Note to Self

Dear Self,

Please remember that when you ask your classes to do jump squats, that a demonstration is not only required, but participation in ALL the jump squats is needed for the girls to follow.  So, that, when you ask one class to do this 5 times for each of the 10 girls in three classes, and then later for each of the 22 girls in one class, it requires you to do a TOTAL of 260 jump squats, which, hmm, just might make it difficult for you to sit down the next day.

Just saying.



As I have mentioned before, the young ladies I have the privilege of teaching at Save Our Sisters (SOS) are between the ages of 17 and 22.  They have undergone experiences in their young lives that, frankly, I can’t imagine, and I don’t care to recount here.  I will say that being physically forced into prostitution in their early teens and then for many subsequent years was the norm for this group of ladies.  Through the auspices of SOS, they were rescued several months ago, and are going about the difficult journey of sorting out what it now means to be alive.

The other day, I was on a never-ending tuk-tuk ride that made me 40 minutes late to my SOS class.  After paying the bad tuk-tuk driver, I grabbed my bag and ran to the ground floor open area where my class has come to be held.  It is next to the playground.  And what should I see?  My white t-shirt-clad students whipping down slides, crawling across jungle gym bars, swinging on swings, smiling, laughing, and generally just being the children they never got the chance to be…until now.


Purple Sari

Mrs. Joseph is the house mother at Udaan Ghar.  She stands about five feet tall, with high cheekbones and skin the color of dark cocoa.  Her demeanor is quiet but that of a general.  I get the sense she could run armies of thousands just as efficiently as she manages the sixty or so girls in the house.  She is present at all of my classes at Udaan Ghar.  And she always, without exception, wears a sari.

Not only does Mrs. Joseph wear a sari, but she really likes my classes, and is not shy about participating in them.  From inchworm push ups to jumping jacks, from knee strikes to downward blocks, Mrs. Joseph watches and then performs them all.  I think learning some of these things is difficult enough in workout clothes, but in a sari comprised of layers and layers and layers of material wound around the midsection and upper part of the legs?  But this does not slow Mrs. Joseph down one bit.  I feel very heartened to know that the Udaan Ghar girls have a fearless leader clad in a purple sari to guide them in their journey.


Yesterday, I had my second class with four girls of the organization called Kranti.  Located in Kandivali East, it is a two tuk-tuk ride from where I am staying (one tuk-tuk to the train station at Kandivali West, then disembark and walk to the other side of the tracks which is Kandivali East, and take another tuk-tuk to the final destination).   The word ‘kranti’ means revolutionary, and it is in this spirit that the organization works.  To learn more about their excellent mission and work, see:

As with many other ladies young or old, the Kranti girls are hesitant at first to try the exercises that I ask them, specifically some of the warm ups like a walking plank or jumping knees-to-chest.  But gradually, they warm up to the idea, and soon they look like they are having fun.  Since a few of these girls have been taking Wu Shu, I ask them to show me what they’ve learned and they almost can’t wait to start punching and kicking, at which point I whip out my trusty muay thai pad lest they get the idea my old body is the target.  Punch and kick they do, and I tell them to keep their hands up and offer suggestions for how to generate some additional power in their techniques.  We move to basic punches, drill a sparring technique, and end with self defense.  Knee strikes are very popular.  I am happy that the girls, in particular those without Wu Shu, take to the techniques quickly.  And standing on the opposite side of a pad, I can tell you I pity the guy who messes with these ladies.

Push Up

She squeezed her big brown eyes shut, and her beautiful almond skin wrinkled at her forehead while she clenched her perfect teeth.  Even though her slender arms quavered, she kept trying to push, right up to the point of collapse.  She is the absolute picture of determination.  I step in, grab her around the torso, and gently pull to assist her in completing her push up.

I often get the feeling during my classes of these moments when a girl I am teaching gets a sense of something deep within herself, a sense of how powerful and alive she is, of how there is something within her that defies the discouraging words anyone has ever told her.  And in the male-dominated society here, discouraging words are the norm.  I have talked with so many women who tell stories of how they themselves were not only not encouraged, but were verbally beaten down and told how stupid they are and how they will never amount to anything.  Now imagine having a background like that, and then coming into a class and being told how good you are, how smart you are.  It can be very transformative for a girl here.

So it is no surprise that these ‘aha’ moments in the girls correspond to when I’ve asked them to do something they have never tried before, like a push up or high knee running or hitting a focus mitt.  As my Sensei has said time and again, “If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”  I am so honored to be here and be able to, in some small way, help these girls do something they’ve never done which might lead to them doing something they never thought possible.

New Skills

As much as I am here to teach girls some new skills, they also teach me, too.  They teach me how resilient the human spirit is, and how girls are girls, and children are children, the world over.  Here is a snap from a class where I am teaching 6 to 8 year olds how to do a downward block, and they are showing me how incredibly adept they are at learning.

40,000 Children Missing in Bihar

This is an article from a few weeks back published in the Times of India:

“PATNA: The magnitude of human trafficking in Bihar is alarming as about 35,000 to 40,000 children from the state were missing and nobody knew about their whereabouts, said former Delhi police commissioner Amod Kanth. There was no human development indicator in Bihar, resulting in the frequent use of child labour and violation of law dealing with it, he said.

Speaking on the first day of the three-day seminar on ‘Training of Master trainers: To combat human trafficking’, organized jointly by the crime investigation department (CID) of Bihar police and Save the Children, a civil society organization, here on Monday, Kanth stressed the need to redefine human trafficking as the present definition did not deal with the issue in its entirety. The Central government was working on a new manual to make it clear, he said, adding that the Immoral Trafficking Act discussed only about commercialization of sex and the Juvenile Justice Act talked only about children between 6 and 8 years of age.”

The Road

Traffic, old people, professionals, goats, bicycles, cars, sick dogs, trucks, tuk-tuks, scooters, motorcycles, couples, families, cows, cats, fruit sellers, chili dryers – you name it, and it has equal rights on any road anywhere in India.  The level of tolerance for the absurd on the roads here is shocking.  Should a dog happen to wander in front of oncoming traffic, it is oncoming traffic’s responsibility to stop or swerve or otherwise outmaneuver everyone else to avoid hitting the dog.  Should a tuk-tuk break down in the middle of the road, the river of traffic again makes monumental diversions to avoid hitting the stationary object.  These scenarios are repeated in scales both large and small constantly here, and it gives me the impression that everyone and everything touching the road is equal.  It doesn’t matter if you are an untouchable, a Brahmin, a man, a woman, a vehicle, or a goat:  all are given the respect of not being leveled flat by speeding traffic.

But then what happens to this attitude when people leave the road?  Where does that equality and tolerance for all go?  Because if The Road attitude pervaded society here, I think there would be a lot less girls for me to train.

Photo from tuk-tuk 1 (Mumbai 2012).


Horn please (Mumbai 2012).


Not just for driving (Mumbai 2012).


Mumbai highway road side (Mumbai 2012).

Project Crayons

The classes I have done for Project Crayons have been unlike anything I have done before.  This is because the 40 or so girls I am teaching there range in age from 6 to 17 representing huge differences in interest, capabilities, and attention span.  But, I’m always up for a challenge, and so I head to the girls hostel facility, Udaan Ghar.

My first trip to Udaan Ghar takes me to the outskirts of a residential district and down a wide dirt path.  At the end of the path stand four or five row houses, each with big gated doors in front.  I duck through one of the gates, and am led into the house, into a smallish living room, and am surrounded by girls.  There are girls laying and sitting on a daise, others on the floor occupied with games or engrossed with the TV, and still others walking in and out of the room.  This is the girls’ spring break, and they are enjoying a movie and breakfast.

Like most spring breaks for children in hostel home dorm situations such as Udaan Ghar, the children can go home and visit their families.  Unfortunately, only about a third of the girls of Udaan Ghar were allowed to visit home this break; those still here have home lives that were deemed too dangerous for a visit.  A sobering thought.

Two cooks occupy the living room with the preparations for the days’ meals.  Roasting chilis fill the air with a smoke that makes my eyes water, making vision even more of a challenge after coming from the sun’s glare outside into this darkened interior.  While trying to adjust, I note that some of the girls, especially the young ones, are interested in my presence; the older ones, just like in the U. S., try hard to be cool and aloof, but I catch quick glances in my direction.  After rebuffing offers of food, I ask to be led to the training room.  And 40 or so girls follow.

Up the stairs we go to a spacious second floor room that is empty.  It quickly fills.  I did not count on not having the girls in age groups, but no matter.  I make the best of it and the hour goes by quickly.  Their energy is great and their giggles are infectious.  I am looking forward to the next class already.

For more information on the excellent work Project Crayons does, please go to:

Save Our Sisters

Tuesday was the first of my classes in Mumbai, and I made the trek from Kandivali West in the north to Bandra Kurla in the south by tuk-tuk.  My driving experiences in India leave me with the feeling that margins of safety are non-existent, and this ride is no exception.  It is filled with bumper to bumper jostling and mad dashes in front of oncoming traffic while exhaust fumes seem to coat every cell in my body.

An hour later, I arrive at Save the Children – India which offers the program Save Our Sisters.  There is a nice sized playground area, the space is open, and people and children mingle in the corridors and stairways.  Many programs are housed here, including those for special needs (deaf and down syndrome) children who are wearing green school uniforms to make them readily identifiable to an outsider such as myself.  After an introduction in an air conditioned(!) office, my program contact, Jyoti Nale, leads me to the fifth floor to meet the ladies.

Save Our Sisters young women are older than the ladies I have taught previously in Bihar, their ages ranging from 17 – 22.  They have ended up in Mumbai from all the corners of India from which they were trafficked – Bangladesh, Rajasthan, Hyderabad, even Bihar.  When I enter the room to meet them, I am barely given a second glance as they are huddled over a jewelry making project.  I wait as they carefully conclude their work.  They pull white t-shirts over their shalwazs, and then turn to me.

The first thing I do is to shake each and every one of their hands, and say, ‘Hi.’  They are not really sure what to do with this, and the dark brown eyes that look at me show curiosity, doubt, even dismissiveness.  But that soon changes as I raise my arms up overhead and wiggle my fingers.  Eighteen young ladies wordlessly follow.  Without saying a word, I curl my fingers into my palm, and wrap my thumb across the front of the fist, and 36 fists are high in the air.  Our classes have begun.

By the end of our hour together, the girls have learned the basics of a proper fighting stance, how to walk confidently, how to make a fist, how to make a hammer fist, how to hit with a hammer fist, what are the strong parts of a woman and what are the weak parts of a man.   As I stuff my pads back into my pack and white t-shirts are being removed, the air in the room has changed, a spark of excitement cast its energy across everyone.  It has been a wonderful first class, and I look forward to the next.

For more information on Save Our Sisters, visit their website:

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