Tracey Drum joined the Feminist Karate Union (FKU) 27 years ago, after a neighbor threatened to kill her and her boyfriend in their U-District apartment. "I never thought it would transform my life," she says. "I thought I would learn some self-defense moves that would put my mind at ease and I could return to my usual routine. But karate became my routine."
Formed by Py Bateman in 1971, FKU, now located in Sodo, is staffed entirely by women, all of whom are volunteers. They include a retired medical doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, and an entrepreneur whose business involves self-defense training for women and girls.
"I became strong in ways that I'd never imagined," Drum says. "I learned that by controlling my breath, I held the joystick controlling the muscles and emotions in my body. I could make my gi [uniform] snap like they do in martial-arts movies. I developed so much precision in my movements that I could deliver a roundhouse kick, stopping one inch from a person's head, leaving them with just the sensation of my foot disturbing the air on their cheek."
Eventually, Drum herself became an instructor. FKU prides itself on helping women who've been in abusive relationships, children with behavioral issues (including boys), and LGBTQ folks.
"People always ask me if I've ever had to use it. I know what they're really asking—have I ever beat the crap out of some asshole? I haven't. But the truth is, I use it every day. I'm alert to what's going on around me. I don't walk around in fear. I use it at work and when I speak out against injustice. I'm healthy and strong because of it. And, now, as an instructor, I delight at seeing my students discover all that they can do."
A similar attitude pervades 30 Minute Hit, a kickboxing gym for women on Capitol Hill. 30 Minute Hit offers a circuit-based format, starting with jumping rope and jabbing to warm up. The hitting stations build upper-body strength, and the kicking—roundhouse, knees, front kicks—builds lower-body power. The last three stations focus on self-defense, preparing a person for various dangerous scenarios.
"Many of the women have told me how much stronger they feel," says Brian Keaton, the owner of this branch of the worldwide franchise (and the only male on-site). "One woman I was talking to last night, she's a runner and does this for cross-training—she can run longer and stronger now. She also said, 'I feel much more confident when I walk around the neighborhood. If I get into a situation that seems odd, I don't have to worry as much because I know how to protect myself.'"
Keaton notes that 30 Minute Hit doesn't foster a competitive atmosphere; there's no sparring. Rather, each hitter works at her own pace, although settings can increase in difficulty as fitness improves. He also stresses that exercises can be modified if a woman is pregnant or postpartum.
"It's not a self-defense class, but the elements are there: How do you hit? How do you keep your opponent/attacker at a distance? Or if they get close, what do you do? If you're on the ground, what do you do? We teach techniques specifically for that. But it's mainly about getting a workout in and having fun."
Kiana Tom has been attending 30 Minute Hit since it opened. A Seattle University nursing student who also works two part-time jobs, she's noticed a rise in her confidence and mood. Plus, the come-whenever-you-want format fits her busy schedule. "It's a very positive environment," she says. "I get a boost of energy and self-esteem at the end of a very hard day."