Fionna Owens kicks down gender barriers by teaching martial arts

Kate DeForrest

“I love teaching [martial arts] because without me, [students] can’t learn. If I stop teaching, there is nothing for the next generation. I feel like it’s my responsibility to get [them] ready,” freshman Fionna Owens, a second degree black belt and martial arts teacher, said.

For the past 10 years, Owens has practiced Kung Jung Mu Sul (KJMS) at Yang’s Martial Arts Academy in Larkspur. KJMS is a modern form of mixed martial arts, originating from traditional royal court martial arts in Korea. It combines a variety of techniques, using forceful hand-to-hand combat and fluid gymnastics movements while incorporating weapons such as swords and staffs. Owens has been dedicated to the sport since she began at age four. In addition to the physical fitness derived from doing self defense skills, martial arts has taught Owens that patience and dedication are crucial to achieving goals in life. Focusing on this dedication and tenacity, Owens is currently training for her third degree black belt test in May. 

“I prepare myself by teaching, doing black belt practices, practicing on my own and doing more reps. If [my teacher] is going to ask me to do a form one time, I am going to do it three times so I have the endurance that I need,” Owens said.

Demonstrating a kick for her Yang’s Martial Arts Academy, Owens performs at promotion night where students are given the next level belt. (Photo courtesy of Fionna Owens)

One of Owens’ teachers, Gus McGovert, is a sixth degree black belt who began martial arts in high school. He emphasizes the importance of having a positive attitude when practicing KJMS at any level.

“[In martial arts,] with dedication, anyone can achieve their goals and become great. I like the fact that hard work pays off and students and teachers that dedicate themselves to their craft will reach a level of mastery with time spent,” McGovert said.

In March 2020, Yang’s Martial Arts classes converted to Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions, and McGovert requested that Owens help with online classes. Owens had always dreamed of teaching martial arts, and since her recent promotion, teaching has become her favorite aspect of the sport. She has discovered that having a personal connection with her students is the most important quality in a successful teacher. 

“If you only [teach] a couple times you won’t really get to know the students very well. But, if you do it constantly, you get a good relationship with your students and you’ll learn more by teaching,” Owens said.

McGovert also finds that Owens has drastically improved as a martial artist through teaching others. He notes that Owens spends more time in the studio and has to review the technique and form taught at each belt level.

“There are some people who want to improve or work on their own things, but not only does [Owens] want to work on her own things, she [also] wants to help others improve … You have to want the student to be better than you to give [teaching] your all and she does that,” McGovert said.

Blocking a kick, Owens spars with Charlotte Philkill, another second degree black belt at Yang’s Martial Arts Academy. Owens believes that practicing with friends is one of the most enjoyable parts of martial arts. (Photo courtesy of Fionna Owens)

Charlotte Philkill is a second degree black belt who has been doing martial arts with Owens for eight years. She believes Owens has succeeded as a martial arts teacher due to her commitment and perseverance. 

“I think teaching martial arts takes a lot of hard work and a lot of patience. Martial arts isn’t really something you can instantly be good at teaching. You have to know the basics really well and they have to be burned into your head,” Philkill said. 

In addition to excelling at teaching and performing KJMS, McGovert believes Owens is a role model for other girls at Yang’s Martial Arts, demonstrating that people of all genders can succeed in martial arts. 

“Even just 10 years ago we would only have one or two girls in a class, and now we even have a class that has more girls than boys. I think the stigma that martial arts is a thing for men is now nonexistent, and it is people like Fionna who are breaking these gender barriers and setting the groundwork for others to follow,” McGovert said. 

Owens hopes to continue martial arts long after she gets her third degree belt. In the future, she hopes to open her own KJMS school to continue teaching.

“I hope to buy out the school when I get older. That’s my dream. I just hope I never stop doing martial arts. I feel like if I don’t do martial arts, it’s not who I am,” Owens said.