Can a woman maintain her femininity on the mat and still be a successful martial artist and/or fighter? And is it necessary for a woman to tap into her aggressive side to learn “real” self-defense? These are issues young girls, women, and the men in their lives face when beginning the martial arts journey and beyond.
Women and men need to understand that martial arts will not turn you into something or somebody you are not. Stepping on the mat will not remove the innate feminine qualities of a woman and it absolutely should not, in fact, a woman’s sensibility plays an important role in the studio which should be noted and appreciated. Typically, a woman’s sensitivity allows her to put more thought and care into each move and technique, her gentleness and focus helps to prevent injury to herself and others, and as a nurturer she will most likely support camaraderie throughout the school. Even more interesting is the duality of hard and soft women posses making them ideal martial artists at the same time maintaining the female self.
On the issue of accommodating women in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), Brig. Gen. Yehudit Grisaro, Chief of General Staff’s adviser on women’s issues gave this answer which I found to be extremely forward thinking:
“We are not doing our job only to create equal opportunities for women – that’s important. But much more important is to improve the effectiveness of the IDF. We need to look carefully at the differences between women and men to find answers…Women are equal but different. We need to respond to differences between men and women, so we need to create an appropriate utility vest, appropriate practices, appropriate food, if we want to build the ability of women to the maximum. We used to say, “Give the same opportunity, same clothes, same practice and it’s okay.” No, we need to be aware of differences and not give up because of differences. It costs money, but it’s key to the better use of our potential.”
As mentioned above, a woman’s “softness” aids her and others around her while training, on the flip side there is a level of controlled aggression necessary for a well-rounded martial arts experience. Ultimately, the essential reason for training martial arts is to learn to defend your self and that cannot be done politely. This is a hard concept for women to fully grasp especially in the beginning, by nature we are caretakers, yet there is no doubt in the forest no one would ever mess with a mama bear and her cub. That same idea relates to humans but it has to be refined in order to be effective, and that’s where years of dedicated training and hard work come into play. Yet, within the context of the karate school, the question of aggression and what and how much is too much can become an issue.
Sparring should be a part of every schools curriculum otherwise a student is only training to fight the air and the air won’t steal your purse. I believe choosing not to fight results in an incomplete martial artist and may give a false sense of security outside the studio. Repetitive sparring training removes dangerous hesitation which is the basis for a safe outcome, yet, sparring should always be practiced in a controlled environment where everyone is comfortable and the level of intensity is understood. Unfortunately, many women are too afraid to get hurt and the idea of a black eye or a bump to the nose may be an event too daunting to overcome. However, in all my years of training I have yet to see a woman with a black eye be ashamed, in fact they wear it as a badge of honor to show they are putting themselves out there, courageously and powerfully.