Who are the White Dragons? Meet Sifu Sharon Sanghera-Sidhu and her all women’s JKD/Kali team
I can’t recall if I first met Sharon in a bar or gym, regardless I am certain there was probably bourbon involved. Our friendship formed immediately, quick and intense, like the way she fights. When I introduce her to people my favorite one-liner is: “This is Sharon: banker, Sikh, bourbon drinker, former drift racer and now coach of an all female knife fighting team out of Oakland, JKD/Kali to be exact. She’s charismatic and inspirational and I’ve watched her turn even the most physical activity adverse into lovers of martial arts. Despite how hard she has tried to fight it, she is a born natural teacher
What first exposed you to martial arts?
I was in an abusive marriage and my manager at work saw I was coming in with bruises and black eyes so she took the time to take interest in my life and asked why I was coming in with injuries. She suggested that I attend a martial arts school that she recommended. I joined Studio Naga martial arts school and found my confidence and self respect again and I left my husband and filed for divorce.
How did you get personally involved?
The first art I learned was Poekoelan Tjimindie Tulen. A friend of mine at that time was a Federal Agent and recommended I visit his instructor, Scott Ferreira, so I went ahead and gave it a try. Just as soon, I fell in love with Jeet Kune Do (JKD) and Kali from that point in my life onward because it just felt “right”. I guess you could say I was just at the right place, at the right time. What really amazed me about the art initially, was how I learned to hold my own at a mere 105 lbs. and to flow with men three times my size. It was the first time in my life I could say I truly felt free.
What were your first impressions?
I always thought martial arts was cool to watch on TV but I never gave it much thought beyond that. While growing up I was much more interested in playing other sports, such as basketball and softball/baseball. When I starting training in martial arts I felt as if I belonged to a whole new world. I became so interested I began studying the many origins of various martial arts. From that point there was no stopping me, the more I learned about martial arts, the more I wanted to to train.
What what were some of the larger obstacles you had to overcome and how did you do it?
Martial arts is dominated by males, many of which have extremely big egos. The world of martial arts is masked with egos, by an insecurity which exists deep within. I was very fortunate to have found schools devoid of such egos. However, attending tournaments was quite a different story. There were men from other schools who had unbelievably huge egos. The men who participated in the co-ed knife tournaments wouldn’t even acknowledge me at first, in fact it wasn’t until I had actually won – that some of them came and shook my hand to congratulate me. A few of the men there actually went so far as to say “sorry for hitting you hard”…my response to them was “Hey I signed up for this, just like you did” I believe it was my competitiveness and positive attitude that won me the respect it did from them, well that and responding the way I did. All in all it was quite a challenge to earn the respect I did from the other martial artists, but one thing is for sure – winning matches and tournaments made it much easier.
What does your current practice look like?
I am currently working on flow. Every morning I take my dog out for a jog and I meditate after. When I have the chance I like to flow with an edged weapon. It is something that truly drives me – to flow with edged weapons as an extension of my body, it’s something I truly love.
What changes have you seen in regards to women’s experiences in your particular practice over the last decade?
I never used to see many women in martial arts practicing full contact fighting with weapons. It seems the tide may be turning, because now I see more and more women taking steps to get into the art. With time, more and more women are learning and accepting the fact that their role is not defined by their gender. More women are becoming empowered and realizing they can take whatever path they desire, but its not going to be handed to them. Unlike men, they will have to work much harder to achieve the level of success they aim for.
What changes would you like to see in the future?
I would like the misogyny to stop. It would be nice for the egos to go away to but at the same time those egos tell me that an individual is insecure. Insecurity is a weakness, and in martial arts – knowing your competitor’s weaknesses can be a huge advantage in the game of mental chess.
How did the White Dragons begin?
Most of my life I was told that women should not do this or that and to be “proper” or we weren’t strong enough to do something and we need men in our lives to validate us which I hated to hear and refused to live by. I also saw how exclusive “All Mens” clubs were and how important it was to be apart of these exclusive all mens club.
At Four Elements Fitness, I had women ask me if I was teaching self defense classes or if I was teaching martial arts. They would tell me how they don’t want to join a martial arts gym and have to deal with the mansplaining and misogyny.
I felt what these women needed was a safe place, a place to train, to learn and also to express themselves. What they needed was a club, one for women. A club where they could learn from one another, share stories, laugh, work with weapons and even enjoy a nice glass of rye whiskey from time to time. It was at that point – I founded the White Dragons Club.
What inspires you as a teacher?
Originally I never wanted to teach. Inevitably, I slowly found myself gravitating towards teaching anyway. It’s my students who truly inspire me to teach. If not for them I honestly do not believe I would be teaching. However, given my role in these women’s lives – I’ve learned to appreciate that everyone moves differently and everyone has a story. So, in teaching them I get to learn LIFE from them.
Do you have a philosophy?
Yes I do. “Don’t think just flow and trust yourself”
Tell us about your students.
My students all have different backgrounds. White Dragons are all women and Fifth Elements students are co-ed. Some of my students are single mothers and one is a mother who just gave birth in December and competed in the knife tournament in March and picked up her 2nd place medal while breast-feeding. Most of my students don’t have any martial arts background and from what they tell me, they have avoided gyms most of their lives. I also have students that have trained in other arts such as boxing and Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. All of my students are open-minded, caring and dedicated to the art. Somehow I got really lucky, we have a community of people who take interest in each other and help one another. We are a family.
What are your upcoming plans for 2016
My upcoming plans for 2016 is to have my students compete one more time in a blade tournament so they can learn what it feels like to move under pressure with a weapon and also to have fun. Most of 2016 will be JKD Kali training – edged weapons/impact weapons/empty hand and practical full contact combat movement in urban areas.