Our Founder and President, Dr. Dawn Prince-Hughes, is an anthropologist, primatologist and neurodiversity and animal welfare activist.
Early in her career, she founded the Institute for Cognitive Archaeology, which explored the phenomenon of ancestral memory and how our cultures and daily lives are lived performances of those memories. She is a lifelong practitioner of the movement arts, starting Tae Kwon Do at age 11 under Master Wu Jong Lim, one of the founders of Tae Kwon Do in Korea. After many long years, she earned a black belt in this art.
After being a practitioner for decades, seeing martial arts in many situations, and thinking about how early humans moved, she began to realize the "move and lock" approach of Tae Kwon Do was not always effective as a means of moving naturally,, nor maximizing inner growth, especially for women and children. She began to study Muay Thai, which is an art that relies on constant movement and split-second decision making, and helps the practitioner to literally move through stress while grounded in a calm center point. While training in Muay Thai she was sent to Japan to give a series of academic lectures on her work with primates and the ways connecting with them can actually help to heal people. She was invited to spend time alone with the snow monkeys in the mountains of the Shiga Highlands, and as she watched them she began to notice that all their movements were identical to those in Muay Thai. In Japan, the intersection of these two great loves -- martial arts and primatology -- led to very exciting ideas.
She developed an approach to Muay Thai that incorporated snow monkey movements and intentions. After earning her first degree black belt in Muay Thai, she began teaching this style to women who were survivors of assault, domestic violence and substance abuse. Eventually, after some years, she received her second degree black belt and opened her own school dedicated to the Snow Monkey approach.
Being a scholar of primate behavior, she recognized that there was an undeniable connection between monkeys and Muay Thai, and began an extensive academic study, which led her back to the parent of Muay Thai -- Ling Lom (literally whirlwind monkey) -- and traced its roots even further to Southern monkey styles of China. Continuing the search, she traced monkey styles in China Northward, where they were mixed with ape styles (such as Yuanhouquan of Shaolin Temple) and, circling back to the South, into Shantung, where a pure ape form from Daoist Wudang had been established in the Qing Dynasty (though its origins are said to be much older). After hundreds of hours of research and watching hundreds of films, she was convinced that the art was based on the behavior of real great apes.
She was able to established a point of contact with elder Masters of Yuan Gong in Shantung, and is in the process of developing ties that will hopefully support Yuan Gong research and practice around the world. To realize the broad, interdisciplinary vision of a global, service -based, synergistically focused association, she put together an international team of advanced martial artists, psychologists, occupational therapists, primatologists, people in the vanguard of education, philosophers, and Asian culture experts.
Dawn has run Snow Monkey Martial Arts, now operating under the auspices of the Institute, for 5 years. As a Taoist with training as a Buddhist minister, she brings Eastern philosophy and life practices into the curriculum.
Dawn is best known for her national best selling book Songs of the Gorilla Nation. She left her position as Adjunct Professor in the Department of Western Washington University to pursue writing, the movement arts, and animal advocacy full time. In addition to her books, she has has written for the Seneca Review, Disability Studies Quarterly, contributed to several anthologies and textbooks, and has been featured in People magazine, O magazine, El Mundo, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the New York Times. The body of her work led to a Macarthur Genius Award Nomination.
Dawn's whole family has led a martial arts life!
From left to right, her son, Dawn, her dad, and her sister.
...graduating from Buddhist ministry school. Dawn is in the second row back, third from the left.
A moment with a special gorilla friend.
Dawn worked with gorillas for over 13 years and has written extensively on them, and had the great joy of meeting orang utans, working with bonobo chimps, and getting to know snow monkeys.