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Learn to Fight, Learn to Heal

Dr. Connie Wun is the Research Consultant for the Networking Project and Founder of Transformative Research. She was able to share some of her thoughts on martial arts and on healing. Read more about Dr. Wun at the end of the article.


1. How long have you been practicing martial arts?

Off and on, I’ve been practicing martial arts about 2.5 years. I’ve just rededicated myself to martial arts, more specifically Muay Thai, even though my father introduced me to martial arts as a child. I also found it to complement my yoga practice, which I’ve been doing for 19 years.

2. What is the goal of practicing martial arts?

Martial arts is important for self-defense, but really it brings about physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental alignment. There’s a great quote from a Brazillian Jiu Jitsu professor, Ryron Gracie, who says, “The more I learn to fight, the more peaceful I become.” I think this quote beautifully captures the purpose of martial arts. I think that when I was younger, I had so much wonderful fire and energy, but I didn’t know how to wield it effectively. Martial arts has taught me how to be a bit more patient and humble. In fact, learning any kind of martial arts is humbling. Practitioners learn about the beauty of discipline and careful execution.

3. Martial arts is usually thought to be a male sport; how do women and other folks on the gender spectrum get involved?

The exciting thing about this period is that different genders are practicing martial arts. While martial arts is imagined to be a “male sport,” women have been practicing martial arts for a very long time. Today we see more attention to these artists/fighters. When you watch Mixed Martial Artist fights, you’ll notice that there are tons of women fighters. They are some of the most passionate fighters. I have two favorite martial artists, Bi “KillHer” Nguyen and Rose “The Thug” Namajunas. Both artists talk about the way that martial arts saved their lives.

4. When people talk about healing they usually talk about meditation and yoga; how can such an intense sport support healing?

Bi recently disclosed that she is a domestic violence survivor who also found martial arts to be her salvation. Of course, these women are professional fighters with different objectives from other practitioners, but most of our passions are similar. We learn martial arts to fight for peace – internally and externally. People imagine that the martial arts aren’t meditative. Nothing can be further from the truth. Practicing martial arts teaches us integration and determination. And honestly, most martial artists – at least the ones I want to emulate – use our bodies and the power to fight with integrity and heart. That is essential for healing.

5. Everyone heals differently, so how do people find activities that are healing for them?

Healing is a very integrative process. It can be an extremely painful process. And it is definitely demanding. It demands that we take our selves, our hearts, our bodies seriously. And it doesn’t allow us much room to bypass feelings. It’s the opposite of bypassing feelings. Instead, healing is exactly about feeling and processing those emotions. For the most part, when trauma occurs we are wired to deflect or extract the pain from us. That is so very critical to our survival. Who wants pain? Except, if we don’t fully process what has occurred and how it impacts various parts of our lives, we run the risk of becoming melancholic. Meaning – everything just gets stuck. We’ve ignored it and now its embodied within us.

The first step to healing is that we recognize suffering and allow that suffering to move through our entire system. I think the best way to find our preferred method of healing is to experiment and to not be afraid to experiment. It also means moving our bodies with breath. A walk. A bike ride. A run. Yoga, Martial art. We also have to be clear that I use and combine multiple types of healing: I’ve been in psychoanalysis for 11 years, practice yoga for 19 years, have a new meditation practice, make vision boards, write letters, and have practiced karate, Brazillian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. Again, the first and probably most difficult step to healing is to actually be open to healing and to give yourself credit for surviving.


Dr. Wun’s work is a reflection of her lifelong commitment to ending racial and gender-based violence. Her areas of expertise include community-driven research, violence against women and girls of color, school discipline and punishment.

She is the Founder and Director of Transformative Research: An Institute for Research + Social Transformation, which partners and trains community-based organizations in community-driven research. Through the institute, Dr. Wun conducts research on issues of race and gender violence and equity for the purposes of social change. She has also served as a research consultant and trainer for the National Organization of Asian Pacific Islanders Ending Sexual Violence (NAPIESV), Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) in New York City, California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), PolicyLink, Monsoon: Asian Women United in Iowa, and Networking Project of Iowa. She has been asked to facilitate national discussions on issues of race, gender, and violence. Dr. Wun also recently completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Mills College in Oakland, CA.

She has also been the recipient of the National Science Foundation Fellowship, American Association for University Women Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Illinois College of Education Postdoctoral Fellowship, UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Fellowship, and UC Berkeley Center for Race and Gender grant.

Connie has been asked to speak to community-based organizations, policy advocates, universities and secondary schools about community-driven research, schools and prisons, violence against women and girls, and community accountability. She has also taught courses at the University of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and California College of the Arts.

She is a former high school teacher, advocate for sex workers, and anti-sexual assault counselor. Dr. Wun holds a Ph.D. in Education from UC Berkeley. Her work has been published in Critical Sociology, Educational Policy, Educational Theory and Practice, and Race, Ethnicity, and Education. She has also written for the The Feminist Wire and She is currently working on her book manuscript.

A Muay Thai enthusiast, she lives and practices yoga in the Bay Area where she was born and raised.

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