Growing up, Gin Yang didn’t expect she would be teaching martial arts as her everyday profession, nor did she ever imagine spending years and hours of training in order to hone the different styles and techniques in the art of kung fu. But childhood memories of watching kung fu movies with her brother left a lasting imprint on her life. So when Yang moved to Seattle after college, she placed her joy of watching kung fu to actual learning and practice.
“I remember my brother and I would just sit and watch kung fu movies. He was interested in kung fu, and that made me interested as well. But my mom always said ‘no’ to me learning. She always felt that’s what boys do,” reflects Yang.
After 10 years, Yang is now an avid kung fu practitioner and instructor at Seven Star Women’s Kung Fu — a nonprofit martial arts school dedicated to creating a nurturing environment for women to learn practical self-defense skills, build strength, thereby improving the health, safety, confidence and well-being of women in the Seattle area.
In 2003, Yang decided to try a beginner’s cycle class at Seven Star with a friend.
“When I started, I thought this would be fun a good exercise. But as I progressed, I became more serious and then I started teaching,” says Yang. “However, my underlying theme is also about getting a good workout and having fun.”
Yang’s love for martial arts grew deeper to a point where mastering her skills became an integral part of her life. Throughout Yang’s 10-year involvement with martial arts, teaching and transforming women has been her core focus and inspiration.
“I teach at an all-women’s school and I enjoy it,” says Yang. “In a school with only women, there’s less to worry about being self-conscious. I definitely feel empowered teaching at an all women’s school.”
In 2008, Yang started teaching at the school. As she progressed and got more involved with Seven Stars, instilling confidence for other women became an important component of her teaching philosophy.
“I became a more confident person,” says Yang. “I want to be able to instill confidence for other people. I want to help someone be transformed.”
As Yang meets more women through teaching, she has the opportunity to hear stories about how martial arts has helped them achieve overall confidence and self-defense skills to protect themselves in moments of danger.
“One woman at our school was attacked at an empty parking lot, but she scared them off,” says Yang. “She was confident and didn’t end up getting hurt.”
Those are the stories that continue to drive Yang to continue teaching and improving as a martial artist.
“I’m at a point where I want to get better. I want to learn how to teach,” says Yang. “Teaching is very hard, but it’s been an exciting learning experience for me in more ways than one.”
Along her journey of teaching other women, Yang also had the opportunity and privilege to meet other women with the same passion for martial arts. Yang recalls attending a Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists (PAWMA) event, where women from all over the world attend a weekend-long seminar once a year to teach, learn and train in different types of martial arts.
“It was so inspiring to see, meet and learn from so many accomplished and talented women,” says Yang. “The teachers are always some of the highest-ranking of their styles.”
During last year’s PAWMA seminar, Yang met Sensei Keiko Fukuda, a Japanese-American martial artist who was the highest-ranked female judoka in history and also holds the 10th dan from USA Judo.
“She is the first, and so far, the only woman to ever reach the 10th dan in Judo. Before her, women were only allowed to reach 5th dan,” says Yang. “She was 99 when she taught the class and has since passed. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to be inspired by her — a true trailblazer.”
In July 2012, Yang received her black belt, the highest-ranking belt at her school. Today, Yang is still practicing her art in various forms and working with a male trainer in Portland, Ore. After all she’s accomplished, Yang continues to envision the future of her teaching and training.
“In five years, I want to continue teaching,” says Yang. “I’ve been doing it for 10 years now, but I am going to continue.”
If anything, Yang was discouraged to do kung fu while growing up. Yang recalls the difficulty of telling her mother when she decided to pursue martial arts. Now, Yang is breaking stereotypes and building a platform for women to learn practical self-defense skills while building strength and confidence through martial arts.