Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What Women Want - Karate Version

I have been reading with great interest a series of articles by Steve on his site Steve BJJ Log. Steve has been training in BJJ since 2006. He asked the following question as it relates to his BJJ training.

Do women want to be treated like training partners or treated like female training partners?

I am a karate practitioner and the only thing I know about BJJ is what I read on Steve's excellent blog. I know his question was directed to women who study BJJ. However, it made me think about my karate training and what I wanted as a female karate practitioner. The most surprising thing was that I did not have an immediate clear cut answer. What did I want...?

When I walk into a dojo, I see people in karate uniforms. I does not matter if they are male or female. I admit...most of my training partners are men. When I first started karate there were only a few adult women in the dojo. Most of the female students were kids or teenagers. I tested for shodan in 1996 with three male training partners. Steve's post made me wonder what my training partners think of me. Do they think of me as a "training partner" or a "female training partner"? I am going to ask them.

In my opinion, in regard to open hand and weapon kata, I have not experienced a great difference between the genders as training partners. But what about sparring? Is this where we see a distinction of male and female? In our dojo, I have watched my fair share of sparring rounds. The male/male and the female/female rounds were often more intense than the male/female rounds. Is it about gender? Size/weight? Preconceived societal norms? There have been a few male students who initially refuse to spar a females. They said, "I don't hit girls".

Back to Steve's question...Do women wanted to be treated as training partners or treated like a female training partner?

I can only answer for myself as a karate practitioner.

I want to be treated as a training partner who happens to be female. I want the opportunity to train, share ideas, make mistakes, correct mistakes and try new techniques. I want training partners that push me to be the best I can. I will do the same in return. I want to learn, experiment and test my limits. I want a training partner who understands my limits are mine to determine. I want training partners who understand basic anatomical differences between men and women.

Above all else, training partners should communicate what they want...regardless of gender.

Thanks to Steve for discussing this topic on his blog.


steve said...

Thanks for the great article and the link to my blog! :)

I think you're dead on regarding sparring as the place where the distinction becomes an issue (if it becomes an issue at all).

In BJJ, we spar in every class, and the topic arose out of discussions on that very thing. I'm not sure how this dynamic plays out in Karate, but in BJJ it runs the gamut from being overly careful to being intentionally too rough.

Not sure there are any answers, beyond my own conclusion that everyone needs to be dealt with individually and the most important thing is to give everyone a safe and enjoyable place to train.

sandman said...

Interesting topic here Michelle...

In my organization we have the option to compete in full contact karate tournaments - those of us who compete have special training sessions where we go pretty hard - not trying to injure each other, but definitely pushing each other very hard.

One of our full contact team members is a female - she is quite an inspiration to be honest. She didn't even join our dojo until she was 39, and she is an absolute dynamo. She has spirit and determination in spades - I'm proud to have her as a training partner.

However I do struggle internally sometimes - I want to do her training justice and help her prepare for full contact fighting -which means I need to push her hard and give her contact. But there is always a little voice in the back of my mind reminding me of the whole "its not ok to hit a woman" thing. In the end though, we I think we all manage - if she feels us guys are going too soft she lets us know and we pick it up a notch.

Felicia said...

Wow...Great question, Michele! No female martial artist I know wants to be handled lightly on the mat. For me, if my partner uses appropriate resistance based on my skill level and not my gender, it's cool. In other words, fight the belt, not the chromosomes :-)

Sue C said...

Great post Michele and interesting question. This is also a very timely question for me because an issue of training partners came up for me last night. However I have quite a lot to say about it so I am going to make it the subject of my next post.

Felicia - great quote: '..fight the belt, not the chromosomes'. I love it!

Michele said...

Thanks Steve. I am glad you liked the article.

Sandman: Thanks for your input. I asked one of my male training partners if I was a female training partner or a training partner. His depends on what we are doing.

Felicia: Great quote!

Sue C: Thanks! I'll be on the lookout for your post.

Journeyman said...

Part of the reason I have committed thoughts to the internet is a process of self discovery.

I know that I have often felt that I needed to don 'kid gloves' with training partners who were female.

Looking back, I know that not only was this a throw back to the 'never hit a girl mentality', but I was also doing a disservice to my training partner. If I didn't give it my all, it was unfair and potentially dangerous for her.

I always stress realism in training, and from time to time I wasn't practicing what I preached.

It wasn't until I met and trained with a woman who had no patience for my hang-ups. Not only was she better than I was, she punished me every single time I hesitated. This girl I would never want to scrap with.

I'll be the first to say that each person develops at a different rate, and training needs to take this into account, but if realism and combat application are your main goal, pulling punches helps no one.

Great post.

Bob M said...

First off, thanks for pointing me to Steve's post, it and the comments were really interesting; and your post and the comments are great as well.

Michele said...

Bob: Thanks!

Journeyman: Thank you for commenting!

I learned a lot reading Steve's article and the comments on his and my post. It was interesting reading the male perspective on female training partners.

Anonymous said...

I think men and women should always be treated the same in the dojo and especially in terms of standard of technique and examination. I don’t see any reason to treat my female training partners any differently than male ones: a beginner should be treated like a beginner, an intermediate student should be able to take a little more pressure and for advanced students anything goes. If you start to make exceptions for certain classes of people the standard will wane and you’ll end up with either the competent & dedicated students leaving or segregation into first and second rate students. If you want a belt and if you want to get good at a martial art you’ll have to work for it and if you don’t have what it takes or you’re just not that into it find something else to do. It’s certainly true there are far less women in the martial arts than men: I think women just aren’t as dedicated as men, I don’t believe women are less capable so in my view they shouldn’t make excuses and if you want to be treated differently go to an all women’s club. I respect any good martial artist (male or female) and I certainly respect high ranking women but if a woman is not up to par (in relationship to their belt level) then she won’t get my respect and I can’t take her seriously. Martial arts are about effort, dedication, enduring pain and fatigue and pushing yourself to the limit: if you can’t handle that or are uncomfortable with forceful physical contact you should find an easier pastime. It’s a fairy tale that martial arts are about aggression and hence being a man is an advantage: training is about assertiveness and instinctively reacting to threats without fear or doubt blocking the mind. Strength is also far less important than is usually considered: the purpose of technique is to minimize the role strength plays in a confrontation and the less energy you expend (i.e the more efficient you are) the more effective you’ll be. There’s a reason man rules over all the other animals and it’s certainly not because he’s stronger or better equipped physically.

A lot of the old masters of the past were small men with little physical strength yet they were feared for their awesome fighting prowess and in my view any martial art that habitually uses force to block attacks or relies on strength to subdue an opponent instead of precise attacks to vital points or superior body mechanics is an inferior martial art since there will always be people stronger or taller than you, you might as well take a subscription to the gym instead of spend time on the mats. This is the problem with MMA competitions: people see these superbly trained athletes with bulging muscles and they think that is what you need to become a good martial artist or fighter, while they’re completely ignorant of the fact that stringent rules are in place to prevent grave injury or death and it’s exactly these forbidden techniques that play a major role in negating advantages in strength, weight or height. The logical endpoint of this reasoning is that one should always carry a weapon when there’s an even remote chance of a confrontation (a weapon in the hands of a weak but even moderately trained individual will almost always beat a young, athletic fighter who is unarmed), this is exactly why true warrior or fighting arts place a premium on weapons training and the unarmed part is always secondary: why on earth would you take unnecessary risks taking on someone with your bare hands while you can stack the odds in your favour by using a force multiplier and thus maximizing your chances of survival? ...

Anonymous said...

It’s like you said: when training with weapons gender becomes irrelevant and in unarmed combat the better you become technique wise the less physical differences between individuals matter. Most women just aren’t very motivated and they tend to have completely unrealistic expectations about training: yes I want to learn how to defend myself but at the same time I don’t want to get my hands dirty or sweat too much. This is just the way things are and there’s little one can do about it. Men are by nature more drawn to physical activities and sports and are more likely to take responsibility for their own safety (who else is going to do it?) while most women couldn’t care less and will often quit when the going gets tough. There’s no such things as a free lunch and you can’t have it both ways: either you put in the effort and you train properly or you slack off and expect your training partners to go lightly on you and your effectiveness in reality will be close to zero.