Women in martial arts


July 26, 2007
Karmit Sagiv

”’By Karmit Sagiv”’
Up to a time, not so many years ago, women were completely dependent on men for their livelihood and safety. In order to gain independence, they were required to separate themselves from the men and make their own living. Virginia Wolfe claimed that “a room of one’s own and a certain sum of money” would suffice and lead to women’s independence. In fact, Wolfe stated that women would have power once they could stand on their own and not be dependent both financially and mentally on their man. Is this in fact so?

Even today, in a world where there are increasingly more independent women, financially and mentally, they still have trouble gaining significant power in the face of men. Why, then do women have trouble catching up? Why are they distinguished from men? Why are there still fields that are “for men only” while others are for women only?

Numerous sociological theories provide answers for these questions, while pointing out a process of socialization, or social structure, as the key to understanding the phenomenon. Women, from the moment they are born, are expected to act in a certain manner – “feminine” gentle, submissive, as a wife, etc. In fact, they are expected to function in a world which is a product of male thinking, a world where men of power and influence define concepts and attitudes. Since the world, in all its aspects: social, cultural and political, is a product of male creation, it is only natural that it be fitted to the needs of the male population more than to the female ones. The latter is required to live according to the male rules of play.

And what happens in the field of martial arts?

This analysis may explain the relatively small number of women participating in martial arts. It is a known fact that the number of women is significantly lower than the number of men, especially in advanced levels. In order to understand why the situation in this field is so grim, we need to look back in an historical scale to try and find out the root of the problem. It seems to me that focusing on sociological analysis combined with a psychological one, might clarify the picture: The field of martial arts was made property of men, similar to military systems, for example. However, why specifically men? Sigmund Freud’s interpretation on the differences between the sexes may help in this case. Freud speaks of the urge for competition as a male characteristic. The first and most shaping competition is the struggle of the son with his father over the mother’s affection. This struggle ends in the healthy situation, with the experience of defeat, from which the child continues acquiring new tools for coping with struggles. Is it possible that this primary male struggle never ends, and that it yields into fuel for a subconscious need to be stronger, better and with higher endurance (and I mean the spiritual meaning of the term)?

If it is indeed so, that the urge for competition in women is lower, as Freud suggests, it would be likely to assume that women would find less interest in fields that combine significant competitive elements. Even if Ninjutsu is not, in essence, a competitive sport, groundwork, throws and stand-up fighting insert certain competitive elements into the groups.

Even so, we are still faced with another riddle: Based on the previous paragraph, we would expect the number of women in Ninjutsu practices to be similar to the number of women in practices of Judo, Karate and other forms of martial arts. Things, however, are not so. I believe the explanation to be, that fields such as Judo, Tae-Kwon Do and Karate, have adapted themselves to female audiences. This adaptation is seen in numerous areas, for example in separating men from women in the competitions themselves. This situation encourages women to remain in the field, and steers them away from fields that do not act in the same manner, such as our non-competitive combat Ninjutsu.

In addition, it’s not just that the number of women who begin training is relatively low in comparison to the number of men, there’s also a higher dropout rate for women from Ninjutsu. A claim stated not once in the groups, relates the high dropout rates to the inability of women to understand the field in depth. Such a claim is one that removes all responsibility from those who build and characterize the entire field. It is possible that these key players are unaware of the power they have as ones who pave the way and set the policies. As leaders, they can choose training concepts that either include or exclude women. Inclusion may be reached in many ways, from adapting training hours, through emphasizing exercises “not solely for men” taking into consideration the female anatomy, as well as combining feminine terminology in training. In summary for this part of the conclusion I will add: It is easy to find guilt in the women, but the problem, I believe, is not with them, but rather in the surroundings, that distance women due to the male ethos in Ninjutsu and in AKBAN for women.

As stated before, the field of martial arts is a ‘system’ built by men, and is thus adjusted to male audiences, and so is inhabited mainly by men. This situation repeats itself. It is a male magic circle, which is unbreakable by a foreign power (women). Thus, a woman who succeeds in penetrating the circle and comes to practice still has small chances of persevering, since she will have to adapt herself to the rules of the male world. Let’s take, for example the setting of practices: The hours of training are the hours of the afternoon to late evening, a woman who is also a mother can not persevere and come to practice while the kids are waiting for her at home. Also, the warm up at the beginning of practice emphasizes groups of muscle that require strengthening in men, and neglects muscles women need to work on more in order to reach the level of a fighting man.

In order to persist in the training program over time, I feel, support from the trainers as well as from the veterans, is needed in all the practice groups. The organization must understand the special needs and gender differences, internalize these differences and needs and adapt the transfer of information to different audiences. So long as the organization does not take these measures, women will continue to be a strange rarity in AKBAN.