Women in the Martial Arts

"I'm Not Your Princess"

Christine Baeza

No matter what belt women have around their waist, or what title they hold, they will always be women.

This is a powerful statement that might sum up the thoughts of women who study the martial arts. Although we are strong, focused and dedicated, by gender alone we may be overlooked and underestimated. The good news is that times are changing and women have become more prominent in the martial arts world.

A women walks in to a seminar dressed in her workout attire, hair up and a hint of “pretty” on her face. A smile, a respected bow to others and a firm hand shake to start the day. The room is filled with varying thoughts. First impressions span, between thoughts of, I’m so glad there is another female in the room, to I hope I don’t have to work with her or simply oh boy, here we go! Lets admit it, we judge off first impression and so does everyone else. It’s unfortunate that due to sex, race, hight, or stature we often wrongly assume the knowledge level of those around us with undue prejudice.

She steps onto the floor, stands off to the side and waits for her que to train. Eyes are on her as she approaches her training partner. Standing tall over her he gingerly throws the first punch. With confidence she covers intercepting the punch, striking back fortified with knowledge and charisma. Smiles fill the room and a comfort comes over her as she now feels accepted.

Women have to prove themselves in the dojo. A man walks up the size and stature and is immediately respected as one who is able. As my sensei would say, “if size and strength didn’t matter, you wouldn’t have bullies.” I like to think, the bigger the man, the harder they fall. The truth is everyone has strengths and weaknesses, finding them is the key. Someones size doesn’t always depict their strength much like gender does not depict someones ability.

Women need and desire to be challenged in the dojo. The martial arts environment is the right place for growth both physically and mentally. The key is braking the old concepts and traditions that women are weak, less capable or care more about their appearance than their training. Is it fair to compartmentalize women in this fashion? Martial arts is a sport focused on teaching self defense. Our world is becoming increasing hostile. Women and men equally seek out the ability to take care of themselves if and when the need arises. As instructors, we have the opportunity to train up strong women that can pass this gift down to others. Womens instincts allow insight into scenarios that others may not see. Women adjust and adapt to different ways of thinking while training in their martial arts system. When the training environment has strong women leaders in it, the dojo creates a safe and well balanced environment for other women as well as men to train in. You can see these changes taking place in dojos around the world. Even in professional sports there is more and more emphasis put on women.

Women offer size and strength differences as well as functional aspects of agility. Where some in the dojo may run faster, others may be more flexible. We shouldn’t discount ones ability to train or teach based of first impressions. Women often provide a different variable than man when considering a combative situation. Variables are a case to case account of each individual fight. Without variables, training would lack necessity. Instead of sizing up each student as they enter the door, it would be more productive to create enthusiasm over new strategies, opportunities, and concepts. Open minds leave room for growth and knowledge. Everyone seeking to train whether male or female desires to grow in ability. When we impose our perception of someone’s ability, we limit their ultimate potential.

Why are women training? For exactly the same reasons men train. Knowledge, strength, power, confidence, fitness and fun are as important to women as it is to men. Knowledge, confidence and strength come from repetition in training. Training with an array of partners with different sizes, statures and ability help us all. These days we should strive to help one another, teach one another, respect one another and offer our best as steal sharpens steal to create powerful women in the martial arts world.

The beginning of change is by creating mutual un-bias ground in your training environment. The dojo should be a place people come to build confidence, increase strength, endurance and ability. Much like a child that starts kindergarten, the first day children begins school, they begin with very little prior knowledge. As teachers nurture and guide their students, so also should we train up and nurture our students regardless of their age, gender or stature. At the end of the day, the instructors play a large role in the coarse of achievement each individual accomplishes. When you create a confident women, she is nearly unstoppable. She will also become one of your biggest allies.

As we grow as martial artists we look back to the beginning of our journey and search for those who made us who we are today. What will your legacy be? For some of us, we can confidently say that we have been the lucky ones. Along our journeys we have worked with some of the most amazing and talented martial artists in the world. Each has encouraged us to fight, be strong, courageous and confident. Those who have had confidence in us have made us who we are. Without their strength and support our martial arts would lack zeal. There is power in numbers when others believe in us, we gain the confidence to believe in ourselves. Not all women want to be treated like princesses, like others, women just want a chance to learn and grow. Given the opportunity, their ability is endless.