It was a warm summer day in Lakewood Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. I pulled up to the Transform Headquarters for a Sunday yoga session. Despite my mad dash to get out the hotel room door, surprisingly I was early. I sat in the rental car for a few minutes, took a few deep breaths in attempt to compose myself after my frantic drive over. With all the traveling I do, I still get a bit of anxiety when not knowing where I’m going and when I think I’m going to be late (which is the case most of the time). No matter how hard I try I can’t help my tardiness, I blame it on genetics (my own grandmother showed up late to her funeral) and the fact that I am perpetually on island time.
I entered the back of the building and walked down a narrow corridor with several clearly marked signs for Transform HQ that reassured me that I was in fact in the right place. When I opened the door to Transform HQ, I was immediately greeted by Dr Sedlacek, or as I know her Darla. The smell of lavender and incense filled the air which was a refreshing change for the usual sweaty funk of most gyms. But this was no gym nor like any psychologist office I’ve ever been to. It was cozy and welcoming and designed perfectly for both mental and physical healing. I could see off the left was an office with a couch like most traditional psychologist offices. However in front of the door were a set of stationary bicycles and the main room was wall to wall mats, with the occasional yoga balls, kettle bells and other work out equipment neatly stored off to the side. The place was immaculate.
Although, I have never been to a place like this, I instantly felt right at home.
By no means do I consider myself a Yogi, not do I aspire to become one. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the occasional yoga class and after a long weekend of traveling and working I was really for a little bit of relaxation. Among the students in the class was Sedlacek’s mother, members from the Jiu Jitsu community and a few of her students. The session began with a little meditation, then moved into a slow flow from one pose to another. Although this session wasn’t designed to be a “work out” I did sweat a bit and the session left me feeling revived, focused and recharged. I have to say that when I hit an open mat after that same feeling carried over and I felt as if I rolled better than I had in a long time.
After leaving the Transform HQ and experiencing the transformation myself, I wanted to know more. Who is Dr. Sedlacek’s where did this concept of linking mental and physical health come from? What was her inspiration? Is this the wave of the future?
I knew Dr. Sedlacek was onto something big…
Dr. Sedlacek passion for martial arts and mental health runs deep. She started martial arts training in college (mainly Tae Kwon Do) 25 years ago. She says that due to her interest and love of martial arts and recognizing that assault was a big problem affecting many on college campuses and elsewhere, she decided to focus her doctoral dissertation on effective assault prevention. One of the findings was that even if women know what to do to defend themselves, they were not likely to use forceful resistance against someone they know due to gender/relational scripts.
Over the years she says she has attempted to bring effective self-defense education to women in various ways, all the time wondering and studying how to reduce interpersonal violence. She says she got overwhelmed by the struggle and barriers to getting information to people who need it. At the same time, she was also getting frustrated with the culture (the culture of sexism and hegemonic masculinity) of the martial arts schools (the micro) where she was training, that she eventually stopped training formally.
“For a while, I shifted focus to sport psychology and working with coaches and athletes in an effort to disseminate programming related to preventing hazing, alcohol abuse, sexual assault, and gender scripting in the culture of sport. I then began to focus my energy in private practice, working with individual women suffering with anxiety and mood disorders, often related to trauma. Again, I began to feel motivated to bring skills to women to defend themselves in the spirit of assault prevention, because I was seeing too often the aftermath of assault related trauma. I knew I had to get back to teaching self-defense/empowerment skills for navigating relationships.”
Four years ago, she discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). She says she wanted to get back training formally in martial arts, because she missed it and she wanted to add self-defense training to the menu of therapy services she offered at Transform HQ.
“After a winding path of different interests, I started aligning again with my mission to provide effective assault prevention and empower women in an effort to create more equality in relationships. A tall order. I knew that BJJ was going to be the most effective means of enhancing the platform of self-defense and empowerment. I found Hurricane Jiu Jitsu on its opening day and found home.”
She says that Jiu Jitsu has personally changed her life in that it has expanded the joy she experiences with intense movement. She says that before BJJ, she was playing soccer and running ultra marathons. Now she run as a base of conditioning. She has been able to funnel her love of challenge into competing at tournaments. She says her daily training gives her stability and a venue to use her energy. She’s also met a lot of awesome people through Jiu Jitsu that she is happy to call friends. Professionally, Jiu Jitsu has also given her tools to expand how she teaches self-defense and it has expanded her menu of movement therapies she offers to those who struggle with anxiety, mood, trauma, and body issues.
Dr. Sedlacek says she has always been motivated by transformation. Hence the name Transform HQ.
“I work hard on self-development, and my work is all about facilitating transformation. Individuals may find it via therapy, but I also have always been passionate about cultural transformation, especially in the area of equality. It seems to me that Jiu Jitsu can be a great equalizer, men and women who train together can learn a lot about power and negotiation and recognize gender scripts.”
She’s been a private practice psychologist since 2003 and has kept adding more and more layers to her service with a personal trainer certification and then a yoga teacher certification. Doing cutting edge therapy that incorporates movement as part of therapy, she named her business Transform HQ- a headquarters for transforming people that she serves and a way transform how therapy is viewed.
The integration of Jiu Jitsu to Transform HQ started two years ago when Dr. Sedlacek asked her professor if she could start a women’s program. She says she was inspired by seeing women’s programs in other states and wanted to create that in her area. She also recognized that although she was talking to women all the time about the benefits of BJJ, they weren’t showing up to class or were coming short term and dropping out. Collecting feedback and reading social media, she hypothesized that perhaps the discomfort of training with men who typically outsize them, coupled with a potential prior history of assault, made it necessary to carve out women only classes.
“The women who aren’t afraid are already showing up, I wanted to target the women who were not showing up.”
However, at the time there wasn’t room or time on the schedule to fit it at her Huricane Jiu Jitsu, so with her teacher’s blessing, she started the women’s program at Transform HQ.
“It was an experiment to see if there was demand for a true woman only program, classes 6 times a week during prime time after work and weekend hours. Separate space, privacy, and good class times- I believed these to be key ingredients to make it successful. Also a women’s program run by a woman seems to offer something congruent to the heart of a women’s program.”
Although going in she recognized that not all women would be attracted to a women’s only program she felt it was worth the effort to engage those who might not otherwise train in this sport/art and might take the plunge with this format.
When asked if there is a link between mental and physical health she said.
“Unequivocally, yes. The way I describe it, intense activity helps to reorganize and discharge energy, re-wiring the nervous system. There are lots of scientific explanations for this, but simply put, “issues live in the tissues.” So if you re-organize your body tissues, you will inevitably re-organize your “issues.” Similar to cognitive behavior therapy, the continuum of think/feel/act applies: if you think or feel differently, you act differently. If you act differently, you feel and think differently. Change one, the others follow.”
She goes on to say that there is also something important about the support that one gets from a “team.” Mental health may be linked to social support and connection, and the team of women that do Jiu Jitsu together clearly benefit from the camaraderie on and off the mats.
Among the most improved patients she has seen is those that suffer from anxiety. She says that with Jiu Jitsu and Yoga it becomes more managed. For some it has worked so well she has seen them getting off psychotropic medications, have increase confidence, their moods stabilize, their focus improves and trauma may be healed. People report that there is a visceral difference in how they feel “inside.”
“They perceive themselves and the world differently. They carry themselves differently, they interact with others differently, they look in the mirror differently. They appreciate their bodies for what they can do, rather than focus on how they look. The stress inoculation that comes from rolling and/or competing shifts the nervous system out of “freeze” state to more of a “respond” state more often, and not just on the mats, but off the mats in other contexts. This is an essential element of self-defense in many contexts.”
Moving forward she says her goals with Transform HQ is to get as many women on the mats as possible, grow the program and have a variety of training partners that make the group thrive. She would like Transform HQ to be a solid training ground for self-defense and/or sport competition. She also wants her program to be known for its therapeutic and healing benefits for those with a history of trauma. Through seminars for teens and college aged young adults she would like to get more of them involved in Jiu Jitsu and offer more comprehensive rape prevention information.
“The women I see on the mats will find Jiu Jitsu and they will more fully find themselves. Similar to HQ Therapy (transformation for people that I serve and for how therapy is viewed), Transform HQ Jiu Jitsu will transform not only the people who practice, but Jiu Jitsu itself becomes transformed into something that truly is a great equalizer, paradoxically by focusing on women separately first before incorporating back into a coed training culture perhaps later down the line.”
According to Dr. Sedlacek Jiu Jitsu is fun and an attractive activity, it’s doesn’t sound scary in a way that “assault prevention,” “rape prevention,” or “trauma recovery” does for so many. After 25 years of trying to find a platform to offer effective assault prevention, she says seeing women doing Jiu Jitsu regularly at HQ is a beautiful thing.
“They each have a story. If I can impact a part of their plots with Jiu Jitsu and that creates longer term empowerment, healing and transformation- that feels like great success.”
Girls in Gis staff writer
Shama Ko is a brown belt with Gracie Humaita out of Austin, TX. She has been a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner since November of 2003. She is a photographer, writer, community organizer and activist. She heads the Girls in Gis organization or as she calls it the “movement”. She describes herself as both a lover and a fighter. She loves to laugh and not take life too seriously.