Tag Archives: taekwondo

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).

Nigerian taekwondo champion Anita Aluya recommends learning martial arts for self defence

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. 

Aluya

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.

 

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.

 

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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