Interview with a woman in martial arts – 4: Chloe (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu)

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Name: Chloe
Age:
25
Martial art style:
BJJ – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Years practicing martial arts:
8 years – brown belt

How come you started learning martial arts?
Well, I was going to the gym for workouts, but then I decided I wanted to do something different – a different activity to stay in shape and also something that would really challenge me. I also though it would be a good idea to learn some self defence.

Why did you choose BJJ?
They were offering BJJ classes in the same building where I used to go to the gym to work out. And I heard people saying that BJJ would be a good martial art for women to learn, for self defence. I thought BJJ seemed like a cool thing to do. My body type suits BJJ quite well too.

What do you like the most about BJJ?
It’s fun and it’s the best workout for the whole body. When you start practicing BJJ it’s like you discover and use muscles that you didn’t even know you had! You get in shape and you get stronger. And it also really boosts your confidence. I feel better about myself in general. Practicing BJJ has helped me grow as a person. And I also feel confident I could defend myself in most situations. I like it that it’s much more about skills than just strength. Like, I am the shortest person in my BJJ class but I can actually beat everyone except maybe one or two guys.

They say most fights end up on the ground and BJJ focuses a lot on techniques that are effective on the ground, for example to neutralise an opponent or attacker that is trying to get on top of you.

Are there many women doing BJJ?
I have heard that it’s getting quite popular among women – which is great. Where I practice now, we are only three women in total. But it’s ok. I mean I don’t mind that at all. To be honest I generally actually prefer facing the guys because it’s more of a challenge. If I win against them it also really proves how much I’ve learned in BJJ.  

Why, in your opinion, should women get into BJJ?
I guess for the same reasons I said I like BJJ – it’s a great work out, you get stronger both physically and mentally and it’s a lot of fun!

Do you feel you are ever treated differently as a woman doing BJJ?
You mean while training or in life generally?

Well, I guess both…
Not really, the guys where I practice know me by now (laughter). I might be rather small, but I’m much stronger than I look and I’m pretty good at BJJ! Underestimate me at your own peril (laughter)! My boyfriend doesn’t mind it now, but he felt really embarrassed by it at first, when we started dating. He is quite a big guy (193 cm – 6’4”) and he was pretty sure he would be able to take me based on size and strength alone. But I still kicked his butt (laughter)!

And for the record how tall are you?
I am 165 cm – 5’5”.

I can identify with your boyfriend there – I felt really embarrassed the first time my wife showed off her hapkido skills on me. It’s a male ego thing (laughter).
(Laughter) Yes, eventually he just embraced my skills and strength though and he says he admires it a lot! I go easy on him, but there’s times he does actually get me too!

How Egyptian women are using martial arts to combat sexual harassment

I came across an article about a growing trend of women in Egypt that are learning silat, an Indonesian martial arts style (created by a woman, according to legend), to protect themselves from sexual harassment. It was pretty interesting so below are parts of it. The  entire article is found here.

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Fighting Their Abusers: How Egyptian women are using martial arts to combat sexual harassment

By Karim Zidan

Pencak silat — an umbrella term for the ancient Indonesian martial arts practiced in the cultural centre — is a fighting style that incorporates full-body strikes, grappling, and weaponry. The sport has since gained notoriety across the region and is now included in the Southeast Asian Games. It also made its Asian Games debut in Indonesia in 2018. However, few could have anticipated that Pencak silat would have such a profound impact on women in the Egyptian capital.

The Indonesian Cultural Centre in Dokki holds weekly training sessions involving all age groups. The main focus is on performative aspects of the martial arts, though it has become popular with Egyptian women, mainly teenagers and young adults, interested in learning a different form of self-defence. Dressed in red silat uniforms paired with black hijabs (head scarves), they would train in hand-to-hand combat and weapons, and do so alongside their male counterparts. When one of the women successfully disarmed and took down her opponent, the others clapped in support.

Fighting Sexual Harassment in Egypt

During the holy month of Ramadan, the Indonesian Cultural Centre in Cairo hosted group iftars (evening meals) for the men and women training in pencak silat. More than a dozen women attended the meal, some accompanied by small toddlers while others looked as though they were still in school themselves. They seated themselves on the carpeted floor and waited for the call to evening prayer that signalled it was time to break their fast. Despite the differences amongst these women, they were all united by a common goal: to defend themselves against sexual predators on the streets in Egypt.

Sexual harassment is a notorious problem throughout Egypt. A 2017 survey by UN Women and Promundo revealed that nearly 60% of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed while a 2017 Thomson Reuters poll that surveyed experts in women’s issues, Cairo was named the most dangerous city in the world for women. There are also no official statistic for crimes of sexual violence against women in Egypt because the vast majority of victim choose not to report the crimes, either out of shame or fear.

New laws were introduced into the Egyptian Constitution in 2014, while others such as Article 306 of the penal code, were amended to make verbal and physical assault punishable by up to 50,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. $2980 USD) and a prison sentence ranging from six months to five years.

Despite the recent changes to the legal framework, sexual violence remains a significant concern for most Egyptian women. They continue to face potential threats, which is why some have turned to self defence as a possible solution.

While offering women the opportunity to learn how to defend themselves is a way to improve their physical health and fitness, it can also increase confidence and mental strength. By teaching women to fight, Indonesian Cultural Centre in Cairo is empowering thousands of women who would otherwise be defenceless in the face of their harassers.

“Of course there are problems in the street,” Egyptian teenager Rahma Hatem told Reuters during a break from training. “If someone comes near me, I’m able to defend myself well. I have confidence now and no one can harass me because I can face them.”

 

Interview with a woman in martial arts – 3: Frida (hapkido)

 

 

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Here is my third interview with a woman in martial arts (here are the first and second). This time it’s Frida, who took up martial arts (with my wife, Leticia, as instructor) in January this year, in order to learn some self defence.

Name: Frida
Age: 26
Martial art style: hapkido
Time practicing martial arts: 5 months

How come you started practicing hapkido?
I had been thinking about learning self defence for maybe 10 years! I want to be able to defend myself if I ever need to. But I was hesitant to start. Seems like I always found a reason not to. Then I met Leticia and I finally “took the plunge” and started taking her self defence classes. I appreciate that she, as the instructor, is also a woman – and about my age too! Practicing here is a safe, relaxed and encouraging environment.

What made you hesitate for so long about taking up martial arts training?
Maybe to some extent it was just laziness. But on the other hand I have been going to the gym and done some dancing and earlier I did gymnastics. So it wasn’t just that I was too lazy to get going. I guess I was a bit scared of it, to be honest. And I think I also kind of doubted my abilities. I never saw myself as someone who would fight physically.   

What do you like so far about your hapkido training?
I enjoy it! I didn’t really expect it before I started, but the training is actually lots of fun! And as I learn some techniques, it’s also very empowering. I feel these are things that I could use in a real life emergency situation. For me it’s great that it’s about techniques and timing and hitting the right spots – not just being strong physically. And now that I know I am able defend myself I feel much more confident and less nervous in certain situations and places.

For me the training has also been a good way to relieve stress and anxiety. I feel I am in better shape today, both physically and mentally, after taking up hapkido! It’s partially because of the work out in the training, but also from other exercises we do, that are basically like meditation. In her classes, Leticia focuses a lot on staying calm and concentrated… so hopefully we won’t panic or anything if we find ourselves in a threatening situation. And I feel this kind of mental preparation is something that you can use in lots and lots of situations in life – definitely not just when it comes to physical self defence. I feel I am growing as a person.

Anything you don’t like?
Hm, honestly, so far not really. I can’t think of anything!

How have people reacted to your new activity?
Positively! I’ve only had positive reactions so far. My boyfriend seems a bit worried that I will get injured or so though while training. But he is supportive.

Interview with a woman in martial arts – 2: Melanie (taekwondo)

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Here is my second interview with a woman in martial arts. This time it’s Melanie, from the blog Little Black Belt!
Name: Melanie
Age: 39
Martial art style: taekwondo
Level:
Second degree black belt

When did you start with taekwondo and for how long have you been practicing?
I started practicing taekwondo around 1989 at age ten. I trained for two years then quit in 1991 right before I started junior high school. In 2013 at the age of thirty-three I decided to get back into it after having it in the back of my mind for years. I started over as a white belt and am now a second degree black belt.

How come you started with taekwondo?
For some reason that I can’t remember now I told my parents I wanted to learn karate. I wasn’t very athletic other than being a good swimmer, and I definitely wasn’t into team sports. I was a quiet, shy kid who preferred reading and drawing to social activities. Maybe I was drawn in by the mystique of martial arts. I think I had a fight inside me waiting to get out. My parents took me up on it and signed us all up for lessons at our local taekwondo school. I grew up in a small west Texas town of about 11,000 people, and taekwondo just happened to be the only martial art in the area. Had I lived in a larger city with more choices maybe I would have done something else.

The second time I got into taekwondo as an adult  I was seeking something positive at a time when I was really struggling emotionally. I looked good on paper with degrees and a career, but I was unhappy and didn’t have the best coping skills. Finally I just snapped and thought, “Enough of this crap. I’m tired of making myself miserable. It’s time to do something fun. Why not get back into taekwondo?” As fate would have it, my west Texas childhood instructors’ Korean grandmaster operated a taekwondo school in the city where I live now. How could I not do it? Taekwondo had always been in my life. I just had to find it again.

What do you like the most about taekwondo?
Just wait until my memoir is published; it’s all in there! 🙂

It’s hard to pinpoint what I like the most. What I appreciate the most is how it helped me grow mentally and emotionally. It happened so fast that I had to start writing it down, which is how my blog Little Black Belt got its start. Re-learning and practicing taekwondo opened my eyes to how I was choosing to live my life. It made me more confident, self-aware, and accountable. It gave me something fun and uplifting to focus on in the midst of what we all call “adulting”: going to work, maintaining a household, paying bills, etc. Of course I love the actual art itself and the techniques I’ve learned and continue to practice as a black belt, but I’m more grateful for the “taekwondo spirit” I’ve gained than the physical stuff.

Are there many women practicing taekwondo?
Taekwondo is an incredibly popular martial art, so you see both a lot of males and females. Probably more men in the higher ranks and governing bodies, but that is slowly evening out. I now train with a female master. She is an inspiring leader and an amazing taekwondo coach.

What are some of the reactions you have faced as a taekwondo practitioner – positive and negative?
I’ll start with the negative so I can end on a good note: I’m tired of the dumb jokes every black belt has probably heard, like “Oh, I’d better not make you mad!” or “Wow, you’re a black belt? Do you think you could kick my ass?”

Fortunately, I’ver never been in a situation where I needed to kick someone’s ass other than a time when I thought I was going to get attacked by a rather aggressive dog. Ha!

These days taekwondo has a mixed reputation. Taekwondo has also become pretty controversial and much-disputed practice in the martial arts world what with the differing opinions over Olympic style sparring, demo teams that seem to do more hip hop dancing than actual technique, and those unfortunate “McDojangs” that are very real, at least in the United States. There’s also the matter of how it doesn’t take very long (relatively, anyway) to get a black belt in taekwondo. Getting a black belt in taekwondo doesn’t take as long as some other martial arts, although I want to make clear that a first degree black belt in taekwondo is not the pinnacle of…well…anything. It means you’re really good at color belt techniques and you get to start all over and work on harder things for many many years. At the right school with the right training and the right testing requirements the taekwondo black belt has merit.

Here’s the positive:
Taekwondo has made me into a much better person to be around. I’m happy, healthy, in good shape, and I’ve found my tribe of people I truly care about and want to spend my time helping. It gave me a sense of community and connected me with awesome people I would have never met. Other people noticed changes in me–a more positive attitude, more confidence, and more willingness to interact with others and lead. I’m not sure how this happened, but kicking the crap out of other people actually made me nicer. Who knew?

It’s been six years since I decided to bring taekwondo back into my life. I’m not sure what state I’d be in now if I hadn’t done that. I’m in the best physical shape of my life, and I look forward to making my life fun and exciting. Maybe I’d been hoping for that secret to happiness when I told my parents at ten years old that I wanted to become a martial artist.

 

Interview with a woman in martial arts, part 1: Leticia (hapkido)

Considering the main theme of this blog, I thought it could be nice to do a couple of interviews with women who are practicing martial arts. The idea is to get opinions and perspectives from women who have been doing different kinds of martial arts for different amounts of time and for different reasons. I’ll get this “interview series” started today by interviewing my wife – Leticia! So here we go!

Name: Leticia
Age: 23
Martial art style: hapkido
Years practicing martial arts:
17 years and she is now a 4th dan black belt.

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What made you get into martial arts in the first place?
I think I became interested in martial arts for various reasons, including my parents who were very encouraging. One particular moment that I remember and that really inspired me was when I was six years old and I saw two teenage girls doing taekwondo on tv. It looked like a lot of fun! And I remember I thought the girls seemed so confident, strong and beautiful. And they were kicking butt! I thought it looked really cool! It was a huge inspiration for me and I remember I wanted to be like them!

There are so many martial arts styles around. How come you chose hapkido?
Well one reason is simply that by coincidence there was a hapkido school not far from where me and my family lived. And already at that time, I didn’t really want to do a lot of competitions, but rather learn the techniques, have fun, be active and kick some butt (laughter) – so hapkido was a good choice for those reasons. My parents also told me it would be good for self defence – which is very much true. Then I tried it and I immediately loved it – so I stayed! The principles and techniques of hapkido also suits me very well as a smaller, not very muscular woman, as they allow me to compensate the lack of size and upper body strength with skills, speed, balance, flexibility etc. For example by using an attacker’s own weight, momentum, strength against him.

Are there many women practicing hapkido?
I definitely think there are more and more women in hapkido. Men are still the majority, but for example where I practice it’s almost 50% women (not counting the women’s self defence class).

Why, in your opinion, should women get into martial arts?
Oh, there are many reasons! First of all, it’s a lot of fun. It’s great in order to learn how to defend yourself. It’s also a great way to stay (or get) in shape. It is empowering and it boosts self-confidence!

You teach hapkido and you also do separate classes focused on self defence for girls and women? How come you started with that?
I think it’s important to teach girls and women self-defence. You just have to take a look at the world around us and you’ll see that there is a lot of abuse and men taking advantage of women. Many women feel they don’t have the means to stand up for themselves and they feel unsafe in their day to day lives. I don’t really view myself as a feminist but I see that women are exposed to this and many feel powerless to do anything about this.

So I aim to help by giving young females the confidence, skills and self-assurance so that they first and foremost are empowered enough to walk away from a situation where they see signs of abuse and to physically defend themselves and handle a dangerous situation if they have to.

Obviously you are very much better than me at fighting and physical self defence. In a way this turns the gender roles in our relationship around, compared to traditional expectations. Did that ever feel weird or funny to you?
(Laughter) No not at all! I know you feel, or felt, a bit embarrassed about it. You shouldn’t, but I guess it’s a guy ego thing right? In fact I would feel quite “weird/funny” if you had been able to kick my butt, even though you have no martial arts training at all! That wouldn’t reflect well on me as hapkido teacher would it (laughter)? It’s not about gender or being big and strong, it’s about skills and experience. That’s one of the beauties of hapkido. It’s no issue at all for me in our relationship.

Do you feel women are treated differently compared to men in martial arts ? And have you met any prejudice as a female instructor?
I would say most men into martial arts do not view or treat women any differently really. But it is not that unusual for people who have no real clue about martial arts to express more or less prejudicious ideas, like for example that “girls can’t fight”, that I am “good… for a girl” or that women who do martial arts necessarily aggressive, “butch” or masculine. I have also been told that “it’s cute” that I do martial arts and I have been asked (by different men!) if my boobs don’t get in the way when I dod martial arts! There are many more examples. I think some guys feel threatened by a woman being good at martial arts.

And yes occasionally I have encountered prejudice as a female instructor – and that might have to do with me being rather young too. A blatant example was one newbie guy who told me he didn’t want to learn to fight from girl. But I do want to stress that these are rare exceptions.

On the other hand I also get a lot of positive feedback for being a woman teaching martial arts – especially from other women and girls. And that makes me very happy and motivates me even more to keep going!

An exercise in not being in control

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I like to feel that I am “in control” of the situation I am in. I want to feel that I only depend on myself and my own efforts and actions. When I feel I have no control, it can be quite stressful, frustrating and even scary. One such example is traveling in an airplane. I am no pilot, the airplane is traveling very fast at a very high altitude and I can’t even see what is in front of the airplane – so my body and my life is completely in the hands of airplane crew and the technology and structure of the machine itself. This is one of the main reasons I don’t like flying.

As I have mentioned on this blog, I have “practiced” hapkido a couple of times with my wife and it has been both a lot of fun and very interesting. But those hapkido demonstrations were also a situations when I felt I had no control, which made me feel uncomfortable and frustrated. After all, no matter how hard I tried, there was very little I could do to stop her from throwing me, putting me on the floor, bending my joints and tying my limbs up in knots with a seemingly endless array of techniques.

Of course part of my frustration came from the simple fact that by nature I’m a pretty competitive guy and I was getting my butt handed to me by my wife, in spite of being significantly bigger and stronger than her. But my negative feelings also had a lot to do with me being put in a position of “powerlessness” where I was not at all in control. Even though of course she didn’t (and never would), it was obvious that with just a little more pressure and by following through on the hapkido techniques, she could very easily have inflicted serious pain and injuries on me. One could say that my body and my life is in the hands of my wife – a bit like the airplane situation.

The other week, one of my best female friends pointed out to me that this could actually be a good opportunity for me to practice my ability to not feel the need to be in control all the time. I think she really has a point. After all there are a lot of things in life we can’t control. We all need to accept that. Most ot the time, it’s a good idea to just stay calm and not let the situation get to you, even if you can’t control it. Put things in perspective – is it really so serious/bad/dangerous? Ride with the flow of life and put some trust and faith in other people!

When I told my friends about my new girlfriend

Group Of Young Friends Enjoying Meal In Outdoor Restaurant

Telling friends about that you met someone, or that you have a new girlfriend can be quite exciting. That was no different when I had started dating Leticia (my wife) a couple of years ago. My friends of course asked questions about her, her personality and wanted to see pictures of her. The one thing that made the situation a bit different was that when people asked about Leticia’s work and interests, I of course mentioned that she has a black belt in hapkido and that she works as a martial arts and self defence instructor. My friends all reacted in different ways; some joked a bit about it (like “don’t piss her off” and similar), several of my female friends said they loved it and that Leticia was “badass” and I also remember one friend saying “wow so she can kick your butt – how does that feel?”.

Before Leticia had showed me some of her hapkido skills and techniques I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from it, since I have never been into martial arts myself – and I had no idea how effective it can be. Looking back now, I have to be honest and admit that at that time my ego wasn’t quite ready to admit that a woman like Leticia, way smaller than me and so very feminine, would be able to kick my butt. So the little jokes and comments implying that she could, although they were perfectly innocent, stung my pride a bit and made me a little uncomfortable. I mostly just laughed it off but it also made me even more curious about Leticia’s martial art and it also felt a bit like a sort of “challenge” for me to ask for a “demonstration” or “intro lesson”, which of course I finally did about four months into our relationship.

The first weeks after Leticia’s first hapkido demo with me in her practice studio, although I very much admired her and it made me fall in love with her even more, I also felt quite embarrassed about the apparent ease with which Leticia had wiped the floor with me using her hapkido skills, so I didn’t really talk about it with anyone. When the subject came up I just mentioned that yes Leticia had shown me some of her skills and that it was awesome and impressive and – if people asked – that yes she could kick my butt.

I was worried that I might be ridiculed, teased and that people (including my friends) would laugh at me. As time went by, I found out this was not the case and as I started to think more logically and ignoring old stereotypes, I also felt more and more comfortable talking about it. Sure, people did comment, there were jokes and especially my female friends loved hearing about Leticia’s martial arts skills and some laughed about it – a lot, but there has been absolutely no mocking, mean spirited comments or any kind of ridicule.

So in conclusion, I totally underestimated my friends when it came to this and there was really no reason at all for me to worry about their reactions.