It's a Friday afternoon in Greenwood, and 28 middle-school girls have gathered at a large martial-arts studio for an unusual academic activity.
Before the day is over, the air will fill with the sounds of snapping wood and confident shouts as these girls break boards with their high-flying feet.
Welcome to Martial Arts in the Public Interest (MAPI), a nonprofit organization that provides youths with positive role models and personal growth.
Located just off Aurora Avenue North at 945 N. 96th St., MAPI is run by Master Rachel Evans, a fourth-degree black belt, and here she comes now.
Learning the tenets
Muscular, agile and unapologetically loud, Evans fills the studio with a long, sharp whistle that announces it's time to get serious. And these students know she means it.
They have come from Central Seattle, where they attend Lake Washington Girls Middle School (LWGMS), a private all-girls school where the motto is "Strong in Mind, Body and Voice!" The school's curriculum emphasizes strong academics and independent thinking for adolescent girls in grades 6 through 8, and all 49 of them participate in martial arts throughout the school year.
"It does great things for their sense of confidence," says Patricia Hearn, who has directed LWGMS since its founding in 1998. "Our graduates always talk about it."
And no wonder.
In a few short weeks, Master Evans - as she is always called by the students - has taken the incoming sixth-graders from almost complete inexperience to controlled routines that include jabs, turns and kicks.
They also have learned the tenets of Quantum-style martial arts, confidently shouting "Integrity! Self-control!" and "Indomitable spirit!"
Respect is also an important part of the training, and each girl is encouraged to support the efforts of her classmates as they go through routines and "test" for the next highest belt.
"Testing is an opportunity and a privilege," Master Evans tells the students, before calling each one before her to do an individualized demonstration.
It is nerve-wracking for some, but each girl gamely performs, to the supportive applause of her friends on the sidelines.
Finding your spirit
Then, the boards arrive.
For the seventh- and eighth-graders at LWGMS, this is no surprise.
But the uninitiated sixth-graders cast uncertain glances at the half-inch pine boards that are brought in for the first round of kicks.
With careful instruction from Evans, the girls are taught how to size up the board and strike it with a snap of their foot.
"You have to see all the way through," she says. "You have to picture your foot on the other side."
Madeleine Golding is first up. She grimaces while eyeing the board, which is held in place by two kneeling assistants. Then, with determination, she kicks and cracks the board. The room erupts with applause.
Beside her, there's another loud "snap" as Audre Bennett breaks her board.
Now, it's all eyes on Safiya King, another LWGMS sixth-grader. At first, her kick is not quite lining up with her determination. But she finally succeeds, to the wild cheering of her classmates.
Master Evan cheers, too. She has been encouraging them to try something that many thought they could not do. It's powerful stuff.
"Essentially, your spirit is whoever is in your driver's seat," she tells the group. "I can't give it to you; your parents can't give it to you. It's what's inside of you."
The girls seem to understand, bowing as they leave the mat, their strides a shade more confident than when they first arrived.
For more information about Martial Arts in the Public Interest, call 322-4799, or visit www.mapionline.org.[[In-content Ad]]