Martial arts school Spirit of the Heart moves to Easthampton

  • Nancy Rothenberg, who is the owner of Spirit of the Heart, paints while getting her new studio in Easthampton ready for business, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Morgan Kent, who is an instructor at Spirit of the Heart in Easthampton, talks about the business, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nancy Rothenberg, who is the owner of Spirit of the Heart, paints while getting her new studio in Easthampton ready for business, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nancy Rothenberg, owner of Spirit of the Heart, joins Ben Cheung, left, and Joseph Mascis in meditation at the start of a class. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben Cheung, center, holds a bag for Wyatt Ramsey-Lohmann as Nancy Rothenberg, who is the owner and instructor of Spirit of the Heart Martial Arts, watches in her new space on Northampton Street in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nancy Rothenberg, owner of Spirit of the Heart, drums during a class in her new space on Northampton Street in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amanda Kent takes down Spirit of the Heart instructor Morgan Kent during a class. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Spirit of the Heart instructor Morgan Kent and Amanda Kent spar during a class. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben Cheung, left, kicks as Wyatt Ramsey-Lohmann holds a bag for him at Spirit of the Heart, 186 Northampton Street in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/9/2019 12:18:40 AM

EASTHAMPTON — If you’re going to practice the martial arts you need some space.

So after 26 years of growth in Northampton, Spirit of the Heart Martial Arts packed up its school at 47 Market St. and moved on Sept. 1 to a larger — more affordable — home in neighboring Easthampton.

The school is now located at 186 Northampton St., which owner Nancy Rothenberg describes as a “bigger, brighter space” that will enable the martial arts and self-defense school to “grow to new heights.”

Even before the move, Spirit of the Heart already offered classes in multiple locations, including programs at Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School, the Montessori School of Northampton and long-running classes in Ashfield.

“Maybe we have to go to people, not just wait for people to come,” said Rothenberg, sharing the insight she’d had.

Classes at Spirit of the Heart are $65 a month for one class a week for both children and adults, $85 a month for two classes a week for children, $95 a month for two classes a week for adults and $125 a week for three classes a week for adults.

Rothenberg estimated that Spirit of the Heart has about 130 students. She’s looking to grow that number to 200 this year.

“We’re not doing this just to maintain,” she said. “We want to grow. We want to help as many people as we can.”

Rothenberg said that she had been looking beyond the Northampton space for some time. “The space was just kind of old and small and we’re growing and doing really well,” she said.

However, a looming drastic increase in rent from the building’s new owners caused Rothenberg to pull the trigger on getting a new home.

“The rent became unaffordable,” she said.

Animal movements

Rothenberg, the majikan of the business that she started in 1993, began teaching silat martial arts in Portland, Oregon, in 1986, long before many of her current students were born.

“I was drawn to the animal movements,” said Rothenberg, on what brought her to the silat, which originated in Indonesia. “Watching women move their bodies in really intense, powerful, interesting ways.”

In the style of silat Rothenberg teaches, there are four groups of animal movements: crane, which focuses on aerial movements and long-range strikes; tiger, which focuses on ground fighting; monkey, which is playful and focuses on medium height and acrobatic movements; and snake, which focuses on fluid, fast strikes.

Rothenberg also said that her style involves a vigorous cardiovascular workout.

Rothenberg’s school also offers self-defense classes through its Strong Program. In addition to teaching the physical aspects of self-defense, the program teaches participants how to act with confidence and assert themselves verbally.

“Be full of yourself,” said Rothenberg, noting that girls are told not to be full of themselves and not take up a lot of space.

For Rothenberg, being full of yourself means being full of your energy and who you truly are, which she said can be protective in and of itself. She also talked about practicing saying no and cultivating a commanding presence when speaking.

On the physical side of self-defense, she spoke about strikes to vulnerable areas, such as the eyes, throat, groin and knees.

“You look for what’s available on the person who’s attacking you and what you have free to strike with,” she said.

While most of the school’s students are children, there has been a steady increase in adult students over the past year.

One of the school’s adult students is Robin Hoffman, 53, who began practicing three years ago, when she was feeling vulnerable, angry and powerless. But after going to classes on a recommendation from a friend, she found that she loved it.

“It wasn’t also very surprising to me that hitting things and yelling made me feel better,” she said.

Hoffman, a former professional ballet dancer who now works as a musician and visual artist, also said that as she has put on muscle and learned to defend herself, her, “business confidence has increased quite a bit.”

Rothenberg’s co-head instructor is Morgan Kent, 31, who has been training with her since he was 10-years-old.

Rothenberg, 56, said she would like to pass the school on to her longtime student when she retires.

“To know that it’s going to keep going, it’s amazing,” she said.

Kent said he would like to continue on the school as well.

“I feel like it’s my duty to pass it on,” he said. “It’s a mission in life.”

Kent said that it was his first big training retreat with the style that set him on the path of practicing it for the rest of his life. At 13-years-old, he said that he was confident that he would, “take all of these middle-aged women out.”

It didn’t work out as planned.

“They just beat me up the whole time,” said Kent. “That’s what got me to train long-term.”

But he said what has kept him in the art is that he “fell in love with teaching.”

“I like helping people feel better about themselves,” he said.

In terms of what distinguishes the school and the work that he does, Kent said that Spirit of the Heart trains more like a mixed martial arts school, while maintaining traditional martial arts values.

“What makes us really unique is that we’re in-between these two things,” he said.

Kent said that he came to this realization after he began cross-training twice a week in mixed martial arts.

“We try to train things here so that what works keeps going and what doesn’t work goes away,” he said.

Kent also runs an open sparring group with other martial arts schools.

“We’re all interested in the same stuff; we just don’t know it yet,” Kent said.

On leaving the old space, Kent said that he found the experience to be a bittersweet one.

“I grew up there,” said Kent. “I was there longer than I lived with my family.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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