From Brooklyn Women’s Martial Arts (BWMA) to The Center for Anti-violence Education (CAE), from a volunteer organization with a visionary mission to a nationally-recognized leader in violence prevention, CAE has worked for 38 years to build our collective and individual strength to end violence and stand up for justice.

Robin Lane, Annie Ellman & Nadia Telsey: Public Martial Arts Demo, 1978.

Robin Lane, Annie Ellman & Nadia Telsey: Public Martial Arts Demo, 1978.

Since our founding in 1974, CAE has empowered women, LGBTQ individuals, young people, and survivors to build leadership skills, heal from past abuse, and break cycles of violence in their lives and communities. Over the years, we have reached over 56,000 people with our unique violence prevention programs. Here is a brief history of some of CAE’s major milestones and accomplishments.


  • Annie Ellman and Nadia Telsey found Brooklyn Women’s Martial Arts (BWMA)—a women’s dojo teaching karate and self-defense contributing to the new feminist anti-violence movement that fosters skills, strength, and community.

  • Before having a permanent location, BWMA sets up self-defense training and one-time workshops for women in rental spaces, Annie’s living room, and at street fairs and political rallies across NYC.

  • BWMA organizes support for Black women from the South, including Joanne Little, who were prosecuted for fighting back against their attackers.

Self-defense class, 1981

Self-defense class, 1981


  • With the Barnard College Office for Disabled Students BWMA develops a self-defense course and curriculum for people with disabilities.

  • BWMA is a crucial participant in the campaign to support two Latina lesbians who endured police brutality because of their skin color and sexual orientation.

  • BWMA’s Women of Color Group begins meeting. The group is a driving force within BWMA as we confront racism and internalized racism and build a stronger commitment to being an anti-racist and multi-cultural organization.

  • Children’s Empowerment Project is founded, for boys and girls ages 6–14.

  • We are the first organization in NYC to provide self-defense programs for transpeople.

  • In partnership with the NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, we are first in the nation to provide self-defense for people living with HIV/AIDS.


  • Renamed The Center for Anti-violence Education (CAE), we create the national anti-violence curriculum Action for Safety, at the request of Girls, Inc. To date this curriculum has reached over 21,000 girls ages 9-11 across the US.

  • CAE develops a policy welcoming people of transgender experience to all programs, reflecting our commitment to reaching those most at risk, and to the growing trans liberation movement.

  • CAE’s Teen Initiative is founded. Starting with short-term self-defense courses, the Initiative soon includes the ongoing Power, Action, Change for Teens (PACT) program, and paid work for Peer Educators who go on to become leaders in the community.

  • CAE initiates our Survivors Prevention and Healing Project, which provides survivors access to free self-defense, karate, and tai chi training at CAE, and for clients and staff at rape crisis and domestic violence programs.

  • CAE’s teen women create and defend their Peace is not a Dream in Storage mural.

Children’s Empowerment Project

Children’s Empowerment Project

2000 - PRESENT

Marching in support of Amadou Diallo

Marching in support of Amadou Diallo

  • Following 9/11, CAE provides free violence prevention workshops to teen and adult women and small grassroots organizations that serve Arab American, South Asian, and other immigrant communities who face racist backlash, scapegoating, and violence.

  • CAE Co-founder Annie Ellman steps down after 30 years as Executive Director, and later returns as Program Director.

  • During the Executive Director transition, CAE faces a severe financial crisis and almost closes down. There is a heroic response from the CAE community, who work tirelessly to save CAE. CAE karate student and Board member Tracy Hobson assumes Executive Director role; programs are reinstated, and new staff join CAE.

  • CAE partners with over 80 community organizations in a single program year to reach more people than ever before in our history.

  • CAE is recognized and receives funding for increased work in the LGBTQ community, especially homeless LGBTQ youth.

  • In response to the hate and violence emerging from the 2016 CAE develops an UpStander Project, training more than 4,000 New Yorkers across NYC in active bystander intervention strategies.

Executive Director Tracy Hobson and Co-Founder Annie Ellman demonstrate self-defense techniques.

Executive Director Tracy Hobson and Co-Founder Annie Ellman demonstrate self-defense techniques.

The common thread throughout our 38-year history is our dedication to actively creating a more just and equitable world through individual empowerment and community building – and our ability to meet the evolving needs of our communities.

We honor our history, our past participants, and everyone who has helped us become the leading organization we are today,  and we look toward to the future, as we continue to develop new programs, reach more people, and work for an end to violence.