“Oh look, it’s someone different.”

A woman walks into a Judo class. . .

A woman walks into a Judo class and all the men on the mat stare.  They’ve never had a woman show up for this class before.

Sounds like the start of a joke, but this was something that happened for real.  I assume that most of those men had encountered females at some point in their lives, perhaps their own mother, so seeing this woman wasn’t akin to seeing aliens in the back garden.  However, that didn’t stop the comments.  Eventually this woman became tired of the constant scrutiny and gave up Judo.

This rather sorry tale was told to me by the caretaker of the building which houses our dojo.  She and her husband run fitness classes, and it would seem that some people do suffer the discomfort of being, “the odd one out.”  She has had older woman quit from kettle ball classes which mostly contain young woman and other similar stories to pass on.  So this isn’t just about woman and martial arts, it’s about being the different person amongst a group.

The Odd One Out

Image from: http://www.spudmud.com/pictures/86-The-Odd-One-Out/

 Why?

There are two thoughts here:

  1. Some people perceive a disadvantage in not being the same as those around.  They think people mind that they are different, when in reality these people may feel slightly shy in approaching the new person.
  2. That there is an unconscious exclusion.  After a class you chatter about things which may have no connection with the new person, for example your children.

Nobody in Jitsu has ever made a thing of the fact I’m female, but for some bizarre reason in Aikido my Sensei has the urge to point out that my womanly hips are an advantage. Such comments don’t faze me, I’m hard to embarrass.  Yet I imagine for some shy individuals, who perhaps (ironically) decided to take up a MA to increase their confidence, the last thing they want is attention drawn to themselves.

Yes, yes, but what do I do?

It doesn’t matter if you are teaching or being taught, just drop the comments until you know the person better.  You wouldn’t walk up to someone in the street and go, “oh look, you’re the only person wearing red.”  So why in the dojo, where surely we strive to harbour mutual respect for each, do we sometimes feel the urge to point out peoples differences when have no relevance on the teaching?

Don’t exclude newbie’s, engage with them, be you student or teacher.  If you go for a coffee after practice, make sure they know that they are invited.  Chat with them and make them feel welcome, not different.  This could be the person that in the future really helps you progress with your martial art.

Meanwhile, in my Jitsu dojo.

The six months of Jitsu training with a Greek guy before we started to accompany hard throws with a shout of, “that’s for wrecking the European economy,” is the result of establishing a good relationship with each other.  If we had done it on the first day he probably would have called us all idiots and never come back.  Now he just bounces our German girl on the mat and shouts, “and that’s for trying to buy us out.”

Irrelevant differences can be commented and joked on, but only amongst established friends.

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