Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review of Women in Martial Arts, Edited by Carol Wiley

Women in Martial Arts, Edited by Carol Wiley

   I actually got this book by mistake.  I was trying to get another book by the Carol Wiley.  However, I was curious and decided to give it a shot.  For a little while now, I've been curious about the reasoning why people take martial arts.  There are many logical reasons and valid points as to why, but I wanted to look at psychological studies of the reasoning process.  I had honestly never given a thought to the fact that females would have a different motivation than males.  It seems to me, that in most martial arts, females are an extreme minority.  For many reasons, martial arts are part of the "male domain."  I don't think it has to be, it just statistically shows up that way.  Then it becomes a chicken and egg kind of thing.  Because it is part of the male world, then women feel reluctant to join a dojo.  Because women feel reluctant to join a dojo, it stays part of the male world.  See the problem?  It takes some daring women to break the cycle, and join.  This requires some strong sense of self, and strong reason.  Looking at these reasons for women, could shed some light on why women join, or at least, how to make sure women are not turned off by the dojo environment in the first place.

    The book itself is a collection of essays from female martial artists of various styles.  Different forms of Chinese, Filipino, Karate, and Aikido were represented.  It seemed to me that there were more essays on women in aikido than the other arts combined, but that may deal with the facts that 1. The editor is an aikidoka, so that is her community and the basis of contacts, 2. Aikido is generally thought of as a more feminine (softer) art, so it may have a higher percentage of women involved in it.  I don't have any statistics to back up the second point, it is just a gut feeling.

    The essays themselves were various points of view on why these women authors initially joined a martial art, and what benefits they received from their arts.  It seemed to me, that they were trying to motivate other women to join a martial art.  That very well may have been the point, but as a male who has been in the arts for a while, it didn't apply to me.  I have to say, that all the benefits they applied to women learning an art, could very well be applied to motivating males to take up the arts.  There was nothing specific to females in their arguments, though they probably apply to women more often.  For example, the learned victimization seemed to be involved in a couple of essays.  There are males that need to get rid of that as well, but it probably applies more to women.

    I'm going to give the book 2.5 Ninja Stars out of 5.  Overall, the book was good, though a bit dated.  It was published in 1993, so its over 20 years old now.  It seemed a little lightweight for me, but I in fairness, I was coming in wanting more of an academic type writing.  There is nothing bad about this book.  It is good for what it was meant to be at the time.  In fact, if they did a follow up book, and basically wrote a response, 20 years latter, how are women doing in the martial arts today, I'd read that too.  Maybe this time on purpose.


  1. Good article, as usual. But I think the claim that "It takes some daring women to break the cycle, and join. This requires some strong sense of self, and strong reason. " is wrong. It implies that women who aren't willing to enter the "male domain" of dojos are weak (without a "strong sense of self") and this is not true. Dojos are, by and large, hostile and unwelcoming toward women. This can be passive things, not just active ones (e.g., sexist jokes, no women's changing room, or warmups that are extra-hard for women to do because they have tits). It's on the men who dominate dojos to go out of their way to be more aware of the way that they make their schools and families unsafe and unfriendly to their would-be sisters in the arts.

    1. To add to that, I'm not saying we need to make these corrections just for their sake, but for ours. By shutting out 50% of the world's population, we deprive ourselves of 100% more talent in the arts: more teachers, more students, more revenue to keep our schools open. This "learned victimization" concept can apply to anyone, but there is a difference between someone imagining that they're a victim and someone being a victim in ways we can't see because we're not made to.

    2. "This can be passive things...It's on the men who dominate dojos..."

      Interesting. I have to admit, I hadn't given the "passive things" much thought, since I pretty much have never cared much if a training partner was male or female. However, by not having given the "passive things" much thought, it's certainly possible that I've been part of the problem, even though that was certainly not my intention. I'd be really curious to see what female martial artists have to say on the subject. In what ways do we men, whether we mean to or not, make it difficult for women to become involved in martial arts? What are some of the things us guys can do to make women feel more welcome in the dojo?

  2. I can't speak for women, but I can at least repeat some of the things I've heard when I've taken the time to really ask:

    1. Not having a changing room for women is a common one. "We don't have many women, though, so they can just use the bathroom." This is obviously unfair, but also makes the statement "We were not expecting you" and helps keep it so there's relatively little demand for a women's changing room. This is made worse when the bathroom is in a conspicuous location/out in the open, or inside the men's changing area, or if someone has recently taken a crap.

    2. Certain warmups, like the belly crawls, are harder on women than men because they have breasts. You could say "Well, it's a good exercise and everyone has to do it in spite of their 'handicaps.'" Sure, but I don't see us doing exercises that involve landing repeatedly on our balls, and someone we manage to stay in great shape. This is also an issue in general when techniques are always very concerned to protect your groin but not the chest or long hair.

    3. Staring and flirting. Women are great to look at and to flirt with, I will be the first one to say, but that's not why they go to the dojo--and no, you/I/he/whoever is not the exception. Women want to go, talk shit, BS, train, and laugh like everyone else without someone trying to cozy up to them or check them out. You may consider it a compliment, but they're there to be complimented on nice technique, not a nice ass, and looking at them as they walk by is telling them that you/we think their body is better than their technique.

    4. Jokes about women. Yes, they could make jokes about men, too. But you don't make jokes about women when you're surrounded in women, you do it with other men. Well, they're usually surrounded in men, not women, in dojos, so it's unfair and can make them feel excluded, just like you would if it was reversed.

    5. Don't be harder on women, but don't be easier on women. They can tell and it says to them "my expectations of you are lower than a man at your level." And we've all been guilty of this at at some point.

    6. Rape is a real issue. One in three women in America will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. But not every time we talk about women and self-defense does it need to be about "rape prevention." It constantly frames their study of the martial arts as "defending themselves from men," instead of "being martial artists."

    1. Good Points, all of them.
      I have one more piece to the equation. As martial artist, men and women can be equal. If your goal is self-defense. There should be a difference. I'm going with Rory Miller's stats on this one. Men are more likely to be struck, i.e. punched. Women are more likely to be grabbed, or choked, especially if the are attacked by a male. If you are practicing self defense, then you should practice the way you are going to be attacked. There is probably a good post in all of this.

  3. Many martial arts are considered dangerous so many kids don't interest learn it. It isn’t the art itself that is dangerous, but how it is taught. Always look at what values the teacher has. Is he humble and friendly Best karate in Connecticut