On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman speaks with Ryka Aoki and John Amodeo, who were both featured writers at the Rainbow Book Fair in New York on Saturday, April 13. The Rainbow Book Fair describes itself as the "oldest and largest LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) book fair in the US, and America's largest LGBT book event".
One might think, according to stereotypes, that those involved with the combat sports and martial arts would be absent from such an event. Those people, however, do not know people like Ryka Aoki and John Amodeo.
Ryka Aoki is a novelist, a writer, a performer, a teacher, a judoka for almost four decades, and the head instructor of Supernova Martial Arts at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, whose mission is to empower LGBT youth through martial arts and self-defense. She is also a transgender woman.
John Amodeo is an author and an educator who has written several books, including biographies of former world heavyweight boxing champion Ken Norton and journeyman fighter Rayco Saunders. He lives in New York.
Admitting that his books on boxing "might be a tough sell" at this event, John Amodeo nevertheless said, "But people can relate to struggles in life. Especially with Rayco's story: coming out of Pittsburgh, and having his mother die of an overdose, and struggling through and getting incarcerated as a result of drug-dealing, and eventually turning his life around. It's a come-from-behind story."
In her interview, which was the lengthier of the two, Ryka Aoki also struck a theme of universality.
"Human life is messy. I think there are certain things that we can all honor. I'll put compassion up there. Treating each other with respect is up there. Fair play is definitely up there."
She continued, "I think that the constants in life should be justice, fair play, respect. These are things that don't change. These are things that don't change. A trans woman, a queer woman, a queer man, somebody you don't even know, a Martian with three heads -- there's still respect, there's still justice, there's still truth, there's still protecting the weak. There's still training to be your best. There's still improving to make the best use of the gifts that you have. In other words, all that stuff that we learned growing up in the judo dojo or the martial arts dojo or the MMA gym, all these things about perseverance and hard work and all of this stuff, these are the constants that I think we can hold onto. Even when the rest of the world is upside down, a pushup is still a pushup. Closed guard is still closed guard. These things don't change. I just wanted to toss that out. A good technique is always going to be a good technique."
This is the approach she is taking regarding the controversy over transgender female MMA fighter Fallon Fox, and the hateful and hurtful reaction she has received from some in the MMA community.
"Really, we can talk about medicine. We can talk about these things. I'm no doctor. I'm just a judoka. So I don't know what these hormones, or strength is. I can tell you from experience my strength levels are quite a bit reduced from back before I was taking hormones. But these questions really obscure the point that this is just bullying and mean-spiritedness. There are intelligent, logical ways to address these things," she said. "I think it's natural to have questions. However, there are good and bad ways to ask and to seek these questions out."
While she has spend time teaching college, performing in many locales, and speaking at book fairs such as this, her work as a martial arts instructor at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center regularly brings her into contact with young people who are not likely to be at such places.
"I spend most of my time teaching youth," she said. "I teach at-risk LGBT youth in Los Angeles. Not competition, just to get by, basic self-defense. And I do see that a lot of 'martial artists' and people like that who have these high ideals written on their dojo walls tend to be very mean-spirited when it comes to gay students, to lesbian students, to transgender students."
She added, "I expect a little bit of that meatheaded-ness, but that doesn't erase the fact that you hurt somebody, you got to live with that, really. And it kind of disgusts me."
Many of the youth to whom she teaches martial arts are homeless, including one who thrown out of his house because he was gay.
"A lot of these children end up in Los Angeles, and they're on the street. And no one's ever really taken them into consideration. They haven't taught them how to do anything, and they get preyed upon. And they see their bodies really only as objects of violence and objects of sex. When I teach them martial arts, they can see their bodies as things that can be strengthened, something to be proud of, not just beautiful but strong and trained."
Our discussions with Ryka Aoki and John Amodeo also touched on many other topics, as they both have much wisdom to share.
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Thanks, Eddie Goldman