Girl Power: How Female Martial Artists Can Celebrate Their Strengths
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Martial arts can benefit women and girls in many ways: it provides a boost in confidence, improves physical fitness, and of course teaches self-defense skills. Even a strong, confident female fighter can sometimes feel like a fish out of water, though. Very often a woman may find she’s the only one in the dojo surrounded by bigger, stronger men. A young girl may be surrounded by a gaggle of rambunctious boys.
Be a role model
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We live in a culture of mixed messages directed at women: be independent, get an education, excel in your career, but also be thin, sexy, perfect, a supermom, and don’t try to outshine your man. Girls need strong, confident female role models to encourage them to love and believe in themselves. Being the lone woman in the training room may put you in the spotlight for the right reasons.
A female martial artist, especially a more advanced student, can take the opportunity to connect with other female students. She can be a guide and example for younger girls and other women moving up in the ranks. She can help develop a sense of camaraderie in a society that often pits women against each other.
I think about the young girls I help train in my taekwondo dojang: the Girl Scout who always tries her best, the feisty grade school student, the quiet ballerina who is finally starting to blossom, and the tough teenager who is always excited to learn something new. What example am I setting for them? Are they picking up cues from me they might not from the men in the dojang? I know the struggles these girls will face as they get older. I want to do everything I can to ensure they retain their faith in themselves and in their abilities.
Love & appreciate your body
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In a society rampant with photographs edited beyond recognition, self-conscious comparisons made on social media, body shaming, and disordered relationships with food, martial arts can provide a healthy antidote to the multitude of messages women receive that encourage harsh criticism and resentment of their bodies.
Courtesy and respect are huge parts of the martial arts culture. Instructors and students alike are expected to display respect to everyone in their martial arts training school, regardless of size, age, rank, gender, or other differentiating factors. This culture of respect can also be turned inward for self-respect and body appreciation.
As a student progresses in martial arts training, her focus shifts from nagging issues or concerns to the intricacies of what she is studying. Having a perfect body won’t seem as important as having a healthy body, regardless of size or shape. You are a powerful athlete. Treat your body well with care, rest, and foods that nourish it. Appreciate its strength, power, and beauty without comparing yourself to anyone else. Revel in and celebrate the wonderful things your body can do.
Get in tune with your individual capabilities
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Due to the smaller size or lesser strength, a woman may seem at a disadvantage in martial arts training. A way to turn it around is to use that “disadvantage” as motivation to master certain techniques and adapt others to your body’s capabilities. A larger man, who can often ride on the advantage of sheer strength and size, may not be as motivated to develop the same intuition and sensitivity to his body’s strengths and weaknesses as his female counterpart does. It’s worth the female martial artist’s time to figure out what tactics work best for her body, intellect, learning process, and fighting style.
Being petite has not stopped me from hitting hard, escaping holds, and throwing grown men to the ground. A lower center of gravity has helped me excel at taekwondo forms and throw speedy kicks. I know I can’t beat a sparring or self-defense opponent by strength alone, so I work with what my smaller body is able to do.
While a woman may not be able to break bricks like the men or do a 540 roundhouse like the airborne teenage boys (although there are plenty of ladies out there who can do that), she can seek out other areas of her martial art than will be especially helpful in “real world” situations such as escaping grips, ground fighting, and defense against weapons.
What are the next steps for a martial artist who wants to celebrate her girl power?
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1. Sign your daughter, sister, mother, or friend up for martial arts classes!
2. Connect with the female martial arts community. I highly recommend Sarah Carney’s blog She Kicks She Throws, which offers a thoughtful and comprehensive perspective on women, martial arts, and how they fit into society. Also, check out The Martial Arts Woman by life coach and long-time martial artist Andrea F. Harkins.
3. Go on an adventure! If you want to meet other like-minded female martial artists, learn new skills, and travel the world, consider going to an adventurous martial arts training camp.