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Queer Fight Night grapples with LGBTQ+ safety

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Photo by Makayla Baker-Curtis
Photo by Makayla Baker-Curtis

"The world of martial arts can be isolating for Queer people," says a Seattle-based martial artist who began training in principle-based self-defense in 2020. "Unfortunately, martial arts are not financially accessible, or socially acceptable, for people like me." The coordinator of Queer Fight Night, quoted here, has requested to remain anonymous, and therefore will be referred to simply as "the Coordinator" from this point on.

Being Transmasculine, the Coordinator hadn't felt comfortable in traditionally gendered martial arts spaces. "Men's martial arts and women's martial arts don't fit us," they said. "It's terrifying. Like, it's fucking horrible to go to a gym or a dojo where you're hated and you're unwanted."

So, when they heard about Queer Fight Night, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally "feel comfortable and... safe" in the combat arts.

Having such a space dedicated to the Queer community is "something that's so valuable and needed," they said, "especially in the Queer community and marginalized groups who just really need to be able to physically defend themselves."

Two years ago, Gwen Roote founded Queer Fight Night, advertising the event as a Queer-dedicated venue for martial arts instruction and open sparring.

After hosting the event for over a year, Roote announced on Instagram that she would be taking a break from organizing. Having seen the excitement generated from previous nights, the Coordinator wanted to help QFN continue. After a three-month hiatus, in July, they revamped QFN with the help of a few friends, working with Roote on goals and logistics.

The Coordinator hopes QFN will not only bridge the martial arts community in terms of gender and sexuality but also across various skill levels and combat styles.

Photo by Makayla Baker-Curtis  

An evening at QFN
Hosted every first Saturday of the month at Seven Star Women's Kung Fu, QFN begins at 6 p.m. with a round of introductions from the Coordinator, volunteers, and the night's guest instructor.

The theme for August 20 was "Become Unpinnable," with participants learning the common ways an aggressor can hold them down and the most effective ones to escape.

The instructor demonstrated first with a volunteer, then participants joined in, practicing the new techniques with a partner and working on moves such as "the shrimp," to mount defenses intended to escape an aggressor up to several times larger.

Marco, a beginner to martial arts, arrived at QFN having never stepped foot in a studio before. "I am very easy to pin down, especially [by] people who know what they're doing," he said. "But with the 'Become Unpinnable' training,' I kind of felt like I kind of had a chance with the predefined motions."

At 7 p.m., the Coordinator and the guest instructor laid down safety guidelines and opened up the mats to spars.

A mix of low- and high-intensity games followed. Some of the more experienced participants jumped in quickly, while beginners were slower to find a partner. The partners "negotiate beforehand, so that they're not doing anything that they aren't ready for," said the Coordinator. But in this way, "they can still see themselves in participating in a more advanced martial arts environment."

Shade and a group of fellow Balintawak martial artists arrived shortly before 7 p.m. after training together in Olympia. For Shade, QFN presents an opportunity to spar with people familiar with different combat styles, like kickboxing and jiu-jitsu, which they said is "not an experience I have very often."

The Coordinator described the importance of testing one's skills against various fighting styles. "For example, if you do jiu-jitsu, that is non-striking. And so you can come to the spar... and play different fighting games that might involve striking, and see how you feel about it in a safe environment, and see where your training needs to be bolstered."

Photo by Makayla Baker-Curtis  

Finding safety in community
For Marco, a big part of creating a safe environment is creating a space built on trust and acceptance — and Queer Fight Night does just that.

For him, being able to learn from and practice with fellow Queer people means "being able to be more vulnerable... That's very important, because you are getting very physical, there's a lot of contact, so you need to be able to be comfortable with the people you are sparring with, or you won't want to do it."

Seeing Queer representation in the martial arts is important, said Shade. "I just like talking to the people here. It's a great feeling to be able to train with other Queer people... to be interested in learning together and teaching."

The Coordinator added that QFN carves out a space dedicated to Queer people to grow their confidence in martial arts and enter others they might have otherwise shied away from. "You are able to go to places where you might not have felt comfortable or safe, and you're able to push yourself in new ways."

And with this confidence, they said, QFN creates "people who can go out [to] spaces where there [hasn't traditionally been] room for Queer people."

Photo by Makayla Baker-Curtis  

Queering martial arts
Beyond creating solidarity, another goal of QFN is to tailor martial arts to the specific challenges that Queer people face and to look beyond traditional gendered styles of combat.

"Queering martial arts spaces, to me, means applying it in news ways and finding different avenues of interruption of violence... to address the violence of our lives," the Coordinator explained. "As Queer people, we are subject to a very special kind of violence, and multiple kinds... — like trans-misogyny, homophobia, transphobia in general."

True inclusivity, they said, "means having things that actually are applicable and worthwhile for us to learn. The only people who can do that are Queer martial artists, the only people who know our struggles and know our dangers, who know the constant environments [that face] a Queer person — only we can come up with solutions that will work for ourselves."

For the Coordinator, Queer Fight Night provides a unique opportunity, one in which allows Queer people to come together as a community, "exploring together... and coming up with new solutions to these problems we've been facing, but that we've never been given tools to actually fix. It's really, really magical."

The next Queer Fight Night will be Saturday, September 3, with future dates on the first Saturday of every month. The upcoming QFN will be hosted at Seven Star Women's Kung Fu at 525 21st Ave. in the Central District. It is open to all genders and skill levels. For up-to-date information, visit https://www.instagram.com/qt.combatarts.206/ on Instagram.