Women in Sakura Kan Jiu Jitsu
Written by Joy Thompson
I alone can only assume most women commence their martial arts training as an alternative to a self defence class. What better way than to learn to take care of oneself than to learn a few tricks and take advantage of joining a martial arts class over a self defence class as your opponents are more likely to be male, who are generally bigger, stronger and in all honesty more likely to make you work to ensure your techniques will work and training with men is more realistic for if you ever need to use your skills for real.
I first started my training in Sakura Kan Jiu Jitsu while still at high school, and my mother thought her daughter doing self defence was a wise and safe move, so encouraged me to attend classes. I often wonder how different her opinion might have been if she realised it was in fact a martial arts club, where I was indeed learning to take care of myself, and in fact learning to kick the proverbial butt. (Excuse the language) By the time my mother was aware of this, I was hooked, so she knew better than to try and stop her headstrong daughter from doing something she enjoyed so much.
I never intended to become the first female Yudansha (Black Belt) in Sakura Kan Jiu Jitsu, or go on and teach the art I enjoyed so much. My initial goal was to simply reach the grade of yellow belt. My reasons for this was that I felt it would take a good years training to give me the skills to be able to defend myself in any given attack. How wrong I was. My long term goal, if I lasted the distance was to perhaps, if only, was to reach the pinnacle of blue belt. My reasons for this was that I felt anything beyond Blue was impossible for a woman to achieve as when I first started training the highest graded female was a lady named Sharon Harrow, who was an orange belt, and I was sure she had the ability to become a blue belt, but anything beyond blue seemed untouchable. Sharon was a bit of a role model for me, she was attractive, slim, and feminine and could hold her own against men twice her size. I looked up to Sharon with admiration and respect, she was awesome. I believe we all need role models, someone to aspire to, and it embarrasses me to think perhaps some of the young women we currently have training might see me as their “Sharon”, and it also encourages me to continually try my best and present myself as best as I can, not only as a person, but as a martial artist. I have now been training since 1988.
Barriers to Women training in Sakura Kan Jiu Jitsu:
Smaller frames – Due to the physical make of females generally we are smaller, shorter and weigh less. This can be an obstacle during ground fighting where we are easier immobilised by our opponents, especially when fighting a much heavier person. Also when doing free throws we can often be moved a lot easier by poor technique.
Less physical strength – This can be a barrier in the earlier years when the technical ability is not yet mastered and therefore one tends to resort to strength to enable themselves to escape from holds, or help assist them in their techniques and with less strength than our opponent it can often be an obstacle to our training and can be frustrating as well when we constantly get beaten by people who are simply stronger, not necessarily better than ourselves.
More emotional – Women tend to be more emotional people and when we get hit in the face during sparring it is more difficult to control our emotions, which then creates frustration and a distraction because we start worrying about being emotional and not concentrating on the job at hand.
Long Hair- Due to the fact many women like to wear their hair long, during training often hair ties come out, and then we get hair in our eyes, mouths, etc and this can be very annoying at times.
Menstrual cycle – Every woman’s curse, and training in such a close proximity with others can make one feel uncomfortable during such times. Also the fact that our uniforms are white there is always the underlying and extremely embarrassing concern of leakage.
Advantages women have over men in Sakura Kan Jiu Jitsu:
Better flexibility – Women tend to be more flexible which is an advantage in being able to escape from holds as often unless a technique is on really well, we can rely on our flexibility to aid our escaping techniques.
Smaller frames – Having a smaller frame is as much an advantage as it is a barrier to our training. Often by being slighter than our opponent it means our techniques need to be that much better, and we can be more nimble and agile.
Less physical strength – As above, less strength is as much an advantage as it is a disadvantage. By having limited strength we tend to have better technique as we cannot resort to our strength to pull a technique off.
Feminine – By being females and with the old adage “Boys shouldn’t hit girls” we are often able to surprise and shock our opponents as they don’t see us as fighters, and will often be submissive in their approach when fighting a female, so we can use this to our advantage and can often take a male by surprise.
Assumptions sometimes made about Women in Martial Arts
Only butch women do martial arts: this myth can easily be dispelled when you take a look around the dojo, none of the women currently training in Sakura Kan Jiu Jitsu could ever be considered as” butch.”
Women who do martial arts have been previous victims: the reason a person begins training can vary from person to person, gender to gender, and I’m sure many a male has commenced their training as a result of losing a battle of some description.
Only masculine women do Martial Arts: this assumption can be dispelled by taking a look at most women who enjoy martial arts, or any physical sport for this matter. A more realistic generalisation is that only disciplined and determined women do martial arts.
Women who do Martial Arts are only looking for a husband: I have had this one thrown at me, simply because my husband and I met through Jiu Jitsu; however this was certainly not the reason I commenced my training as I had been training many years before I began any kind of relationship with my then future husband. Through Jiu Jitsu a friendship was formed through a common interest, and we got married, however this was only an added bonus of training, and happens in all fields of interests and sports.
Women can never be as good as male martial artist: I disagree with this, two opposite genders training equally as long will be equally as good, gender is not an issue with progress.
Women get an easier road to their grades: I would once again disagree with this as all Jiu Jitsuka are pushed to their limits regardless of gender, and then pushed a little further. Women often have to train twice as hard to be an equal to their male counter part. There is no such thing as ladies push ups, or female gradings. Women do not get a grade any easier than a male, and I’ve seen some pretty weak male gradings in other styles of Jiu Jitsu which make me feel very proud of any of the gradings I’ve ever been part of in Sakura Kan Jiu Jitsu.
Some “Women Issues” I’ve experienced in Martial Arts
(not necessarily in Sakura Kan)
The chauvinistic male, who unintentionally is disrespectful by not treating me as an equal Jiu Jitsuka.In this example I had issues with a fellow student who would not hit me with a closed fist, instead he slapped me as he felt it was wrong to hit a woman.
Another similar example was once I had an excellent technique on a student who refused to submit, and he later stated the only reason he did not submit was because I was a woman.
In both of these cases I simply waited for another opportunity where I was able to get the better of both of these men and show them, woman or not, I was the better Jiu Jitsuka. In one case the person was a much higher grade than me at that time.
Students disappointed with training with a female. From time to time during my years of training I would be paired up with a student, and it was obvious they would have rather been paired up with a male. In one case the student voiced his opinion, stating to the instructor he would rather train with a male, and fortunately the instructor refused his request. I made sure I trained very hard, and the student who felt I was not his equal was soon feeling very sorry for himself as I got the better of him several times. He was right he was not my equal, I was much better than him, but I didn’t mind lowering my standards to train with him.
Black eyes in public are not very becoming of a woman, and society does not approve of it at all. From time to time I would manage to block a strike to the head with my eye, and the result would always be a multicoloured bruised eye. For a male, this is okay by the general public, but for a female to wander around shops and malls with a black eye you need to be prepared for some strange looks and bizarre comments. For a mother with young children the looks are even worse. People like to make their own assumptions about what might have happened, and sadly in this day and age, where one should be proud to walk around wearing the spoils of their hard work and effort, a woman can often be left to feel ashamed and embarrassed of having facial bruising. Often people are too afraid to ask how the bruising occurred as they’re afraid of what the answer might be, however they’re often quick to jump to their own conclusion.
Visitors assuming I was not the senior student or instructor. Often as the most senior student and/or instructor I have seen visitors or new students enter the dojo and approach the most senior male assuming they are the highest qualified to answer any queries. This happens often when people phone us at home to ask about Jiu Jitsu, and request to speak to the Jiu Jitsu instructor, and then are surprised to discover they already are speaking to an instructor.
The only female attending classes, camps, etc. There has been many times where I was the only female at class, however this has never been an issue for me, or the training camps where I have been the only woman, this is possibly more of an administration issue, as organising camps, and placements in cabins can sometimes be challenging when you have only one female to cater for. I was the sole female attending a camp, and given the choice I opted to share a cabin with my fellow students rather than being isolated in a cabin by myself. It was refreshing to be given the choice. It’s always an advantage when given a chance to shower, as I never had to worry about lining up and waiting my turn.
In conclusion, yes it can be challenging for a female to commit to years of martial arts training, but it’s the challenge that appealed to me. If it was easy everyone would be doing it.
Of all the martial arts training I’ve been part of, Sakura Kan Jiu Jitsu is by far the most equal in respect of the way I’ve been fairly treated with the male Jiu Jitsuka.
There is no such thing as a female Jiu Jitsuka; we’re all simply Jiu Jitsuka.
I hope all students enjoy their training, train hard and treat each other with respect and admiration regardless of their gender.
Yon Dan (4th Degree Black Belt)
Sakura Kan Jiu Jitsu