Shinshii Janet Aalfs

Shinshii Janet Aalfs, founder & director of Lotus Peace Arts at Heron's Bridge, and 2nd poet laureate of Northampton, MA (2003-05), has been a writer and movement artist for 40+ years. She enjoys sharing integrative arts and healing work locally, nationally, and internationally. In the spirit of collaborative cultural exchange and peace-building, Janet practices, teaches and performs Shuri-ryu Okinawan Karate, Filipino Modern Arnis, Jian Mei Taiji/ Qigong, Empowerment Self-Protection, Poetry, and Interpretive Dance. She is grateful to countless teachers for their guidance, including Grandmaster Wen Mei Yu (Jian Mei), Professor Remy Presas (Arnis), Grandmaster Robert Trias and Sensei Wendi Dragonfire (Shuri-ryu).

Janet has performed and taught at many community organizations, schools, conferences and festivals. In addition to being published in journals, anthologies, and online sites, Janet has 2 full-length poetry collections, most recently Bird of a Thousand Eyes (Levellers), and several chapbooks. She is the recipient of a BA in Women's Studies from UMass and an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. Janet is a founding member of VWMA and the National Women's Martial Arts Federation. Recognition for her work includes the NWMAF Founders Award; UMass Center for Women and Community Leadership and Advocacy in the Arts Award; IMAF Arnis Black Belt Hall of Fame Pioneer Award.

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Sensei Pamela Westgate

Sensei Pamela Westgate has been a member of VWMA/LPA since 1992. She holds a 4th  degree Black Belt in Shuri Ryu Karate and loves partner work, kata, teaching, practicing with other women martial artists, and helping to guide and empower girls. A scientist with advanced degrees in Biology and Engineering, and a mountain biker, she is fascinated with the physics and mechanics of power and flow. Pam is busy with a career as an environmental engineer and raising two daughters, but makes the time to be involved with this vibrant and supportive community. She is interested in helping other busy Mom’s discover sustaining, fun, manageable ways to make martial arts part of their lives.

                                                                                     Sensei Lena Cohen Amick

Lena Cohen Amick received her Shuri-ryu Black Belt in 2009 at the age of 18. She uses her Power Girls skills of confidence, integrity, and seeking abundance daily in her new job (2017) as a high school history teacher. Since flying the nest of western Massachusetts, she has lived in Ohio, Washington DC, Michigan, and now Baltimore, Maryland. She has taught empowerment-based self defense classes for women and girls in most of those places, and even a couple more! She is forever indebted to the everyday warriors and mentors she trained with at VWMA, and tries to live her life by passing on those gifts of radical vulnerability, building community, unapologetic demands for justice for all people, and commitment to loving kindness.

Harvey Friedman

Harvey Friedman has been practicing various forms of Tai Chi for almost 40 years. He studied Yang style with Paul Gallagher, and currently does Wu style and Qigong with Shinshii Janet Aalfs. He is a certified Jian Mei Internal Arts Instructor. Harvey has worked for many years as a Special Education teacher at Cutchins Program, and uses the principles of Tai Chi in his teaching. He assisted in "Karate Peacemakers," a VWMA movement arts program for children and families that teaches healing, confidence building, and safety strategies. Harvey finds that using his movement mind continues to help him both physically and emotionally.

Sensei/ Gura Sally Johnson Van Wright

Cultivating joy and dynamism through movement, Sally has trained and taught continuously since 1987. She holds a 5th degree Black Belt in Shuri-Ryu Karate, a 4th degree Black Belt in Modern Arnis, and Empowerment Self Defense Instructor certification. She has practiced meditation since 1999, with a particular love for Metta (Theraveda tradition). Sally served four years as Chair of the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation, dedicated to the principle of training hard to build strength for collaboration and confronting oppression in all its forms. By day, Sally works to provide empowering programs to people returning to their home communities after incarceration and holds licenses in clinical social work and addictions counseling. Currently, she is pursuing her doctoral degree in Education and writing her dissertation on Teaching and Learning, with emphasis on justice-involved adults. Sally often gratefully sports a Survivor Pink Ribbon, encouraging all to live healthy, get regular cancer screenings, and treasure each day.


Sifu Judy Rzegocki

Judy has been a registered nurse since 1970. She began practicing Tai Chi and Qigong in 2009. She knew after her first class that her connection with this practice was very deep and that she would continue learning and sharing these arts for the rest of her life. Judy retired in 2013 from nursing and became a VWMA/LPA Jian Mei Internal Martial Arts certified instructor. She is focusing on the senior population and now teaches at a local senior center and assisted living facility. A Reiki Master and avid gardener, Judy has always had a deep connection to Mother Earth. She volunteers at the New England Peace Pagoda and enjoys making and donating, with help from friends and family, 1000 origami cranes yearly to be handed out in the name of Peace.

                                                                      Sensei Jillian Hanson

 Sensei Jillian Hanson, who now lives in Maine, began training at VWMA in 1997 (with her one‐year old daughter in tow) and was promoted to Shodan (1st degree black belt) in May of 2007 and her Ni Dan (2nd degree) in June 2011. Jillian loves that, even after 21 years, her training continues to challenge her on a variety of different levels ‐ physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. As a teacher, she enjoys sharing insight and growing with her students. Jillian is a professional coach, consultant and writing group leader with Blue Sky Black Sheep ( She also loves to run, hike, meditate, and hang out with her daughter who is also a martial artist

                                       Sensei Erinn Ervin

 Sensei Erinn Ervin has worked as carpenter and cook, and teaches high school students through a specialized program. She is a 2nd degree Black Belt in Shuri Ryu Karate, and got her 1st degree Black Belt in 2008 for her 50th birthday. 

Sensei James Arana

Sensei James Arana is a social worker, mediator, community organizer, and group facilitator with 35 years of experience. As director of the Dragon’s Den School of Martial Arts,  now at Heron's Bridge, and a 4th Degree Blackbelt, he has been mentoring youth and adults through the martial arts since 1976.

In the U.S. and internationally, James has worked in community through UNITAS Therapeutic Community, The Performance Project, Men’s Resources International, and MERGE for Equality, as well as many other organizations. His educational offerings focus on preventing violence and promoting dialogue across race, class, and gender.

James inspires and challenges individuals, youth programs, community organizations, and international NGO's to strengthen their advocacy work in domestic violence prevention, gender equity, visioning, program development, and cultural competence

Sensei/ Gura Meg Brown

Sensei / Gura Meg Brown started her martial arts career in 2001. She had brought her daughter to class at VWMA because she had difficulty speaking clearly and she didn't want her to be teased at school. The instructors invited her to join in and Meg had so much fun that she's here to stay. Women have a lot of different roles in their lives ‐ Mom, wife, career work, volunteer‐ but at the dojo, Meg can be 100% Meg. She has disciplined herself to grow at a consistent rate through small bits of learning and dedicated practice.  On November 20, 2010 she received her black belt in both Shuri‐ryu Okinawan Karate and Filipino Modern Arnis, and  is now a 2nd degree black belt in Arnis. Meg's favorite thing about training is that she can keep on learning, and her favorite thing about teaching is her ability to simplify techniques and relay them to her students. Meg is a nationally certified dental assistant. She also volunteers her time teaching people how to get out of debt financially – believe it or not, in a fun and exciting way. She plays golf with her patient husband, and they make their home with their two martial arts daughters and shih tzu dog.

Sensei Deb Friedman

Sensei Deb Friedman is a 3rd degree black belt in Shuri‐ryu karate. She earned her first black belt in 1993 and later earned black belts in both Modern Arnis and Tae kwon do. Her main passion is helping women and girls of all ages gain confidence and self protection skills. Now in her 60s, she also enjoys assisting with Power Girls classes. She especially appreciates the wonderful caring, committed, and supportive community at VWMA/LPA. When not at the dojo, she is likely to be out enjoying the beautiful countryside with Women Outdoors, playing guitar, or practicing herbal medicine. 

Makani Freitas

Makani has been studying various styles of healing movement and martial arts for 25+ years. He has taught adult and youth martial arts, self-protection, and empowerment skills and holds a first degree black belt in Shuri-ryu Okinawan Karate. Makani received certification in Jian Mei Internal Arts from Shinshii Janet Aalfs. He offers classes in Tai Chi and Qigong as meditative movement at a variety of venues; he co-taught for several years with one of his teachers at Kripalu. Over a decade ago he added yoga to his practice. Makani also gives beginner salsa lessons.

Sensei Regina Kaufman

Regina Kaufman has been training at VWMA since 2008.  She earned the rank of Sho Dan (1st degree black belt) in June of 2017.  She finds a natural synergy between the nuanced movement system of Shuri Ryu karate and her professional work as a physical therapist and PT program faculty member.  She brings two decades of teaching experience as well as a deep understanding of the human movement system to her role as instructor and to her own training in the Shuri Ryu system.

Sensei Marin Goldstein

Sensei Marin Goldstein began his study of Aikido in 1998, and is the director of Circle Center Aikido, currently at Heron's Bridge. He received his Sandan (3rd degree Black Belt) in 2016 from Robert Nadeau Shihan, 8th Dan (who was a direct student of the founder Morihei Ueshiba). Marin has primarily studied under the tutelage of Nadeau Shihan, but has also had the pleasure of studying with Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan, Mary Heiny Sensei, Denise Barry Sensei, Forrest Kan Sensei and many other amazing teachers and practitioners too many to name but who have all encouraged the evolution of his practice. Aikido translates into “the way of harmonizing your spirit with that of the universe.” Practitioners learn to blend with the energy of an attack and effortlessly redirect it in a way that protects both parties. Marin's martial arts training has focused on an experiential study of self-defense techniques, ukemi (the art of falling), personal awareness and partner relationships. Aikido re-invents the concept of martial arts as a practice of courage to stay in the present moment and face things as they are with an open heart.

                                                Sensei Rochelle Friedman

Sensei Rochelle Friedman is a 3rd degree Black Belt who is passionate about martial arts training because it gives us an opportunity to move, have fun, connect with others, stay healthy, and honor tradition. An accomplished choral singer, weaver and storyteller, she loves stories of the ancient ones. She lights up when she talks about teaching, noting that it allows her to review, relive, and reinforce skills. It does her heart good to share with others how to overcome obstacles. Rochelle is Nurse who loves being there for the kids in her work. Training is a Friedman family affair, as she is joined at VWMA/LPA by husband Harvey and daughter Tera.

Sifu Dorian Gregory

Sifu/ Gura Dorian Gregory practices and teaches the Yang Style Full Traditional Curriculum with a strong focus on core principles, form and partner work and the thirteen powers/postures. A member of VWMA/LPA since 1989, Dorian has a master's degree in philosophy, her CPA, and advanced‐degree black belts in Shuri Ryu Karate and Modern Arnis. Dorian is also a certified self‐defense instructor through the National Women's Martial Arts Federation. Whatever style of martial arts you practice, her goal is to share some of the principles and wonders of the martial arts, including solo work and partner exercises, all designed to deepen comfort and improve skillful response. Dorian is also at her Tai Chi studio in Florence, where she offers ongoing Tai Chi classes, regular seminars, and is available for private lessons. For more information visit

 Sensei/ Gura Janis Totty

Sensei/ Gura Janis Totty began training in martial arts in 1983. She holds a 6th degree black belt in Shuri‐ryu Okinawan karate from Sensei Beth Holt, and a 3rd degree black belt in Filipino Modern Arnis from the late Grandmaster Remy A. Presas. She studied Theatre at Smith College as an Ada Comstock Scholar, Movement Science at Westfield State College, and received an M.Ed in Adventure Education. She has a background in the non‐profit sector as a violence-prevention educator and has taught self‐protection skills to women, teens and children in settings throughout Western Massachusetts. She has taught at both national and international women’s martial arts conferences. She is currently the physical education teacher at Jackson Street Elementary School in Northampton, MA. Her interests include adventure and play‐based curriculums; peace practice and integrative martial arts with children; poetry, memoir and essay; Irish culture; and silent practice as witness and discipline.