Power in the Martial Arts: A Young Woman’s Voice

Interview with Allie Hayes

A little while back I got the chance to speak with Ms Allie Hayes, an illustrator, a student of science, and (as of July 2020) a 2nd-degree Black Belt with Ripple Effect Martial Arts. Her story is sensational; I’ve been working with Ms Hayes on projects including books, movies, and of course martial arts training for more than six years, and she’s never failed to inspire.

Read on for Ms Hayes’ perspective on her journey as a martial artist, a woman, and an inspiration to new students who want to become stronger and better through the martial arts.

How did you get your start in the martial arts? 

I had done martial arts as a very young kid, back in Illinois. I’ve always loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Avatar: The Last Airbender, all the pop culture references to martial arts made me fascinated with it. A couple schools [I belonged to] closed, and I migrated to new schools. Ultimately I didn’t progress very far. About six years after moving to Colorado I started at Ripple Effect Martial Arts. I was so excited because I felt like I could finally train through to Black Belt.

Sounds like dedication. 

It’s been rewarding. I have so many things to thank martial arts for. It began as a sport to pursue, and became a core part of my life.

How did you get involved with teaching Competition Team and Prep Cycle? [Editor: Prep Cycle refers to the year-long period of specialized, intense training for candidates for Black Belt]

I’ve always loved being in leadership positions, learning how to lead. In middle school, 8th grade, I was a “WEB Leader” for new 6th graders. My parents put me into leadership roles in after-school programs. That was the beginning, and I saw the rewards of strong leadership.

Being a woman now, and a little girl back then, I can see people who need help. I feel like I have a purpose and an obligation to help people in need. Instructing in martial arts is a way to be more effective as a mentor, to people young and old, men, women, parents, and kids.

It helps that you have a background in competition yourself. What do you like about competing? 

I joined Ripple Effect’s competition team early on, representing in intramural tournaments and later at state-level (Colorado Karate Association/CKA) competitions. Tournaments make me feel extremely powerful. I can express my physical power in ways that aren’t always appropriate in normal life [laughs]. To be able to yell as loudly as I can, to feel my lungs on fire on a tournament floor in front of judges and crowds…. I feel so empowered in this expression.

That’s awesome. Do you find much female representation in martial arts competitions? Or in general?

Growing up I didn’t see a lot of women in the martial arts. When you think of martial artists, most people think of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, or Muhammad Ali. Those are great people and I admire them, but there’s a misrepresentation of gender. That’s why I love competition, you see equal amounts of men, women, boys and girls, and everyone in between.

CKA is a place for diversity, people compete in a ton of martial arts styles beyond karate and taekwondo. We all have the same goal: to win and to learn. Your gender doesn’t matter; you are expected to show power in your body and your yells. As a woman, I’ve heard several times the phrase “be a lady” or “that sport is for men” and “leave being strong to the men.”

What do you feel when you hear that?

No! This is who I am. It only makes me louder.

Do you think your growing self-confidence impacts other people?

Yeah. People have come up to me and said it was so great to see a woman win at this Grand Champions competition. When I came back to instructing, some students who didn’t know me came up and said “You’re that really loud girl from the tournaments!!” Yep. I’m proud to lead and set an example.

As a teacher, what makes you proud? 

The growth that you see with kids from their beginning through to Black Bet is so awesome. The little girls especially. There’s one student named Claire, she started super shy. A few practices in she said “Ms. Hayes, I want to kick like you. I want to yell like you.”

Who are some of your heroes in the martial arts? 

In real life: Chloe Bruce. She is so awesome. A model of flexibility and high kicks. Her creative forms with bo staff and open hand are ridiculous. Awesome. Another is Jade Xu. She competes in Wu Shu traditional forms. Someone I know personally is [Black Belt] Lindsey Macy. She’s a very powerful woman. She competes with the form Choi Yong and I compete with that form too.

In fiction, Avatar: The Last Airbender has been a huge influence. It has so many great life lessons on real world topics. The [Airbender] world is a war zone. The main character is 12 years old. His duty (it’s pretty huge) is to bring balance to the world. Not a small task.

You’ve got a lot going on. What are you studying in college? 

Cognitive behavioral neuroscience. I’m working toward a graduate degree in Occupational Therapy, focusing on people with TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). I’ve started my senior thesis on this subject.

How did you come into that field of study? 

I’ve always been fascinated by the brain. We know a lot about the brain, but neuroscience has advanced so much in the past 20 years. I’ve always studied biology, and I’m still fascinated with biology.

Have you always loved science? What inspired you to study the brain?

There was a person named Phineas Gage in the mid 1800s; he had an iron bar driven through his frontal lobe in a terrible accident. He not only survived but was able to function socially for the rest of his life, with noticeable social deficits. This story in particular got me really interested in the cellular biology and functional neuroanatomy of the brain. I guess I just think the brain is really cool [Laughs].

What got you into art and illustration? 

I’ve held a pen or a paint brush in my hand basically since I could. Art has tagged along with me, I would say. It’s rare for me now to sit for hours and sketch or draw, but I still love it. Visual art and music are things I can’t live without.

Any musicians you can recommend?

My favorite artist is Hayley Williams of Paramore. She’s a real person. She started Paramore when she was just 13 or 14. The way her style of writing has evolved amazes me. She’s gone from anger and screams to a feeling like I’m growing up now, I have the ability and the responsibility to bring justice to the world, but being content with yourself if you can’t.

Her latest album, Petals for Armor, is about being feminine in a world where it can be painful to be feminine. Not being happy all the time. Not being what others want you to be.

A lot of it is about accepting oneself, forgiving yourself for past mistakes and not letting them define you. And ultimately, existing without apology for occupying space. It’s a concept that’s very close to my heart. She also dives into being a woman and having mental health challenges, something that I can relate to a lot. She is a really strong advocate for disciplined mental and physical selfcare.

Like the Bruce Lee quote, “I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”

Exactly. I love Bruce Lee.

And we come round again to martial arts. Thank you Ms Hayes for being such an inspiration to people young and (somewhat) old.

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