Fight like a Girl
I took my first martial arts class in 1999. Since then I have earned black belts in two different styles, and am currently studying Kenpo Karate. In my previous style, I was fortunate to have taught kids for almost seven years, and I am sure I gained more wisdom from my students than I ever imparted to them. While teaching I noticed (to my delight) that a good half my students were girls. As children, the girls were absolutely physically equal to the boys, and, to be frank, their ability to focus often made them better students. I have great hope for future generations.
The female martial artists of my own generation that I have known personally are an amazing group. Their ferocious skill in the martial arts aside, how they handled the things life threw at them has always impressed me. There was K., who spent her Sundays swinging through the air on the rings at the beach in Santa Monica; D., who taught classes until she was 8 months pregnant (twice); A., who survived throat cancer and went right back to training and teaching; P., diagnosed with juvenile arthritis but has returned to training anyway; and L., a single mom who trains with her 8-year-old daughter. I’m sure I’ve left out a few (and I hope they’ll forgive their omission).
The vast majority of my instructors have been male, and most of them have been truly wonderful human beings. Being female in the martial arts, however, does present a few challenges my male instructors sometimes don’t understand. I call them “Karate Girl Problems.”
1. My ponytail smacks me in the eyes every time I do any kind of spinning move.
2. I spend a small fortune on ponytail holders that mysteriously disappear when I need them.
3. White pants. Seriously? Only men would do that.
4. Finding a sports bra with chest protector inserts in my size.
5. Young men who get weirded out by physical contact with a woman.
6. Young men who get way too excited about the prospect of being able to hit a woman (while sparring).
7. The hopeless state of my hair after karate. Especially on nights we work on hair pulls and head locks. I mean, really, sometimes I have places to go.
8. Why do the women always get the smaller changing room?
9. Moves that don’t actually work when your muscle/body mass is so much less than your (male) opponents.
10. Always being paired with other women so you can never test whether a move works against a larger (and more likely) opponent.
11. When you are paired with men, you either get the snot kicked out of you, or they go too easy (which defeats the purpose). Very hard to find the happy medium.
12. Never quite being able to convince your karate instructors that groin shots really aren’t as debilitating for women as for men.
13. Being let off the hook on physical challenges because you are female.
14. Not being able to keep up with physical challenges because you don’t have the upper body strength because you’re female.
15. Not enough females entering tournaments, so you’re grouped with people of vastly higher rank, or much younger in age.
16. The fact that gis (uniforms) are cut for men, so even after you pair the top from one size and the pants from another, you still look like the stay puft marshmallow man.
17. That never, not once, have I ever heard a karate teacher discuss in class the fact that the mythical “bad guy” for women might very well be our coworker, our date, our boyfriend, or our spouse, and how to cope with that reality.
18. No teacher ever discusses how to fight in high heels, tight skirts or while carrying a purse. Sometimes a girl has to dress up.
19. Wondering how I’m going to continue training if/when I get pregnant.
20. Being asked by men (not involved in the martial arts), when they discover you are a black belt, “So you think you could take me?” and knowing the answer is yes, but having to smile coyly and saying nothing so you won’t have to prove it.