“A cosmology that admits of only one male god limits women’s capacity to envision their full potential as human beings.”
― Layne Redmond, When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm
I went into martial arts purely for self defense, to feel safer and more confident going through my life as a woman. To feel as though I wasn’t in imminent danger all the time, or at the very least that if I was, I could help myself. I went into martial arts to learn how to keep myself safe. Then why is it that I’m taught to fight like I’m a long, tall guy and not the 5’2 woman I am? Why is it that in this day and age this sport is catered only to men?
I’ve been doing martial arts for about eight years now, really getting into it when I was 7 years old. My first martial art of choice was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If you’re not familiar with this sport already, the art is about grappling and working on the ground. If I’m being honest, this martial art was great for me to learn, as it teaches you to get out from underneath someone even if they’re bigger than you. I did BJJ for about 3 or 4 years before trying a different martial art — Muay Thai.
Muay Thai — also called Thai boxing — is known as the art of eight limbs. The fists, the legs, the elbows, and the knees. This martial art combines many different skills, and is focused on powerful strikes that incorporate the entire body. I have been training in this art at my gym for about four years now. I really love this martial art, but it is hard. And yeah, of course it’s hard, but just like anything for women, it is way harder. My coaches, and fighters in the media, most of them share one thing in common — they are men. The way I am taught to defend myself and fight is the way that they fight. In my years of this art, I was more so taught how to make continuous, powerful strikes; and while yes, that may be a good fighting style for a man, I am not one. If I were in a situation where a man was attacking me, I wouldn’t be able to help myself using this style of fighting. I could perfect my punches and kicks, use my entire body to generate power, yet their punches would still overpower mine. Unless I was a super strong bodybuilder, I wouldn’t be able to beat a man using raw strength.
If I wasn’t being taught brute force, I was taught how to keep someone at a distance, use my limbs to make space and hit them without them being to reach me, but this technique unfortunately didn’t work either, as I don’t have long limbs and am definitely not tall.
So, if these two techniques that people are constantly teaching me aren’t working, what then? Am I just not built to be a fighter? Am I doomed to be helpless just because of the way I was born? All these worries swirled in my head each time I had to spar with someone built to be a fighter, someone that had worse technique than me but was still able to land hits just because they had a different body type. These thoughts greatly discouraged me. Every time I went to spar I would dread it because no matter how hard I tried to perfect my technique and follow exactly what my coaches were telling me, it didn’t work. It got pretty bad, to the point where I felt powerless, like no matter how hard I tried I could never be good enough.
That was, until I finally got a female coach. Though she was tall and a different body type than mine, she still understood that we could not fight like guys could, and that was okay! She taught me how to fight in a way that could work for me, that would allow me to keep myself safe. She taught me different techniques, how to move around my opponent, dodge their attacks, look for openings in their guard. I had finally learned that it was possible for me to physically defend myself in an effective way. Although everything she taught wouldn’t work for me, she still opened my eyes and showed me that there are other ways to fight, other ways that I could succeed.
She inspired me to find techniques that would work for me. To get to know myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and to not fight like a man would. I learned new techniques; started working on my speed, my movements, pivoting and feints. I learned that I wasn’t a bad fighter, I just needed to be taught differently.
I of course know that Thai boxing is a male dominated sport and that causes women to have a harder time succeeding. And I know it’s because of the roots of these arts, because women were never allowed to fight, to learn how to defend themselves. But that was then. Now women have the freedom and rights to advocate for themselves. And though things are getting better for women, we still need to know these skills more than anyone. We have to be teaching women how to fight in ways that work for them, to overcome their weaknesses and improve on their strengths. To not let any obstacle stop them from achieving their goals. Which is why it is so upsetting to me that we are not taught to fight like women. That women are not given the help or resources we need to succeed.
Although the hardships that come with being a woman feel never ending and especially difficult in martial arts, I will never stop working to overcome them. I fight in hopes that I can inspire another girl to stand up for herself; that I can show other girls that they aren’t weak, that they can be great. I fight in hopes that I can teach other girls that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that we are just as capable as men in our own way. I wish to teach that no matter what it is you do, you too can succeed. I want to especially stress this to the women in a male dominated field. I know it can feel discouraging, like no matter what you do, you’ll never be as successful as the men in your field. I want to stress that you should never give up, because each second you spend working, fighting, you’re teaching other women out there how to fight like a girl.
I will never stop fighting for myself, and all the other girls who thought they were doomed to be helpless just because of the way they were born.
I hope to show women that we aren’t helpless. That, despite everything the world throws at us, we too can succeed. We too can be powerful. Whether it be fighting, sports, politics or art, you too can be great.