Monday, July 30, 2007

Battle of the Sexes


I've previously written about some of the reasons that attract women to the martial arts. It's their role in the dojo and interaction with men - both today and historically - that I'll briefly address in this installment.

Personally, I like the presence of women where I train. It seems to me that when they're around, an energy balance of sorts is created. Women seem to come to the martial arts out of fear of men. Men also fear other men, whether they want to admit it or not. Still, men and women from the same school will routinely spar with one another, although in sanctioned matches there is no mixing of gender. This wasn't always the case, however.

In the nineteenth century, male kendoists (sword artists that use bamboo shinai) would have spirited matches against women armed with the naginata - a staff with a mock blade attached the end. Competitions such as these were not uncommon in Japan, and locals were charged admission for these events. I seriously doubt the proceeds were evenly split, but I'm sure the naginata women took their fighting skills to unprecedented levels in doing battle with the kendo crew.

Some years back, female practitioners of judo were forced to wear an obi which featured a prominent white stripe running the length of the belt. Eventually, this practice was discarded, probably along with the ones who came up with this asinine idea.

In my experience, women seem to learn the technical and psychological aspects of an art quicker than their male counterparts, as the size and power that men enjoy are not at their disposal. With that said, the true combative aspects of bunkai (self defense applications) and strategy (heiho) become their special talent.

Labels: ,

16 Comments:

Anonymous blackbeltmama said...

I so hope you are right about the bunkai. ;-)

Interesting piece of history about the shinai battles. I agree with your assessment about the belts.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

We have several women who train with us and do very well. The only difference I have when I roll with women is the same that I do when I roll with lighter men. I try to focus less on muscling a submission and more on technique.

This only applies to other white belts. Blue and above, I just do what I can. They usually end up kicking my butt.

11:44 PM  
Blogger somaserious said...

I wholeheartedly agree with women bringing a balance to the dojo. Whenever I'm the only female in class there is definintely a shift, even though I'm the only one. Women in general have a better balance within themselves and take the more esoteric aspects of the martial arts and really let them flourish. Great subject! I did not begin martial arts because I was afraid of men, but I did join to give me a better sense of power, both physically and mentally.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Miss Chris said...

The women in my class almost always picked up the moves of the katas and could memorize those moves far quicker than the men. However, the men had it all over us in the strength department. For some reason their macho-ness always came out in sparring. They always wanted us to know how hard they could kick!

11:35 AM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

I find that women have an extraordinary energy.

Plus, they really go at it in kumite!!!

And there is that...extra...bonus of having female practicionner.

sigh.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Becky said...

To be honest, I'm not exactly sure how I want to respond to this post. I am the only woman in my dojo. There have been others who have started, but none have stuck it out past yellow belt. Except for one very immature 22 year old who made it all the way to brown before quitting. She just wanted to use the dojo as a social club--flirting with other students, making inappropriate comments about married men, hanging all over the boys in the dojo. She even tried to get me to help her talk sensei into having parties there every Saturday night.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't have any perspective. I've never objectively observed women in the dojo, and I can't be objective about myself.

I will say, though, that I rather like being the only one.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Windsornot said...

I have an interesting situation where I am. While there are certainly men and boys who are at the school, most of the "higher ups", including the head instructor/owner of our school, is female! And in turn, my instructor's instructor is a woman too! Great role models for the girls who attend our school. The one thing that I am constantly reminded of by my instructor, which you stated to some degree, is that women do tend to think more analytically about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Guys do tend to go for the gusto and machismo of it at times. (This is not to say that there aren't thoughtful guys who take martial arts-- quite the contrary!) But I can guarantee you, whenever there's a class of all women, or at least one woman in class learning something, we are the ones to ask questions of how and why of a technique, and focus more on the actual technique. It is very common in my school for someone to hear the following said to a woman (including myself): Stop thinking too much and just do! ;-)

7:23 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

At the taiji school that I attend, the teacher is a woman, as well as about half of the students; from senior to beginners.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous KFG said...

Interesting! And so are all the comments. I am the only woman in my present school but because I have trained for longer, I can handle some of the strength excercises that the guys can't! I have to admit to being gleeful about that - not very good for my karma, I know. Having said that, I've recently had an epiphany about all of this - I've realised that I have always overcompensated because I am a woman and also because I am small. So I always go in as hard as I can, which isn't always the correct approach. And I've found that the guys sometimes hold back - which drives me crazy. They aren't doing us any favours by doing this - a real attacker would not hold back. So it's complicated. But interesting. And I also like being the only girl!

6:01 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Black Belt Mama:

I so hope you are right about the bunkai.

An instructor friend of mine (he's a 4th dan) trained under a woman - an 8th dan now in Isshinryu. His understanding of bunkai is phenomenal because of her.
----------

Steve:

I'm really surprised women go for BJJ. Well, good for them! But as far as inter-gender grappling - I would imagine that would be somewhat uncomfortable. But I'm a karate guy, what do I know?
; )
----------

Somaserious:

Welcome to my site.

...I did join to give me a better sense of power, both physically and mentally.

That about says it all about the martial arts. Thanks for stopping by.
----------

Miss Chris:

For some reason their macho-ness always came out in sparring. They always wanted us to know how hard they could kick!

Women may not kick as hard, but they know how to kick low. What goes around comes around!
----------

Mat:

Plus, they really go at it in kumite!!!

I've sparred with a number of great female karate-ka. What they lack in upper body strength, they make up for in extraordinary kicking ability (women seem to favor roundhouse kicks over all else).
----------

Becky:

She just wanted to use the dojo as a social club--flirting with other students, making inappropriate comments about married men, hanging all over the boys in the dojo. She even tried to get me to help her talk sensei into having parties there every Saturday night.

So, what's the problem?

(just kidding!)
:D
----------

Windsornot:

...most of the "higher ups", including the head instructor/owner of our school, is female! And in turn, my instructor's instructor is a woman too! Great role models for the girls who attend our school.

It's important to have a good female following just to balance things out in something that is predominately male. I would imagine some women (certainly not all) feeling reluctant about joining a club if they only saw men in attendance.
----------

Rick:

At the taiji school that I attend, the teacher is a woman, as well as about half of the students...

You lucky devil!
----------

KFG:

I've realised that I have always overcompensated because I am a woman and also because I am small. So I always go in as hard as I can, which isn't always the correct approach.

Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes what we call liabilities are strengths in disguise. To "overcompensate" because of a so-called shortcoming is strongly related to having hara, or guts.

And I also like being the only girl!

It's interesting how many commented on being the only woman in their club.

11:07 AM  
Blogger frotoe said...

We have a lot of women at my dojo. Most of whom are parents of younger students. I feel lucky to train with these women. All are strong spirited and positive thinking.

5:14 AM  
Blogger Silverstar said...

I was the only female in my class for awhile and now we have another girl, which is nice. My instructors teach me to not see gender and just see training partner, but I do agree that when the class is mixed, an energy balance is created.
Whats really funny is when I help out with the Women's Self Defence class as uke for my instructor-who is male. He throws me around and applies painful techniques on me and the women gasp in horror. But I get right back up and apply the same techniques to him. :)

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

I am the only adult female student, but heck, I am the only adult over the age of 20 at my studio. ^^ There is one 17 year old girl who sometimes comes and another 13 year old who wants to own her own studio one day. Our Sabumnim is female and a member of the Kukkiwon demonstration team.

78% of the boys at my studio are cocky, but that's cause they're teenage and middle school boys! The boys are only cocky with each other depending on where they fit in the Confucian social hierarchy.

I like being the only ME at my studio, but more than my age or gender, my foreign status is what makes me stick out. :)

5:33 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Frotoe:

Many adults who join a club do so because their kids are there. But women will start training quite likely because of the presence of other women, especially if one is an instructor. If you have a lot of women training in your school, I'm guessing you have a large number of adult students there.
----------

Silverstar:

Being an uke can be tough, and a good uke is a valuable commodity in a school.

At least you get to return the favor!
----------

Amanda:

The boys are only cocky with each other depending on where they fit in the Confucian social hierarchy.

Confucian social hierarchy? That's the first time I've heard rowdy teenage boys and Confucianism mentioned together! Oh well, what do I know? ; )

8:06 PM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

"teenage boys and Confucianism mentioned together"

Surely not a common sight in america...

8:24 AM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

I believe that women in the dojo helps bring a different focus to the training. It's hard to explain, but it seems that many women have a different spirit than men, and there seems to be a balanced reaction as the partners work together.

In some women, I've seen a higher amount of competitiveness as they struggle to match the superior strength of the men. In some women, I've seen a deeper focus into technique. In some women, they just present such a strong spirit that they make the men back away in concern just by the appearance of strength, and confidence. ( similar to how a kitten can frighten a full grown German Shephard.)

Either way, there is a goodness to having mixed genders in the dojo, I personally wouldn't want to train in an all male, or all female dojo.

1:56 PM  

<< Home