Introducing Jaynie Sudol, a 3rd degree Black Belt at Dunlavey’s Black Belt Academy. Jaynie and I have been training together for the better part of 10 years. She was one of the black belt role models I had when I was first beginning my martial arts journey. She is the epitome of fierce – a fierce competitor, a fierce martial artist, a fierce woman. I thank her so much for the time she took to interview with us here for the Portrait Femme Fatale series.
Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Jaynie, I am 25 years old living in Morrisville, VT. I am a graduate of Suffolk University in Boston with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology: Crime & Justice. I am currently working as a teaching assistant at a private behavioral school in a middle school classroom. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 6 and I have a 3rd dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
What do you think makes a strong woman?
I believe a strong woman’s main focus would be on maintaining physical and mental well-being. Despite life’s obstacles, a person who is able to consistently remember that first assuring that you, yourself are in a good space, you can then move on to help those around you.
Society tends to make women out to be weak, to be the victims. “Hit like a girl”, “run like a girl”, “fight like a girl”. How do you think martial arts has helped you defy society’s picture of a woman?
In the martial arts classes I have attended, the expectations of both male and females have been consistent across the board. It wasn’t only the men who were required to break boards or just the woman who performed weapons demonstrations. We were all expected to participate equally. Through this, I approached activities and social situations with the same attitude, that I was just as qualified as my male counter parts. To me, “like a girl” is a funny way to describe a person’s ability because many of the individuals I have looked up to in the martial arts world have been women with impressive abilities and are fierce competitors.
If you could offer advice to the young females of the world, particularly those who are in martial arts or who might need martial arts, what message would you give them?
A martial arts studio is a family in itself. Entering one for the first time can be terrifying but every person who is in that studio knows exactly how you are feeling and they too have started right at the edge of the mat and putting themselves out there in front of others learning a new art form and not quite understanding what lies ahead. Don’t let that deter you, it has given me an enormous amount of pride to look down the line in class and see that the five highest ranking students in the room are women and you can add yourself to the list.
What advice do you have for the young men in our culture- on the subject of women?
I think both men and women arrive with stereotypes and although both genders have worked hard over the past few years to break through them; we all have to work hard on not immediately assuming thoughts and feelings of each other. I would hope that both men and women would bring a positive light to the lives of those around them and that men specifically remember that women can be equally as driven to success as men.
Who has been a positive and strong role model for you? How and why?
Without a doubt, Grandmaster Dunlavey has never failed to push me to my greatest potential and be a positive support in all my endeavors and I am so grateful for that. However, the person who first comes to mind is my mother, MaryEllen. MaryEllen has been a rock for my family, she has been a voice of reason – whether I was willing to accept that advice or not- and a friend. She is the person who encourages me to look at the big picture, think about what really matters, and not take everything so seriously. I could only hope to be half the mother she has been to my brother and I. MaryEllen has instilled a sense of responsibility and awareness in me that couldn’t have been found anywhere else.
Can you speak a little bit about how you succeeded in Martial Arts despite your Diabetes?
Ever since I was introduced to martial arts, it was my focus on showing those around me that although I was diabetic, I could workout and practice just as hard as my fellow martial artists. I think that my diabetes was more of a concern for the adults in my life when I first began classes. My parents along with Grandmaster Dunlavey were always checking on me, making sure my blood sugars were level, giving me food when it was low and making sure I received my insulin when it was high. To me it was the most obnoxious, absurd thing to worry about in the world, “just let me kick things!”. There were times, as I grew older that I couldn’t tell whether I was nervous about competing/presenting or if my blood sugars were just low, at these times I first focused on the medical issue and then the emotional.
As a female martial artist, surely you’ve had many different reactions to informing people of your hobby. What’s a common reaction you’ve received, and can you share your most interesting reaction?
I try not to advertise that I do martial arts usually because of the reactions I have received over the years and many times it has actually been my friends bragging to people that I have a black belt. The most common reaction I get is: “So you can like… kick my ass then,” to which my response is always: “I have trained to use Tae Kwon Do in self-defense only.” Ninety percent of the time the person continues on to say: “but you could hurt me if you wanted to, right?” which I then respond with: “since I am to use my training for self-defense only and I am assuming you have no intention of harming me, then no!” People have been fairly persistent in trying to get me to show of my “ninja skills”, I can’t think of any specific interesting reaction aside from the spontaneous playful headlock or “karate chop” at work. The tenants of Tae Kwon Do sum up how we all want to go through life. Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control and Indomitable Spirit. If people have challenged me and want to test my abilities just because they hear that I’m a black belt the first thing that comes to mind is having the self-control it takes to ignore the harassment from people who have no respect or understanding of what it has taken to earn my belt. I could definitely share many experiences from my life where I’ve been able to draw from the lessons of these tenants in a positive way.
Your whole family did martial arts together while you were growing up. How do you think that impacted your family life?
Tae Kwon Do class became a part of our routine, all four of us training assured that we would continue practicing while away from the studio. We were a constant support system for each other, working on our verbal definitions, practicing patterns, with the occasional sibling argument turning into a practice in the arm-bar we had learned from the night before. With everyone in the household training together, we could truly appreciate the struggles as well as the successes that came with being a part of a martial arts studio.
Do you think the teachings or the community of martial arts helped you and your family during the loss of your father? Can you offer any words for people (martial artists or not) who might find themselves struggling through a loss in their family?
It was incredible, the amount of people who stepped forward and offered any help they could when we learned of my father’s cancer diagnosis and then his passing away two years later. Dunlavey’s Black Belt Academy was pretty much my family at that point so it was just like having a whole other crew of aunts, uncles, and cousins stopping over at the house to do what they could to help out. The feeling of having this constant support system in your life is something that I would hope everyone would be able to experience, especially if they are struggling through some tough times. My Dad used to say “come on let’s go” and we would continue on with our practicing for the next form or tournament. “Just keep going” because that’s what we need to do.