From The Daniel Island News

JKIDI student faces down fears, becomes dojo's first female black belt
By Jennifer Johnston
Feb 13, 2013 - 9:57:33 AM

A traditional bow after Sensei Glenn ties the black belt on Sempai Matilda at the December 1 Shodan ceremony.

Mustachioed songwriter Jim Croce delivered some solid advice in a 1972 chart-topper: 1) You don't tug on superman's cape. Check. 2) You don't spit into the wind. (Despite this gravitational tip, runners everywhere continue to learn this the hard way.) 3) You don't pull the mask off the ol' lone ranger (not just because he’s packin’ a pistol - it also carries an automatic first down and 15-yard penalty). 4) And you don't mess around with Jim. Henson? Beam? Carter?
All sound warnings, and as relevant today as they were the day he first sent them across the airwaves. But 30 years later, it's time to add one to the list: Don't get in the way of Matilda Jarmy-Crowley, Japan Karate Institute Daniel Island's first female black belt. Of course, we'll get that lyrically tightened up.
Jarmy-Crowley grew up in Wisconsin, where she earned her undergraduate degree and worked for a time as an IT project and operations manager. In 1987, she moved to New York City in pursuit of an MBA, and ended up staying there for 16 years. In that time, she not only scored the masters degree and a coveted consulting gig, but also married and welcomed her first son, Miko. Shortly after her husband, Ken, accepted an early retirement, the couple visited Charleston and loved it immediately. The timing seemed serendipitous; in 2003 they packed up and made the move to the Lowcountry.
Within a year of their arrival, Jarmy-Crowley had a second son, Marcello, and was putting her education and experience to work at Blackbaud here on Daniel Island. Family and career were certainly enough to keep her busy, but there was a passion that had been put on the back burner for too long: martial arts.
“I’ve been fascinated with martial arts for as long as I can remember,” Jarmy-Crowley purports. She started with judo in junior high, then took a break from her MA practice to run track in high school. Fortunately, enough of her training stuck with her that, on a post-college trip through Europe, the young undergrad was able to fend off an attacker. She recalls with a shudder today the incident that was nothing short of “every woman’s nightmare: being grabbed in the dark.” Keeping remarkable wits about her, she fought back as she’d been instructed so many years before, and the man fled.
Upon return to Wisconsin, Jarmy-Crowley took up tae kwon do, but when the big city and a demanding career came calling, another hiatus from martial arts seemed unavoidable. And it wasn’t until twenty years later, in conjunction with the search for a spot for Miko to train, that she found herself connected to it once again. Japan Karate Institute Daniel Island (JKIDI), owned and led by Sensei Glenn Raus, happened to offer a program for three year-olds. Jarmy-Crowley admits that she was cautious with her tender son’s entry into martial arts, telling us, “When Miko started going there, I watched him like a hawk, and Sensei Glenn never once mis-stepped.” The mindful mom quickly recognized that this was truly an exceptional dojo, and that her son was in excellent hands. It also made her realize how much she missed her own training, but a high-risk pregnancy would put her return on hold a bit longer.
And there was something else. “I needed to get my schedule to a point where I could make this a commitment,” Jarmy-Crowley recalls, “because once I started, I wanted to get my black belt. That goal was non-negotiable.” And in January 2006, with Marcello now a toddler and Miko with firm footing at JKIDI, she officially became a student of Sensei Glenn. She was back in her element, moving rapidly from one belt to the next and graduating from the Sempai Academy in 2010. “Once you’re in that Academy, you train with other instructors,” explains Sempai Matilda. “They are such a joy, but also take their training very seriously and are extremely supportive of each other.” It seemed that her black belt was well within reach.
“There are elements of martial arts that you expect to be difficult but turn out to be easy,” Jarmy-Crowley imparts. “Then there are things that come up and blindside you.” Though the attack in Greece two decades before had been terrifying at the time, she had chalked up the emotion surrounding it to rage and adrenaline, and had seemingly tucked it neatly to the recesses of her mind. She never mentioned the incident to her fellow MA students or instructors, feeling that it had happened so long ago, she had escaped unscathed, and “there was no reason to get all dramatic about it.”
It was inevitable that, in her training with JKIDI, Jarmy-Crowley would find herself sparring with a male. But she was totally unprepared for how that moment would make her feel. “We were doing a seminar at our West Ashley dojo,” Sensei Glenn recollects. “Matilda got flustered and had to walk off the floor and leave. She was going through some of the trauma she’d gone through when she was attacked.” Glenn followed her out to speak with her briefly, then she asked for some time to herself. Minutes later, Jarmy-Crowley returned to the floor. “She took control of what controlled her,” Sensei Glenn maintains, and he recalls that moment as the one where he recognized the depth of her commitment to her training and her goal.
“I determined that this would not defeat me,” explains Sempai Matilda of her tenacity. “I would not back down, so I had to desensitize my fear.” Though the unexpected recall of her attack proved a formidable obstacle, it was not the only one she would encounter on her journey to the black belt. She describes the juggling act of managing work, staying on top of kids’ activities, supporting Ken’s multiple surgeries, and finding time to train as a real challenge. And then there were intermittent injuries, which can present themselves not only as barriers, but as setbacks.
But one of Jarmy-Crowley’s favorite quotes, penned by the late Randy Pausch, resonated with her more at this time of her life than any other: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” And on November 28, 2012, Sempai Matilda clawed her way over her wall, passing the grueling test for her black belt. A few days later, Sensei Glenn tied the symbol of dedication, fortitude, and undeniable skill around the waist of Jarmy-Crowley; it was the first time he had done so for a female student. It was a ceremony attended by family and friends and, of course, those who train alongside her. “You may start this journey as an individual,” JKIDI’s only female Shodun contends, “but it takes an entire dojo to make a black belt.”
For years, Jarmy-Crowley thought she would someday witness another female in her dojo achieve that level first. When she began training at JKIDI, where approximately one-third of the students are female, several women outranked her. It was never her mission to win that race, just to finish. Still, she is proud of that unintended mark of distinction. For his part, Sensei Glenn never had a doubt: “She’s a pretty driven woman to begin with, very take-charge,” he says, reflecting further, “With or without that attack, she would have earned a black belt. The question is would she have sought out karate?”
The answer to that may never be known, but what is clear now is that she is directing her own destiny. She’s left the fast-paced corporate world to start her own business,, curating unique jewelry “for women who are too busy to do it themselves.” As for what she seeks next in karate, Sempai Matilda reveals two goals. One is to work toward her Nidan, or second black belt. The other is to further encourage women to get involved in traditional martial arts, and she intends to use a program known as the American Pressure Point self-defense system. Jarmy-Crowley has been trained in this method, and has developed with JKIDI a program called “Empower Hour,” where small groups of women can learn this highly-effective tool for taking charge of their personal safety. Call it one more shot at those walls of adversity.
Seriously, I’d even pick Sempai Matilda over Bad Bad Leroy Brown.
For more information on the American Pressure Point self-defense “Empower Hour” classes for women, visit And be sure to check out Matilda Jarmy-Crowley’s full line of sterling silver jewelry at
JKIDI will host "Empower Hour" female self-defense sessions for small groups by appointment.

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