The Denny Dojo and Quantum SF, 2007-2015

A Quantum Retrospective, Part Three.
To read Part One, The Original Dojo, 1995–2000, click here .
To read Part Two, The Aurora Dojo: North Seattle, 2000–2007, click here.

As Quantum Martial Arts celebrates our Silver Anniversary this year, we’re taking a look back at 25 years on the mat.


Seattle

After Master Evans moved to San Francisco in 2007, Quantum Seattle moved to South Lake Union, and learned how to run a Dojo without a Master onsite.



The Denny Dojo

Although the Denny Dojo space was a major improvement in terms of location from the Aurora Dojo, it held its own challenges. The third location to house the Quantum Seattle Dojo, it was located more more centrally in Downtown Seattle’s South Lake Union District, and was, as Mr. Evans put it, “huge, dusty, and impossible to keep clean or at a reasonable temperature.” Mr. Ben-Ammi also remembers the Dojo as, “So cold! It was not the most fantastic space in the world, we did our best with it, and we stayed there a long time.” After 12 years of developing a community of martial artists, now with the support of a more central location, the Seattle Dojo was more equipped to grow as a business than they’d been at the Aurora Dojo.

Several years into renting the space, Quantum Seattle student Eliza Furmansky painted a mural along this stairwell. In an effort to draw people in and inhabit the space more fully, adding a splash of color, the tenets, and Quantum branding to the entrance created a portal that the Seattle students hoped would draw in new students to the 3rd floor Dojo. In addition to the mural, the Denny Dojo developed other quirks, such as “Bob,” a blue punching bag shaped into a person, tied to one of the pillars at the Dojo. As typical of the Quantum community, students adapted and built traditions within the confines of their space.


Outreach

After Master Evans’ move to San Francisco, Quantum Seattle became more focused on outreach and cross-community volunteering. Within the Dojo space itself, Quantum hosted open sparring sessions and Movement Days, where they’d invite people from a range of disciplines such as other martial artists, yoga instructors, jugglers, and movement artists, to come in and lead an hour long class.

The community also explored new modes of outreach, and in 2009, Quantum Seattle participated in an MTV episode for the show “MADE”, a teen-focused self-improvement reality TV show. Quantum hosted two teenagers, Sabrina and Jenna, in an intensive 6-week training program where they earned their high-yellow belts, and, according to the MTV website, “shed their spoiled images and [were] MADE into tough, disciplined Mixed Martial Artists.”

Pursuing modes of youth outreach, Quantum strengthened its ties at Lake Washington Girls’ Middle School, and Bailey-Gatzert Elementary. Quantum students provided martial arts classes at the Ronald McDonald house, a nonprofit organization giving families of sick children a place to stay in Seattle while they receive healthcare.


While at the Denny Dojo, Cassie Gill became the first and only Quantum student to achieve the rank of junior black belt in 2009, at age 14. She started training 8 years earlier, in 2001, as a 5-year-old.

Ms. Gill remembers as a child, “I was just too obsessed with cartoons, so my dad was like: What activities are you going to do? I said, I want to do what Mulan does, and be like the Powerpuff girls… Growing up in the Dojo, it was nice to have a home away from home, a second space. Master Evans really became like a second mom to me, because she was teaching me the things that people need to learn about; courtesy, integrity, all the tenets… Now, as an adult, I think back to kids who grew up in church communities, and it was really nice that even though I grew up nonreligious, I still got that intergenerational community experience. Growing up in an environment where the adults you look up to not only support you, but will punch and kick you as a peer, helps me feel [confident facing] authority figures now. The other thing that’s cool about growing up in a Dojo was the diversity of relationship I had with my mom [Dr. Meleo, Chief Instructor at Quantum Seattle]. When she started training, I was a High Yellow belt. I already outranked her, and I outranked her until I got my junior blackbelt. I think that helped her and I both develop a way of being okay with  different power dynamics. Now, she and I can work really well together on any project, because we can flip around. 


After I got my Junior Black Belt I trained very seriously for another year, but after that, I realized that I should let go a bit, and focus on just theater. I expected by the 25th year that someone else would [have earned their Junior Black Belt by now] but it’s hard, you have to start so young, a lot of things have to line up to make it possible. I would love to see more Junior Black Belts, it’s a unique experience. It taught me how to be a leader.” 


Seattle Culture and Leadership

Despite the intentions for a collective vision for the Dojo, Master Evans remembers two different flows through the Dojo. One flow embodied a ‘fight club’ mentality, where a group of students did the ‘prison workouts’ and had prison names; the other a strict martial arts school with stern rules, centralized leadership. Dr. Meleo remembers the Dojo developing strategies to bridge this rift in vision, such as distinguishing multiple overlapping leadership systems from one another. “The higher belts made what was then called the Jedi Counsel, trying to separate the Board from the on-the-mat Leadership. There were times when that would overlap, so we would ask, ‘Is it on the mat, off the mat, or on the carpet between the mat?’”

The tension among black belts resulted in the dismantling of the Jedi counsel, and leadership shifted into being run more heavily by the Nonprofit’s board. Ms. Gill recalls this transition as painful. “It was really hard. I was like ‘Can’t Master Evans just come back now? Can’t we just be done with this nonsense?’” Quantum Seattle continued to grapple with building the culture they wanted, but slowly, by around 2010, they began to find their stride. Mr. Ben-Ammi explains, “That was when we decided what kind of community we wanted to be.” 

The Dojo expanded, a family culture grew throughout the years, becoming more prominent after the Dojo was rearranged in 2012 to provide a better training room for kids’ classes, and parents were able to attend class concurrently with their children. For the next 5 years, Quantum Seattle continued to grow as the surrounding neighborhood quickly gentrified. In 2015 the inevitable happened; rent was raised, and Quantum had to move out. Quantum Seattle trained part-time at Lake Washington Girls’ Middle School for the eight interim months pursuing their next location, and eventually discovered their next and current South Jackson Dojo, in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood. 


San Francisco

As Seattle went through their journey of self-discovery, Master Evans was busy starting a new Dojo in San Francisco. Master Evans recalls, “The transition was just reestablishing my roots. Moving to San Francisco gave me an opportunity to do exactly what I wanted to do, and start over.”


The Sun Room

Small and nomadic for the first several years, the San Francisco Quantum branch started out renting several hours at Mission Yoga’s 3rd floor space, the Sun Room. Developing this jump-off point, Master Evans went to work deepening Quantum’s connection with Mission Yoga. She remembers, “I just kept negotiating to get more time in that room. I’d exchange it with helping them with their books, and over time, janitorial… And then just kept building that over the next few years.” However, with only part-time access to the space, Quantum San Francisco had to find other places to train as well, such as Dolores Park, where they would meet every Saturday.

When Quantum was able to train in the Sun Room, which would later become the Dragon Room, began as a green-ceiling, yellow-walled yoga space with hardwood floors, narrowed by a lobby, and painted with a large, pastoral mural.  Mr. Shehane, Quantum San Francisco student since 2011 and current High Red Belt, remembers training without a mat.“We’d do all of the warm ups on yoga mats, and then put them aside and do the class on the hardwood floor. Everybody would complain at first: how do you do sidekicks on a hardwood floor?” Starting with only four tatami mats pulled out for ground-fighting drills, Quantum San Francisco gradually bought more and more mats to train on, until the mats covered the whole training floor. The initial culture of the Dojo was determined, in part, by this initial form. Mr. Kleissner, San Francisco High Blue Belt and Quantum student since 2014, explains: “The space was not built for martial arts, so you had to really want to be part of it. Because of that, the people that stayed were pretty dedicated.” Mr. Shehane remembers, “Class would finish and then you still had to do this whole ab workout to dismantle the floor. We’d have this system of taking the mat, flipping it, putting it to the side. We enjoyed the camaraderie of moving the mats back and forth, the space and routine attracted a certain kind of person.”  Mr. Brehaut, High Blue Belt and Quantum student since 2010 remembers, “It was fun, it was like a Tetris game. You had to fit the room in a certain way, there were patterns you had to follow. There were different schools of thought for how to set up the mat.” 


New Culture

The early Quantum San Francisco years hosted a tight-knit social crew. Ms. Popovich, Quantum San Francisco student since 2007 and 1st Dan Black Belt, remembers being amazed by how friendly and welcoming everyone was. “Each time someone moved an apartment, the whole school would show up to help move the furniture. It was real community living, putting that chosen family concept to practice.” Friendship was an added layer on top of the closeness that comes along with training. Ms. Popovich explains, “You’re growing together too, so you’re not just friends, you’re also going through this guided personal and spiritual development.” Mr. Brehaut adds, “Quantum was my family. Really. I didn’t imagine that there could be a place where martial arts was safe, and loving and nurturing. That blew my mind, and I couldn’t stop—I walked in and didn’t want to leave.” 


In the early years, Quantum San Francisco was still very closely tied to Seattle. Master Evans would visit Seattle every three months to run tests and teach, and Quantum Seattle students would come down to San Francisco to visit, bring gear down, and support the tests. During this time, Master Evans also started running Advanced Retreats at Breitenbush Hot Springs in central Oregon, to support advanced Seattle students in their training, and give rising San Francisco students an opportunity to train with Seattle.

Quantum students convening at Breitenbush Hot Springs for an Advanced Retreat.

When training together, Seattle students brought their own cultural quirks and stylistic differences, especially in the early days. Ms. Popovich remembers sparring Seattle students. “Everybody was really nice, but you would get hit pretty hard.” Mr. Brehaut adds, “Going to Seattle was a very frightening thing. I remember being punched really hard in the stomach. It was really a rite of passage.”

Master Evans reflects,“In Seattle, we were all bruisers… When I moved to San Francisco, I didn’t feel that that was necessary. In Seattle, there were elements that I’d invited initially, and those elements were often embodied in people.” These hard-hitting students gradually left the Dojo, and things softened up a lot for Quantum Seattle. Mr. Ben-Ammi explains, “There was a transition in understanding of what power was: from an idea of strength, into the ability to channel energy. What I call ‘the bruiser gene’ got selected out.” This was representative of Master Evans’ own journey in removing that mode of being from herself, which she worked through, in part, through participating in Burning Man. Ms. Popovich remembers, “It just got gradually softer. Sparring now is real, but not terrifying, and not aggressive. We do so much to keep each other safe.” 


Changes in the Style

In addition to the shift towards softness, other aspects of the style also grew over time: forms were tweaked, techniques smoothed out. Through the splitting of the two Quantum branches, each community began its own individual journey toward understanding the style. Ms. McCaffree remembers discovering this early on in her training. “At first you’re like, why are the red belts all arguing with each other? Why can’t they decide? But I started thinking about it as the complexity and diversity of the culture.” Ms Popovich agrees, “That’s what it’s like to learn a living art, with the forms changing, and the changing of the specifics.” Ms. McCaffree explains that this is a positive aspect of the style. “If I can peacefully coexist with different opinions, that can be my strength. I tell my new white belts: we are going to argue over how things are done, that’s part of the culture, and Master Evans is going to change things! That’s the beauty—this style is evolving both as Master Evans evolves, but also as each entering student brings their strength.”


Outreach

As Quantum San Francisco grew, more and more students began to take on leadership roles at the Dojo, in part through outreach. Quantum participated in the Castro Street Fair and the Mission’s Sunday Streets, and began holding quarterly free self-defense and rolling and falling workshops. Quantum also participated in Art in Nature, a multidisciplinary arts festival produced by Samavesha in the forest of Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. From 2010–2014, Quantum martial artists joined taiko drummers, sculptors, theatre players, dancers, painters, shamans, and musicians to create art installations along a one-mile path that families and residents could wander along and participate in the creations in progess.

Quantum San Francisco also developed youth-specific outreach. In 2014, they held an in-school PE program at Sterne School. This program was challenging even with huge community support, and Master Evans considers it, “One of the most poignant reminders of the power of the Dojo. If I had been able to teach those kids in the Dojo [space], we could’ve done magic.” To serve a group of over 30 high-schoolers in their multipurpose room was an enormous undertaking. To support Master Evans in teaching, up to six or eight adult volunteers each took off two hours in the middle of the workday twice a week and commuted to converge on this school gymnasium during their lunch to teach martial arts to youth. As the first foray into youth outreach in the San Francisco Dojo, there was a lot of teacher enthusiasm.


The Lease

Through this newfound understanding of the power of the Dojo, it became increasingly imperative for Quantum San Francisco to find a space to call their own. Ms. Popovich recalls that by 2011, “We had reached a certain tipping point that made it viable to try to get a space.” As the community grew, Quantum took the steps to develop their professionalism; they made t-shirts, started a board, hired a real estate agent, and began to increase outreach. From there, they’d reach out to property managers in search of lease. Master Evans remembers, “We’d just have this beautiful business model, and people would look at it and say, this is amazing! You are amazing! But, oh. You don’t have any cash flow. And I’d say, goldfish syndrome: you can only get as big as the room you’re in.” This cycle repeated again and again, until 2014, when the building which housed Mission Yoga sold for three times its original price, and everyone’s rent went up. Mission Yoga was unable to continue renting the Sun Room, and so they introduced Master Evans to the new building owners.  Master Evans remembers this moment vividly. “They said, okay, we’ll take a chance on you! And that was in early 2015.” This lease was a huge turning point for the establishment Quantum San Francisco. With the faith of the new property managers, the support of the community, and 1700 square feet, Quantum San Francisco brought out their sledgehammers and circular saws and got to work, building what would become the Dragon Room.

Master Evans at the Sun Room demolition, 2015.

To read Part Four, The Dragon and Tiger Rooms: 2015-2020, click here.