A Fusion of ESD, Judo, and Indian Culture

Hey, Sarah! Last day of the kids with us for the academic year. I am good. I am actually doing two workshops this month with ESD themes interwoven. One is a day workshop on good touch bad touch for primary school children. We will be weaving in consent and setting boundaries verbally and physically. Another is a two-day young women's life skill workshop This is based on the idea we discussed. Will shoot you an email as soon as I get to town with a better network. Hope you are doing great Sarah!”

This happy text from Aswathy, an ESD Global Camp 2018 participant, to her mentor Sarah Gordon-Lavine, an instructor at El HaLev in Jerusalem, was the result of a three-day reunion in Patiala, India, which was made possible by the Keiko Fukuda Judo Foundation and ESD Global.

Since attending camp last August, Aswathy, an educator living on a small, rural island in one of India’s many rivers, has been eager to start teaching ESD.

But she’s faced quite a few roadblocks and challenges, along with resistance.

With the exception of cell phones, most of Aswahty’s remote community live off the grid.

Even more complicated is the role of women in her community. Partner and spousal abuse is expected and getting hit is the norm, which adds to the already challenging task of recruiting women to participate in ESD training.

But she’s determined to succeed, especially because so many of the children on the island will eventually be moving to more urban areas, and she’s decided that their ESD training will need to include skills for urban living.

Luckily, some of Aswathy’s burdens were lifted after the three-days with her mentor.

About the Keiko Fukuda Judo Foundation

The mission of the foundation, which was created to promote the philosophies and legacy of Sensei Keiko Fukuda, is to bring judo and self-defense training to fourteen girls schools in Patiala India, one of the world’s most dangerous areas for women.

The foundation pro­vid­es grants and schol­ar­ships for girls and women to attend judo con­fer­ences, camps and tour­na­ments regardless of their economic status or judo rank.

Every year, instructors are invited to provide special, supplemental trainings to the girls.

This year, because of her background in empowerment self-defense and Wu Chien Pai, a martial arts system involving kung fu, judo, tai chi, jiujitsu, and healing arts, Sarah, who teaches kung fu and empowerment self-defense at El HaLev in Jerusalem, was invited to participate.

Also on the team were to representatives from the Keiko Fukuda foundation, including Dr. Shelley Fernandez, a co-founder of the organization, and Jessica Lockfeld, a judo instructor from Colorado.

In seven days, Sarah taught in eight girls schools. With help from ESD Global, Aswathy was able to join Sarah for three of those days and had the opportunity to put the ESD skills and pedagogical methods she’d learned at camp to good use.

In addition to the schools, Sarah visited the dojo of one of India’s national judo teams, and worked with members who are in a year-long program to train judo instructors.

Two members of the team participated in a demonstration at a school that’s hoping to become part of the Keiko Fukuda Foundation’s program.

Martial Arts and Empowerment Self-Defense: A Fusion

While martial arts are great for building strength, technique, and strategy, many empowerment self-defense practitioners don’t view martial arts as a form of self-defense that can be used on the street or in everyday life.

But what Sarah discovered on her trip was that the girls’ judo background allowed her to teach a more complex and broad set of skills.

The instructors taught basic empowerment self-defense skills, including boundary setting, de-escalation, and saying “NO,” and reinforced that it’s always best to try to avoid a physical confrontation.

The next step was learning what to do when if their boundaries are ignored or disrespected.

Sarah pointed out that, “in a culture where people feel entitled to touch you, you need more 'oomph.' There’s no second chance. It’s important to set clear boundaries, and in many cases, be more physical.”

These girls have no access to traditional IMPACT training, but after all their judo training, the girls already had a wide variety of tools to draw from when needed and were aware of their strength. They were comfortable with physical contact and working from the ground. Even the smallest girls who didn’t appear strong were able to throw their partners down.

Their new ESD skills reinforced the skills they already had and made the girls more comfortable applying them to their daily lives.

The Mentor / Mentee Relationship

Sarah’s long journey from Israel and Aswathy’s twelve-hour trek to Patiala were well worth it. Sarah’s enthusiasm was clear as she explained that there’s nothing like meeting face to face, especially when it comes to refreshing ESD skills.

Having the opportunity to work and teach together for three days strengthened their bond, and putting their heads together to combat some of the challenges facing Aswathy helped them both to move forward with their goal of bringing ESD training to Aswathy’s island.

Their next step will be to talk about how to support women as they readjust to their difficult environments and redefine their roles as women after their ESD training, which will certainly not be a simple task.


Sarah’s eyes lit up as she described the bright colors the men wore, the delicious food, and the warmth of the people she met.

But her eyes were even brighter when she described the girls she worked with:

“How nice it was to work with those girls. Girls are strong, With the right teaching and the right teacher, they are capable of rising to the challenges they’re given. My time with them gave me a broader understanding of what kids, people, girls are capable of. They are so eager to learn. So polite and nice. And they were easy to work with, even with the language barrier.”

The girls were respectful, and very open about their gratitude for the time and effort that went into providing this special training.

As for working with Aswathy, Sarah can’t find enough nice things to say about how much her presence added to the experience. Not only did she help translate and teach, she gave Sarah a glimpse into another of India’s many rich cultures.

The Keiko Fukuda Judo Foundation was also grateful for Aswathy’s presence and were happy to support her.

The hope is for Aswathy to get more teaching experience and come back to ESD Global’s camp to start learning how to train more instructors to offer classes in her community.

We're very excited about what the future holds for the Keiko Fukuda Foundation, the girls they teach, and and the work Aswathy and Sarah are doing.

We have no doubt that this is just the beginning of many more exciting things to come.

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