Sunday, 25 March 2012

Women in the Martial Arts

Photo Source: Sodahead

I keep coming back to this issue…

I teach a lot of young girls. They range in age from little 4-year-old tigers just out of day care to girls in high school.

Both the girls and the boys in my classes have the same opportunities – to build themselves into people they can be proud of, to learn to live life with dignity, to learn to stand up for their rights, to let their voices be heard and to be kind and respectful to others but never…ever…allow others to walk all over them.

I often look back on the days when I first started training. Women – and girls – were considered an after-thought in the martial arts schools of the 1950s and 60s. One or two women would drift in once in a while and try to integrate themselves in the class. Most would last a few weeks. Some lasted beyond that, perhaps to Green Belt or higher.

In the hard core martial arts world there were two points of view about women joining a club - 

1.  They’re looking for a man

2.  They never last anyway; they don’t have what it takes.

In 1973, I ran a school for one of the first martial arts entrepreneurs in Canada. I’m not sure why – maybe the atmosphere was friendly toward women – but women started pouring in. Here’s a sample of a discussion I had with the owner –

“We need change rooms for the women.”


“They have to use the men’s change room. The guys have to wait after class on the floor while the women go and change. It makes the women feel like a bother and the men are starting to feel uncomfortable about it too.”

“Don’t worry. They’ll leave anyway.”

“Who will leave?”

“The women. They’ll leave anyway. They never last long. Building a change room for them is a total waste of money.”

Here’s another conversation with a supplier, from a year later when I started running my own club –

“I need 30 Yellow Belts.”

“How many men’s belts and how many women’s?”

“What do you mean?”

“Belts for the women have white stripes through the middle.”

“That looks like the women are only half Yellow Belts.”

“It’s tradition.”

Last week, a ten-year-old female student pointed at the photos of the lineage masters on the wall of our club.

“They’re all men,” she said.

“So that’s got to change,” I replied. “Maybe you can help me make that change.”

That was last week. Almost 50 years have come and gone since the middle of the 1960s. For people who can fight with such incredible speed and power, the males of the martial arts world sometimes creep along at the speed of a melting glacier when it comes to accepting our “sisters” in the arts.

Hopefully, things will speed up. Those 10-year-old girls who are developing power and determination through the martial arts will see to it!

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