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Friday, January 24, 2014

Women in Martial Arts

Do you know a woman in any of the traditional Okinawan (or even Japanese) martial arts who holds a legitimate rank of Hachi-Dan or higher? Probably not, they are more rare than an honest politician.

Martial arts continues to have a glass ceiling separating male and female practitioners.

Part of this is our (i.e. male practitioner's) fault. We treat women differently. We expect less from them and, when they live down to our expectations, we think less of them. That process is referred to as prejudice, genderism.

Not every female martial artist joins a dojo to meet a husband (although it does happen). We remain a male dominated society and the Asian influence, unfortunately, perpetuates the discrimination inherent in martial arts.

Combating or own prejudices can be a much more difficult fight than any Kumite we have ever engaged in.

How to begin? Start by eliminating genderism in the dojo. There is no "Miss" no "Ma'am" and no "Sir", there are only "students". We have already seen how students imitate what they see in the dojo, so let them see an equalitarian approach to instruction. To paraphrase Ghandi; We must be the change we want to see in the world.

Women can only compete at the level of men when they are allowed to. In the process BOTH students learn. We teach women self-defense against men, but have you ever seen a self-defense class where women are taught to defend themselves against a female street thug? They do exist and they do fight differently. Would that difference enhance the fighting skills of male and female students alike?

We are doing our female students an injustice but we can make things better.

I know some will say "Women don't have upper body strength to compete with a man." Were you sleeping during the lecture "Martial arts is not about strength"? Okay maybe a 110 pound woman physically cannot "duke it out" with a 220 lb man, but a 110 pounder male would not fare any better in a stand-up fight. However a 110 pound elbow strike is definitely going to ruin that 220 pounder's day, be that elbow male or female.

"But if I treat a female student like a male student they'll drop out of class." Maybe, but nationally the dojo drop out rate, proportionately, for female students compared to male students is actually lower. SURPRISE!

As instructors and practitioners we need to close our minds to what we think we know and open them to what we do not know and have not thought about.


Cox Hakase

For your consideration I encourage you to read/view the following sources:

DVD: "Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful" available at:

Synopsis: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!! Shihan Fukuda, a student of Judo Grand Master Kano Jigoro, was the ONLY women to receive a legitimate 10th dan ranking in martial arts.

Book: Shoot the Women First: Inside the Secret World of Female Terrorists, by Eileen Macdonald. ISBN: 0-679-41596-3 (Don't confuse with the fiction by William Waugh III with the same name).

Synopsis: Explores why female terrorists are much deadlier than male terrorist, i.e. when Special Operations troops hit a terrorist compound they are taught to shoot female terrorist first as they pose a great threat to the SOF troops survivability. Read the book to find out why and how it applies to martial arts.