At my last grading – photo credit Brett J.
I have been thinking about writing this for a while and waiting for an appropriate juncture to publish it. I wrote about gender equality a few times (including here and here) but this post is from a different perspective, and was sparked by a few things in my life both in and outside the dojo.
My husband asked today how my blog was going, and I had to admit that it had been somewhat neglected for various reasons. Then a facebook memory came up reminding me that I started my blog 2.5 years ago…..so in honour of this 2.5 year anniversary, I shall stop procrastinating and share my thoughts.
Just in case anyone missed the memo: Yes, I was born a girl. I “grew up” (in a purely physiological sense, if nothing else) into a woman. If we extrapolate a little, in terms of my karate, I’m experiencing somewhat of a second childhood, so loosely, yes, I am a girl in the dojo (training place).
I’m not here to complain about being born with, and growing up with two X chromosomes; it is what it is, and I’ve never, and will never experience the alternative. As much as at times in my life, the grass has seemed greener, or at least easier to chew, I’m content enough to graze in my designated paddock.
Sometimes though, it’s hard to believe we have arrived, (nearly 20 years ago at that), in the 21st-century. Even in first world countries, where things have improved significantly, and moved toward equality (in things that can and in my humble opinion should be equalised), we still have a higher percentage of men in Parliament, and in leadership roles, and earning higher wages, for doing the same work, women performing a higher percentage of unpaid home and childcare duties, (whether they work or not), and women being objectified and sexualised to sell things. Women are way more likely to be self-conscious about their bodies, and yet are continuously subjected to media images which attempt to dictate how they should look and dress, and even think. The list goes on but I think I’ve made my point.
Although there were traditional martial arts designed for women, karate certainly was not one of them. Women in dojo are a relatively recent addition. Those pioneering women in the art, (in the 70s and 80s), evidently often had a rough time of it. So those that stuck it out, and are still training now, are likely to be tough as nails.
It’s different now, in many ways. Firstly, women are very welcome in the dojo, or at least in my limited experience, and, be this and exception or not, I have the pleasure of training in a hombu dojo (home / original training place within a style) that (including our male instructor), has an even number of males and females in the adult classes, and similar in the kids classes. We train the same things. We train together. We train hard. Whilst I acknowledge the benefits of grappling with similar weight and size partners, conditioning with partners of similar bone structure and conditioning as me, and I know that there are advantages and limitations associated with the body I have at my disposal, which may make some things easier or harder for me, I still occasionally and reminded that to be a karate-ka (karate practitioner) and be a woman, are two things that didn’t always go together.
Being a karate-ka, brings on a certain set of challenges, both mental and physical. Being a woman also brings on a certain set of challenges, both mental and physical. Because I am both, and because I am me, I can only speak from personal experience to this point.
I’ve been a karate-ka (at least in name), for about three and half years. I started as a baby, accelerated through toddlerhood care of some excellent parenting (my instructors probably would call teaching), and have probably now graduated into my childhood / pre teen wonder years. I’ve been a woman for close to 43 years. I started as a baby, took a few years to get toddlerhood, and emerged as a child, where I mucked around for about 30+ years, gradually metamorphosising from adolescent to woman, to wife, to mother, collecting hats and responsibilities as I traveled through life.
At the point where these two circles of my life intersected, I was 39. I was comfortable being me, and being a woman, to the stage where I finally let myself be half way feminine, something which I had resisted for some time. I was working. I was a singer, composer, musician, with regular performance commitments, and I was in the throes of parenting a school starter and a preschooler. I had a billion other commitments besides. In short, I had so many excuses not to train, it’s surprising in many ways that it got off the ground for me at all. I had a good reason for starting training, (my son), though no particular reason to keep it up beyond trying it out. Fortunately, it sparked something inside of me that I couldn’t deny. And, so I did train, and the training kept the passion burning, and the passion kept me training. My one reason (which I couldn’t name until I had been training for probably 6 or more months), overrode all those excuses.
However, let’s look at what could have happened, had I taken the approach I could have taken, and gone with the excuses and not the passion. Where would I be now? I would likely be pretty much where I was then, which would be okay, but not fantastic. I would have missed out on a lot of growing up. I would have missed out on so many learning experiences, including learning about myself, and learning to respect and appreciate myself.
What has this got to do with other women in karate, (and more importantly, women not in karate)? Well, firstly, with the women in karate who stay there, and particularly the mums, they are often there despite the odds being stacked against them. They are the ones, swimming against the current. They are the ones trying even harder perhaps, than their male counterparts, to prove a point, even if that point is only to be proven to themselves. Even if the odds in the dojo are more in our favour now than they were a few decades ago, the odds of society are still largely imbalanced against women, and there’s a lot of life, that happens outside the dojo. It’s very difficult (thought not always impossible) to make men understand this. I get that. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man either. Empathy can only extend so far.
I am rather fortunate to train with men and boys who on the whole treat me like any other karate-ka, with respect. It doesn’t stop me trying my hardest, and possibly at times inspires me to try even harder. The important thing is that it doesn’t stop me from being me and being comfortable to be me. Generally, my instructor treats all of us in the same way, and has the same expectations of us, so being a woman in the dojo, is rarely brought up something out of the ordinary or special. To be honest that’s just the way I like it.
On the flipside, even though I love and respect all my training buddies and instructors, regardless of the chromosomes they were dealt, it is great to have developed close bonds with other women in the art, and it is important we encourage and support each other.
At the end of the day though, I don’t want to be the best woman karate-ka in our dojo, or the first woman karate-ka in our style to be awarded a Senpai (trainee instructor) title, or a shodan (black belt); I am only interested in being the best Karate-ka I can possibly be, and the best person I can possibly be. The rest really is a non issue to me.
So, next time you tell me (or even think about telling me), or my daughter, (or anyone else, male or female, for that matter), to “stop punching like a girl”, think about what you actually mean, and then, think about what it says about you, and furthermore what it says about society, and what it says about how you want society to look like.