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Professor Coleen Gragen

2002 Recipient: Coleen Gragen Award of Inspiration

Professor Coleen Gragen, founder and head instructor of Hand to Hand Kajukenbo Self Defense Center in Oakland, CA, died on April 30, 2002, at the age of fifty years, after a 20-month-long battle with cancer.

Professor Gragen, who trained in the martial arts for over 30 years, held an 8th-degree black belt in Kajukenbo. She is the first woman ever to have been promoted to the rank of Professor by Grandmaster Charles Gaylord, head of the Kajukenbo Association of America.

Practicing martial arts was her life-long passion. She saw this practice as a path to physical and mental development, personal liberation, and, above all, to spiritual growth. Those of us who saw her perform or spar will never forget her power, fire, and determination.

Teaching was her calling: she taught thousands of women at Hand to Hand, in self defense courses in the S.F Bay Area, at Mills College in Oakland, and at both PAWMA and NWMAF training camps. In addition, Professor Gragen held the position of NWMAF Chair from 1988 to 1992, and was Coordinator of ST ’89 in San Luis Obispo, CA.

 Professor Gragen was our friend, our colleague, our teacher, our role model. A woman of the highest integrity who exemplified an amazing and awe-inspiring warrior spirit. It is for these achievements and significant contributions that the NWMAF presents the Award of Excellence to Professor Coleen Gragen.

Post Script – Professor Gragen received notification of this award shortly before her passing. She was thrilled to hear the news and expressed the importance of the NWMAF and ST in her life.  We are very glad that Sifu Jen Resnick, her student, and Sigung Barbara Bones, her teacher, will be accepting the award at ST on her behalf.

 If you wish to obtain more information about Professor Gragen, please visit the Hand to Hand web site at

Professor Gragen Memorial Workou (Held during ST’02)

Jen Resnick and Barbara Bones are teaching a workout this year in honor of Professor Gragen.  This workout is on Saturday at 1:30 followed by a workshop scheduled to allow those that knew Prof. Gragen to gather and share memories. That workshop will be facilitated by Janet Aalfs. The following is a description of the workout offered by Sigung Bones and Sifu Resnick.

Heart of a warrior

A Memorial of Professor Coleen Gragen

Freedom. From the beginning, one has to accept the simple truth that in every situation in life, we have the freedom to make choices. The choices we make shape our experience of those events and events that follow.  The more closely aligned our choices are with the true Self within, the more satisfaction we experience … regardless of the outcome. Coleen’s sister has told us that Coleen seized her freedom to shape her own destiny from early childhood.

In this portion of the workout, we will explore different choices available to us in combat. Choices we make with respect to technique, strategy, state of mind, and connection with the Heart. We will pay close attention to how these choices affect our experience and map our alignment to the Truth within.

Practice. Consistent disciplined practice leads to repeatable performance In Coleen’s last days, the regularity and depth of her years of practice bore the fruit of contentment and equipoise in the battle against her illness.

In this portion of the class, we will explore how to approach practice. What choice will we make about what are the important “skills” to practice…what qualities really count when your life is on the line? We will practice the path to perfect practice. We will assess how aligned our practice is with our own inner values.

Fearlessness. Fearlessness needs not to rely upon courage so much as to remove the obstacles from recognizing our own inner Truth. Coleen’s life was a portrait of blossoming fearlessness through the pursuit of self-knowledge. Through that knowledge, her fearlessness grew into a beautiful flower of the Heart.

We will explore the path to fearlessness. From what experience or knowledge does fearlessness arise? We will practice combat from the state of fearlessness and pay attention to how this state of being affects us physically and how it affects our relationships.

Dharma. Dharma is most often translated from the Sanskrit as “right action” or duty. Colleen practiced this quality ceaselessly. She examined her actions and the actions of others with the intention of bringing action in this world in alignment with the highest Truth. She challenged herself to make the world a better place.

 But how does dharma relate to your training? What is right action?  Action that is correct in the moment. It is effort towards the greatest good without attachment to the fruit of the action.

 Here we will take the support of our forms to study our own motivation for the fight. We will practice with full enthusiastic effort, fighting for the highest cause without reservations or doubt. Action without selfish motive or anger – pure action with the acceptance that winning or losing is illusion after all. Pure offering for the upliftment of this earth planet.

 Meditation. During the last months of Coleen’s life, meditation was the most important practice to support her and those who supported her. In this last section, we will practice some simple meditation which is the bedrock of the spiritual warriors’ practice. It was through meditation that Coleen found her faith, her certainty that her departure from this life was full of grace.

 In the end….Love. Coleen’s greatest attainment was the unfolding Heart and the love she was able to give and receive during the last months of her life. She described her experience as “love and light”. It was as if she was seeing the entire universe shimmering with the light of consciousness and felt the unending and unconditional love that is the nature of that light.

 In Kajukenbo, we often repeat our intention “Through this fist way, one gains long life and happiness”. Coleen has shown us that this refers not only to physical survival – but to spiritual survival. The long life was supposed to mean one which spans many incarnations on a continuous march toward union with the Absolute.