Executive spotlight: Connie Flynn of ZenQuest Martial Arts

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LENOX — Since November, Connie Flynn, owner of ZenQuest Martial Arts Center in Lenox, earned a seventh-degree black belt in karate and a black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu.

That would be enough activity for a lot of people, but Flynn keeps kicking. We caught up with the "kyoshi" — it's a title granted to seventh-level black belts that means "teacher of teachers" — to talk about the business of spiritual and physical strength through martial arts. 

Q How did you get involved in the martial arts?

A I'm originally from the Albany [New York] area. ... I was working at a Guilderland community center as program director. [My future husband, Mark Flynn,] came in and wanted to start a karate program there. I was one of his first students. ... We were friends first, and then it went from there.

Q Are the martial arts more of a male-dominated sport?

A Just being a woman in the martial arts, you have to break down certain barriers.

Q Such as?

A You get one of two things. One: You get people who can't let you win because you're a woman. And you get people who, even though I may have a higher rank than them, because I'm a woman they feel like they have to patronize me. They want to either protect you too much or they think they have to guide you.

Q How do you deal with that?

A It's finding a good balance between having people respect you as a martial artist and a woman and doing your best to stay calm and relaxed about that, because getting angry is the opposite of what you want.

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Q What's meant the most to you this year: the black belt in jiujitsu, or the seventh-degree black belt in karate?

A They're both important. The seventh-degree black belt is significant. We had to travel to Okinawa [Japan] for me to get it. The thing that was really significant to me in jiujitsu is that [Brazilian mixed martial artist Demian Maia, the world's 12th-ranked welterweight in The Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts competition] came here to have me do it in front of my students. ... It's unique to be a female that goes that far, especially outside of Brazil.

Q You have a bachelor of science degree in human development and family studies from Cornell University and a master's in education from the College of St. Rose in upstate New York. Did you teach before you got involved in the martial arts?

A I explored the traditional teacher role, but with the constraints and restrictions of just being in the educational system, I sought out the community center. ... I can honestly say that both my undergraduate and graduate degrees have been very useful in what I do, because what we do isn't just training for the martial arts. We're like life skills coaches.

Q So, your background was helpful to you in martial arts and business?

A I grew up in a family with four brothers, and I was the oldest. My father always taught me that I should make sure that I could do whatever I need to do with or without a partner. My mother always felt that way, but I think to have a father figure who propped me up in that way meant that, at my core, I never felt like I couldn't do something because I was a woman.

Q How do the martial arts affect life skills?

A I do private lessons for several women, Yes, they're learning a skill, and an art, but it's about empowerment. I've always sought ways to empower myself and other people. The martial arts, I think, is a very powerful way to do that, if you get it and understand it.

Q What advice would you give to girls and women who want to get involved in the martial arts?

A Pursue your dream. In the dojo, we're equals. Everyone starts with the same uniform. The same belt. The same expectations. If you go in, work hard, follow the instructions, follow the people who came before, you can get you to where you want to go. The sky's the limit as far as martial arts goes.


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