I am a Martial Artist. I am also a Woman. Taboo?
Does being a Woman make you an inferior Martial Artists? What is it like to be a Woman training in a sport traditionally dominated by Men?
- These thoughts can also be applied to Art. -
A few years ago, I sought a Martial Arts school, but I was suspicious of everyone. I had heard of women and kids been abused in dishonorable schools. A few places locally had closed because of abuse to students (and children!). I was weary of going to a new school; I would be vulnerable.
As a woman, it can be difficult to train in a room full of men. Twelve-Year-Old-Me lucked out; my dad was one of the black belts that taught me Tae-Kwon-Do. (I was given no special treatment. If anything I was held to higher standards.) I had no fear of the abuse some women experience in dojos because my dad was around, my fellow students where excellent, and my sister was usually my partner. (Hooray!)
As an adult however, I was a single female scouting for a safe place to learn. From past experiences, I knew that effective learning in Martial Arts involves a lot of touching and grabbing. It is absolutely necessary to have respectful and focused training partners, be they male or female. These relationships require a tremendous amount of trust, which can be very hard achieve, especially when you are the only woman in the room.
I talked to many people in my martial arts community. Ultimately, it was the advice of another woman I followed. I do not blame women for being afraid to join a dojo. The only reason I felt safe was from my confidence with prior experiences; I generally knew what to look for. (More writing on this to come, but the best summary is to treat a new school with as much caution, open-mindedness, and reserve as you would on a blind date.)
Joyously, I found a good school, with excellent company and a remarkable instructor. But I was not strong at all, and I had trouble keeping up with workouts in class. But this does not make someone an inferior martial artist. (Or athlete.)
Years prior, I learned a formula that very much disproves the dominating advantage of strength and size:
Strength x Speed = Power.
When I trained frequently, (which was never frequently enough), I could spar equally with men my height. (As-in it was equal enough for us to both learn. I've never practiced enough to be really great at sparing.) I had to be careful though, because I could not take a single serious hit. No dudes I spared with ever all-out tried to pummel me, to my knowledge, but when they landed a blow that could have been "it", it was over, and I'd go "Whoa shit, that was a good one." (The one memorable time I got my ass seriously handed to me was at a tournament, and it was against another gal. Moral of that story: don't underestimate your appoints, ESPECIALLY if they are girls. THIS girl --me-- learned that lesson the hard way.) My fighting was based on speed and dodging. It was different, but it worked.
I have talked with other martial artists who say it is difficult to fight someone small because there is far less of a target to hit. Makes sense; swatting flies is infuriatingly tedious. Being fast is just as effective as being powerful. Strength and mass are just two facets of the whole. People who claim strength and size are the only traits that win a fight do not understand fighting. There are other traits associated with females that could be considered disadvantages to a Martial Artist; gentleness, motherly instinct, and frailty, to name a few. Buuuut....
"The master observes the world, but trusts his inner vision. He allows things to come and go, his heart is open as the sky." - Lou Tzu
Some train to fight, others train to perfect the art. Perfecting the art perfects the fighting. Many Masters do not want to fight after they get to a certain indescribable level of mastery. I personally fear the Master who has perfected the art over the athlete who trains just to fight. People who train to fight lose their abilities with age and over working their bodies. Their mind does not grow from personal reflection or wisdom. The true Master learns with time that he/she does not need strength, and they learn that they do not need to fight.
“To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.”
- The Art of War, Chapter 3: offensive strategy
(Perhaps the "supreme excellence" of none-fighting comes from gentleness? Food for thought.)
Anyone who has thumbed through The Book of Five Rings or The Art of War can tell you strength is one small part of "The Way" of battle.
(Now, I'm pretty sure both Sun Tzu and Miyamoto Musashi had contradicting opinions about female warriors to this post, ((History buffs correct me?)) but I highly recommend reading them, Martial Artist or not.)
Martial Arts is about learning the basics of an art and exploring how your "self" interprets it. The "Art" of Martial Arts must not be overlooked: dancing and painting are both arts like Jujitsu and Tai Chi are Martial Arts. We learn from our teachers, but the style and finesse are up to us to perfect. My Sifu says that he is giving us a sword; it is our job to sharpen it.
Perhaps it is also our job to find how best we wield it.
The fun of being a Martial Artists is exploring our "Way". Gender is just one piece of our style, or color of our painting, just as important and unique as our eyesight, temperament, speed, joints, determination, technique, and will.
To conclude, Martial Arts is about learning the art of "self". It is practice, discipline, dedication, patients, and self-reflection. Historically men have been influencing it longer than women, (Though a distinguished example otherwise is Yim Wing Chun) but it is a uniquely human art. There is no superiority/inferiority of being male or female in Martial Arts. Being male or female affects the style of fighting, but no more than it affects what type of shoe you wear. The shoe can kick just the same. But how it kicks depends on the Martial Artist you choose to be.
And I recommend being this kind of Martial Artist:
“The teacher is as a needle, the disciple is as thread. You must practice constantly.”
- The Book of Five Rings; Comparing the way of the Carpenter to strategy.
Respect, Gratitude, and Compassion to all Students, Teachers, and Masters of ART