I want to touch on a topic that came up in a podcast I was listening to. The podcast was called Managing Violence by Joe Saunders and it was an interview with Savannah Archambault. Savannah shares openly in the discussion about her experience of rape and sexual assault and the impact that has had on her and the way that she teaches martial arts. It was refreshing to hear a woman's perspective on the martial arts. I highly recommend it!
During the discussion, Savannah is asked what the key factors are to teaching female students. She answers by saying that to her, gender doesn't matter. What matters more is the psychological state of that person and their size. In martial arts, size DOES matter. She admits that having a woman only class does help a female student recover from trauma initially but ultimately, once the student can move past some of those triggers, having a mixed class is more beneficial. This allows women to work with men and to see that the techniques being taught can work on a male.
So I would like to explore the ideas of the mental state and size of a person in martial arts.
|Size does matter.|
Firstly, size. To me, this is simple physics. The greater the mass of an object, the harder it is to move. I weigh 76 kg and stand 186 cm (6 foot, 1 inches). Think of a thin pole - that's me. Now if I am training with someone who is 110 kg and 168 cm (5 foot, 5 inches) I am going to have a hard time. I am giving away a lower centre of gravity and have less mass than my training partner. Of course, if I get my technique right I can move the other person around but I will have to have very good technique or I will most likely fail. I mean, this is the reason they have weight classes in sporting martial arts like judo. We discuss this very thing with body throws in TSYR. If we are trying to throw a person that is absolutely huge, then rather than take them over our hip it might make more sense to chock their ankle or leg and have them fall at that point. It still requires good martial principles such as taking their balance but there is less chance of injury for both parties if it goes wrong during training.
Consider a tall, strong woman who is into training and conditioning, perhaps she goes to the gym, perhaps she is a competitive rower. Now, put her up against a smaller man who is fairly inactive. Perhaps he spends most of his days behind a computer screen at work or playing video games at home. The size and strength difference will be obvious, we can ignore the genders of either training partner because in this situation, the woman will most likely have an easier time of performing the technique than the guy. This is what Savannah was getting at. Size matters more than gender. Yes, this is an unusual situation but is possible. My wife is of Dutch descent, she is 183 cm (6 foot) tall and weighs more than me (I will not be stating her weight here, I have some sense.) So this makes her on par with me for height and reach but I give away a little mass. However, I have trained and conditioned my body for many years in martial arts while she prefers daily walks and yoga. If we have a fun, play-fight and wrestle about on the floor, I can prevail. However, I believe should she want to (and she doesn't), with a bit of training she would be formidable because she has the size already there.
So with all things being equal, size IS more important that gender when training in martial arts.
What about the mental state of a person? I have already talked about mind set in one of my other blog posts so you will know how important I think this is. No matter your size, if you think you can't beat the other person or you think you can - you are right. Attitude is so important. Confidence is so important. Often we think of women being the victims of abuse, and while this is statistically, most likely, we mustn't forget that men can also be victims of abuse. Men can come to the dojo with trauma. Again, this is Savannah's point. Gender is second to the psychology of the martial artist.
|Where is your head at?|
I started my budo journey in Aikido. Historically, it is a martial art that has a higher percentage of female practitioners than some other martial arts. So from the very start I have trained with women. I now teach Aikido to children and only one of my students is a boy, all the others are girls, my daughters included. If I look at my two daughters, their psychology is different, they bring a different energy to the mat. My youngest is a rough and tumble kind of kid and throws herself (sometimes literally) into her training. My older daughter is more considered. Here we can see, within the same gender, a difference in attitude. Both do Aikido, both are strong, confident girls, but approach their training differently.
In Shindo Yoshin Ryu: History and Technique by Tobin Threadgill and Shingo Ohgami a past female student of Takamura sensei talks about how she was treated differently to the male students as she could not match their power. He had high expectations of her all the same and demanded that she surpass their speed and precision. He asked that she become deliberate, determined and dangerous. Just think about those adjectives for a moment. If that isn't all about psychology then I don't know what is!
I would like to add my own thoughts to Savannah's. Although gender is second to size and mindset, I do believe males and females communicate a little differently. My years as a secondary school teacher have taught me this as well as raising my daughters. Women and girls like to talk things through while men and boys like to just do it. While this is a generalisation, on the whole I find this to be true. As an instructor it is important to find a space for both approaches. Letting females talk out what they understand, at the right time, helps them. Letting a male just get on with trying the technique, helps them. The trick is making this work in a mixed class and of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
Hopefully, I have given you some things to think about in this post.