Every Saturday, women of various ages gather from 2–3 p.m. at Arnott Kenpo Karate on Colorado Boulevard for a self-defense class. Owner Mark Arnott fosters a welcoming environment at the studio by sitting at the front desk and greeting students who enter.
“If I’m awake, I’m here,” Arnott said.
Arnott’s love for the practice began as a family affair, first attending a class with his son, and grew until he decided to open his own studio.
“I just really dived into it, loving the teaching, loving the art,” said Arnott.
When teacher Bobbi Murray decided she wanted to teach women’s self-defense, she simply walked into Arnott’s studio.
“I just walked in, and Mr. Arnott was receptive enough to say, ‘Show me what you’ve got,'” said Murray.
Murray’s 15-plus years of practice not only landed her the job but allowed her to incorporate some of her own philosophy. The class begins with a bow before entering the mat to respect the ancient traditions of jujitsu Murray integrates into her class. Respect is an overarching theme at Arnott Kenpo Karate.
“I want a place that nurtures respect,” Arnott said. “We talk to the kids from the very beginning: ‘How do we show respect? How is respect shown to you?'”
Once on the mat, Murray leads the class in a warm-up, which includes jogging to get heart rates up and an exercise called “horse squats.” The class then goes over the ABCs and L, which stand for Awareness, Base Up, Close In and Leverage. Murray illustrates the techniques, peppering the demonstration with exaggerated examples of what not to do, falling to the floor in a joking way that makes the class laugh. Though she admits the topic of self-defense can be difficult, Murray doesn’t believe classes should be run with a somber attitude.
“It should be fun right, it shouldn’t be grim,” Murray said.
13-year-old Lily Sanchez attended Murray’s self-defense class at her mom’s urging, as Lily walks to school alone. Though originally a little skeptical, Sanchez said her favorite part of the class is Murray.
“She’s really fun,” Sanchez said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be this chill, I thought it would be a lot of screaming. It’s really fun, better than I thought it would be.”
As the class moves into learning how to kick and hit, Murray has students practice the moves on her, encouraging students not to be shy when practicing the actions.
Murray has been practicing karate since college and knows that the intense karate environment generally dominated by men can be intimidating for women who might otherwise want to practice.
“I want women to feel invited into martial arts, and I think an all-women’s class is more inviting to women who think ‘Uh, I don’t want to seem that finicky,'” Murray said.
Arnott says at his studio, he wants to train girls to have a breadth of knowledge in how to defend themselves.
“Physically powerful, yeah, but more than that, a habit of standing up for yourself and the knowledge of saying, ‘I could take you out,'” said Arnott.
Arnott’s studio has always embraced women’s self-defense classes, but he says Murray brings something special to them. He points to her breadth of experience and passion for the subject as qualities Bobbi uses to create a unique self-defense class for women.
As the class wraps up, Murray leads students in chi gung, a Chinese breathing and energy practice. The students move and breathe together, a final moment of togetherness in a class in which Murray says she hopes her students feel welcome.
“As a woman martial arts practitioner, I am really passionate about women’s presence in any martial arts studio. Women are finding their space and feeling like they can stop things,” Murray said. “Mr. Arnott really invited me to make a home here for this.”