There are a lot of misconceptions about women in martial arts, and here is the truth about 17 of them.
1. Women do martial arts for fear of their safety
Having spent over five years doing Jiu Jitsu I can tell you there is a whole plethora of reasons why women take up martial arts. Including, as per the words of one of my senseis, “because I thought it would be cool.” Go figure.
2. All women should do martial arts so that they are safe on the streets
I think all women should try martial arts because you get a tonne of good out of it and it’s fun to do. Martial arts teaches you how important it is to respect other people and be mindful of other people’s health and well-being.
3. Women who do martial arts are ugly
Sorry, no. And I’m not just saying that as a fan of Margo Robbie.
4. Martial arts make women look more like men
First of all, if your goal is to look a certain way, there are tonnes of ways to achieve that. Martial arts can be a component of a wider regimen but not an essential one. My experience has been that pretty much every body shape and size is represented in the dojo.
5. Women can’t learn anything from martial arts because it’s all designed by men and for men
There are many styles and it may take a few tries to find one that works for you. Prior to Jiu Jitsu, I tried Aikido and T’ai Chi, for example. I would say a greater aspect of learning is the culture in your dojo, how your instructor and classmates train with you and how they help you learn. You may find that you have to adjust techniques to work for your shape and size, but most people would embrace the chance to learn and adapt, rather than blame you for being different.
6. Women should only learn in women-only clubs
I think there is a benefit to women training with other women. But as I mentioned earlier, you learn a lot more from training with a range of different partners.
7. You cannot do martial arts if you are from a religious background
These days, clubs are a lot better at welcoming diverse members. If you cannot train with members of the opposite sex because of your religion, there are instructors who are more than happy to accommodate you.
8. Women who do martial arts are show-offs
Only when we’re demonstrating. 😉
9. Women who do martial arts are more likely to get into fights
One of the things you learn in the dojo (regardless of gender) is that being a martial artist means having responsibility. You literally cannot progress if you don’t respect your partners and look out for them, and those values follow you through life. (you also learn about some provisions in the law that limit what you can claim is self-defence.)
10. Women who do martial arts are aggressive
Most of the female instructors I know are so serene they can give a masterclass on the topic. Also, most of the guys are pretty chill, too.
11. Women with mental illness shouldn’t do martial arts
This is something you are the boss of. Sometimes, martial arts can stress you out more than they should. In some styles, there are drills designed to put you into high-pressure situations so that you are able to respond quickly and effectively. That may not be useful for someone with anxiety.
But for others, it does the exact opposite. It has for me.
12. Women have to be extremely fit to do martial arts
I’ve seen every body type represented on the mat, and people from many different abilities. I have KTS – I still train and I am working towards an instructor qualification.
13. Women in martial arts are isolated because of their interests
Setting aside the growing community of women who do martial arts around the world, I find it’s actually a great way of connecting with people. If only because I spend my time debunking misconceptions around women in martial arts.
14. If women don’t do martial arts so that they feel safer, what’s the point of going?
You may never need to throw somebody or disarm a knife, but you do get confidence from repeated practice and seeing improvement. You also get a lot better at asserting yourself. Martial arts teaches you to value others, and it shows you exactly what it feels like when others value you. It can be a huge breakthrough, and not just for women.
15. Fighting is a man’s job
I would like to point out that in the animal kingdom it’s always the female who is the more ferocious one.
16. Women shouldn’t have to know how to fight
I definitely think that women should be able to enjoy public spaces without fear for their safety But, self-defence is not the only reason why women try martial arts. And even if it is, it is not the reason why we stay.
17. Women and men can’t possibly be good teammates
There are occasions when separating male and female athletes makes sense – the Olympic games, for example. Or religious reasons. But if you’re arguing that women and men can’t somehow respect each other or have a good rapport together… I mean, I don’t even know what to tell you. It’s like you’re suggesting women and men can’t be good friends.
They can be. They are.
And look, if you are a woman, try martial arts, and decide they are not for you – that’s okay. A lot of people give it a go and figure out it’s not their cup of tea. But don’t let misconceptions about women and femininity stop you.
You never know.