Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Female Warrior: Archetypes and Stereotypes

Occasionally I'll get a question about the Isshinryu symbol, the mizugami (water goddess). One version is that the founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku, had a lucid dream about the said deity encountering an evil presence and warding it off with a ring of fire, but with peaceful intentions. Shimabuku's water goddess, a Shinto entity, was probably inspired in part by the androgynous Shiva, the Hindu Destroyer. But the Isshinryu Mizugami is decidedly female and presides over water; femininity and water both being aspects of yin, a Daoist concept pertaining to creativeness, intuition and other ethereal manifestations of the psyche which correlates to the right hemisphere of the human brain. Yin/female also pertains to yielding, mysticism and darkness, the subtle aspects of the martial arts. While female combatants lack the less-subtle size and strength attributes of their male counterparts, their presence in the martial arts and even the military have a long history worldwide.

Recently the US Defense Department announced that women would be permitted in dangerous jobs closer to the front lines. Political conservatives such as Rick Santorum feel that a man's position on the battlefield would be compromised with the presence of women. In traditional cultures women have been held as the "weaker sex", treated like chattel, and expected to be submissive -- hardly the stuff of warriors. The French Christian Joan of Arc and Greek mythology's Athena are exceptions which have provided inspiration for TV heroines such as Xena: Warrior Princess.

Television has provided some characters that depict the alpha female as less strapping than Xena and much closer to cheesecake. The Avengers' Mrs. Peel and one of the Charlie's Angels had some sort of quasi background in the martial arts. When I was in junior high school a wave of kung fu flicks and Asian martial artists were making their way to the US that included one Lady Whirlwind ("Queen of the Deep Thrust") that caught my attention. It was a great era for martial arts movie posters with double-entendre. These days it's the likes of MMA's Gina Corano that now grace the silver screen, blending feminine beauty with real-life martial arts credentials.

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