Tag Archives: prejudice

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.

h8-grunge

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!

“She could kill you with her bare hands”

Black-woman-yoga

Stock photo.

At one point last week my wife Leticia came around to meet me at the gym after my workout there. One of the guys there saw her and he commented on that yesterday, when I met him again at the gym. He said Leticia is very beautiful and that I am a lucky guy to have her. I thanked him for the compliment and we talked a bit more,  while working out, about our respective professions and relationships and so on. When he asked what Leticia does I of course truthfully answered that she is a self defence instructor with a 4th dan black belt in hapkido.
“Wow, you’re a very brave man” he then said.
“How so?”, I asked, a bit surprised.
“Well, she could kill you with her bare hands, you know!” he said and looked at me as if he was revealing some new sensational information to me.
I didn’t expect that comment at all, so I didn’t know what to say at first. I guess he interpreted that as a confirmation that he really was revealing some shocking new info to me, and said something like “She could! Hapkido is a really mean martial art! If she is that highly ranked, she is a real badass. She could kill a guy! No problem!”.
Before he could continue further, I said that I knew about that and that Leticia had explained a lot to me about how hapkido works and that I had “practiced” a couple of times with her, so I was very much aware of how effective and powerful those techniques can be. But I also told him I wasn’t at all worried that she would use her skills to “kill” me or beat me up. Among other things, I pointed out that Leticia is a very nice, calm and peaceful person, which are some of the reasons I married her in the first place.

Later yesterday evening, I thought about this conversation again and the more I think about it the less it makes any sense. I mean theoretically, any woman might use a gun, knife or some other improvised weapon to injure or kill a man. Although it is true that Leticia, as a martial arts expert, could also use hapkido to do it, that doesn’t mean that she is anymore likely (or rather less unlikely) to commit such an act of extreme violence than any other woman. Practicing a martial arts doesn’t turn a woman into a murderous psycho – that should be pretty much obvious to everyone. Quite the contrary in fact, as hapkido helps teaches you how to control your emotions, to keep calm and to not use violence except as a last resort in self defence.

Yet, the guy in the gym apparently thinks that I am being brave and facing up to some serious danger, just for being married to a woman who happens to be a martial arts expert. I have noticed this reaction among some other men too, though mostly they are not as blunt when expressing what they think. But I have been asked if I am afraid of Leticia.

So do people think that practicing martial arts and learning self defence turns you (or at least women) into out of control violent persons? Or are there some other psychological mechanisms at work here? 

What is masculinity?

me for blog bw5

a selfie in the mirror…

What is masculinity?
And what does it mean to be “a real man”?

These questions might seem easy to answer at first glance. After all, there are some obvious personality traits that are very much linked with being a man:

– Being competitive.
– Being in control and in command of any situation.
– Not showing emotions such as sadness, fear and pain.
– Achieving high status and success. 
– Being good at sports.
– Having high sex drive.
– Being tall and physically strong.
– Being muscular. 
– Being good at fighting.
– Not showing vulnerability.
– Courage.
– Willingness to take risks.
– Dominating.
– Being a provider for the family.
– Having great confidence in yourself. 

If you happen to not not fit into enough of these descriptions, you are likely to be judged as “not a real man”. Sure, the personality traits above can all be positive, or at least they are not necessarily negative. But what if a man is shy, kind and gentle, interested in fashion and cooking, likes taking care of children but doesn’t have a high sex drive and isn’t particularly interested in or good at sports, doesn’t wish to spend most of his time working to advance his career and making a lot money? These are also positive or at least not necessarily negative personality traits. Yet such a man would probably be judged to be very feminine. And in our society, for a man to be judged as “feminine” is generally considered shameful and emasculating – in other words, not a “real man”.

Boys and men are boxed in to a quite narrow field of definitions on how men “should” look and act to be considered as “masculine” or as “real men”. Success within at least some of these definitions – be it in terms of a high status and/or well payed job, sexual conquests or sports/physical prowess is extremely important to men – because it will to a huge extent determine their status and value as men in the eyes of our society. This leaves very little room, but lots of negative pressure, for men that have different personalities, talents and physical characteristics. I would argue that this negative pressure results in a lot of destructive and often violent behaviour among men, who feel like they don’t live up to these norms and expectations of masculinity.

Like most people I took these facts and values more or less for granted and didn’t really question or think about this issue. I just accepted that this is basically just “how things are”. I really only started reflecting seriously on the subject after I met my wife – a woman who happens to be a professional martial arts instructor. I (predictably) found out that because of her expertise in martial arts techniques, I stand no chance against her in a hand to hand combat situation, despite being significantly bigger and stronger than her. Especially in the beginning, I felt rather confused by finding myself in this situation. After all, according to the general definition of masculinity, being outclassed by a rather small female (like my wife) at fighting and wrestling was rather shameful and should make me less of a man. I remember, for example, one of my classmates (we were both 19 at the time) being teased, mocked and asked to “hand in your man card” after losing to a girl in a track & field competition. But I really don’t feel at all like less of a man just because my wife is better than me at fighting/wrestling. I can see no reason for that and this didn’t pose a big problem for me. But maybe that is in large part because I fulfil enough of the other traditional expectations of male traits…

I don’t have a clear answer to the questions I posed at the top of this blog post. But I’m sure the generally accepted definitions of manhood and what means to be “a real man” need to be much wider and much less constrained by stereotypes. On average, men and women are different – both physically and mentally. It would be ridiculous and counter productive to deny that. But we need to recognise and embrace that, as human beings, we are all unique individuals.

At least where I live, girls and women are constantly encouraged to express their personalities and be who they really are, even if that doesn’t conform to the traditional stereotype of how a woman should be – which is great. But I think much more work is needed to support boys and men in expanding the male gender role.

How do you define masculinity? And what do you think characterises a real man?

Being in a “mixed race” relationship

With me being a white guy and my wife a black woman, we form an interracial couple. It really hasn’t been a big issue for us at all. The other day however, I happened to catch a movie on tv about an interracial couple who suffered all sorts of prejudice and problems because of their relationship, so I thought I’d write a bit about my own experience. 

Far right racism
Now, the movie was set somewhere in southern United States during the 1960’s, while we live in Northern Europe in 2018 – obviously two very different times and very different societies. So far, we have run into very few problems. Having said that, during the last couple of years, racism has been on the rise in Europe and has to some extent become more accepted here in Sweden. People who want to throw out all immigrants and especially those with a different skin colour (including for example my wife, who is from Brazil) are showing themselves much more openly on the internet and even as elected officials, than just a a couple of years ago. In last week’s election here in Sweden, a party founded by real life nazis in the 1990’s got 17,5% of the votes. Some of their voters and many of their politicians view white people who marry people of other races as traitors to the white race. Though these views – so far – are basically confined to rage tweets or hateful rants on Facebook, it is still a sad and scary trend.

The most racist comment about my relationship that anyone has said straight “to my face” however actually came from a Russian woman attempting to flirt with me. When I told her I already had a girlfriend and showed her a picture, she said:
“What?! How can you date a BLACK girl!? She is very lucky”…
Hearing that, honestly, I just felt pity for her.

Everyday prejudice
Though not at all as dangerous and hateful as the far right activists and racists, I have found that everyday prejudice, stereotypes and preconceived ideas from people – some of whom view themselves as conscious “anti-racists” – can be quite the nuisance. When we visit Brazil, my wife has noticed some people assume that she, as a black woman dating a white foreign man, is a “gold digger”. Here in Sweden, it’s not completely uncommon – especially for leftist leaning persons – to assume that a woman who came here from a South American country with “less white” people, is somehow by definition a victim and in constant need of help, support and protection from the government. Apparently, to these people, being a woman and being black makes you a “minority” and therefor automatically an oppressed victim. To a very independent and strong woman like my wife, this is quite insulting and it has annoyed her ever since she came here as a 14 year old girl, almost 10 years ago.

At the same time, from the same kind of people, I myself have met insinuations that the reason I got in a relationship with a Brazilian woman and not Swedish woman must be that I don’t want equality in a relationship, but rather a woman that I can dominate and oppress. A bizarre accusation that manages to be highly offensive both towards me and to my wife – and based on the ridiculous assumption that South American women are by in large oppressed victims.

I have to say, the positive reactions have by far outweighed the negative ones though.

interracial2

 

“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.

hillary1

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.