Feminism | Posted by Marie B on 02/28/2011

Martial Arts: Not Just Defense

time to kick some ass

time to kick some ass

This weekend I will be testing for my black belt after eight years of Taekwondo classes. During those eight years, I’ve grown into the person I am today. Not only have I learned how to kick, punch, and block, but I have learned compassion, respect, and confidence. Each Saturday, I spend hours practicing self defense, meditating, sparring or even teaching entire classes. It is one of the most rewarding activities I have ever participated in (and prevents the extracurricular section of my college apps from remaining blank). Unfortunately, the only aspect of taekwondo, or martial arts of any kind, that people pick up on for women, is self defense.

For example, one day this past year, I participated in a jujitsu class:
Kick her Brian! She’s a black belt!” cried out the instructor as my kicker obviously decreased power on his kick. Again.
When you are fighting a woman, kick her! They are here to learn and if they’re going to have to defend themselves in a real situation, they’re not going to have someone lessening a blow because they feel sorry for them.” The other woman in the room nods her head in agreement.

There it is, my biggest pet peeve. Self defense is an invaluable skill, but had I joined only for that reason I feel I would not have learned nearly as much. Yet on a regular basis when I tell others, especially women, that I study Taekwondo, they usually tell me how happy they are to see a young woman learning to defend herself.

Taekwondo is just like any other sport. It requires thought and physical application. If you were to play tennis, would you limit yourself to only returning a serve? If you were to play basketball, would you limit yourself to only blocking someone else’s shot? Probably not. With any other sport, if you were to limit yourself to only defense, you would be missing out on the majority of skills that sport offers. The martial arts are no different. By learning each and every aspect, self-defense will only be strengthened.

Don’t do martial arts just because you want to defend yourself. Do it because it is a full bodied activity. Do it because you wanna kick ass.

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  • Steph L @ at 12:07 pm, February 28th, 2011

    When I did Kung Fu, the instructor talked about it as a means to defend yourself to everyone, not just the women. Most old martial arts were originally created for defense, and many have codes about not kicking off or starting fights yourself.

    Obviously with it becoming a sport, it’s different, but as martial arts were originally created more for defense than attack anyway, I feel your instructor is justified in what he said.

  • Zoe @ at 12:59 pm, February 28th, 2011

    I received a black belt in Tang Soo Do when I was in sixth grade. The main thing that was reiterated to us was that karate is used for defense, not for attack. I don’t think your instructor is unjustified for saying so. He is right in saying that in a real life situation, they won’t take it easy on you because you’re a girl.

    It would be inaccurate for people to assume that you are taking it for solely for the reason of self defense, though. While a great perk, you’re right: there’s a lot more to karate then just defense. It teaches you lots of great moral codes, plus it’s great exercise and empowering.

    Just my thoughts from what you have said here. Either way, good luck on your black belt testing! I went with two guys for my testing and I was the only one who got their belt. They didn’t think they needed to study for the written test. Definitely felt good to prove them wrong :)

  • Kai @ at 1:26 pm, February 28th, 2011

    Love your point. As a greenbelt in kung fu I agree, I gained so much confidence in myself and just walked in the world differently. Granted part of that may have had to do with knowing I was in a better position to defend myself should the need arise but I also think martial arts requires you to have a greater level of awareness that enhances your life as a whole. Thanks for the post.

  • Tay @ at 8:33 pm, February 28th, 2011

    It is annoying, but sometimes guys need a reminder that we’re also here to fight and to not give us sloppy side kicks and light punches because we’re female and they’re afraid of ‘hurting’ us. Definitely frustrating. Congratulations on your black belt testing! Good luck!

  • Joy @ at 10:00 pm, February 28th, 2011

    Thanks for this. The truth is that martial arts as self defense is useless to most women. While the martial arts were designed primarily for defense, particularly the open hand styles like Tae Kwon Do and Japanese Karate (which I study), they are designed for defense against a direct attack from an enemy, someone you would not feel bad about, or go out of your way to avoid, harming. Most violence against women comes from an intimate partner and is not so simple as a direct attack. It is however great for building self confidence, strength, dexterity and powerful physical and personal skills. Studies have shown that women trained in the martial arts are no less likely to be raped than other women, but they are less likely to blame themselves and are likely to recover from the emotional effects more quickly and with less long lasting deleterious effects (I don’t have the citation for this, two studies were mentioned in a recent Take Back the Night planning meeting).
    I find that some men either hold back when sparring (eliciting that same response) or go overboard, citing as a reason that as a woman I should expect to need to be able to defend myself against a man who will be bigger and stronger than me and won’t hold back. I much prefer to spar with women, they neither hold back nor go after me with homicidal rage. I don’t study Karate to learn to defend myself against men (incidentally neither do any of the men I know), I study Karate because I love it, the work out, the mental concentration, the flexibility and dexterity and the art of it.

  • Simim @ at 1:41 am, March 23rd, 2011

    Oh, my inner smartass rising…

    Despite defense not necessarily being the primary reason you may have joined, I’m pretty sure that saying:

    “When you are fighting a woman, kick her! They are here to learn compassion and respect and if they’re going to have to boost their confidence or exercise in a real situation, they’re not going to have someone lessening a blow because they feel sorry for them.”

    Would have had the same result.

    Sure, you might want to kick ass. Martial arts are meant for fighting and striking as well as defense. But it’s not practical in today’s society.

    There is absolutely no reason you should ever have to take the direct offense in a situation. Most martial arts styles turn defensive moves into offensive ones by redirecting their opponent’s momentum: by dodging someone’s fist, you can simultaneously pull them into an arm lock or even throw them over.

    But in a legal sense, there’s no reason outside of war(which is what martial arts were primarily designed for) to actively attack your enemy. If you’ve taken someone down, you don’t kick them in the ribs, so to speak.

    I mean, yea, it’s great to have some time where you can spar, vent out, and be active, but the whole point of learning a martial art is to develop the level of discipline in which you do not feel the need to use violence unless necessary. Many people who train in it mention that after a while, it becomes less about “kicking ass” and more about honing their mind. It’s about discipline and being able to reach an ultimate level of self-control over your body’s reactions that many people will never achieve.

    It’s nice knowing that I can beat someone down. It gives me strength. It’s nicer, however, to know that I’ll probably never need to use it. It’s nicest knowing that I don’t feel any need to kick ass. It’s paradoxical, in the sense that by training I gradually lost the desire to train that I initially had, but do so nonetheless for the discipline it sharpens in my mind.

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