Thursday, February 10th, 2011
“Growing up, I remember my mother’s best friend carried a beer can opener in her purse for protection. If someone attacked here, she would use that to defend herself. I never drank beer, but carried one around with me, too. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
“I was going to college in St. Louis, and at night, I would have to take this path home across campus that had no lights. St. Louis was the murder capital of the United States at that time, and everybody I knew was getting mugged. I realized that a beer can opener probably wasn’t enough to help if I really had to defend myself. So, I went out in search of a self defense class and found karate.
“I started studying in St. Louis, and continued in Wisconsin where I went to graduate school. After three years of study, I was attacked and had to defend myself. Let’s just say it was bad. The experience taught me that I knew how to punch and kick, but I didn’t know how to defend myself. Women, on the average, usually get attacked by a choke or bear hug that is meant to intimidate them. No one taught me that. So, I started learning and taking every class that I could in martial arts, self defense, and krav maga, which is used by the Israeli Defense Force. I didn’t want to be unprepared again.
“While I was doing all of that training, I was also working on my Ph.D. in bacteriology at Wisconsin. One day, there was a call for someone who knew martial arts who could teach a self defense class. I figured that in a school of 35,000 people, someone would stand up. After a few weeks, no one did, so I taught the course. While I loved science – I took my first college course in science in the fifth grade - I realized that teaching people, especially women, self defense was much more meaningful. I decided to change my degree from bacteriology to exercise physiology and opened my first school in Oklahoma.
“In 1975, I moved to D.C. to study under Grandmaster Ki Whang Kim. I studied with him for 18 years. At first, he didn’t think that women would rise past a sixth degree black belt. After we trained together, I remember him telling the class that he knew that one of his students would be the one to get a seventh degree belt. I knew he was talking about me, and couldn’t sleep that night. Eventually, I got my seventh degree black belt, which is very rare, especially for women.
“I still study all of the time, and continue to learn. In my 35 years of teaching karate in D.C., I have taught thousands of people, and am now seeing the grandkids of some of the kids I taught when I got started. Sadly, most of the other karate schools in D.C. have since moved out of the District because it is so expensive to stay here. For me, this isn’t about making money, it was about helping the people who needed it the most. Those people live in the city. Crime may have gone down in D.C., but there is still a lot that goes on here. I want to help my students feel prepared for whatever happens out there.”
Sensei Middleton runs the DC Self Defense Karate Association, Krav Maga, and DC Impact Self Defense. She is also the subject of Michael Blain’s documentary, She’s a Sensei, that is part of The Fourth Annual Our City Film Festival taking place this weekend at the Goethe Institute. See a trailer of his film below: