Monday, September 16, 2013

Lowering the Barrier--Looking for Ideas

An article got me thinking about women in martial arts and personality types. This time, at least. Like I said in the last post, the subject is generally in the back of my mind. You should definitely check out the article. A good friend of mine posted the link. I didn't expect to like it because, well, there just seems to be a lot of people bashing anyone who doesn't toe the gender role line. Not to mention all the awful modesty screeds getting a lot of screen time. Plus when he posted it, he just said it was interesting. I thought, "hmmmm. Interesting can mean a lot of things."

But, in all seriousness, I think the article hits many, many good points about why I have no female students over the age of 15. And you know what else? I have been taking the dojo calls for about a year now. I haven't even had inquiries from any women unless it's getting information for their kids.

Joan of Arc
Why don’t more women get involved in the martial arts? Well, maybe because it just doesn’t necessarily come natural to them. Maybe because generations of social conditioning and thousands of years of evolution stand against it, by providing them with a set of instincts and unconscious thought patterns which guide them away from unnecessary violence, for their own protection. Not because they are weak – but because they are crucially important.

For a long time, Mike and I have been talking about why this is. I still think some of it might be personality types. That either because of nature or because it's been suppressed or bred out of women, the personality types that enjoy fighting--even the controlled type that I teach--are generally found in men. Or, that for many, many, many years, it's been the exception for a woman to be a warrior than the rule.

The writer of the article covers a lot of the reasons women have been a protected group--child bearing and breast feeding, for example, is pretty much the domain of women and without women, a culture cannot propagate itself. This guy wrote a paper where he comes to the conclusion that partiarchy kept women from war in the sense that they couldn't participate in war councils and battles because of a potential conflict of interest. Women tended to leave their homes and go to their husband's home and so might have divided loyalties. I can buy that.

Nakano Takeko
In essence, women have to overcome centuries of social conditioning, millennia of evolution and the current zeitgeist before walking into a dojo. And when they manage to drag themselves there, what they often encounter is an environment which is far from gender-neutral.

So, now that technology, sheer numbers, and some cultural shifts has made it so that those women who are so inclined can pursue the martial arts, I am back to wondering why I have very few women in my classes. I suspect it'll be Autumn's generation that really starts to feel free to pursue more stereotypically masculine hobbies. My teen/kid classes are 50/50 right now. Few of them will stay until adulthood. I do wonder if there will be increased pressure for the girls to conform to "girl" hobbies as they get older. I guess I'll watch and see.

In the meantime, does anyone have any ideas or insight on what kinds of things *would* make a dojo environment more gender neutral? I'm a female instructor who isn't physically imposing but I've discovered that's not super helpful. Many people assume I'm extra tough or they will never get to my skill level because I'm naturally talented. To which I laugh and laugh and laugh. Still others don't like to learn from me because I am a woman and small and they think that I wouldn't really know what I'm doing. Talk about conflicting reviews!! In terms of intimidating environment, my classes aren't in typical dojo settings. One is in a ballet and fencing school. The other is just a room at a church. So, it isn't like a concrete and steel Rocky boxing basement like back in the day when I first started taking aikido.

Among the ideas I've been batting around is a martial arts 101 class. Like a 6 weeks program where students would learn to stand, do basic punches, learn to roll and things like that all in regular workout clothes and with music alongside others who are at the exact same level. I'm also starting a Body Bar kickboxing class at a local church gym this week. It's fitness kickboxing done a little more slowly (and safely, holy cow some of these kickboxing teachers are unsafe!!!) with moves less like cheerleading and more like actual muay thai and, during certain intervals, we'll use a weighted bar to do weapons-inspired moves. Kind of like this but with my own spin on things.

But, that's about as far as I've gotten. Have you ever considered martial arts or self defense? What made you decide to do or not do it? Is there anything I could do to help lower the barrier to entry for women or men who aren't all RAWR CAGE FIGHTING?

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