Femininity and martial arts

“Not very feminine, is it?” said a beer sodden disparaging person in the pub after learning of my love of martial arts.  Now I could have enlightened Mr Beer about how notions of femininity are cultural and temporal dependent.  For example desirable working class woman of the 19th century had strong arms, this being a time when manual labour was required for every household tasks, such as washing clothes.   But I suspect such references would be lost.   Or I could tell Mr Beer that really I don’t care what he thinks, but there are some female martial artists who do feel a little lost for words when challenged on this topic.

Let us roughly divide martial arts into three categories, whilst recognising that some may fall into more than one.

  • Self defence
  • Spiritual
  • Competitive

Self defence  Edith Garrud was one of the earliest western jiu jitsu instructors in the world, traditional jiu jitsu being a form of self-defence.  She trained woman to act as bodyguards for suffragettes  in order to protect them from police arrest.  So from the early introduction of eastern martial arts to the United Kingdom, woman were involved.  If  you train in a martial art that originates from traditional jiu jitsu (BJJ, aikido, judo etc), just remember that woman were training in the basis of your art, long before you were conceived.


Punch magazine, 1910

On the spiritual element, I strongly feel that development of mind, spirit and soul has nothing to do with being male or female.  Yoga, martial arts, meditation, prayer. . . all are valid ways for anyone to achieve that development.

The competitive arts may seem harder to “justify” a female presence.   If we look at female boxing we see that it’s inclusion as an Olympic Sport is a recent matter.  Perhaps this is a reflection of a deep rooted cultural dislike of woman attacking each other.  Yet the first British gold medal for world championship judo was won by a woman, Jane Bridge, in 1980.  Even the British male judoka of the time had failed to achieve this high a level.  And surely in the 21st century we can open our minds and allow woman to make their own choices about how to spend their time?  Competitions are a tried and tested method of comparing your skill set (in any sport) against others

Having more or less accidentally stumbled into my chosen martial arts, no one is more surprised than me when I say they have become my raison d’être.  And if you don’t understand that, then you probably don’t understand why Mr Beer’s comments are of no concern to me.

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