Friday, June 4, 2010


Last night's class featured a special treat: Sensei S's sensei - Kyoshi K! Part amazing practitioner, part comedian, Kyoshi took us through kicking and punching drills as well as kata for three solid hours - but the self-defense intro that preceded all that was incredible. He still chided me for "fighting like a small person" but he recognized that some of the scenarios and add ons to the one-steps (ippon kumite techniques) we'd created on the spot might not work for someone my height (6'2"). Same for my 5'4" training partner - and he let us modify them accordingly, which was really cool.

But I noticed something while we were plowing our way through the ippons with various ukes: the three females in the room seemed to face a little bit more of a challenge when it came to making the techniques flow one into the next. The guys - the two senseis, a black belt (training partner, Ed), a brown belt and a green belt (two of Kyoshi's students) blended those suckers with hardly a hiccup. Although we worked similar add-ons two nights before and do them quite regularly in class, they didn't feel quite as familiar to me as they seemed to for the guys. Perhaps the fact that I've never been in a physical confrontation before except for sparring in the dojo or in competition had something to do with it?

Guys, it seems, kinda grow up tackling, wrestling or play-fighting. Constantly! I remember when my son was about three or so, his four-year-old cousin came over for a play date once and about two seconds after they said their hellos, they started wrestling. They slipped into it so naturally that is almost looked liked they'd coordinated a plan to play fight until they were sweaty and tired well beforehand. It was interesting to watch - especially since my son's female cousins never did anything like that when they got together for play dates. There doesn't quite seem to be a female equivalent to grabbing each other around the neck and wrestling each other to the ground. Eventually, the boys separated and played with Matchbox cars or something, but I still remember their impromptu match - 13 years later - like it happened yesterday.

A few weeks ago, my cousin, Mick, who is very much like a brother to me as we are close in age and hung around each other a lot as kids, came downstate for a visit (he lives in Rochester). Our family went out to dinner after church and while sitting in Chili's, his mom leaned over and asked him about an old scar he had near his eye. He said he'd gotten it way back in college when he was in a skirmish with a few guys. Five of them, he said, attacked him at once. He is quite a quiet and unassuming guy so it was sort of shocking that he'd been in an actual fight that drew actual blood once upon a time. Most every guy I know has been in a fight at some point in their lives. Not one of my female friends or relatives can say the same.

So perhaps things like reaction times and movements that don't look so forced or unnatural are easier for guys because many of them have actually been in real-life "block of get out of the way" situations before. Like most of my female training partners, I don't really have a strong reference point for that. My real-life "block or get out of the way" scenarios have only come in the dojo while facing an uke who is throwing a technique from a side he/she's already told me will be used. In other words, I usually know what's coming, where it's coming from and how hard/soft it will be arriving. My reactions are sort of rustily learned on the fly at age 43 - perhaps the same reactions that many of my male training partners started learning when they were three or so.

Getting the techniques to flow one into the next, I'm finding, is a bit more complicated for the ladies than the guys make it look.


  1. Interesting post.

    I have never been in a fight. Years ago, I was in class teaching a predominately female group of students. I aske the question "Have you ever been in a fight?". Everyone, except for me, raised their hands. I was surprised.

    You make an excellent observation regarding women and wrestling/play fighting. There was a study done about women who excaped from violent attacts. (I would love to cite the study but I do not remember. My instructor would always mention it when she taught self-defense classes. I will have to ask her the next time I see her.) One of the interesting common characteristics of women who "got away" were that they played contact sports and/or had male siblings.

    As far as wrestling/play fighting, I have an older brother (by 10 years). When my sister and I were little, he was always "fighting" with us. I guess I should thank him. :)

  2. Wow! I really know where you are coming from with this post Felicia. I think men/boys hit the ground running when they start martial arts training whereas we women tend to get a bit stuck in the starting blocks for a while. I suspect mens previous experience of playground fights has something to to with that.

    Like Michele, I also have a brother and we also play fought quite a lot - mainly wrestling so perhaps I should also thank him for that!

    Moving and flowing into techniques smoothly is definitely one of the hardest things to master - my feet just never seem to be in the right place!

  3. Interesting stats about women who got away, Michele. Just saw something on the news a few days ago about the guy who abducted and murdered two girls in the San Diego area a while back: his third almost victim got away by punching him in the nose and running like hell! I'm as surprised as well about your all female class of "fighters" = but hey, sometimes you gotta do what u gotta do...

    "Stuck in the starting blocks for a while" - I like that, Sue! One of the disadvantages of being an only child is I didn't have any brothers to fight with. But I just watched "Dragon Princess" (an old karate movie with Sonny Chiba) - and the lead didn't have any siblings either (just a dad who trained her to fight since she was little so she could exact revenge on his attackers) - and she still kicked everyone's butt, so perhaps my theory has a few holes, LOL...

  4. Very interesting your blog!


    I invite you to know my blog. It's in portuguese, but I have a translator to english on the top rigth of the blog.

    The address is:

    See you!

    Guilherme (Willian)

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Guilherme. I'm heading over to check out your blog now...

  6. For what it's worth, I grew up in exactly that kind of an atmosphere. I wrestled and horsed around for much of my youth.

    It's funny that I ran across this post today. I was just talking to a friend about BJJ. I trained in a more traditional style for a few years before finding my way into BJJ. I feel every day at class exactly how I felt as a kid. There's a kind of joy in it that's difficult to explain.

  7. Hi, Steve. Sounds like you enjoy your BBJ training quite a bit - and that it is something that takes you back to your youth. I'm kind of jealous! Every time we get on the ground or grapple, I feel kinda like I am totally, totally out of my element :-(

    Continued success with your training and thanks for stopping by :-)