I've broken the ribs of a 165-pound male sparring partner, given a nine-inch gash to a World Karate Association champion, and have knocked out several sexist black belts who couldn't believe that a woman could really fight.
hroughout this book I have taken the perspective of a self-defense-motivated martial artist. That remains the focus. However, in this chapter, the perspective needs to be refined a bit. Here, I take the only perspective I can: that of a male martial art instructor. Although most of what I share here is applicable to both male and female teachers, I believe that female instructors face additional issues that males do not. These issues include the perception that female instructors only teach other women and children, and questions about how a female instructor should deal with challenges from her male students. These are issues that I am not qualified to address. My perspective, therefore, can only be that of a male martial art instructor offering instruction to adult men and women.
Historically, women in the East received their martial art instruction privately and from close family members.1 In America, however, only the smallest minority of students (male or female) are taught privately by family members. American acceptance of feminine equality has thrust women into the modern martial art school. There they train shoulder-to-shoulder with men. But is the female martial art student receiving the training she wants? How do her male training partners feel about working with her? And are there differences or inequities in her training when compared to that of the men?
RealitiesBefore tackling these questions, we need to come to grips with some basic realities. First, a woman's chances of being attacked by a man are hundreds of times greater than being attacked by another woman. A woman needs, therefore, to train with men. She needs to study with men for the realism men bring to her self-defense training. Training with a man, a woman gets the feel of her technique as she applies it on the heavier, more muscular masculine body. In this way, she receives a more realistic appreciation of her strengths and abilities.
Arguments about avoidance and skillful evasion aside, a large part of any fight is still the ability to absorb punishment. Men have much larger bones and approximately 40 percent more upper body muscle than women. Paleontologists, for example, can look at a skeleton and immediately identify the individual as male or female simply by bone size and structure. This obvious difference in size means that, in a contest between the two, most women cannot absorb blows to the body as well as a man.
Destructive Mind-SetsThe martial arts are open to everyone. Women certainly belong in the arts. If anyone needs self-defense skills, they do. Three out of every four women will face at least one violent crime in their lifetimes. In a day when law-abiding citizens and victims of crime have to wait days or weeks in some states before they can secure arms for personal protection, good self-defense training may be a woman's only option. There remain, however, two contrasting and equally destructive mind-sets that can severely limit a woman's satisfaction and success in the martial arts. They are the "Wimp" and "Feminist" mind-sets.
A woman needs to realize that those who will force themselves on her, assaulting and violating her, have no such inhibition. Until she accepts this fact of life, there is little an instructor can do to help the female martial artist achieve her maximum potential.
What makes this feminist attitude particularly dangerous is the false sense of over-confidence it breeds. Some may feel this "overconfidence" is just good-old fighting spirit. But fighting spirit without a strong dose of reality is neither spirit nor courage; it is, rather, foolish bravado.2
Those blinded by the feminist mind-set must stop viewing all differential treatment as condescending acts of gender inequality. It may not be that at all. For example, in our school we engage in a drill where we blast each other in the abdomen. We wear gloves, but male students drive their blows home with full force. No one, however, strikes the female students with the same vigor. To do so might be considered "equal," but it is also unwise.
All Things Being EqualIn fighting, all things being equal, the male practitioner has the advantage. This is the way it is. A female student, then, should not be insulted if her male partner does not attack her with the same aggressiveness that he would another male. Not that a male instructor or training partner should make it easy for her; he should not. But neither should the female training partner attempt to unload on the male student to prove some imagined physical equality.
It is important to remember here that, just as sport karate does not accurately represent the full spectrum of martial arts, neither do wimp-and feminist-thinking female practitioners represent all female martial artists. Clearly, they are a minority. But these two groups receive the lion's share of attention. Like all instructors, I find that 80 percent of my energy is spent on 20 percent of my people. Among female martial artists, those with wimp and feminist attitudes fall squarely into that 20 percent. Pretty unequal, I'd say.
Making the Art Fit the Individual
The female student's training improves because the realism she needs is provided without the threat of serious injury. Take, for example, learning a defense against a two-hand lapel or chest grab. With breast protection, the male student can grab his female training partner realistically. This is very important.
Most of the time you see the chest grab taught with the grabber using a static, stiff-armed and carefully placed "lapel" grab – hardly realistic. (Muggers and other thugs are not going to be nearly this nice.) Lapel grabs don't always have to be practiced at full force, but they do require some realism. Without it, even if a woman learns a given technique to perfection, her practice will only create a false sense of security.
The male student's training is also improved by his female partner's use of protective equipment. With protective equipment, the male partner has the freedom to attack and strike the same targets on his female partner that he would on another male (again, his most likely assailant). Without protective equipment, his training loses realism.
For example, a technique that requires striking the groin (something done with control even with protective equipment) will be lacking if your partner is not wearing groin protection. You simply cannot simulate a groin strike by hitting the leg or lower abdomen. The fact is that if we train to miss a target, we can be confident that we will miss the target in the street. Neither can you practice a groin strike with perfect (non-contact) control. This is because your the partner will not react correctly, and the lack of accurate reaction adversely affects your remaining execution and follow-up. Protective equipment solves these problems.3
Finally, breast and groin protective equipment reduces any discomfort men might feel from physical contact between the sexes. Gentlemen are often uncomfortable in training situations requiring close physical contact with "unprotected" women. Protective equipment minimizes this because any normally inappropriate or embarrassing physical contact is less disconcerting. (Now, before anyone says that these guys shouldn't feel uncomfortable, consider this: discomfort is not a concern to those who are less sensitive and ill-mannered.) Making the female student's male training partner more comfortable, then, will go a long way toward female acceptance in the martial art school.
Acknowledging, accepting, and then training within the constraints of our differences is the only way that real inequality in training will ever disappear. Practical suggestions are just a start, but they are far more realistic than the rhetoric that routinely overshadows this issue. By beginning here, the male and female student alike can train equally, grow, and become the martial artist each is capable of becoming.
©Copyright Bob Orlando, 1993-2016
All rights reserved.
Aug. 6, 2016
by Bob Orlando