to ask for help and get others involved.” Gitai Ben-Ammi, a Quantum Seattle student since 1997 and current Third Dan Black Belt, noticed a difference for others as well. “There was a change in mindset. There’d always been camaraderie, but ownership really took over at that time.” Daniel James, San Francisco Blue Belt and long-time Quantum student, remembers visiting the Aurora Dojo and being blown away by the sense of community there, and by its intergenerationality. “The Seattle community was amazing. It felt like a crazy sort of extended family. It was very inspirational.”
Unlike the Original Dojo that thrived in the heart of Capitol Hill, the new Dojo had no walk by traffic and was off the beaten path, tucked behind some businesses on Aurora Avenue. When a student did make the trek to the Dojo, they’d find a converted aluminum warehouse, which had previously housed a T-shirt print shop. The warehouse was spacious, with a loft and two rollup garage doors that opened into a parking lot with a rolling gate. Kids would play outside on the asphalt yard, and dogs would run free. Dr. Karri Meleo, First Dan Black Belt, current Chief Instructor and Board President at Quantum Seattle, remembers the Aurora Dojo as: “Very much a place for everything; Master Evans would work on cars, people would be skating in the driveway… It was definitely a kind of scrappy, clubhouse-type feel. We’d be on the mat, but it would feel like we were training outside.”
One of the most memorable features of the Aurora Dojo was the mat itself. Unlike the Original Dojo with its carpeted training floor, the Aurora Dojo stood on concrete, so to train safely, they had to build a proper training floor. Master Evans took up the challenge to design the Quantum floor herself, “We built a box frame and just shoveled in all these pellets of granulated rubber. We covered it with canvas, roped it down, and tightened it like a drum to keep it still. The mat was 50 feet long and 30 feet wide. You could get a full sprint across that floor and do a flying side kick.”
The large size of the Aurora Dojo nurtured open, free, creative space. With the parking lot as part of the leased space, Master Evans created Quantum Mechanics, an auto shop set up on the Dojo property. “We would fix people’s cars for them, or we’d build cars and give them to people.” There was enough space inside to install a soundproofed room and set up a music studio to play and record music. In the back, they created a computer lab for kids. Quantum, though no longer a complex for-profit business, still held a multifaceted approach to the role of a martial artist. Car mechanic, musician, computer engineer: the intention was clearer than ever. It was all about taking care of people.
Alongside Quantum Mechanics and the Computer Lab, the outreach aspect of Quantum developed extensively during this time. Quantum held self-defense seminars, attended Pride Parade, and participated in street fairs. Master Evans would go into queer nightlife communities to teach self defense, and hosted open sparring sessions for students training in other martial arts schools. Enrolled in college herself at the time, she also taught martial arts through the North Seattle Community College extended learning program. Youth outreach also developed when Quantum was awarded a contract with the City of Seattle and increased the Dojo’s involvement in local schools. During the years in North Seattle, the Quantum community engaged with hundreds of kids, continuing programs at Concord Elementary, Bailey Gatzert Elementary, Lowell Elementary, Hamilton Middle School, and Lake Washington Girls Middle School.
The Development of the Quantum Style
With all the physical and psychological space the Dojo offered, Quantum as an art form began to expand. Mr. Ben-Ammi reflects that these changes to the style happened through Master Evans. “The Master works by first principle. She is going to say: I need this type of curriculum. And she’s going to move, and feel it out in her body, and figure out the curriculum that way. Which is great, that’s how she invented the style!”
Master Evans recalls, “I was very interested in the intersection between dance and martial arts at that point, so I did an awful lot of dancing, and I would push myself to extreme limits. I would go into the Dojo in the evening and turn on the heat before I’d go out dancing. Then I would come back late at night and go running across that room when nobody was there. I did all this stuff just by myself.” She explains, “I was exploring mobility and the stuff that sits between; the space between the notes, understanding how to get from one place to another, how that action is dictated by balance and stability and core, connectivity, presence. Movement should borrow energy from itself and recycle, flow through an intersection point that rests in the center of my balance, behind my dan tien.”
From this deepening understanding of movement and rhythm, the Quantum style developed, as Mr. Ben-Ammi puts it, from, “‘Here is the technique,’ to, ‘You should be able to feel the energy flowing through your body like this.’” With the influence of dance as a backdrop, sparring at Quantum transitioned into a more flowing style. During this time, strategies and vocabulary for ground fighting expanded. A partnership with a Tai Chi teacher helped Master Evans develop push-hands exercises into the Blue Belt curriculum. A visiting Arnis teacher worked with advanced students as Master Evans introduced sticks into the Red Belt curriculum. As her exploration of flow developed, Master Evans began work on writing the first Quantum Black Belt form during this period, a form that would remain without a name for more than 15 years. Breaking from traditional step-by-step Tae Kwon Do style forms, the Quantum black belt form is one move long.
“As you explore the space between the notes, and see that the chamber of one thing becomes the re-chamber of another thing, there is no reason to stop.”Master Evans
In tandem with the expansion of the style, the early 2000s were also a period where teaching expertise began to circulate throughout the school on a wider scale. Master Evans began explicitly teaching how to teach, and the school grew to hold many strong, effective teachers. As teachers developed confidence, organizing their own outreach programs and sharing their visions for the future of Quantum, Master Evans began preparing for the next leg of her journey: moving to San Francisco.
The San Francisco Chapter and the Denny Dojo
Early in 2002, Master Evans visited some former students working at an office together in San Francisco, and met Mr. James. He remembers, “Master Evans came down and we took a few classes. I was like…what’s going on here?! Sweating and staggering around, training really hard. After these classes, we were shell-shocked and being quiet nerds, and Master Evans went: Great! We’re going to start a Dojo in your office so you can start training here.”
A vagrant Dojo, the new San Francisco chapter spent years training in office spaces, a rat-infested garage in the Dogpatch, Dolores Park. This small group of students would visit Seattle to test, or meet as a community at Burning Man. Mr. James remembers training with Master Evans there, “We were cruising around the Playa, there were a lot of people around and she just stops, turns around at me, throws down her bag, and starts going at me. Sparring, contact dance movement, soft boxing. She’s like ‘come on, play with me!’ and we started spinning around out there, people walking by. We were like a pair of whirling dervishes….I’ll never forget that moment, that kind of falling into the beat, when you get into the rhythm together.” After her first visit to Burning Man in 2005, Master Evans made a decision. “When I came back, I told everyone: I’m going to San Francisco. I’m going to move.”
Before this was possible, Quantum Seattle had to find a new home for the Dojo, since the North Seattle location made it impossible to sustain a thriving Dojo. The core students ended up choosing a location on Denny Way in Seattle’s more central South Lake Union District, and moved into the new space during Labor Day weekend of 2006, while Master Evans was at Burning Man for the second time. Inspired by the impermanent nature of Black Rock City, Master Evans explains, “Burning Man helped me move down that path towards letting go. It was like open your hand, see what stays. It helped me understand how to feel safe while I was learning how to let go.” She recalls, “I came back and the Dojo had been moved. I was in the process of letting go, but it felt like: you can’t keep holding on. This is part of the test, and you need to pass this test, because you need to go to San Francisco. It’s time.”
The Denny Dojo was brought to life through strong Board leadership, and a huge burst of community energy. Cassie Gill, Dr. Meleo’s daughter and former Junior Black Belt recalls, “It was cool, because we could just pick up our entire community and move it. The Dojo is very good at just winging it and keeping it on going.” Dr. Meleo remembers the Board setting collective intentions for the new space. “There was a conscious effort to make it a more intentional space, and we also made sure that there’d be a gender neutral changing room, to take care of our transgender students.”
Just as Quantum Seattle got its roots planted on Denny, Master Evans moved to San Francisco. Through a Burning Man connection, the fledgling Quantum San Francisco was able to rent the Sun Room (what is now the Dragon Room) part-time from Mission Yoga in 2007. Mr. James remembers it as a very exciting and expansive time for the Quantum San Francisco community. “The momentum unlocked, we were at a point of uncertainty, and we grew. It was a really interesting time.” Quantum had branched in two: Seattle was learning how to steer their own ship, and San Francisco was just beginning its journey.
To read Part Three, The Denny Dojo and Quantum SF, 2007-2015, click here.