Not just another one of the guys.

Where are all the girls and women in karate?

There are a few in all three of the clubs I regularly train with, but I am often the only one bravely flying the flag for the double X team in class. Why is that?

It doesn’t really bother me all that much, I have always found I get on better with guys anyway and generally had more male than female friends.

When I am in my gi (training uniform), I kind of forget who I am outside the dojo. I am a Karate-ka not a woman Karate-ka. We all look pretty similar in our gi and that is the way it should be. My gi is unisex; it is pretty much the same as anyone else my height’s is. It certainly isn’t like my gi screams “I am woman, hear me roar” (although my kiai may be somewhat of a dead give away on that front – my “roar” is loud but pitched an octave or so above most of my training buddies, and according to some, “could be scarier”….). I would say, if anything, my gi hides what curves I do have, and I would like to think that my training buddies are in their zone (like I am) and not taking much notice of that sort of thing anyway.

However, sometimes I get the feeling that I am being treated differently by my training buddies and instructors and I am not sure that is a good thing.

Part of practising karate is learning self defence. Realistically, if someone wanted to attack me, that someone is likely to be a guy who is probably going to be bigger and stronger than me. Let’s face it….they aren’t going to be nice about it. On the flip side, if I am being attacked then don’t want to be doing anything other than trying to get the hell out of there, not having a shred of hesitation about hurting that person if that is what it takes.

I have been attacked before. I was 22, a fairly young and naive 22 at that, and it was pretty scary and also life changing. Fortunately for me, my attacker was just a nut-case out to scare people (mission accomplished there). Fortunately for him, I hadn’t done any self defence. Fortunately for me, I am a singer; I have a good set of lungs and screaming my nut off was enough to scare him away (or perhaps make his ears bleed – who cares?). But what if it hadn’t been?

Surely it is even more important for girls and women to be training in Karate or other self defence than men. Even if, when you find yourself in a dangerous situation, your defence isn’t fabulous, hopefully you will have developed the confidence to try to escape rather than submit. I probably should have signed up for a class right after my attack. Instead I avoided being alone, particularly walking alone after dark and if I absolutely had to do it, I was so hyper-vigilant, I practically ran away from my own shadow. But I couldn’t live my life like that forever, and (eventually) I decided that I couldn’t accept the fact I should feel so vulnerable just because I was born with 2 X chromosomes!

So I ask again? Where are you girls? Mums? Daughters? Sisters?

Anyway, back to that awkward moment when I hear that “Man! I feel like a woman” line going through my head. It happens when I sense a male opponent appears to be purposely avoiding attacking me in kumite or making it too easy for me to get out of a grapple or grab or hold. It happens when an instructor advises a modification of an exercise. It happens sometimes when I attempt something that I know I probably should not due to changes to my body post partum. Embarrassingly enough, it has even happened when I was being asked to demonstrate bunkai relating to a particular kata; without thinking I demonstrated the male version (which I am very familiar with), rather than the female version (which I was not).

I am sure some point or other, I have been taught the female version, however, I suspect that it may be overlooked at times, when I am the only one in class that it’s relevant to. Certainly it is difficult to find the female versions demonstrated in YouTube videos, whereas the male applications are in abundance, so by default, both inside and outside the dojo, I have had way more exposure to male bunkai than female bunkai.

Male on male violence tends to be fairly simple, i.e. hay-maker punch to the head and variations thereof. This is well documented in Dr Jason Armstrong, Shihan‘s books * which analyse street fighting statistics. Male on female violence tends to focus more on wrist grabs or grabs to other parts of the body with a view to taking the woman somewhere else. Hence, female self defence applications (of kata and in general) tend to be more focused on avoiding getting into a hold / getting out of holds / avoiding being carried / dragged and / or hurting someone sufficiently so you can run away. What would appear to be a block becomes an escape and / or strike, what may look like a push might be an eye gouge etc. I am certainly no expert on bunkai or on self defence, but the bottom line is this: the difference in what applications male and female karate-ka need to know is a cold, hard reality.

So even though I train with a bunch of guys (usually), I look like one of the guys, my instructors are guys and I mostly feel like one of the guys, underneath my gi and inside my head, I need to think a bit differently, because I am not just another one of the guys!



2 thoughts on “Not just another one of the guys.

  1. Pingback: My karate week – reflections | A work in progress

  2. Hi there!
    Yeah, where are the other ladies??? If they can do Zumba they can do Karate!!!

    My understanding is there’s loads of things to take into consideration for bunkai – size of attacker, position of attacker, what the attacker is doing, etc. I hadn’t thought of gender but yeah, a spear hand to the groin really screams “attacking a male.” If one aims just a bit lower to avoid the pubic bone and extends about two inches (5cm) longer than usual, that could be a strike to female bits but who would catch on to that bunkai if you didn’t tell them?


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