Friday, September 11, 2009

Proud to Fight Like a Girl

Anyone who has ever received any electronic correspondence from me knows that the above is part of my email signature. I put it there in an attempt to flatten some of the negativity associated with doing things "like a girl" - which usually is not meant as a compliment. When I was a kid, it seemed that doing something "like a girl" meant the effort was weak or that the person throwing, hitting, screaming or running wasn't quite up to snuff. Doing something "like a girl" - even if you WERE a girl - was the ultimate insult.

Haven't been a kid for quite some time, but there is still an interesting parallel to "coming of age" in my life these days, thanks to training in the martial arts. Every now and again, one of my female training partners and I have vivid email exchanges about what it means to be a woman training in a testosterone-soaked environment of her home/my sister dojo. Although we disagree with whether our common experiences in the dojo are actually inherently sexist, we both have recognized that, either by design or by happenstance, we are sometimes treated differently than male karateka. Sometimes it's blatant, sometimes it's subtle, but we've both seen it most often when it comes time to pad up and prepare to spar. While the guys often get to round-robin spar for at least four rounds, we women only get to spar that many times if there happen to be four other women on the mat that evening. One night, a third dan who's trained longer than most of us in the dojo, only fought once because I was the only other woman there for her to fight. The seemingly unwritten assumption that women are weak (not weakER) that makes it OK to - well - treat her like a girl is one of the main reasons I have dreamed about training in an all female environment...

So, I often have to get inspiration from outside of the dojo. Sometimes it comes from reading about women like Hangaku Gozen (pictured above), who raised an army in response to an attempt to overthrow the Japanese Kamakura Shogunate way back in 1201. Sometimes it comes from talking to real, live women in the dojos I've visited, who've been there, done that and "bought the t-shirt" so to speak. It also comes from reading the experiences of others I've never even met before - fellow female martial artists who are following their own paths while fearlessly blogging about it. Kudos to Krista de Castella for her "Memoirs of a Grasshopper" blog, Cheri Arbuckle for her "On My Own Two Feet" blog, Michelle for "Just a Thought", Sue C for "Kick Ass SueC" as well as to Martial Arts Mom, The Perpetual Beginner and Black Belt Mama. Thank you for taking the time to share a bit about your journey down the path with others walking nearby. Thank you for posing the difficult questions and tackling tough and such sometimes politically incorrect topics as domestic violence, training abroad and returning to the mat after ACL surgeries.

Thanks for continuing to make me proud to to fight like a girl.


  1. One of the most valuable things about the on-line world to me, is that it allows me to connect with other female martial artists. Most martial arts (and certainly my own Isshinryu) are heavily male, and even in individual dojos that are more egalitarian, the background assumptions and culture are male oriented.

    We had an interesting night one night, when Sensei told one of the boys that he was "kicking like a girl" - only to have it pointed out to him that the three strongest kickers in the room were all women. It was the abstract state of femaleness, not the actual women that was being maligned - but you can't denigrate the abstract without having repercussions on the real women standing in front of you. We're still working on him.

    Thank you for the post. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. The abstract state of femaleness - I love it! And I totally know what you mean. And you are spot on: it is impossible to denigrate the abstract without having some effect on the very real physical representations of that abstract who happen to be standing in front of you. Not sure why that is such a hard concept for some to grasp, but it is...

    After a tournament last March, we had a similar incident to the one you described. One of the young ladies (all of 13 yrs old) - who gave stellar performances in both kata and sparring at the tourney - was tossing a football around with a few guys in the parking lot. When one of the guy's errant throws would have made her have to hop through a puddle in flip flops to retrieve it, she stopped short - and promptly got blasted by one of the senior dans for "acting like a girl" and being afraid of a "little puddle" - less than an hour after she kicked some serious butt on the matt. Every woman in the vicinity - martial artists and non alike - winced, it seemed. But nobody said a word back to him. Absolutely no one called him on his comment - including me...

    I truly hope the attitude that being female = being weak isn't that pervasive, but I'm not so sure. Glad you enjoyed the post - and thanks for stopping by :-)

  3. Thank YOU for helping me discover yet another cool MA girl blog! I'm adding you to my blogroll tomorrow!

  4. Howdy, BBM! Thanks for stopping by :-)