MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Sensei Sahnya Thom may impress you with her many degrees and titles, but what's most impressive is that she's on a mission to help others live fuller, safer lives.
Sensei Sahnya Thom is a sixth-degree black belt who uses her many gifts and talents for a variety of purposes -- including helping women in self-defense at Windhorse Warriors Martial Arts Club in Milwaukee.
Each of her students has a history.
Melissa Abramovich lives through a nightmare.
"When I was 17, I was raped when I was at UW-Madison. That led me to put on a shield of fat -- so I got very, very heavy. I was almost 300 pounds. And through the process of taking that weight off -- that's what led me to the martial arts. I wanted to learn how to protect myself and to protect others," Abramovich said.
But Abramovich, a married mother with two children, turned tragedy into triumph for herself and many others.
Abramovich wants people to live their best lives possible, and she offers advice for any woman who may have gone through what she endured.
Sensei Sahnya Thom's students say there's a feeling of acceptance without judgement at Windhorse.
Liz Goldberger is another woman who likes feeling empowered.
"It started out as wanting a sense of physical empowerment. To be able to defend myself. Learning through Sahnya has taught me to calm my mind, specifically through meditation. The mind has to be still and calm before you can react," Goldberger said.
Goldberger has learned through her experience at the club that the empowerment comes from learning to free your mind and live in the moment -- thus being able to judge situations as they happen, and react or stand back.
As a man who sells cars for a living, David Vajgrt has to block out a lot of negative energy.
"If I practice 100 times, it becomes part of me and isn't used them to block a punch -- but I can use it to block and move that negative energy past me so I can then do my job and help that person," Vajgrt said.
Stan Kononov is a yoga instructor and massage therapist who is also a martial artist. He has teamed with Sensei Sahnya Thom to help her students develop unity between body, mind and energy.
Kononov grew up in the Ukraine, but he's familiar with Packers coaching legend Vince Lombardi.
"He was very spiritually advanced. When he coached the players, he said 'visualize your game. Visualize how you move. Visualize how you throw the ball -- how you tackle people,'" Kononov said.
So who is Sensei Sahnya Thom? She is a martial arts and meditation certified wellness coach, personal trainer and speaker who has her own story to share. The Cedarburg native who grew up in Ripon does it all. And she does it because she has her own, personal story.
"In my early years I was experiencing a lot of anxiety -- social anxiety, separation anxiety. It was an idea of my father to actually have all of his daughters to take self-defense," Sensei Sahnya Thom said.
30 years later, Sensei Sahnya Thom is still at it -- with a desire to use the patch of martial arts to help others on their life's journey.
"With martial arts, it works very well because to get to people's minds and sense of purpose and meaning, we work the body. We kind of go through the body to get to the mind. I'm not a new-ager. It's all research-based. It is not this whole feel good thing. Eventually you have more self-acceptance and happiness. It is proven. My background is psychobiology and coming from a more conventional training, classical training -- gives me that east and west and allows me to synthesize both. It is a different gateway. Some people enter through western psychology into martial arts. Some people enter in because they want to learn meditation. Anxiety sometimes takes joy out of people's lives. Martial arts kind of gives you that anchor and that ground -- and you are not your anxiety -- and the same thing with depression. You are not your depression. You're so much bigger than that," Sensei Sahnya Thom said.
What makes Sensei Sahnya Thom such an effective teacher is that she has walked the talk. She is willing to be vulnerable so that her students might feel secure enough to do the same.
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