There's a bit of a debate going on over at the Women's Forum of Martial Talk.com about a young woman who has only been training for four months feeling intimidated by how advanced the guys in her training hall are - and how hard they hit. Now, I'm most definitely of the "It's karate, not knitting so expect there to be contact" school of thought, but I still can't get behind the "tough it out, it make you a better martial artist!" refrains in some of the replies.
But really, something about the idea that she's asking for advice on how to get over feeling intimidated by her training partners seems strange to me.
Her original question:
I'm a small 24 y.o. woman, not very strong. I feel it's important to learn to defend myself so I started martial arts. I've been going for four months now but I still feel really intimidated in the class full of men. Some of them are nice but some are quite advanced and are in my opinion quite hostile - and they hit hard. I like my teacher but I am a slow learner it seems, and this may be annoying for the advanced students. Any advice from instructors/other women about feeling initimidated?
If you read through the thread, you'll see that most of the advice she's gotten to date has centered around her speaking up to her training partners and asking them to temper their hits/kicks/blocks and even speaking to her instructor if the "I'm gonna blast you across the room" techniques don't cease - and I agree - but really, should she HAVE to tell more advanced students not to kick her in the face? Shouldn't the idea that folks who have just started on the path not being quite ready for full-power techniques be a given?
I remember being punched in the face THREE TIMES by a fourth dan during a basic jab drill when I was only a seventh kyu. I'd been training for less than a year and had no idea what to do. I know NOW that he should have had the most control/been the safest person in the room, but as a newbie, I wasn't quite sure if getting hit in the nose that much was drill protocol - I just know it made me feel really uncomfortable, whether it was the norm or not.
But who knows what "normal" is when they decide to step on the mat for the first time? After they've been training for a few months? Whether there to learn self-defense, to sweat a bit or simply for the challenge of learning something new, the environment that is martial arts training is a pretty unique one. The rules of what is appropriate and what isn't aren't posted on the wall but rather learned as we go - and usually, they are learned by watching and working with more advanced training partners.
It should come down to the student deciding what is appropriate contact-wise for her/him - regardless of her/his level/rank, but is that what really happens? Like I said in my reply, I think everyone should totally be able to say if/when the contact is too much. I don't think it is ever OK for others - be they fellow students or instructors - to determine what is and isn't "too hard or too much" for anyone else. Insisting that they "tough out" whatever is dished out in order to learn is the fastest way to chase a person right out of the training hall, IMHO.
The reality is that most women have probably never been hit until they kick off their shoes and step onto the mat - and if they have, it probably wasn't by a guy who out-weighs her by 50 lbs or so in an environment that is supposed to be about learning and fun to some extent. I don't really see how facing dudes with absolutely no control or a dimmer switch teaches anyone how to be a better martial artist - just how to "take" a punch. But what does that have to do with becoming a good martial artist? To me, that demonstrates only how easily we bruise and bleed in a "oh look! I almost ruptured my spleen today!" sort of way. That is not quite all the karate I study is about.
There are reasons we wear pads while training - primarily so we don't hurt the person on the receiving end of a kick/punch/block too much. Sure, punch like you mean it, but to me, there is a big difference between a solid technique with intent and one that is meant to blast the uke out of the ring just for ha-ha's. Let the contact be appropriate for the learner's level, that's all I'm sayin'...
OK - rant over. Thanks for indulging me :-)