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