Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

F.E.M.A. focuses on physical and mental martial arts training

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

Non-profit builds community by empowering the helpless and at-risk, while offering classes for everyone

The Five Elements Martial Arts (F.E.M.A.) and Healing Center is like no other martial arts school that Longfellow resident Kristy Papenfuss has been involved in.

It isn’t about competition or testing-based. The school incorporates both Chinese and Japanese elements. The focus is on mind, body, and spirit, she pointed out. Students learn martial arts moves, while also learning about the cultural and historical philosophies of martial arts. Plus, they learn meditation skills.

“I think it’s valuable for everyone to learn how to calm themselves and to be present,” Papenfuss observed. “It is important for children to learn that from a young age, too.”

Her daughter, Sage, has been involved in the F.E.M.A. Little Elements class on Wednesday nights since she was three and one-half. Papenfuss appreciates how her five-year-old has learned better coordination, in addition to physical body awareness and strength. Plus, she’s learning how to take care of and protect herself. Those physical skills are balanced with how to be kind.

Martial arts without ego
F.E.M.A. Executive Director and Head Instructor Koré Grate has been a part of F.E.M.A. since its start 28 years ago.
“I think the biggest challenge is to try to put into words what F.E.M.A. does to help this planet be a better place one person at a time,” remarked Grate. “I keep creating new ways to get students to come in and see who and what we are. Outreach only goes so far… it’s when a person comes in and watches a class do they see what goes on and get excited to join.”

Photo left: Standish-Ericsson resident Aric Stewart (left) started training under Shifu Kore’ Grate in 1988, learning the Japanese sword technique of Iaido. He now helps Grate instruct the Iaido program at Five Elements Martial Arts. (Photo submitted)

As the website states, “Essentially, martial arts are about learning how to face conflict and work with others.”

“Our dojo is a wonderful place to learn and experience, not only the martial arts, but creative ways to deepen, strengthen and expand body, mind, and spirit,” said Grate. “Our system of martial arts is set up to train people to help others by teaching once they have knowledge and experience.

“We train both externally and internally, learning to listen to our bodies, minds, and spirits, using compassion as our guide.”
F.E.M.A. focuses on the Wu Chien Pai limitless style founded by Dr. Alex Feng. This eclectic style includes Taiji and Qigong, Gong Fu (Kung Fu), Judo and Jujitsu, healing arts and meditation, and Iaido (Japanese Sword).

Self-defense, empowerment, and wellness programs are also offered. The next Five Fingers of Self-Defense and

Photo right: F.E.M.A. head instructor Kore’ Grate (left) practices swordplay with student Su Sandon during an Iaido class. “There is a wonderful dichotomy in Iaido,” observed Iaido co-instructor Aric Stewart. “Beginners tell me they love it because, being solitary forms, they are not pressured by anyone else to have to react or perform in a particular way.” (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Empowerment for women and girls 13 and older is set for Mon., Mar. 19, 6-8pm. The class is also available as a customized self-defense course for groups and businesses.

“I often tell people that F.E.M.A. is martial arts without ego—martial arts without bravado or macho attitudes,” remarked Standish-Ericsson resident Aric Stewart, who has been training at F.E.M.A. since 1998. “Sensei Kore is an extremely talented martial artist who teaches everyone from four-year-old children to 60-plus-year-old black belts with exactly the kind, supportive pressure they need to keep motivated.”

He points out that F.E.M.A. is a 501(c)3 non-profit with a mission to help spread the benefit of martial arts training to all that can benefit from it, specifically targeting at-risk communities.

“We have highly discounted classes for these communities, never turn people away for financial reasons and do regular outreach into the community itself to help bring the safety and self-confidence martial arts training can bring to those who may need it most,” said Stewart, who serves on the F.E.M.A. Board of Directors.

‘I can do that too’
When Grate was nine, she saw a young girl around her age at the Vallejo State Fair doing a Karate demo. “She was so strong and powerful, and the only girl in the large group of boys and men,” recalled Grate. “I thought, ‘I can do that too!’

Five years later, she found a school in her hometown and started training. That was 46 years ago.

In 1988, she moved to Minneapolis to be with the “love of her life,” Jan, to whom she is now married.

“I was a brown belt at the time in Wu Chien Pai under Dr. Alex Feng,” said Grate. “It was truly difficult to leave my teacher, my family, and friends, but I knew it was something I needed to do, and I was in love.”

She got to Minneapolis in January, could barely walk on the icy sidewalks, and could not find a school that emulated the same principles of her school in the Bay Area. She did a shout out for “anyone know anyone in Minneapolis that does Martial Arts?” at a national women’s martial arts camp, and someone told her about another woman who had just moved to Minneapolis and was looking for a good school. The two got together in October of 1989 and brainstormed a way to gather women and train.

Their first class was Nov. 15, 1989, at Matthews Community Center. Thirteen women showed up, but only two had experience. As the most experienced person, Grate found herself as head instructor—a role she had not planned on.
The non-profit school was first called the Feminist Eclectic Martial Arts and promoted the goal of empowering women through martial arts.

“Originally we started as a women-only program, which was greatly needed at that time,” explained Grate. “In those years all the leadership/teachers were advanced women students—empowering by example.”

As time went on, they realized the vision needed to be expanded to include all genders, and the school was renamed Five Element Martial Arts and Healing Center. The school is run democratically, and all students are encouraged to be a part of every process.

One comment Grate heard from a student stands out above all the rest. “If it weren’t for F.E.M.A., I would have committed suicide,” said a young girl at the end of a self-defense class. “My heart broke wide open, and I knew I had to keep teaching, keep the school going,” stated Grate.

After holding classes at the Matthews Community Center cafeteria, F.E.M.A. moved to The Peoples Center, the Podany Building, and then Patrick’s Cabaret before finally landing at its facility at 3743 Cedar Ave. S.

F.E.M.A. added its girl’s program in the 1990s, and then Iaido and Taiji that included all genders. Last year, Grate realized they had classes for women, girls 6-18 and family class: adults, boys and girls 8 and up, but none for younger kids so she created the Little Elements Class for ages 4-7. “It’s a Taoist principle to ‘go with the flow,’ so I try to pay attention to the ‘requests from the universe’ to keep F.E.M.A. growing,” said Grate.

Empowering community through classes
Stewart first got involved in martial arts while he was studying abroad in Japan as a way to connect with people and understand another layer of the culture. When he returned home, he began taking Japanese sword classes or Iaido at F.E.M.A. Stewart is now a second-degree black belt in Nishyoryu Iaido and co-instructs F.E.M.A.’s Iaido program.

Photo left: Once a year, F.E.M.A. offers a Chinese calligraphy class to coincide with the Chinese New Year. They also offer weekly classes for women, girls 6-18 and family class: adults, boys and girls 8 and up, and children ages 4-7. (Photo submitted)

“I have gained so much from my training that it is very hard to pick what I appreciate most,” remarked Stewart. “Thinking of winter, I am often extremely grateful for the sense of center and balance and body control that training has taught me. I don’t slip on ice nearly as much as I did, and when I do, I am in control.

“But I think it is the sense of calm and direction I can feel even in the midst of chaos that I appreciate most. During an emergency, external or self-induced, I find my martial arts training allows me to focus, remain calm and make clear decisions in the midst of the stressful moment where such decisions can be critically important.”

Stewart serves on the F.E.M.A. board because he believes in the value it provides to the neighborhood and its students—from offering self-defense classes to at-risk communities to helping empower those who may be feeling powerless. “By helping the safety and self-confidence of community members, we empower the community as a whole,” he stated.

He encourages people to check out F.E.M.A.’s diverse classes. “There is something that is bound to appeal, and that you would find benefit from,” said Stewart. “I personally feel like even casual martial arts training can benefit anybody! It is never about learning how to fight. It is about improving one’s self so that a fight never has to happen.”
Find more online at or call 612-729-7233.

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