Naomi is one of our Trailblazers and owns a martial arts gym in the Black Hills.

City: Rapid City, South Dakota

Who is your community? This may be a group of friends, organization of affinity or a geographic location. My community is in several places. Living in South Dakota, a rural state in general towns, congregate around city centers and opportunities, thus creating large cultural communities. My geographical communities are Rapid City and Kyle, however my communities I choose are my students, their families and the communities in which my martial arts students live. Rapid City, Hot Springs, Kyle, Wamblee, Porcupine, Pine Ridge Reservation and so many other towns. Community is where we choose to live, to create memories and where we choose to grow. My community is my martial arts family.

Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day. I wake up in the morning around 5 am to go for an early morning run. I run to the park, the dew is still on the grass when I start my martial arts pattern. Centering myself, gathering my energy for the days work. The next step is Tykes Taekwondo, a preschool level class. We animal race, work on balance and work on developing coordination through the martial arts. See, I own a martial arts gym, Full Circle Martial Arts Academy. This gym is my passion, my heart and soul and most importantly my springboard for my community. After the preschool class in the morning, I head back to my office. I prepare financial reports for the gym, create posters for community workshops, provide free self-defense classes for after school programs and build curriculum for the next classes. After school is out, I head back to the gym for my evening classes. Elementary age students through adult classes run smoothly through their motions. I work to build relationships with each student, develop their skills physically, be there for them, celebrate with them and mourn with them. I spend 5 hours each night at the gym, being present with my students, asking about their day, encouraging them to try again, and praising them when they do. Once all the students leave, the next round of work begins. I go home and update the website, develop the curriculum for the martial arts classes, fill out certificates, design posters and e-mail parents about each students progress, and finalize contracts. At the end of the day, I go to sleep knowing that I spent the best part of the day with my martial arts family. Learning from them, teaching them and watching them grow into amazing individuals who will someday be the next leaders of my community.

What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming? I am taking the plunge. I have trained and taught in the martial arts for 10 years, but it has always been part time, the second job. I am transitioning out of my full-time job and am leaping at the chance to run my martial arts gym full time. I am excited to put my focus and energy into the martial arts, into my family and into my communities. The biggest challenge will be promoting the martial arts as a tool to leverage arts-based community development. The connections are there, but a lot of the community does not see the martial arts community as a resource. By working to elevate the martial arts and bring about awareness, we will also be working to bring communities together and to strengthen the bond within our communities and to strengthen the individuals in our communities.

If you could do any job, what would you do and why? My dream job is to run my martial arts gym Full Circle full time. To be able to dedicate myself to this art form and in turn to dedicate myself to my community through the martial arts.

What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the OTA region when it comes to your career? The OTA region is a wonderful space to develop as an individual and as a community. We teach hard work, and have the opportunities for everyone. For the martial arts specifically it is a great place to start changing the perspectives of what the martial arts can do as and art form, but also what the martial arts can do for the community. The OTA regions are home to some of the most amazing indigenous cultures in the world, yet a lot of these cultures are experience hard times, food deserts and high suicide rates. As unfortunate as this situation is, I see it as an opportunity to leverage the martial arts for community change the empowering the individuals in the community. Full Circle Martial Arts Academy has recently joined up with the Kyle Health Center through the Indian Health Services to provide suicide prevention programming through the martial arts in Kyle. We are working with kids ages 4-18 and helping them find their place in the world, but more importantly, a place in their community. This type of partnership would not be possible in a more urban space, this type of change and trailblazing comes from the OTA region by bringing two different cultures together for the next generation – by investing in their people, in their community.

At what intersection do you live your life? I live at the intersection of traditional martial arts and community development.

Where do you think good ideas come from? Ideas are passion, conversation and curiosity. Ideas are the exploration of what we want to be, what we do and where we want to go. Ideas are the collaboration between the individual and their community.

What’s one current trend you think will change the world? Collaboration. Collaboration has been around a long time, but in recent years there has been a push to bring together groups, organizations and individuals who might not have worked together or even felt they had a connection. The movement to collaborate and utilize arts-based community development gives us the opportunity to customize our relationships from community to community and individual to individual. Bringing together a variety of groups that each contribute to the community in meaningful ways.

What’s the best way to put inspiration into action? Conversation. Creativity. Collaboration. By sharing your ideas and inspirations with someone, you focus your ideas. By participating in creative actions, you give yourself permission to try new things, to fail and to explore. By collaborating, you build relationships with those of like minds. Pooling resources, goals and connections.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken? I am currently living my greatest risk. Giving up my ful-time job to run my martial arts business. My goal is not to be just another business owner, but to be a martial arts business owner who creates programming and opportunities that connect with individuals and help build community. My goal is to be an arts-based, community development business.

What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it? My biggest failure was not seeing how my passion for 10 years could be my focus. I have preached to others about following their hearts and passions, and yet I have not. For the past 10 years, I have dreamed and worked but never leapt. I have learned that the leap is the hardest part, but landing as a martial artist is easy. I have learned that your own advice is sometimes the best advice.

Who do you hope to leave a legacy for? My martial arts family, my community. I want to have students who are now white belts someday make it to black belt. I want those future black belts to have schools and students who care about their communities. I want those students to have students to have students to care about themselves, their students and their communities. In the gym, we sometimes joke about a martial arts empire, but in a way, it makes sense. If I can work with enough students, no matter the age, and instill in them a pride and a sense of purpose in their community, wouldn’t that make all of communities better? No matter how small?

Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected? Pepper Massey is the most connected person in my life. She is a strong fair leader, and she always focuses on what is best for the community. She pushes everyone to do their best and works for her goals and the goals of the community. She works with everyone and is never afraid to start new connections and listen. She is a friend, a mentor and a leader to so many. As the Executive Director of the Rapid City Arts Council, Pepper’s job is to bring art and people together to strengthen the community, and she is damn good at her job.

Who is the most creative person in your life, and why? My husband, Nik. His brain is just on another frequency. He is a sculptor, a politician, a writer, a martial artist, a web designer, a graphic designer and even a musician. He is fascinated by the world and loves to tinker and explore every topic under the sun. He never takes no for an answer and loves to push the boundaries. He finds connections with everyone, and do anything he puts his mind to. There are times when I can’t even keep up with him and this ideas.

Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities? Tyler Read is by far the most community-focused person in my life. Four years ago when I first started working with Tyler, he terrified me and inspired me at the same time. He was a graffiti artist, and, man, was that cool. But I had no idea how to connect with him as a professional. However, after four years, I have come to learn that Tyler is the most unselfish person I know. He is always thinking about others, leaving a legacy that the next generation can use. Tyler is the Art Education Engagement Coordinator for the Rapid City Arts Council and has been the best addition to the staff in the last five years. His family is the community, his daughters, the graffiti culture and the arts community. Tyler gives his all in every project, even if it makes him uncomfortable. He may not know it, but I greatly admire him as a professional, an artist and most importantly as a friend. He has supported everyone even if that person did not support him.

What makes you a Trailblazer? The martial arts are a traditional art form, and the martial arts community in the Midwest is primarily focused on that traditional aspect. My goals are to leverage the power of the martial arts to benefit the community, and to grow the community. I want to elevate the martial arts to be an integrated aspect of the community. The best way to do this is to think outside of the box and use the martial arts to build, strengthen and connect communities through movement.

What project do you plan to focus on as part of the Trailblazers Program? I want to focus on my Kyle martial arts program. This is a new program that is leveraging the martial arts to combat suicide prevention on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The students are vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic about the martial arts. They are given the opportunity to try something new and have just eaten it up. I want to continue to provide amazing programming in Kyle and expand into other types of community engagement with the students. I want to incorporate all the art forms into the Kyle program. I want to branch out into other communities and build bridges through movement.

What change / advancement do you hope to achieve as part of the Trailblazers Program? First, I hope to spread awareness of my goals and build relationships with other OTA Trailblazers who connect with my goals. I hope to find inspiration from others and support in my adventure. I look forward to conversations, creativity and connections.

The Trailblazers program is sponsored by Midco®, the regional provider of business and residential internet and networking, cable TV, phone and commercial IT services.