Sunny Graff worked with Women Against Rape in Columbus Ohio in the early 70s to develop a system of feminist self-defense and assertiveness training. The system has grown and changed over the years and is currently taught across Europe. On July 23, 2016, Sunny received the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors Hall of Fame Award for 40+ years of martial arts. Here is her acceptance speech, providing a brief glimpse of self-defense in the 1970s.Thank you, Sunny, for all the work you have done and continue to do.
I started the martial arts looking for self-defense. It was the early 70’s, I was 21 and running a rape crisis hotline from my home. I had already lost the first of three friends to male violence. I was paralyzed with fear. I was tired of trying to patch up victims after an assault and thought that somehow there had to be a way to prevent violence.
At that time, there was no self-defense for women. My plan was to infiltrate the male martial arts world, steal the knowledge and bring it back to the women’s community. In the first schools I went to, the instructors hit on me. Eventually I found a Kung Fu school where, although there was no dressing room for women, at least I wasn’t harassed.
I didn’t find self-defense. For that I needed to go back to the women’s community and figure it out for ourselves.....which we did. What I did find was a sense of my own strength and the absolute magic of martial arts movement. I was immediately hooked.…but totally isolated. It was incredibly challenging to be a radical feminist activist trying to negotiate my way through a traditional hierarchical patriarchal martial arts system.
In 1976 I attended an all women’s summer martial arts camp in Minneapolis organized by Nancy Lehmann, which was a precursor to our current Special Trainings. I cried for joy when I met my first women black belts and other strong wonderful feminist martial artists. I cemented friendships, which have lasted four decades.
A few years later when we founded the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF) there were still only a handful of us throughout the nation. And look at us now! We are everywhere, and we are awesome!
I am so grateful to all the wonderful women who have lead, nurtured and grown NWMAF and founded, guided and sustained the PacificAssociation of Women Martial Artists and the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors. We have three fabulous organizations and as evidenced by the line up of organizers, presenters, teachers, demonstrators and award winners—an abundance of excellence!
I have been inspired by each and every one of you. I am nurtured and sustained by your commitment, dedication, determination and tireless energy for the promotion of women and girls in the martial arts, empowerment self-defense and racial and social justice.