Tag Archives: jiu jitsu

Self defence and martial arts for women in the 1930’s and 40’s

I found two quite interesting and funny old recordings of women demonstrating self defence using martial arts: one from 1933 and one from 1947. According to the martial arts expert closest to me – my wife – these are real skills and well executed techniques.
The names of the women in these videos are May Whitley and Mary Parker. I love the style and way of talking!

Given the gender roles and stereotypes at the time when these recordings were made, I also wonder what the reactions were to female martial artists.

Practicing martial arts does not make a woman any less feminine

The other week, a blogger named Joanne Reed wrote a very good text recommending girls to learn martial arts to empower themselves. Joanne was also nice enough to ask my wife to give her point of view on the article – so she did. One thing that both me and my wife liked about the article was it’s emphasis on the fact that practicing martial arts does not make a woman less feminine. As Joanne says in her article:

“To all the girls and women out there, feel empowered, learn the art of self-defense, learn martial arts. You can be feminine and strong at the same time. Don’t be a victim, be a warrior! “

This is very true – and yet there is a stubborn stereotype that persists, that women who practice martial arts become masculine, “butch” and aggressive! In reality though, several very effective martial arts (including hapkido, which is the martial art that my wife teaches) are very suitable for women because they do not emphasise typically male features as muscle strength and size, but rather other factors, namely:

Reading/anticipation
Through practicing martial arts, you can learn how to read and anticipate the attacker’s moves and thus always be one step ahead. Thus you are able to take the right action in order to counter and even using his attacking moves to your advantage.

Reactions
Martial arts practice can radically sharpen your reaction speed, allowing you to move much more quickly in response to an attack and then taking the right actions without really having to think, but rather almost as a reflex.

Technique
Within a martial art like hapkido, there is an immense array of different techniques that allow a small woman to effectively throw, kick, strike, control and immobilise a much bigger and physically stronger attacker – sometimes by using his own size, strength and momentum against him.

Attitude/emotions
Martial arts practice can give you the confidence and calm that you need a potentially dangerous and violent situation, in order to not run the risk of panicking, freezing or acting irrationally and inefficiently. The mental strength, calmness, focus and discipline that you gain by practicing a martial art can serve you in basically any situation in your life – like work, studies or relationships.

Balance
Perfecting your balance is key concept in several martial arts is. This allows you to learn how to keep your own balance in order to fall or lose control – and how also to use gravity, leverage and physics to unbalance the attacker.

Speed
As mentioned above, martial arts training can give you the capability of instinctively anticipating and knowing how to respond to an attacker’s moves. And not only will an accomplished martial artist know what to do, the training will also develop her capacity to do it very quickly. For example, when showing me some of her hapkido skills, my wife has executed kicks and strikes placing her foot or hand inches from my face literally in the blink of an eye, before I even knew what “hit me”.

None of these six factors to become an expert martial artist causes a woman to lose her femininity in any way. Nor are they inherently masculine or more difficult for a woman to master than for a man.

And lastly, to really dispel the myth that martial arts training makes women masculine – here below is a little picture collage of women who have all practiced for years to become extremely good at different martial arts – yet obviously do not look masculine in any way.

(A pregnant) Mackenzie Dern (jiu jitsu expert and professional fighter), Katheryn Winnick (actress and 3rd-degree black belt in tae kwon do, and a 2nd-degree black belt in karate), Neetu Chandra (actress and 4th degree black belt tae kwon do), Nia Sanchez (former miss USA and 4th degree taekwondo black belt and, my wife Leticia (self defence teacher, martial arts instructor and hapkido expert).

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!

The five best martial arts for women’s self defense

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On this blog, I have focused on hapkido as a martial art and a way of self defense for women – obviously because this is the martial art that my wife teaches. Of course there are several other great martial arts out there. So I thought it could be interesting to make a list of what might be the five most effective martial arts for women’s self defense. So here we go!

Jeet kune do

Jeet Kune Do was founded by the famous martial artist Bruce Lee, who aimed at taking most effective martial arts techniques from several different of styles and mix them into a new martial art. Jeet Kune Do teaches its students to deal with attacks as quickly and efficiently as possible – and to not shy away from fighting “dirty”. Among other things, Jeet Kune Do students learn how to hit the closest target on an attacker, with the closest/fastest way available. As I understand it that for example means you don’t kick the attacker in the head, if your hands are closer to his head than your feet are. Striking an attacker in the eyes with the fingers would be an example of a Jeet Kune Do defense. Jeet Kune Do is a good art for women to learn because it teaches women how to escape dangerous situations as quickly as possible, before the danger has an opportunity to escalate.

Taekwondo

Just like hapkido, taekwondo is a Korean martial art – however it is much more widely spread and well known than hapkido. After all tae kwon do is even an olympic sport. The term Tae Kwon Do more or less means “the way of kicking and punching.”  However, taekwondo has many effective self-defense techniques. Taekwondo is particularly well suited for women because of the art’s emphasis on kicking. As everyone knows, men generally have more upper body strength than women, which can leave women at a disadvantage when attacked by a man. However, taekwondo equips women with an arsenal of devastating kicks that can help combat the upper body strength of male attackers.

Brazilian Jiu jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – or BJJ – has become very famous, since many competitors in the UFC use Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in their matches. The grappling techniques of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be very beneficial for women to learn for self defense. Sexual assaults and other attacks against women often end up on the ground. Because Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has a strong emphasis on ground fighting, it can help women learn how to defend themselves when on the ground and even when pinned underneath male attackers. You learn a variety of submissions. Chokes, cranks and joint locks are are examples of submissions taught to students. Chokes cut off an opponent’s air/oxygen supply, joint locks put add breaking pressure on a joint and cranks twist an opponent’s bodies into unnatural positions, which causes a great deal of pain.

Another reason why BJJ is great for self-defense is because the techniques use leverage instead of pure strength, so size doesn’t matter. Apart from the ground techniques, you also learn how to take an opponent to the ground using throws and sweeps. Through physics, you can turn a bad position into an advantage. Trapping the legs and arms of an opponent can put them off balance and move you from being pinned on the floor to being in charge. BJJ teaches fighters to use leverage and proper weight distribution to defeat larger and/or stronger opponents.

Krav Maga

Krav Maga is an Israeli art that has gained some popularity. It is the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Force and it teaches its practitioners how to deal with armed and unarmed attacks. Women can benefit from Krav Maga because it helps the students to keep calm and focused when under the extreme stress of an attack and how to use various parts of their bodies, like elbows and knees, as weapons when necessary.

Krav Maga was originally developed specifically for the Israeli military and draws on techniques from other martial arts, including jiu jitsu. It is very good for women’s self-defense because you are taught to go for the vulnerable parts of an attacker – like eye gouging, foot stomping, and kicks to the groin. Unlike some martial arts that spend time teaching students how to get points in competitions, the only goal of Krav Maga is to defend yourself.

Hapkido

As readers of this blog know, I can personally testify to the effectiveness of hapkido for women’s self defense, as my wife has showed me. One of the reasons is that hapkido students are taught how to redirect an attacker’s force and use it against him. This means it does not require the woman to be very strong in order for her to defend herself against a big and strong male attacker. Hapkido also teaches a wide variety of techniques for joint locks, throws, sweeps and submission holds, as well as Krav Maga style “dirty” fighting with strikes and kicks to the most vulnerable parts of an attackers body.

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“You’re a fit guy, can’t you use your strength and just overpower her?”

As I said in the very first post of this blog, there are a number of questions and comments that I get as a man married to a woman who happens to be a professional martial arts expert – and I will try o answer some of them here on this blog. The second question I will take on is:

“Can’t you use your strength and just overpower her?”

I work out regularly and I’m a reasonably fit and strong guy. I have always been pretty athletic. As I’ve written elsewhere on this I am physically much taller, heavier and stronger than my wife.

It’s a common misconception that physical size and strength is basically of be-all and end-all importance in a physical fight. If there is one thing that I’ve definitely learned during my over two years together with a girlfriend/wife with a passion for martial arts, it’s that physical size and strength is very much an overestimated factor when it comes to fighting and self defence capabilities.

Sure being big and strong is a significant advantage in many situations in life – including fighting. If everything else is equal, the bigger and stronger person will most likely win a fight. That’s why in most cases a man will almost always have a huge advantage over a woman when it comes to this. If the woman is highly skilled in martial arts though, the equation changes completely.

I must admit that I am too guilty of having overestimated the importance of size and strength in fighting and wrestling. Before the first time my wife gave me a demonstration and showed me her hapkido skills, I thought that the big difference in size and strength between me and her would mean that I would more or less be able to hold my own against her. Of course it didn’t take many minutes for me to learn just how wrong this assumption was, as she quickly proceeded to throw me left and right as she kicked my butt – with little effort.

me for blog bw5

a selfie in the mirror…

I can’t get her in a hold.

In order to overpower someone, you first need to get hold of him/her. However hapkido techniques allow the practitioner to counter and avoid an attacker’s attempts to hit or grab you.

When I do get hold of her, my wife have the techniques and moves to break free of basically any hold I can apply on her. By using leverage, natural physics and pressure points (sensitive spots on the human body) she can free herself from anything from a firm arm grab to a bear hug. In fact, most of the time breaking free from my holds is amazingly – and for me frustratingly – easy for her!

She knows how to use my own strength to her advantage.

Hapkido teaches how to use an attackers own momentum, strength and weight to unbalance, throw/take him down or manoeuvre him into a painful position. Because of these techniques, when I fight her in a way it’s almost as if I am beating up myself, as she is using my own strength and energy against me. And obviously, this renders my bigger size and strength moot.

She can throw me.

It seems to me there are countless of ways that my wife can use hapkido techniques to throw me or sweep me to the floor – as mentioned above, often using my own strength and momentum against me. This, in turn, means that by attacking her or resisting her, I often make it easier for her to take me down! I would say that in my experience this is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating things about trying to fight someone with these kind of martial arts skills. As an untrained fighter, I do not have skills to counter a hapkido throw, so there is very little I can do stop her from throwing me and putting me on the floor.

She can immobilise me.

As if all these throwing techniques weren’t enough, there is a myriad of ways to immobilise an opponent using hapkido techniques too. Often the basic principle is twist and bend joints in painful positions that makes it impossible for the opponent to move. These are called joint locks. Any of the joints can be used for this – fingers, wrists, arms and even legs! And how come I can’t stop her from doing this to me or use my strength to break free? Well again it’s all about leverage and physics. It doesn’t take a lot of brute strength for example to twist someone’s fingers. And by using my own momentum and strength she can put me in very unfavourable positions, from where it is very difficult to resist or fight back. By manoeuvring me into certain positions she can also make use of the strength of her whole body against for example one of my wrists or one of my arms.

why jiu jitsu

The same principle with twisting and bending joints can also be used to break free of a hold or to force an opponent to move in a particular direction and thus open him up to a kick, strike or immobilising hold.

She could kick and punch me out

Obviously, in a real self defence situation a hapkido black belt like my wife could stop an attacker from trying to overpower her by kicking and striking him. In other words, my wife has the techniques and capability to cause some serious pain – or even render me unconscious – by kicking and striking. I’ll leave it at that for now though and write more about this later though, as I answer other questions.

To sum it up.

So the answer to the question if I can’t just use my strength to just overpower my wife, is definitely no. There is no way a man can “just overpower” a woman who has many years worth of this kind of black belt martial arts skills and experience.

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Stronger men with more fighting experience than me have been soundly defeated by women who are simply more skilled in martial arts and therefor better fighters.

“Aren’t you scared of her?”

As I said in the very first post of this blog, there are a number of questions and comments that I get as a man married to a woman who happens to be a professional martial arts expert – and I will try to answer them here on this blog. The first one I will take on is:

“Aren’t you scared of her?”

Yes, a couple of men have asked me if I am not scared of my wife. This actually kind of surprised me. I mean, why would I have married a woman, if I was scared of her? And why would I be scared of a woman just because she knows martial arts? It’s not like I am planning to abuse or assault her, so why on earth would I be afraid of the fact that she can defend herself from abuse and assault?

In most cases, a man is capable of physically beating his girlfriend/wife, simply because men are generally significantly bigger and stronger than women. But most men would never abuse their girlfriends or wives physically. And most women aren’t afraid of their boyfriends and husbands. Just because you theoretically can do something, doesn’t mean you will do it. And the same obviously goes for a woman with martial arts skills! Sure, she has the capability to beat up a man who is not trained in martial arts – but that obviously doesn’t mean that she will!

Actually the contrary is true. A woman who is highly skilled in martial arts is less likely to use violence against her boyfriend/man! There is a lot of focus on discipline and self control and restraint in martial arts training and if a woman has achieved a level where she is skilled enough to defeat a much bigger and stronger man in hand to hand combat, she has very likely also achieved a very high level of discipline, restraint and emotional control. There are also strict rules for martial artists to not use their fighting skills on other people, except in self defence.

So no. I am definitely not scared of my wife.

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The first time my wife showed me her hapkido skills

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Obviously this picture does not depict me and my wife – I just thought it would fit the blog post! 🙂

My wife told me about her work as a hapkido and self defence instructor and how she started practicing martial arts already as a small child already on our first date. But it wasn’t until almost 4 months later that she showed her fighting skills (or at least some of them) to me first hand.

I had been curious about it ever since we met. The fact that she was a black belt martial arts professional intrigued me – it showed she was a strong and independent woman and made her seem even more attractive to me. In some way it kind of challenged me as a man too, as I assumed her skills meant that she – in spite of her very feminine looks and demeanour and apparent harmlessness – was perfectly capable of defending herself and no doubt was able to take me down in a hypothetical fight. It provoked my ego a little bit – but I basically just viewed it as something very positive about her.

It was a really warm July summer day when we went over to the martial arts gym where she practices and gives her hapkido lessons. I had asked her if she could show me some of her skills and give me a demonstration of hapkido self defence. She happily accepted. I remember my feelings as we stepped up together on a quite thick and soft blue mat. I had never done or been in contact with any martial arts training in my life up until then, so I had basically no idea what to expect. On our way to the gym I felt excited and a little bit nervous.

But when I stood in front of her on that mat and she told me to grab her and try to overpower her by any means I choose, I have to admit I suddenly did not see the black belted hapkido expert and professional martial artist that she is, but rather the beautiful, petite young woman that I had fallen madly in love with over the preceding months. I felt I was towering over her as she stood in front of me, waiting for me to make my move. She looked so beautiful and it made me feel almost like I was doing something “wrong”. It felt like a mismatch. And more or less automatically and subconsiously the instincts of not hurting or “beating up on” a girl/woman – deeply ingrained in most men – took over. I felt I better go easy on her. This is ridiculous, I know, but to be honest that’s how I felt.

So I grabbed one of her arms in a steady grip with my right hand. Firmly but not too hard, so I wouldn’t risk hurting her. With a quick “twisting” move she broke free of my hold and the next second I felt how she swept my legs from under me and I landed on the mat flat on my back with a thud. I was already impressed by her skills!

I got up and tried the same thing again, only a bit harder, and also determined not to let her surprise me with that “leg sweep” again. But again she used a hapkido move to quickly break free from my hold and this time she applied (what I later would learn was) a joint lock on the same right hand I had used to grab her. I felt a sharp pain whipping through my hole right arm and I was forced down on my knees. And there I found that every effort to get up or get free caused me to feel that same sharp pain immediately shooting through my arm. She had me immobilised! Now I felt a bit embarrassed and frustrated by the situation – and the apparent ease with which she had taken me down twice in a row!

I felt I needed to take this more seriously, so on my third try I was using both my hands to try grabbing her by her arms – but she anticipated it, got hold of me somehow and the next thing I knew the world around me was spinning around – and I actually let out a cry, I guess from the shock – before I landed on my back again. She had thrown me over her shoulder! It had the benefit of knocking most of the unwarranted worries about “hurting a woman” out of me. However I felt the frustration growing inside.

I remember how I during the next 15-20 minutes or so tried harder and harder and again and again – with different approaches – but always with the same result: me quickly ending up flat on the floor and/or immobilised in a painful hapkido lock. Two times I managed to get her off balance and take her down on the floor with me – only to end up immobilised in a hapkido hold with her legs locking and painfully bending my arm, leaving me with no choice but to submit to her. In the end I just felt I had had enough and I told her I gave up. No matter how I tried, there was no way I could defeat her. She had an answer to everything I threw at her and it seemed she was anticipating my every move. I was completely overwhelmed and outmanouvered by her skills and speed. The “humiliation” was topped off when she softly and compassionately inquired if I felt ok and informed me that she had been careful not hurt me, as I had no training in how to fall/land properly after a takedown (I now know this is something you practice as a beginner in hapkido classes).

After this very one sided duel, I was humbled, slightly bruised, in a bit of a shock and mighty embarrassed – but also full of admiration, love and fascination for my then girlfriend (and future wife). It might sound a bit pretentious, but in a way these 20 minutes changed the way I look, not only at her, but women in general!

My wife is a black belt

“Can she kick your butt?”
“You need to be careful – she could kill you!”
“Don’t piss her off or you’ll be sorry!”
“Aren’t you scared?”

“You could take her if you really wanted though right?”
“In a real fight you would win though, right?”
“You’re a fit guy, can’t you use your man strength and just overpower her?”

These are some of the many questions and reactions I have faced during the two years that I have been dating and married to my wife, who happens to be an expert martial arts and self defence teacher.

People are obviously – though often they won’t admit it – very curious and interested in this subject. However, especially men, feel embarrassed to talk about it (I can relate to that feeling and I will certainly return to this topic) or even refuse to admit some rather obvious facts (like that a trained female martial arts professional will easily beat an average male).

So I made this blog to answer and talk about all the questions above and others on the same subject: the huge benefits of women doing martial arts, confronting myths and prejudice – and also discussing how it affects traditional gender roles and how men (like myself) without martial arts skills react when their female partners are training in martial arts.

Who am I?

I am a 27 year old man living a fairly “regular” and happy life. I have a well paying job that I very much enjoy, my health is intact and I have a nice home and a beautiful wife. In other words, – so I’m certainly not complaining about my lot in life.

I am a rather fit guy. I stand 1.84 m (slightly under 6 feet 1 inch) tall and I weigh 83 kg (183 lbs). I have always been quite active, into various sports and working out regularly to keep in shape. Obviously there are guys who are much bigger and stronger than me. But I am far from a couch potato and I would definitely say I am in better shape than the average man.

A little bit more about me here.

My wife teaches hapkido

About two years ago I met the wonderful, sweet and lovely woman I am now lucky enough to call my wife. She has been practicing hapkido, a Korean martial art, since she was a small girl. Today, at the age of 22, she is an experienced 4th dan black belt and works as a hapkido and self defense instructor.

My wife is 17 cm (7 inches) shorter and about 25 kg (55 lbs) lighter than me. She looks perfectly harmless and very feminine – I really don’t think anyone would guess she is a martial arts expert just by looking at her. Yet, because of her expert hapkido skills, she can literally wipe the floor with me – without even trying hard! I know this for a fact because as we became a couple, out of curiosity I asked her to show me some of her skills. And even though I now know very well that I don’t stand a chance against her, I admit I still can’t resist “challenging” her to a (playful) one on one duel from time to time! It is exciting and fun and she is careful not to hurt me for real – except for the inevitable (slight) bruising of my male ego.

That’s it for today – more to come

Ok – this is all for today. This blog is very new and very much a work in progress. I’ll write more in the coming days. In the meantime – enjoy the weekend!