A Quantum Retrospective, Part Four.
To read Part One, The Original Dojo, 1995–2000, click here.
To read Part Two, The Aurora Dojo: North Seattle, 2000–2007, click here.
To read Part Three, The Denny Dojo and Quantum SF, 2007-2015, click here.
As Quantum Martial Arts celebrates our Silver Anniversary this year, we’re taking a look back at 25 years on the mat.
Buildout of the San Francisco Dojo
After eight years of growing the Quantum SF community in rented space, the stars aligned and a lease was signed to formally take over the 3rd floor training space at 2390 Mission. Master Evans, with a three-year lease in hand, was thrilled to finally get to work building what would eventually become the Dragon Room. She reflects on this simply, “I finally had the capital, the carpentry skills, and of course, the drive. So we created a pillow of heaven in the heart of the Mission District.” The space formerly known as the Sun Room was only half the square footage that Quantum really needed to thrive, but the community came together to make the most of the space, and tear the old yoga studio down. Master Evans recalls, “It’s a terrifying experience to walk into a space and gut it, but there’s also something about bringing a community together that just creates a new kind of entity. It’s like meditation, gutting a building. And then a big open space—finally I can think!”
Post-construction, once the yellow walls had been painted white, the lobby torn out to reveal a more expansive space, a full sprung-wood training floor laid down, and mini locker rooms installed, the SF community had itself a Dojo. Mr. Lyons, Quantum student since 2014, High Red Belt and founder of the Quantum Portland chapter, remembers construction as an ongoing conversation between the Dojo and the student body. “Our process of adapting would look something like this: we would organize, then reorganize, then Master Evans would come in and rip everything out and build it again to better suit the space.” Master Evans agrees, “This is the beauty of building your own space: you use the space as you’re building, so function can affect form, and everything has a purpose. A Dojo has to reflect that; physically, spiritually, emotionally.”
The Dojo space became central to the mission of Quantum San Francisco, significant in its contrast from the current community at Quantum Seattle. Dr. Meleo reflects, “It is clear that we have shared vision, but our mission is slightly different. In San Francisco, the mission is tied to the physical Dojo, while in Seattle our mission is ‘revealing personal strengths and interconnecting communities through joyful practice.’ So, for us, you don’t actually have to be part of the physical Dojo to be part of the Quantum community.” This difference is reflected in each Dojo’s approach to outreach. While Quantum San Francisco primarily focuses on in-Dojo community work, Quantum Seattle continues to maintain more involved offsite partnerships with youth programs at Lake Washington Girls Middle School, Treehouse for Kids, Mercy Housing, and Lowell Elementary school in Seattle.
With a beautiful Dojo and a strong adult community, Quantum SF was finally ready to introduce youth classes to the schedule. Ms. Popovich remembers, “Youth programming had always been in the plan, but the nature of training Quantum teachers means that each teacher needs to first earn an intermediate rank in the adult program, which takes years. In 2015, we finally reached that critical mass for there to be enough teachers to support a youth schedule.” Starting with just one all-ages youth class, Dojo culture shifted immediately to reflect the new spirit of the community. Ms. Popovich recalls, “The kids class brought a youthful energy, it brought an excitement into the Dojo, and it brought a lot of new voices into the picture.” Mr. Lyons recalls an added sense of playfulness at the Dojo. “We went from adults only, to kids literally swinging from the ceiling. The minute we started training kids, it became about helping families grow, not just individuals.” Quantum San Francisco grew its focus to supporting whole families, and developed class schedules intentionally accessible to full and diverse families. With this new mindset, Quantum philosophies began to ripple through whole family units in San Francisco. Ms. Popovich reflects, “Parents tell us all the time that they use Quantum lessons at home while negotiating with their kids.”
Starting from that initial class, the youth program grew along many different branches, beginning with the kids program splitting into Kids and Teens programs in 2016. In 2017, Quantum also began to offer youth summer camps. Following the success of both of these ventures, Quantum began to pilot a Quarks program for pre-K students off-site at a MyGym playspace in Dogpatch. Shortly after, in 2018, the Quarks program was integrated back on-site into the Quantum Dojo. Master Evans reflects that training with preschoolers is, “A beautiful opportunity to bring music and martial arts together. I sing and we march together, we do call-and-response. They make me want to write songs about everything.”
Youth not only changed the culture at Quantum—they also changed the style. Master Evans remembers, “As the kids program grew, integrating the Quantum style into the Tae Kwon Do youth classes I had been teaching started to make more sense. So I created a new belt system to keep track of the differing curriculum between the three age groups.” The Kids and Teens programs evolved away from the simplistic TKD forms that proved to be too easy for youth to learn, so they started learning the Quantum forms Master Evans wrote for the adult curriculum.
The First Quantum SF Black Belt
Ms. Popovich, Quantum student since 2007, started working at Quantum full-time as the Design and Communications Director in the Winter of 2018. She reflects, “It felt exciting when we’d grown the organization to the point where we could support a staff. We were able to make the Dojo more stable, more professional, and grow it in a more sustainable way.” Several months later, after training for 11 years, she tested for Black Belt. Ms. Popovich remembers the support emanating from the community. “Testing for my black belt really helped me step into the teacher role, and showed me that this something I’m doing with my life. People see me as a black belt, and that’s important because of all the cultural meaning it brings to my words and actions. The lessons I teach, the relationships I build, all have the potential to make a big impact because of the belt I wear, and you never know when you’re going to make that impact on a student via the things you say and do. It’s an enormous responsibility, and a gift.”
The Tiger Room
Brimming with new energy, Quantum SF was still functioning with only half the square footage it needed. Mr. Lyons remembers, “In 2017, we were bursting at the seams. The Dragon Room was regularly overflowing with kids, and the adults were coming in with strong numbers. We would often have adults [waiting] in the hallways because the locker rooms were jam-packed.” Master Evans explains, “You can abide a small space for a little while. But if you start your class with chaos, it’s untenable from the beginning. So, I asked the owners of the building for more space. They worked out a deal with the other businesses on the floor, we signed the new lease, put down another deposit, and got the Tiger Room.” This was in 2018, right after Master Evans had her first of two hip replacements. Nonetheless, three months post-surgery, she was up on a ladder swinging a hammer. However, unlike with the Dragon Room, this time there was no hesitation. “I just went for it—I took everything down. We got it operational by Spring of 2018.”
Once the Tiger Room was up and running, Quantum SF was able to double their class offerings and take family training to the next level. Mr. Lyons remembers, “We had full families training, brothers and sisters in the same space, parents in the same tests as their teens…” Ms. Popovich adds, “We tried to think of every age combination of family members that might be training together and create the opportunity for them to come to the Dojo for simultaneous classes. In addition, the experience of giving a family a shared structure to help them grow and develop together really brought a lot of the social work of our intentional community to the forefront.” By Summer of 2018, the Dojo was brimming with energy and potential. Then, still recovering from her hip replacement, Master Evans got sciatica, and could not stand up straight for six months.
The Quantum style is in conversation with the world surrounding it, and one of Master Evans’ fundamental teachings is to make pain your teacher. With the break in training required due to her sciatic pain, Master Evans used the time to develop the youth curriculum. When she could not kick due to her injured hips, she developed the Arnis aspect of the curriculum, stick fighting drills and techniques that are practiced standing. Master Evans’ model of adaptation in her own training offered other students an opportunity to approach their own movement practice with similar creativity and gratitude. Dr. Meleo explains, “The Quantum style is so amazing because it has something in it for everybody, even people in aging bodies. There is so much in the style that appeals to and works for different body types, heights, genders, skills, neuromuscular connections.” Mr. Shehane adds, “I think the Dojo will always be a place of healing. It could be emotional or intellectual or physical… It’s always going to appeal to people in that way.”
In addition to the increase in accessibility, there were other changes to the style as well. Students at Quantum Seattle took great strides in developing and organizing the ground-fighting curriculum, Master Evans developed the open-hand Arnis exercise called hubud into the green belt curriculum, and she began to write the 2nd degree black belt form. Regardless of the tangible changes, the Quantum style is continuously evolving. “Because it’s a living art, each time you see a new crop of white and yellow belts, they’re better than the ones before them. There are many different ways to the same end, and learning from a larger cohort of teachers teaches you to rely less on structure and more on instinct,” reflects Mr. Gavai, Quantum San Francisco High Blue Belt, and student since 2015. Mr. Lyons agrees, and sees this reflected in the growth of teachers as well. “As new students come in, we adapt our teaching to help them learn from where they are [starting from], so the style is in a constant state of change, because each student is different.”
In the past five years, Quantum has progressed into a softer style, and the tone and intentions of the community have shifted to match it. Mr. Ben-Ammi reflects, “Quantum has kept getting better over time. It’s [grown to be] more about the movement than the strike. The focus has become ever more about the integration of the body, the understanding of how energy flows through it, and the partnership between bodies.” This partnership and trust comes organically through a culture of respect in the face of differences. The Quantum community is united through the set of shared tenets and one shared intention: personal growth.
Mr. Lyons explains, “Our members are willing to challenge themselves, to push beyond their limits and ensure everyone is safe. This attitude creates a culture of constant growth.” This culture is reflected in sparring sessions, classes, and belt tests. “You learn that if you’re completely comfortable at your belt, you probably shouldn’t be there anymore,” says Mr. Kleissner. Master Evans agrees, “What matters is that I pursue. It is the act of doing it that matters, not what you seek. Fall in love with the process. We strengthen each other when we find others who harken to the same call. This Dojo is committed to that, it’s a place to pursue. Not sit with or be with, but relentlessly pursue.”
The Virtual Dojo
The Quantum community’s willingness to face challenges head-on paved the way for to Dojo survive and thrive through the COVID19 pandemic. With the Dojo forced to go virtual in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, Quantum students were suddenly, for the first time, regularly training with their community members from the Seattle, San Francisco, and new Portland chapters, all at once, and all from home. This was a boon for Mr. Lyons, who was able to continue to train with his full community as he began to launch a new Quantum chapter in Portland in Spring of 2020, right as the pandemic hit.
Dr. Meleo explains that when she joined Quantum, it was the community that kept her engaged, and the commitment to her health as well. “Both those things have served me really well, especially now during covid. Being able to work out and escape through our martial arts has been really important.” Mr. Gavai echoes this sentiment, and reflects on the added benefit of training in an adaptive style. “Since we have a living art, the creator of the art can pivot and change and add new things, like the asterisk.” The asterisk form, designed by Master Evans in response to the new virtual Dojo created during the COVID19 pandemic, was designed to deepen students’ understanding of footwork subtleties to increase flanking skills in small spaces. This footwork form is an emblem and physical manifestation of how the Quantum community faced the pandemic: with curiosity, and a commitment to learning to pivot, adapt, and grow. Master Evans explains, “Covid has forced me to think in ways I’ve never had to think before. It’s here, so I’m going to use it to teach myself, and I’ve always wanted to get people to flank. Covid is one of the best tests I’ve ever been given.” With this marathon test still in progress, and a lifetime of unknowns ahead, the Quantum community is united and strengthened by the same mission that started the first Dojo in Capitol Hill in 1995; to learn martial arts, to heal, and pursue self-discovery— relentlessly.