Long Beach Post — Survival Arts Academy Breeds Generations of Warrior Women with Ancient Filipino Martial Arts
by Esther Kang in Life
Published in the Long Beach Post on January 27, 2019: https://lbpost.com/life/survival-arts-academy-breeds-generations-of-warrior-women-with-ancient-filipino-martial-arts/
Warrior chants rang from the center of Gumbiner Park in the East Village early Saturday afternoon, where three long rows of women, each woman wielding a wooden stick, maneuvered in unison.
Class was in session, and the trainees of Survival Arts Academy—ranging from elementary school girls to mothers—had their eyes fixed on Jamie Yancovitz, who stood tall in front facing them.
Yancovitz is the great niece of Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr., the sole living guardian of Pekiti Tirsia Kali, an ancient Filipino martial arts practice renowned for its knife fighting system. Since initially founding Survival Arts Academy in her hometown of Bacolod City, Philippines, to provide self-defense training based on this practice, Yancovitz brought the program stateside at the start of last year to serve women of color in greater Los Angeles County.
Since then, Survival Arts has partnered with Flora Y Tierra to provide training once a month in Long Beach. It also serves South Gate, Redondo Beach, Griffith Park and wherever else they are called. Yancovitz estimates some 200 to 300 women and girls have completed the program in this past year alone.
“In a society that is patriarchal and very violent against women, especially women of color, we’re dealing with multilayers of oppression,” Yancovitz said. “So the question becomes, how do we deal with them, and how do we survive them, and how do we prevent them from ever happening again?”
The prime demographic that Survival Arts serves is women of color and members of the LGBTQ community, who are statistically most susceptible to violence. Many of the participants are often sexual assault survivors.
“Survival Arts is a space where we can come together and talk about being survivors of sexual trauma or assault,” Yancovitz says. “As a woman relating to other women, how do we confront these traumas and move forward with them? My solution is to fight back, and I use the Filipino fighting arts, the indigenous fight arts of my people, to train women to be strong and to fight against violence.”
Using a long wooden stick, a substitute for a sword, and wooden knives, trainees are walked through multiple movement sequences to deter an attack. The idea is to commit these movements to muscle memory, so that in case of an attempted assault or unwanted wrist grabbing, one can maneuver out of the situation or fight back.
“Understanding what is consent, what are boundaries and what is respect, these are lessons that should start at the earliest age,” Yancovitz says. “My students can be as young as 4 to 6 years old, and they should be learning this. These are even adults who don’t understand these concepts very well. If you look at the U.S., there’s nothing that tells women they’re protected — not the legislature, not the judicial branch, definitely not the executive branch. There’s nothing in the system that will protect us. It tells us that we can only protect ourselves.”
Amy Solis, who attended her fourth training on Saturday, said she now carries around a pocket knife for self-defense. The training, she said, has helped her gain the confidence to protect herself in practical ways.
“If we were to need to use it, we would know how to use it instead of having one just for show,” Solis said. “I can now use it in any of the ways that we’ve been trained to use the knife. I haven’t had to use it yet, luckily, but if I had to use it, I’m glad I know how.”
Pekiti Tirsia Kali was initially founded in 1897. Yancovitz’s great uncle, the Grand Tuhon, brought the PTK system from the Philippines to the United States in the 1970s. Its effectiveness has been proven by the number of military and law enforcement groups in India, Asia, Europe and the U.S. who train their agents within this system. Yancovitz carries this legacy through Survival Arts Academy, equipping the most vulnerable population of our time with these sacred fighting skills.
Her team’s plan is to take this program worldwide, where women anywhere can teach each other how to protect their bodies through PTK.
“Girls feel stronger, and they feel more confident,” Yancovitz said. “These are not things that you can easily put value on or easily attain: confidence and strength.”
For more information on Survival Arts Academy, visit survivalarts.org.