Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Phillips had the opportunity to teach an empowering self-defense workshop to Girl Scout Troop 512 from Munsey Park and Shelter Rock. (Photo by the office of the Nassau County Comptroller)

Walk Tall, Be A Bear

County Comptroller Phillips champions self-defense
Elaine Phillips has worn many hats. She has been Mayor of Flower Hill, a state senator, and is currently serving as Nassau County Comptroller. She has also trained in the Korean martial art of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan for the last 28 years.
This practice has provided the Manhasset resident with a conversation point she uses to connect with people. “I’ve been training for 28 years; I train five days a week. It’s a big part of my life. So, particularly when I went into elected office, it gave me an opportunity. When people asked me about myself, I would obviously share that I was a martial artist,” said Phillips.
Once people know her extensive training, Phillips is often asked to teach self-defense classes. Recently she taught basic self-defense techniques to a group of fourth-grade Girl Scouts at Kwon Wellness, her training gym. Phillips stated that the grounding principles for both Girl Scouts and her martial arts practice share many similarities. This allows the Girl Scouts to connect more fully with the teaching. “What I found is, particularly with Girl Scouts, the Girl Scout Law and the Girl Scout Promise had very similar values to martial arts. We have these articles of faith in our martial arts lives: be loyal to your country, obedient to parents, live cooperatively with brothers and sisters and family. Be respectful to elders, faithful to teachers, faithful to friends. And then there’s face conflict with justice and honor, never retreat from battle, and always finish what you start. These core values are very similar.”
Of course, it’s impossible to give a complete training in a single session. Phillips stressed that what she shares with the children is just a start. She stated, “it’s giving you a couple of tools in your toolbox, particularly for children. You never want to scare them. So I say to them, hopefully they’ll never have to use these. But it’s always good to have a tool in your toolbox, just in case.”
For everyone, part of what she imparts is basic environmental awareness. “I tell the children, you can’t be a mouse. You have to be strong and aggressive, a big bear. Don’t walk looking at your phone. Walk standing tall; look around. Be aware, use your senses. Use your smell, use your ears, use your eyes, and if needed, use your voice.”
Phillips’s martial arts journey actually began after the birth of her second child, as a working mother and regular commuter. She had done dance before for exercise and was looking to move on. She was seeking something that would help her move and stay in shape, but also worked her mind. “I started later. I didn’t start martial arts until I was around 36…In those days, the gym did not have the classes like they have today. So I called Kwon Wellness and the person I spoke to said, ‘Look, we are a traditional martial art. We do a lot of sparring, but the whole philosophy in martial arts is there wouldn’t be no war, if everyone was a martial artist. If I knew I could harm you, and you knew you could harm me, we’re not going to go after each other because there would be respect and peace.”
She still has the same instructor, at the same gym. “I watched him and I thought, ‘oh my god. It’s beautiful.’ It was martial, but with this beautiful art. He could have been at American Ballet Theatre… I still train with my instructor, who is now in his early 70s. He teaches three days a week.”
She just received her sixth degree black belt, a series of 12 hour tests over the course of six days. For Philips, this is a life-long commitment to a true art form. “I don’t jump as high as I used to, but I’m still jumping. It’s my job to share the art.”

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