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.
It may sound surprising to some, but this is actually a thing. From time to time over the years, my wife has been asked questions about whether having breasts, particularly larger ones, is a problem in martial arts. It’s mostly men asking and commenting about this, but also some women.
I did a short “interview” with my wife on the subject the other day.
Me: So, once and for all, does having breasts pose a problem in martial arts, especially if they are a bit larger?
My wife: Well, the short answer is no. You have done some “sparring” with me. Did you get the impression that my boobs posed a problem and made it difficult for me to fight?
Me: (Laughing) I would have to say no. A summary of how things went when I challenged my wife to see how a clearly bigger and stronger man with no fight training would fare against a smaller woman with advanced martial arts expertise can be found here and here.
My wife: (Laughing) There you go then!
Me: But seriously though, you don’t see any potential problems here?
My wife: Well, I have heard people invoke back pain and balance problems as thing that could arise from having a bigger chest and practicing martial arts.
First of all, having a bigger chest can cause problems such as back pain. As a woman with a rather big chest myself, I am well aware of that. That kind of back pain can develop over time because of the extra weight placed on your chest as well as a bad posture. But you know, the best way to counter and prevent any potential back pain problems of that sort is strengthening your muscles and also getting a better posture. And practicing martial arts will help you with both!
When it comes to balance, I really have to say that I don’t feel that a woman’s chest poses any problems at all there. In fact, I would say women often have better balance than men because of our lower point of gravity. And in any case, balance is one of the points of focus that you practice heavily in most, if not all, martial arts.
For a professional fighter that competes, a large chest may also be a factor when it comes to weight divisions. As you know, in combat sports, contestants are sorted in divisions by weight and a large chest could potentially put you in a higher weight division and thus facing bigger, stronger and tougher opponents than you otherwise would.
But when it comes to guys/men asking if my chest somehow “gets in the way” or stops me as a woman from performing the techniques correctly, then the answer is definitely that no, it doesn’t.
Me: I guess we, as men, have a hard time imagining what having boobs is like. But you say you have had women worrying that larger breasts would be an obstacle for them while practicing martial arts, right?
My wife: Yes that’s true. I can only recommend women who feel this way to try on a good sports bra and then just focus on the exercises. You will soon forget any discomfort that you might initially experience from your breasts. And, as I said, practicing something like martial arts will actually strengthen your body and make it much less likely – not more – that you will suffer from any back pain problems because of your chest.
The other day I received a message from a Nigerian reader, telling me about two articles in which the former Nigerian taekwondo champion Anita Aluya is interviewed. I thought it could be interesting to publish a couple of excerpts from those two articles here on this blog.
The first article says there has been a rise in rape cases in Nigeria in recent times. Aluya, who now runs a taekwondo academy in Nigeria’s capital Lagos, believes that having a knowledge of martial arts will give girls a better chance of fighting off an attacker. She says martial arts training will make you more aware of the surroundings, so you will be able to detect and avoid dangerous situations much more effectively.
“I will advise every girl to take up martial arts. It will definitely build their mental alertness and reflex. For example, if someone sneaks up on you, you can easily take the person down. It gives you self confidence and keeps you sharp.”
“My advice is don’t fight a guy. What you must do is, go for the vital spots where you can hit the predator and he will quickly lose strength and composure. What you should do after hitting the vital spot is to run away from that vicinity.
In the second article, Aluya answers some rather prejudicious questions about why she is into martial arts. For example the journalist asks “why would a beautiful woman like you get so attracted to taekwondo, a sport perceived by many as unfriendly”? Here is what she answered to that question.
“(Laughs) In the first place Taekwondo is not a sport that is unfriendly. It is also not a masculine sports per say and it does not in anyway patronize beautiful or ugly people. It is a sport for everyone both men and women. The definition of Tae-kwon-do has to with the art of the foot, hand and aspect of life.”
The male journalist also insisted on asking her about scenarios in which she might use her martial arts knowledge on a hypothetical future husband. Aluya tries to explain to him that beating people up is not something she enjoys or is looking out for – and that violence isn’t supposed to be a part of a relationship.
“We are trained fighters and in learning, one of the five tenets of Taekwondo which you must also learn is self-control. Before you react, you think. Sometimes you are told that Taekwondo or martial art is the act of fighting without fighting and how do you do that? It is by weighing the situation first. You don’t react because you can fight immediately. So if it is a situation that calls for mere argument, then why should I fight.”
The journalist however insisted, with follow up questions, about scenarios in which she would be violently attacked…
“If he is bringing an object to hit me, then I can see he is no longer my husband but an enemy. Then, I can break my husband’s ribs and carry him to hospital later for treatment. But what is important in this case is that I have already defended myself and that is what I learnt, which is self-defense.”
I would say this second article is a quite telling example of the attitudes that female martial artists still may face.
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago I made a list of the five best martial arts for women’s self defense. When it comes to self defense, there are of course other ways to do it that learning a martial art – mostly weapons of different kinds, like guns, stun guns, maces etc. But I would like to point out some advantages of martial arts as means of self defense compared to other methods.
1) You always carry your martial arts skills with you.
Unlike any form of weapons, you always carry your martial arts skills with you wherever you go.
2) Your martial arts skills can’t be used against you.
Guns and other forms of weapons are often stolen or otherwise used against the person they were meant to help protect. That can of course not happen with martial arts skills.
3) You can defend yourself without causing lasting damage to the attacker.
If for example you shoot someone, the person will very likely get killed or seriously injured, often with permanent damage. A martial art like hapkido on the other hand allows you to defend yourself, incapacitate or immobilise an attacker without causing any lasting damage at all.
4) You can use it instantly if/when you need it.
You’ll never have to look for your martial arts skills in a desk drawer, your purse or anywhere else. It’s there for you to use it in the instant you might need it.
5) It is not illegal.
Carrying and possession of firearms is very much illegal in many countries. As is carrying many other forms of equipment that could be used for self defense. Having martial arts skills is completely legal (to my knowledge) everywhere on this planet.
I am a fit, healthy man – 184 cm (about 6’1”) tall and weighing 85 kg (187 lbs). My wife is significantly smaller, lighter and physically weaker, at 167 cm and about 57 kg. Yet, as noted before on this blog, there is no way I can overpower her, no matter how hard I try, because of her expertise in the martial art of hapkido. One of the main reasons this is possible, is the principle of non resistance to force – a fundamental concept in hapkido.
Curious as I am, I’ve listened to my wife explaining how this non resistance principle works and I’ve also searched more information about it online, to better understand how it works. I find it very interesting! So in the post, I’ll try to explain the basics of it and how it can be so powerful and effective as a principle of self defense!
Behaving like water
In hapkido theory, the principle of non resistance is often compared to water, as a metaphor. Water is a simple substance, yet it is one of the key building blocks of all life on this planet. As a liquid, water has the ability to flow continuously in a steady stream and to adapt to changing circumstances it encounters. Ideally this is how the energy of a hapkido practitioner should work to! For example, if a big heavy rock is placed in its path, water adjusts its course to flow around, over, or under the obstacle. Similarly, the hapkido practitioner doesn’t try to force her defense against the power and momentum of the aggressor. Instead, she “fluidly” adjusts her own position and adapts to the attacker’s moves and momentum. While maintaining balance and adjusting to the speed or angle of an assault, the primary objective is to harmonize with the aggressor’s movements, using his own energy to counterattack. Thus, adding very little additional effort, the defending hapkido practitioner is able to re-direct the attacker’s power against him. This causes the attacker to lose his balance. Studying hapkido revolves a lot about the ability to adapt and respond to any given situation. With enough practice (and I would assume talent) the techniques will flow naturally, instinctively and effortlessly through the practitioner.
Use the attacker’s own momentum and force
In other words, the principle of non-resistance, is very much about remaining calm and relaxed in the face of a physical attack and not directly opposing the attacker’s strength. As a practical example, if an attacker grabs the hapkido practitioner and pushes her in order to force her down on the ground, rather than resist and push back, the hapkido practitioner would avoid a direct confrontation by moving in the same direction as the push and utilising the opponent’s forward momentum to throw him.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall
Similarly if an attacker tries to hit the hapkido practitioner with a punch or knife stab, she would redirect the attacker’s force and thus adding the attacker’s own momentum and energy to her own. Once she has redirected the attack, the hapkido practitioner can execute any of a huge variety of techniques to incapacitate the attacker. If these principle and associated techniques are mastered and executed to perfection (which I understand is very much easier said than done) it then follows that the bigger the attacker is and the more energy he has, the better it is for the hapkido practitioner! Given the huge difference in skills and experience between me and my wife, this is exactly what happens when I face her. The harder I try to overpower her, the easier it becomes for her to defeat me!
Yes I know, this gif doesn’t really have much of anything to do with this particular post, other than being really cool and kick-ass lol.
Practicing martial arts has many benefits for women. That should be pretty obvious to most people. But dating or marrying a woman into martial arts also brings benefits for a man! Here are seven reasons why a man too benefits from being married to a woman with a black belt in martial arts!
1. She is confident
As a black belt she has worked long and hard for a goal and achieved it. This fact in itself generates self-confidence and empowerment, as any major achievements in life. Martial arts specifically also gives her the confidence of knowing that she can take care of her self and protect others. And a confident person is generally more pleasant to be around than a nervous and insecure person, right?
2. No big ego
Arrogance and a huge ego is more often than not the result of an attempt to compensate for and hide low self-confidence and insecurities. In other words, a huge ego is the projection of false confidence, and that is annoying and rarely a good thing. On the other hand, as mentioned above, a woman practicing martial arts will gain real confidence. Practicing and perfecting martial arts skills also requires lots of humility. So it’s a great way for a person to get over any ego issues. And an ego free wife is of course is of course something that’s very positive for any husband to have!
3. She is healthy and fit
Martial arts is a full body exercise and a person practicing it regularly over a long period of time is bound to obtain a healthy and fit body. My wife for example, works/practices hapkido for several hours six days a week – so she is in great shape! Martial arts training results in stamina, strength and flexibility. And as they say, a healthy body can also be a way to reach a healthy mind and a more harmonious and happy existance. So this is an obvious win-win both for her and the guy she is married to!
4. She can defend herself – and you!
Of course it goes without saying that a as a martial arts expert, she can defend herself if she has to. For me as her husband, that feels very good to know and makes me worry less about her safety. And – provided you can get over any issues about not necessarily being the “protector” in the relationship, you’ll feel safer and more relaxed too having a hand to hand combat expert by your side!
5. She is calm
Martial arts training isn’t just about physical conditioning and exercise, but just as much about learning to keeping their feelings, reflexes and impulses under control. True martial arts masters have to learn to be in control of themselves at all times, keep calm and think straight in very stressful situations – and that obviously helps to achieve a very high level personal discipline. A common prejudice about female martial arts practitioners is that they are volatile and prone to use violence and would therefor constitute a danger to their husbands. However, nothing could be further from the truth. If a woman has achieved a level of martial arts skills where she is able 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. She does not thirst for violence, picking fights or arguments, but knows that the best form of self defence is to avoid confrontation and fighting when possible. Thus a female martial artist is much less – not more – likely to get violent or throw fits of screaming rage towards her husband.
6. She is disciplined, patient and good listener
In order to excel at martial arts, you need high degree of discipline, concentration, patience and ability to focus. In hapkido, the black belt skills take years worth of hard training and taking in instructions to master – and the techniques often appear counter intuitive, so it takes a lot of disciplined and patient practice, to perfect them. Facing a male attacker, even a seconds lamps in concentration might result in a disaster. So it’s absolutely vital to keep focused. The same power of concentration that for example allows her to dodge and evade a barrage of punches and use a big, strong man’s own momentum and weight to lay him out flat on the floor, also enables her to be disciplined, focused and patient in order to find solutions in complicated or difficult situations in life in general – or to listen to you when you have something to say!
7. It’s sexy!
Confidence can make a woman more sexy and obviously so can being healthy, fit and flexible too. So in these ways, martial arts can add to the sexiness. In my opinion, her martial arts skills can also in themselves be a definite plus in this area! Sure, the fact that she has the skills to throw a man around like a rag doll or bend him into a pretzel without breaking a sweat can in a way represent a bit of a challenge to our traditional sense of manhood, or even lead to feelings of frustration and embarrassment. But I would argue it is also a really cool and very impressive skill for a woman to have -it makes me admire her more and that adds to her sexiness! If you let it, the “reversal” of traditional expectations and gender roles in this sense can actually also be source of very positive sexual energy!
One of the most impressive – and coolest – hapkido self defence and fighting techniques that my wife has showed me, is self defence against knife attacks. She demonstrated how it works by handing me a plastic fake knife and then instructed me to try to “stab” her with it. All in all I got seven tries – and all seven times she managed to evade or parry my attack, force me to drop the “knife” and then put me on the floor and immobilised me. All within a couple of seconds.
As I’ve described in earlier posts (like here and here), when I fight her it feels almost like she can read my mind, because she anticipates all my moves and then counter them with a hapkido technique (often using my own strength and momentum against me). That was very much the case when she showed me the self defence techniques against knife attacks.
Apart from feeling somewhat frustrated from getting my butt kicked by her, in spite of being “armed with a knife”, I really enjoyed getting a first hand demonstration of these techniques. It was really amazing!
It’s worth saying though that she was careful to point out that in a real life situation she would only try to resist and fight an armed aggressor as a last resort, given the huge risk involved in such a situation (if a technique would fail), even for a highly skilled martial artist with the odds very much in her favour.
Back when I made the first post of this blog, I rounded up a couple 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 third question I will take on is:
“In a real fight you would win though, right?”
This is very much related to my previous post – and I won’t dwell too long on this subject, mainly because the answer is pretty obvious.
It took quite a while for me to get to a point when I felt confident enough about myself to actually talk to other men about my wife (at that time girlfriend) being a black belt martial arts instructor and to admit that by using her martial arts skills she had proved to me that she could defeat me at fighting and wrestling with the greatest of ease. I was then somewhat surprised to find that one of the first reactions of several guys after hearing about this, was to suggest that if it had been a “real fight”, surely I would have won against her!
To me, this made little sense. I mean as a 5th dan hapkido black belt, my wife has mastered some pretty devastating punching and kicking techniques. And in a theoretical “everything goes” fight situation, she would obviously be free to use them. Adding to that, she would of course also still be free to use all those techniques which, in her hapkido demonstrations with me, allowed her to consistantly throw me around like a rag doll and tie me up in knots, despite all my best efforts to stop her. And had she applied those techniques on me in a “real life” situation, there would be no soft mattresses to pad my landing…
On top of that fact, she knows exactly how and where to kick and strike to cause maximum damage, so you don’t have to be a genius to figure out the likely outcome of a hypothetical fight between me and her. Yes, obviously I would have been allowed to throw punches myself – but let’s face it, the chance of me landing one of them against someone who has practiced all her life on how to avoid being hit by punches and kicks is pretty much zero. So, barring some major stroke of luck or a freak accident, such an encounter would obviously not end well for me.
This should all be pretty self evident. Yet, as I said, several of my male friends insisted that in a real fight, I would somehow come out victourious. The only explanation for this reaction, I would say, is the deeply ingraiend resistance and feeling of embarrassment of most men to admit that a woman is better than us at fighting. Even in cases like this, when there really is no objective or logical reason to feel embarrassed about it, given that the woman involved is a martial arts expert with many years of hard training behind her.
Yet for most of men, it still feels embarrassing. Why is that, really? I mean a man who has never played a single game of tennis wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit that a professional female tennis player is better than him at tennis. And a man who has never studied astrophysics wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit that a woman with a phd in astrophysics is in better command of astrophysics than him. But when it comes to fighting, things are very different. I’ll write down some of my thoughts on why that is, in my next post.
Today I’ll write about a particular incident that really made me notice and think about how gender roles can be influenced when a woman practices martial arts.
About a year ago, I went out with my (then future) wife. We went to a restaurant for dinner and we had a really nice evening. On our way home, quite late at night, we suddenly found ourselves alone on a rather dark street in front of an empty park, with two very suspicious looking guys standing on the park side of the street, in front of us. They were menacingly staring at us as we walked by. We pretended to ignore them.
I immediately felt a burst of adrenaline in my body and my heart beating faster, as this was obviously a potentially dangerous situation. Then the next second I remembered that the woman beside me holding my hand was of course a martial arts expert and self defence instructor. I had her hapkido demonstrations with me fresh in my memory – and as I remembered that, I suddenly felt much safer, calmer and more confident. I knew she could likely handle any situation that might arise all by herself. Not that I would just stand there doing nothing of course, if something would happen. I remember we glanced at each other, knowing we would have to be prepared for things to get ugly. Nothing at all did happen though – the sinister looking guys followed us with their weird glare until we were out of sight, but they left us alone and we got home safely.
At home I started thinking about what had just happened. And I realised that in the face of danger from two possibly violent men, I – a tall, fit, perfectly healthy man – had basically looked at my girlfriend for protection! Objectively, this isn’t strange, as we both know she is a way better fighter than me. But it still felt weird and confusing for me as a man, and I could feel that I was blushing. It was like I had this inner voice screaming at me that I should be the “protector” in the relationship. But at the same time that doesn’t make sense, when she is the one having practiced martial arts since childhood and who had recently proved that she can easily wipe the floor with me in a fight. So there were some very conflicting feelings for me after this incident.
Again, I am very happy and proud over my wife and that she has the skills and capabilities to defend herself. I definitely don’t wish that things were different. But I guess it can be quite confusing and complicated for us human beings, when things like traditional gender roles and norms in society gets turned on their head like this.