The Work Seminar

Ep. 7: Naomi Even-Aberle - MFA in Visual Arts Now Martial Arts Studio Owner & Working Artist

December 15, 2021 Jesse Butts Season 1 Episode 7
The Work Seminar
Ep. 7: Naomi Even-Aberle - MFA in Visual Arts Now Martial Arts Studio Owner & Working Artist
Show Notes Transcript

As Naomi’s martial arts studio grew, her time creating art dwindled. She enrolled in a low-residency MFA visual arts program to combat the imbalance. 

But rather than doubling down on the bifurcation between professional and personal, she tore down the “imaginary brick wall.” Infusing her artwork with her perspective from years of martial arts practice and leadership revealed her voice. 

Now everything is art, and everything informs her art. 

The struggles with misogyny and patriarchy she endured in blackbelt training is as present in her artwork as the joy—and complexity—of teaching Lakota children living on sovereign nation land an East Asian discipline. Concepts she studied in grad school, like Orientalism and stereotype fetishization, find their way into her instruction, business planning, team training, and even paperwork. 

Her advice for identifying non-negotiables and building a life around them helps her as much as her students and instructors. And, hopefully, you’ll find some guidance for navigating your work and creative life in this episode.  

Books & other resources mentioned

Orientalism by Edward Said

Guides for local small business assistance

Where to find Naomi and Full Circle Martial Arts/Consulting

EvenAberle.Studio

Naomi on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn

FullCircleMAA.com

rc.fcmaa@gmail.com

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Jesse Butts:

Welcome to The Work Seminar, the podcast for people with liberal arts advanced degrees considering work outside their fields of study. Hey, everyone, and thanks for joining me again for another episode. I'm your host, Jesse Butts. Today I'm chatting with Naomi Even-Aberle, an MFA in visual and performing arts from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, who's now a martial arts studio owner and instructor, and working artist. Naomi founded Full Circle Martial Arts Academy in 2012, where she and her fellow instructors cultivate healthy students in body, mind, and spirit by providing space to connect and train. Naomi, welcome! So glad to have you on the show.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Thank you. And good morning to you. I'm excited to be here today.

Jesse Butts:

I am too. So you have such an interesting story and such an interesting line of work, both in your studio and your art. Would you mind telling us a little bit about your martial arts studio? What is a typical day look like for you, that type of thing?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah, absolutely. So as of now, the typical day or the typical week at a martial arts studio is I go in at about two o'clock or three o'clock in the afternoon, I do curriculum prep for an after school program, as well as classes for preschoolers, elementary students, middle school students, all the way up to continued adult learners. And

then at about 4:

30, the students start coming in, and we run back to back classes, myself and about three to four other staff members, whether they're black belts in the martial arts, or if they're students helping with their after school education program. Classes cap and finish at about 10 p.m. And then we all pitch in and kind of clean the studio. And then everybody heads home. So that's the typical, like teaching side of the day. And then throughout the week, during the mornings, I'm working on marketing, finances, accounting. We work on fundraising, raising money for scholarships, as well as just outreach for a lot of our programs. So it's kind of all encompassing, but portions of it are a little bit more behind the scenes. And I can do that at home. And other parts, I'm literally in the studio. I think sometimes my my youngest kids think I live there. So we joke about me maybe having a bed in the studio one of these days.

Jesse Butts:

So is there a particular, and forgive me if this isn't the right term, martial arts discipline that you specialize in? Or what type of instruction do your classes focus on?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah, and you actually said that perfectly. So we do three different disciplines in our gym. They're all Korean based, meaning they have the longest amount of history in Korea. So we have taekwondo. A lot of people know what that is because it's in the Olympics now. And we do that mostly with kids. And then we have a hapkido program, which is joint manipulation, pressure point, tactics, sweeping and rolling. It's very much a street self defense. And then we have a program called kumdo and kumbup, which is standard sword style training. If anybody has ever heard of like Japanese kendo or samurai sword training, that is basically what our kumdo and kumbup program is. So all of our lineage comes back to Korea.

Jesse Butts:

And you mentioned after school programs and some other non martial arts, functions isn't the right word, but offerings, I guess, what exactly are those? How did you get into that?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

My history as an artist and a business owner is fairly eclectic. And I'm always trying to find things that I can do in our studio through Full Circle that expand the way our participants and our community thinks about how art and creativity intersect. So our after school program is really just like a necessity program. Parents need places to send kids. All of our staff are highly educated. They have experience working with children, and if a parent can drop a kid off and get homework help and get integrated language lessons, as well as movement exploration, well, that makes us pretty competitive in the market. So we just started that.

Jesse Butts:

Okay. Congratulations.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Thank you. It's going pretty well. We also have a youth prevention program. So looking at the intersections of mental health, law enforcement, truancy and recidivism rates for lower income families in the area. And it is slightly martial arts fight-based. They get some movement, but we do a lot of value conversation and building self confidence through understanding how the values that are in the martial arts can actually be translated to other areas in our life. And then frankly, as a visual artist who has a lot of skills that I, I frankly paid a lot of money to develop, I pull those into the gym, and we do meditation classes and visual arts classes. Sometimes I use the art skills to teach cultural components about Korea or language learning. Because why not? I invested in them, I should use them somewhere.

Jesse Butts:

Absolutely. So that's an interesting segue. So I know that you're a business owner, you're an instructor, but you're also a working artist. What type of art are you creating? What mix does art play in in all of this?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

That's such an amazing question. And someday, I will have a perfect answer for it. I feel like it's ever changing. For many years, the visual art that I would make as a professional artist, and what I was doing at Full Circle, the business that I own, were completely separate. It was like this giant brick wall down the middle, and they never crossed. And then over time, after going back to school and stuff, I started to realize that that brick wall was imaginary. And I could take that down. So I have sort of three different forms of art that I create, or creative processes that I engage in. Full Circle, and what it does is community building. So for me, that's a creative process of how to curate space and build, like co-create culture. So that's part of it. But then I also have sound work, video work and performance work, that talks about larger social issues, but it uses the platform of the martial arts culture, and myself as a martial artist to sort of And if I'm remembering correctly, you had a quarantine present it. So I'm doing a sound piece right now called Choreographing Energies, which is legitimately recording the sounds our bodies make when we train or work out. And then using those as percussive elements, and then creating a song out of that. So I do a lot of contemporary, sort of abstract, things like that. But then also, I do encaustic collage, which is melted wax and pigmented wax. And then I layer that with like, pictures of dinosaurs and ninjas and knights and princesses and unicorns, because it's fun, and it's uncomplicated. And it supposedly is supposed to sell pretty well. So yeah, so I kind of have like, several different paths that I do. But for me, they're all the same. Like they're all about reating something, sharing somet ing. And they feed diffe ent parts of my soul. COVID, maybe themed isn't the right word. But was it some type of exhibition or something related to that? Yeah, because I don't have enough on my plate. And I'm not very good at saying no.

Jesse Butts:

Clearly, yeah.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

I, during COVID, I started an online curatorial exhibition project called The Kitchen Sink Project. And I worked with artists from all over the world. We had artists from Pakistan, in Egypt and Ireland, artists in the US. And we would host a three month long digital virtual reality show for them. And then we'd have artist talks. So I did that for a whole year. And then it was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work. So at the end of the year, like a year is a good cap, we're gonna pause this project. I don't know if I want to keep it going in its same form.

Jesse Butts:

I mean, it all sounds so fascinating. And I really want to hear about the experiences that led up to all these really interesting things that you're doing now. So, normally in the podcast, I typically frame starting with grad school, but but since you did start your studio five or six years before you enrolled or completed your MFA, I think maybe martial arts might be an interesting place to start. So I'm curious, when did you start learning martial arts? What was the first style that you learned?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah, so the first style that I learned is actually the current one that I'm training. And I didn't find martial arts, martial arts found to me. I had a friend in undergrad, my first like adventure into college and post secondary education, that wanted to go try this club, this martial arts club on campus, but was too afraid to go by herself. So she begged me to go with her. And I begrudgingly agreed and went with her. I wasn't interested in it. I went to school for track and I worked out seven days a week, so I didn't need another workout. But I went and I showed up the first day and then my instructor is like a really big, sort of intimidating individual if you've not met him, and I am an out loud and proud just turned 18 feminist visual art major. And he's like, You'll say, Yes, sir, after each direction. And I remember thinking, Who the hell are you to tell me that? I'm not gonna say yes, sir. This is dumb. But I did the class. And I sort of liked it. Although I don't think I realized I liked it. So I just kept going back to this club with this friend, mostly as emotional support and physical support. And then it like, over time just shifted. And I realized two years later, I'm still training at this gym. I was also an education major. And because the instructor had moved to the area and was new, he didn't have a lot of assistant instructors. So I was able to practice my education skills in a non standard school setting, which was amazing for me during college. So I ended up training all the way through college, becoming one of the black belts in the gym, working with students that from preschool to adult and kind of unintentionally doing a business internship because I had to learn the back end of the business to became one of his right hand instructors, the highest rank instructor he has currently. So that's kind of where the martial arts started. And I, I got sort of to the end of college, and I didn't really know what to do because I was a visual artist. But making a living as a visual artist is really hard. It's almost like the lottery. Because you have this idea in your head that to be a successful artist, I need to be making work, and I need to be selling it. And that money is going to pay for me to do this stuff. And I need to get commissions and residencies. But that's really hard to do. If your artwork isn't a really clean and clear representation of yourself. You know, in undergrad, I had, I think just enough skills to be dangerous, but not enough to be really good. So I was like an...I was an okay artist. Like I had great concepts. I was a good educator, but I was an okay artist. So what do you do when you don't know how to make it as an artist because you don't even really know what your art is? Well you get a job. That's what you do, you get a job. So I moved to Rapid City for what my mother lovingly refers to as my first big girl job. Nine to five, Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week. Benefits. Yeah, and it was an education job at an Arts Council here in town. And it was wonderful, but I never got to be an artist. Like, I was an administrator, an arts administrator, I did budgets and data tracking and evaluations and curriculum design. But I never got to be in the classroom or in the studio. I never made work. And so I kind of found myself, One loving the administrative role. I'm like OCD, or CDO if you place it alphabetically, and...

Jesse Butts:

Little joke.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah. And I loved it. But I was having trouble meshing that with the fact that I paid all this money to be an artist, and I'm not doing anything with my art. Like, it's all education, I could have done this without a degree, to an extent.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

So I just always felt like something was missing. And when we moved to wrap it, we weren't at another gym. And so to fill that need that I had, I started Full Circle. And it started out as like a really small program at a community center. I think it was mixed classes. You know, we charged like $25 a student for a month, which is like nothing nowadays. And that kind of filled the passion for a while because it was something that I got to create. I didn't have to create a gym that looked like anybody else's. It could be just what I thought was important. And then it got to the part where my full time job at 40 hours was starting to level to the gym being almost 40 hours, and if you've ever tried to work 80 hour weeks consecutively, it will drive you mad. And here in South Dakota, and I think in a lot of places, arts are extremely valued until we have to put financial value to them. So I got, I don't know if we can swear on this podcast, So I did not get paid well, so we'll just reframe it. And I realized that I could pay myself more running my own business than I could if I stayed at the 40 hour workweek job that I had that didn't allow me to make any art. So I quit my job. And I said, I'll just try this whole gym thing. What's the worst that's gonna happen? It fails, and I go back and find a job. And I think, looking back on it, I was a bit naive. You can't just pay yourself the same amount that you get from a full time job that's been in existence for over 50 years. It feels like you can but you can't, so

Jesse Butts:

Sorry, but what do you, what do you mean by that? Because you're not getting benefits?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Oh, no, I mean, the income stream from a new business that's still building its clientele is usually not big enough to offset the expenses it costs to run the business and have a big enough profit to give you a $28,000 a year, like payment, right? So it sounded good. And then when I actually got into the weeds, I was like, Oh, we don't have the money coming in to pay me the same amount. But I was happy. And it was enough to get me by. So I just kept sticking it out. And eight years later, I'm now to the point where like, oh, I can actually pay myself what I was getting paid before I quit. So yeah, so that's kind of how I got into the martial arts, I just sort of accidentally had all of these things that lined up that kind of showed me this. Even though you love this, this is not sustainable. You can't work a job that went from 40 hours to 60 hours to 80 hours for the rest of your life. Like you're just not going to be happy doing that. And so I stopped.

Jesse Butts:

So at this point, it's like 2012, or maybe like a year or two after that when you had cut the Arts Commission job?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yep.

Jesse Butts:

At that point after you cut the arts commission job, because I, if I remember correctly, you mentioned that before we recorded that you started your MFA in 2016. So in this this couple your gap between having the gym, leaving the commission position, were you pretty seriously considering grad school? Were you getting back to creating visual art? What was what was going on in that period?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

So that period was a whole lot of me convincing myself I had what I needed, and not actually having what I needed. So stepping away from the arts administrative job and running the business, I basically just stepped into the same world that I wanted to leave, which was arts administration, running a business. If you're the only employee, you wear every hat, so I didn't get away from spreadsheets, I didn't get away from data mining or evaluations. I just became the sole person responsible for them. And although it was easier, because I was my own boss, and I set the standards, unfortunately, I have high expectations, and I'm not very easy to work with. I say that as I'm the one setting it. So I was like, Well, I still feel like I need to have a creative outlet. Because even though this is filling a huge portion of my my desire and my passion, it's still a lot of the same work. I didn't build in any time for me to be an artist. So I went back to this encaustic collage work that I did, right out of undergrad, because it was inexpensive. It was really fast and was fun. But it was very much like the type of work that you would see photographed and then printed on a canvas and sold at Hobby Lobby. And that bothered me. And I didn't know why it bothered me. But I just kind of kept ignoring it. And I would make a couple pieces here and there. But I wasn't selling them. I wasn't even giving them away, I would literally make these works. And then I'd put them in a box and they sit in my closet, because I just didn't have the energy or the time after running the gym throughout the whole week to do anything else with them. And I was going to more trainings as an instructor because now I was running a gym, I was promoting up in the ranks, which meant I kept getting more responsibilities from our martial arts association. So my admin work just kept getting heavier and heavier and heavier. And I went to this training...And the martial arts, if you've never really engaged in the art form, at the baseline, it's an equalizer. It doesn't matter if you're male, female on the spectrum, doesn't matter if you're young or old. You know, none of that matters. You should all be able to do the same things or at least be able to have a foundation that's the same. And so my instructor, when I was coming up through the ranks, embodied that. I did the same training the male counterparts did. And I was always kind of the female martial artist that trained hard, and everybody knew it and sort of accepted it. So I went to this black belt training. And I got paired with this amazing female black belt who's in her 60s and she trains hard for being in her 60s. But also, there are some things that she doesn't do for safety sake. And me being like a 27 year old was like, Well, that's not enough for me. So I would cross the gym and I'd pick out one of the guy black belts that I trained with before and we would do these really heavy throws. And I did the technique and threw him and got praised by the grandmaster for doing a good technique. And then he did the technique back to me and threw me and I fell like you're supposed to. Like all of this is normal and natural. And I stood up and the grandmaster said, Whoa, Master Naomi, go back to your corner. And he pointed to the corner where all the women were at. And that was the first time that I stood there. And I realized that the patriarchal standards that the outside world is engaging with and fighting for was 100% in the martial arts, and I just lucked out and never been a part of it until that day. And I was like, so I'm being penalized for being a girl. Even though I outrank the individual I was working with, gave him permission to throw me. And frankly, I was a better faller than he was as a technique. But I was getting chewed out. And I was being told to go to a place that only the women could be in. And I was so upset. Um, martial arts, for better or worse, does have a lot of ties to the military. So like speaking out of turn, and being disrespectful is not an option. So I'm pretty sure I bit my tongue to keep myself from talking. And I just walked back to my corner, and I finished the class. But I was so upset. And that was the moment that I was like, I don't know if I want to continue doing martial arts, if this is the type of culture that is perpetuated in this art form because it penalizes and oppresses anybody that doesn't match the stereotype of what a male martial artist should look like. So my form of revenge was to step away from the involvement that I had at the association level and do something purely for myself, which was to enroll into grad school for a visual arts degree. So that way I could learn more about how art could and should be created. So I could basically do a metaphorical FU to the association. Because everybody in the association is in health care or fitness. There isn't anybody that's a higher level Black Belt that's a visual artist.

Jesse Butts:

Hmm.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Like it's all fitness. And I was like, Well, okay, I'm doing it.

Jesse Butts:

So when you started your MFA, partially out of spite, but I'm curious...So, did you go to grad school full time? Did you shut down Full Circle? What was your graduate experience, grad school experience like?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah, so I actually went to a private school that does a type of program called low residency. So it is full time grad school, but you don't have to move to where the school is located. They're located in Vermont. And so what you would do is for 10 days at the beginning and the end of every semester, you would travel to the campus. And you basically have 10 days of the most intense critiques, theoretical discussions, and you would review your studio work and research work. The program was also writing based. So not only did you have to research artwork, but you had to write about artwork, and you had to make artwork. But they're a little bit of, one of the professor's describe themselves as a hippie school. So it's all self design study. Everybody gets a master's in visual art, but you get to decide what you're researching, what you're studying. And they're really open and flexible with the term research and studio. So when I went to grad school, I brought all these in encaustic works that were like living in boxes in my closet that I didn't know what to do with. And I was like, Okay, these are really cool. If I look at it from an undergraduate perspective of art, and the skill set is good, the technique is good, good composition, they're pretty. You know, ticks all the boxes. And I have my first critique, and one of the professors who is a world renowned feminist artists from the 60s and 70s looked at my work, which was sort of feminist inspired. She said, Well, Naomi, these are pretty, but they're really effing boring. And I was like...

Jesse Butts:

Was that devastating?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

So devastating. I was still running Full Circle full time while doing grad school, because when you weren't at the campus, you lived and worked at home. So I would just do my research and my artwork time in and around the duties that I had for the gym. So they were simultaneously happening, but they sort of lived separately, except they didn't, right? Because I work from home when I'm not at the studio. And one of the students that I met in the program asked me, he's like, So I heard you had a bad critique? I was like, Yeah, that was brutal. I don't know if I want to do this grad school thing. That was worse than showing up to a master's test and having to break bricks. That hurt emotionally. He's like, Well, it sounds like basically the instructor doesn't see you in the artwork. It's like just surface. It's just pretty. In the art world, sometimes we use the word kitsch, right? Like, it's kitschy. It's like a nicknack. Anybody can get it mass produced. He's like, So if, if that work doesn't reflect to you, what do you do that feels true to you? And I was like, Oh, well, I'm a martial artist. And I said it unconfidently and quietly because I was still having weird feelings about it. And he's like...

Jesse Butts:

Despite running a studio for five years.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yes, yes. Because like, I have this weird imposter syndrome. From that one experience with a grandmasters. He was like, Oh, my gosh, that's badass. That must be really a complex field to navigate. And I was like, Yeah, I run a gym. He's like, What? Uou run a gym? And it was at that point that he's like, Why aren't you making work about that? He's like, That is so amazing. You're not only dealing with like identity issues and gender issues. You're dealing with communities and working with kids. And the idea of how education should be taught. You're dealing with heritage. He goes, You're a white woman and you teach Korean martial arts. You're teaching Korean language and culture classes in the United States to Lakota children that live on sovereign nation land. He's like, Why are you not talking about this? I think I looked at him and I was like, Well, I didn't know I could. So at that point, in grad school, that's when all of my work started to turn inward. That brick wall I talked about earlier came down. And I said, Oh, the thing that I'm doing for a job that I love is my artwork. It is not separate. It is the inspiration that brings up all the topics that are important to me that I want to talk about. So I started doing performative work. I started doing photography and video work and sound work. And basically, I was able to give myself permission to look at the thing that was work and turn it into my creative process again. So every time I would sit down and I would do accounting, this could lead to an art project.

Jesse Butts:

Do you even distinguish work from art anymore?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

For me, no, I do when I have to talk about it. Because it's like a really weird, abstract concept for a lot of people, but it's not different.

Jesse Butts:

So one thing I was curious about that you mentioned was they had a very liberal stance on research. So what type of research were you doing?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah, so I did kind of a combination. One, I was reading books. However, the books aren't like your standard academic visual art texts. Some of them were, but some of them were memoirs. Like I read a book about this triathlete marathon runner that broke a ton of records in the 70s. And she was just talking about physical fitness as a meditative action, right? I read some books that were case studies about a group of researchers that were in Norway, and they went around to martial arts and fitness gyms and they gathered data to find out how many women were showing up versus how many men? How was culture being created? I was listening to podcasts. I listened to a feminist podcast about how bras were made. And how it's a bunch of guys making bras in Russia first and it was just like really restrictive and weird.

Jesse Butts:

Interesting.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

And so then I was also watching TV. I think one of my first academic papers I had to write it on was a review of a fight scene from the movie Kill Bill.

Jesse Butts:

It's been a while since I've seen it. But yeah, it's coming back now.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah. So for me and the way that the program worked was anything that is getting you to think critically about any topic or theme that might intersect with the area that you're interested in is research. Sometimes my research was having conversations with people that weren't martial artists to find out, What do you know about martial arts? What are the stereotypes? So research was really radically open. I had one person in my program, her research was to sit in her garden and garden for an hour every day. That was her research, and she would journal about it and write about it.

Jesse Butts:

So you finished the MFA program roughly three years ago. And obviously, you're still running the studio and you've expanded to the after school needs and some of the other educational needs you mentioned. I'm just curious, what has changed since the MFA for you?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah, so I was actually just reflecting on that a couple of weeks ago, cuz I would love to say nothing, but that would be a bald faced lie. One, there's been a pandemic, which has just been real weird. We didn't know if the gym was gonna survive, right?

Jesse Butts:

Yeah.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

So if the gym didn't survive, I was asking myself, Can I still create artwork inspired by the martial arts culture, if I don't have the gym, or the anchor that I've used to build the practice around? Which the answer is yes, but it just felt weird. Very candidly and honestly, I was depressed for a while during the pandemic, because who wasn't? And so I wasn't making work. It was just too emotionally hard to make work. And the biggest thing that has changed is that a graduate program offers or any school program offers a lot of great things. The number one thing is it offers deadlines. You have to have something created by a deadline. And although I'm really organized, it's a lot easier for me to be able to extend my deadlines because life is getting hard. So I have several projects that I'm in the works of right now that I've been in the works of for three months because I don't have that outside pressure saying, No, you're not going to finish that accounting meeting for the gym,because you want to go take photographs. It's usually the opposite. So nine times out of 10, I choose the admin work that has to be done for the business to keep going. And my professional art gets pushed back and back a little bit. So it's a bit of a balance, remembering to build in time for my own creative process. Because it takes so much emotional labor to do that, it's really easily just paused. The other big thing that has changed is when I when I finished grad school, it was like an injection of hope and inspiration. And I had all this stuff I wanted to make. But something that they kind of forget to tell you is unless you have been able to make sort of financial gains in your art practice, you're footing the bill for everything. Projects are expensive. Time is expensive. I want to do this project where I have a, like a slicing sword, but I don't own a slicing sword yet. And it's like at least $300. So I'm not doing that anytime soon. So like it gets expensive. And I was like, I need to create something. And so I came back to the encaustics works. I dropped them like a hot potato in grad school because I thought they were dumb. And now that I'm done with grad school, the more I think about that simple process, I'm like, You know what, why do I feel the need to put up another wall? I can make these silly, simple, fun, and easy to interpret pieces of artwork that will sell and foot the bill for me to do the more expensive, harder projects that I want to do. So I've been spending a lot more time doing these smaller pieces of artwork that, you know, pull images from children's books because they're just fun and they're easier. And frankly, it's less energy for me to make those. So like on weeks where the gym is really sort of taking over my time, I'll do these small pieces because it's what I can fit in the day. And I'd become less apologetic about that being okay.

Jesse Butts:

Did the graduate school experience change you as an instructor in any ways?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Oh, absolutely. So one of the big things that I felt like needed to shift in my education is I needed to perpetuate an understanding that unlearning our inherited culture is a natural part of teaching. So this is kind of like a really big, heavy topic example. But a lot of us have racist tendencies, most of them unbiased, right? We learn things from our parents. And so those ideologies and ideas and habits are kind of built into who we are. But at a certain point, we can't use ignorance as a example or an excuse to not get better at something. So I looked at that from the martial arts perspective. And I said, Okay, well, what sort of bad habits has our association unconsciously perpetuated? I don't ever want any of my students, male, female, or on the spectrum of identity, to feel like they don't belong because of how I said something, or the way that I navigated modifications in the physical aspect. So we started doing trainings on physicality accessibility. We started doing anti-racism training. We started doing queer and gender studies training with our instructors. Not just in the classroom, but then looking at how those concepts apply to how you run a business. How do we word things on our website? How is our registration paperwork put together? Because ultimately, all of those little things create an experience. And we want people to come in and not only understand what the culture of the space is, like I'm curating culture, but we want them to feel like they have every right to take ownership of that culture and add to it.

Jesse Butts:

Those are all things that really came to light to you after grad school or during grad school versus before?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

I think during but then also after. So one of the concepts that I encountered in grad school that I hadn't known about, or at least didn't really understand, was a concept called Orientalism.

Jesse Butts:

Is that like Edward Said?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah, good job. I'm gonna, as an English major gold star, I don't have a gold star, but yeah. So a lot of us, if we don't know anything about Asia, how often do we stereotype people from a really large geographical area, and to this fetishized version of what we think it should be because we don't know better? And as a martial artist, who's training in Asian martial art, there's a lot of Orientalism and fetishization that happens with these stereotypes. And some of them I was perpetuating, unbeknownst because I had no idea this existed, and some of them will look like a stereotype. But sometimes that's breaking the stereotype to say, Well, no, actually, some people do this, like this is part of it. So I was learning about concepts like that in grad school, which, because I was running my gym at the same time, made me look at what am I doing in the gym. Am I actually critically thinking about this? Am I actively continuously learning about the culture and about the martial arts from a lot of different perspectives, not just one? Because that's part of the problem when we only have one resource to go to. We're blinded by that one resource. So I started doing my own side research specific for the martial arts gym because what I was making my artwork about wasn't separate from the gym business anymore. They were really the same thing. So that really started to grow when I was in grad school. And then when I ended grad school, I realized that mode of research of reading things, and looking at them and saying everything that I learned, can be used to apply to make something else better. And then for me, I look at reading or research, however you want to research, and writing as a physical act of breathing in the information, figuring out how it fits within your own life, and then exhaling that information. And that's what the writing is for me. Now, writing can be journaling, could be poetry, could be an academic paper with citations, but I have to process the information. I don't just take it in, I have to process it. So when we do training at the gym, I always start with breathing and end with breathing because we need to breathe in the information. When we physically work out, we're digesting it. And then when we breathe out at the end of the exercise, we're critically thinking about what that exercise did for us. So it just continues now because I see the connection so much more clearly than I did before.

Jesse Butts:

Looking back a little, do you think that you had to learn something about yourself? Or have you learned something about yourself with owning a business? I mean, you mentioned earlier you were frustrated with your current work with the arts commissioning and started the dojo. But for people who might be thinking of a route where they own a business and they produce art of whatever type or form, if this might be a path for them....What are some things that you found valuable, and figuring out about yourself, that might be useful to someone else kind of wondering about those same things?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

That's a great question. I always ask myself that. So the very first thing that I had to learn is I had to trust that I actually had the knowledge to be an advocate and to have permission to do something. So often, I think we especially as creatives, whether you're being creative now or you're doing a job to just get through your day, whatever it is, we all deal with imposter syndrome. We always feel like there's someone smarter and better than us. So then why would I do this thing? So we have to one learn how to believe in ourselves and our own skill set that we've developed. It has value. On the other side of that, I also had to learn where my skill sets ended. I am not a math person. Accounting and financing is not my cup of tea. So I had to recognize that running a business, that's a huge component. That's the number one component you have to have figured out. So I had to take classes, I had to learn how to do finances better. And then even after I did that, I had to be okay saying, Okay, well, you've learned more, but you are still not an expert. You should not 100% be in charge of this. So then I had to find an accountant. And I had to make room in our budget for me to pay someone and vet them to help me with this because it was never going to be the thing I was going to be great at. And that ability to acknowledge my skill set. But saying, I need help with this, is really what allowed my business to grow to where it is right now. Because I could do all the creative, programmatic policymaking because I had an amazing accountant. That took me a long time to vet. I also had to learn what questions to ask that can pull me aside and say, Okay, Naomi, that's great that you want to do this. But what's your overhead costs going to be? Have you figured in this, or frankly, things like, Did you pay your sales tax this quarter? I dunno, did we? Well, I don't even remember what website I go to. So that was the two things in running a business that I learned more. So I think they translate to being an artist too, right? You have to trust that you have a skill set and you have something that's worth value, and other people will value it. And to you have to know when you don't have the skill set. I don't know how many times as an artist I'll see something that another artist makes and I'll go, Oh, that's amazing. Oh, I could do that. And then I tried to make my own jewelry, or I tried to do my own printmaking, and I forget that even though the process itself isn't difficult, it takes a lot of time to develop a skill so you have a mastery of it. So then my stuff will look really bad. And I'll be like, I should have just purchased and supported that artist because that's not the form that I'm engaging in. Not that I couldn't learn it. But if I am only doing it to make this one pair of earrings, then I should just acknowledge that someone else has better skills than I do.

Jesse Butts:

Have there been any aspects of business that you've been surprised by how much you like them?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Oh, yeah. So the one thing that I've found out running Full Circle. I really like creating standard operating procedures and reviewing policies. If you would have told me that's what I would have liked about this job, I would have been like, Oh my God, no, that sounds horrible.

Jesse Butts:

The antithesis of art, right?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah, the analytical side. But I love looking at these documents because oftentimes, you'll create a business plan or something for a busines,s or even if it's not that formal, goals. You have something. And I love looking at them from a design perspective and saying, All of these documents need to be like chapters in a book that tell a story about who you are as a business, who the people are, and what your goals are. And if they don't all match up, they don't have a similar sounding voice, they are clear with their story, then you're missing some puzzle pieces. And you're presenting a confusing understanding to your audience. So when I look at standard operating procedures, they're boring, and they're dry. But my standard operating procedure for how I file taxes is an integral part to understanding to how I teach people how to fill out registration forms. So we know how we're collecting sales tax, right? So then we can pass that on to the parents. So it's very clear what their monthly bill is going to be. But then that ties into how are we using pronouns in our gym, because we want people to feel welcome. So like all of it ties together. So I actually really love this sort of organizational, administrative work on the back end, creating a business structure that is accessible.

Jesse Butts:

So on the show, we've talked to a number of people who have started their own solo shops or they freelance on the side. But I'm curious, since you've built a business that has operating procedures, has employees...Do you have any thoughts about knowing when to hire that first employee? Or just about what you've learned managing employees over this experience?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah, well, I have actually started another business called Full Circle Consulting because of this very concept. I am sometimes always discouraged with how secretive running a business seems to be. But really, there are tons of resources out there. So the number one thing that I encourage someone to do, if they're interested in looking at starting a business, or even interested in taking a step with whatever they're doing that's a little bit more formalized...there's three things. One, you need to research what is already happening in your community or with your audience that might be similar to what you're doing. You need to understand your competition. So say you're going to start selling watercolor prints. Wonderful. Check out what's being sold at your galleries, ask questions about what it takes to be an artist in a gallery, what is the sales commission rate? Is it 50/50? 60/40? You also need to look at...If you type in, if you go to Etsy, watercolor prints. What is the sale range on that? So you're doing your due diligence by researching the market that you're going to be competitive in. Okay, and that includes, How are they talking about things? How are they selling it? What is the price range, right? The second thing you need to do is you need to come up with, I'm gonna say a mission statement. But it's not a mission statement. It's a goal statement. And I have...and I'm gonna forget exactly what their words are. But it says, My goal is blank by blank, right? So you need to fill that out, because you need to be centered in your practice. And so often we think, Well, I'm going to sell artwork because I make artwork, and I want to make money. And that's legitimate. But if that's what you put on your sites to sell your work, people aren't going to engage that. So my goal is to create culture that is accessible and open around the martial arts by providing space for people to learn and train. That's my goal. That's what I do. So accessible and open space to connect and learn and train. Creating a photograph of martial arts is a space where people can learn. Create a goal for yourself. And then the third thing is, Look in your community of what resources are available. A lot of times, there's business centers, they will have templates for a business plan, they'll have templates for how to price work, or look at finances. And frankly, they'll tell you what your steps are to get a sales tax license for the state, for the city. They'll tell you what sort of business license you have to have whether you're a sole proprietor, meaning that you're going to take everything in as an individual under your Social Security number, and then you'll pay taxes on it. They'll walk you through how to set up the financial, legal back end, so that you're doing things correctly. And you don't get bit at the end of the year when you've brought in money and you haven't paid any taxes on it. Right. So look for those resources that will give you templates and most of them will do it for free because that's their job. Once you have those three things, once you have an idea of like what's happening around you, you know what your goal is, and you've identified the resources that can help you set up the financial, then you need to create tasks that just walk you through it. And the way that I suggest you do that, you find a mentor. You find somebody that you know that is already in the business, has been in the business or already done it. And they can walk you through what the next steps are. That mentor might be an official consultant. That mentor might just be a friend, right? Someone who's already doing a business, because so much of how we engage in creative fields is personal connections.

Jesse Butts:

One of the things I like to ask guests, and I've gotten varying takes, is for you personally, it sounds like your work needs to be something and, please disabuse me of this notion if it's incorrect, but that you love. That you have a real passion about. Versus some people work is, it's something I like, it's a nice way to pass nine to five, but it's not something I need to love. Where do you...for you, not not giving advice to the audience, but for you personally, where do you stand in that kind of spectrum of do you love work? Do you like work? Where's that for you?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Personally, I have to see a direct connection in the work that I'm doing, and how it provides for the community that I'm living in. If those are not clearly identified, I feel like I'm wasting my time. Because for me, being connected in a community, feeling a part of something, feeling confident that the thing that I'm doing other people are also wanting to do, is paramount for me feeling like I'm investing. So that's 100%. In terms of, not that I give advice, but sometimes my black belts will ask me, because some of them have jobs that are literally just a job that gives them the money to do the things that they love to do. And I'm like, If that works for you, do it. It has to work for you. It's like this whole concept of what a job should be or shouldn't be as on a spectrum. You get to decide what makes sense for you. For me, after being the boss for eight years, I have a hard time taking directions from other people that aren't willing to have the same level of expectation that I do. So I can't just work a job for a job'ss sake. It has to connect to something else. Otherwise, I just am pulling my hair out because it drives me nuts.

Jesse Butts:

So to kind of wrap up, I'm curious for someone who's finished grad school and thinking about work outside of their field, I think you have a little bit of a different take...You've kind of, using your lens, seen everything you do through art, whether it was before or after grad school. But what are some questions you would recommend someone start asking themselves if, if whatever they're doing now, it feels like they're in need of a change professionally? What are some things that you might suggest they start mulling over?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

So that's an amazing question. I don't know if I've ever thought of that. So I would say the first thing that I would kind of ask yourself is, What can't you live without? If you look at your life, and everything you're doing, what's the thing you absolutely cannot give up? For whatever reason, I can't give up my morning coffee cup while I'm reading a chapter in my book because that's really important to me, right? All the way to, I can't give up working with kids. You know, whatever it might be, what can't you give up. And then I do an exercise with my black belts, where they have to create a values list or a priorities list and there are 10 of them. The first five are non negotiable. I absolutely have to have time on the weekend with my husband. I have to have a flexible schedule, because I have a lot of interests, and I want my cake and I want to eat it too. I have to have, you know, whatever those five might be. And then your second set of five are negotiable. These are things that you would like, but you're okay if you don't get them because your top five are already met. So this might be like, if we're looking at a traditional job, I'm okay working some weekends if the schedule is set out far enough in advance that I can plan around it, right? Or I'd be okay with a little less pay if I get more time off. And looking at it from a non traditional job setting, I'm okay having a flexible schedule if I know that I can build in creative time or personal time. I'm okay for me not having benefits through a regular employer because I can build in more mental health time for myself. I find that to be a really valuable exercise when you're looking for a change because it clearly identifies the things that you absolutely have to have. And then here are the other ones that you can negotiate. So then when you have that list, you can take that list and say, Okay, well, clearly, I'm going to evaluate, this is the boring analytical verbiage, but I'm going to reflect on what I'm currently doing. Are they meeting my top five requirements? And if they're not, why aren't they? And then if they're not, what am I going to do about it?

Jesse Butts:

I think that's such an important exercise. And I feel like, too, I know, I personally resisted some of those things. Initially, I thought, Oh, that's, that's so corporate or that just, you know....But that, just the word values has become, has just changed so much to be just a throwaway word.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Yeah.

Jesse Butts:

While that might be true in the larger culture, it still does mean something. And you know, taking the time for that is really critical.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

You can throw any of these words out. You can call them needs, desires, wants. You take it and make it yours. The concept's still the same.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah, absolutely. This has been such a great conversation. If someone is interested in checking out your artwork, or maybe the consulting business, or if they happen to be in South Dakota and looking for martial arts instruction, where should people find you?

Naomi Even-Aberle:

So there's two different sites. If you're looking for more of the martial arts business, or the consulting, our website is FullCircleMAA.com. Or you can also type in Full Circle Martial Arts Academy, we pull up in Google ratings pretty well. Located in Rapid City, South Dakota. Our email address is rc.fcmaa@gmail.com. You can always shoot us an email. If you're looking more for the sort of contemporary or even those small encaustic works that I do, you can visit my personal artist website, which is EvenAberle.Studio. And that is spelled E-V-E-N-A-B-E-R-L-E dot studio. So EvenAberle.Studio. Yeah, I mean, frankly, you can message me anywhere. I'm also on Facebook and Instagram, LinkedIn, all those places. But yeah, you can reach out. I love working with people that are wanting to start something new. It's like this really cool puzzle and adventure I get to help people solve, so feel free to reach out.

Jesse Butts:

Really appreciate you having on the...Sorry. I really appreciate you joining us for the show.

Naomi Even-Aberle:

Absolutely. Thank you for having me. It's a lovely way to spend my morning.

Jesse Butts:

Thanks for listening to this episode of The Work Seminar. If you like what you've heard, please take a minute to rate the show on your favorite podcast app. Know someone who'd be a great Work Seminar guest? Or have a suggestion or two for the show? You can reach me at Jesse@TheWorkSeminar.com Or @TheWorkSeminar on social. And special thanks, as always, to Jon Camp for the music and Isabel Patino for the cover art and design. Until next time, never cease from exploration.