Girls can play too

By in Sports & Health

Sports Columnist

I practice both Muay Thai kick-boxing and Brazilian ju-jitsu and I understand the frustrations women face in higher level martial arts training.

Muay Thai kick-boxing is a form of martial art that originated in Thailand. Muay Thai is currently practiced all over the world. In the 1990s mixed martial arts tournaments and competitions helped increase Mauy Thai’s training popularity due to its effective fighting style.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
The fighting style has a strong focus on body conditioning; the training schedule includes running, shadow boxing, rope jumping, weight resistance, medicine ball exercises, sparing and focus pad drills. Muay Thai is called the eight-weapon sport because it uses the hands, shins, knees and elbows.

In the past, using the head was also a popular technique. However, in tournament and competition fights it is no longer allowed. This differs from sport-oriented martial arts, which use four points (hands and feet) of contact, and western boxing’s two points (fists) of contact.

Brazilian ju-jitsu places emphasis on taking an opponent to the ground, where you can utilize ground fighting, grappling techniques and submission holds such as joint-locks and chokeholds. Stemming from the notion that most fights end up on the ground at some point, this disables the strength of the opponent. Once again MMA has popularized this art form due to its effectiveness in the fighting ring.

MMA has professional female athletes but very few organizations exist that stage fights for women. A Strikeforce fight event that took place on Aug. 15, 2009 between Gina Carano and Cristiane Santos attracted over 856,000 viewers. The fight was significant in that it showed the growing influence and presence women have in this sport. In fact, Shaolin nuns have practiced martial arts for over a millennium.

Though martial arts training is not just for men, prejudice and misinformation still seem to be a stigma that follows women around. The surprising judgments and comments I have received from being a female mixed martial artist are far from unique.

I have often been told that I look too feminine to be a Mauy Thai kick-boxer — that a short, blonde girl would be the last person someone would expect to kick their ass. I reply with a question, asking what a female kick-boxer should look like. The common answer I get is “tall, masculine, muscular and aggressive.”

Often men in my own dojo underestimate my abilities. They hold back their techniques and strength so as to “take it easy on me.” In the ring or on the mats it is not long before they realize that size and strength do not necessarily win a fight. As with every sport there is a craft, an art form for success encompassing intelligence, fitness, flexibility, power, speed, control mental stamina and discipline.

Anyone who trains in martial arts learns self-defence, self-confidence, self-discipline and self-esteem. None of these core staples learned within martial arts are a recipe for an unfeminine woman; rather, they allow her to have confidence with an open attitude towards life. Martial arts training teaches one not to be a slave to temper and anger and that patience and understanding are most important above all.

Martial arts is a defensive sport, not offensive. Competitions and tournaments are there to share techniques and fine-tune current training on a practical level of understanding.

It is true that MMA training can be rough but with every sport there are injuries that can occur. Martial arts involves kicking and punching so wearing pads and protective gear is necessary. However, the goal of martial arts is to educate, not to injure yourself during sparing activities.

In my dating experiences, I have come across men who feel it is their responsibility to protect me from harm and that my training somehow belittles their masculinity. There is nothing wrong with a man or woman wanting to protect the person they love.

However, the fact that a woman has the skills to protect herself should not serve to make a negative statement towards the person they care about. Ultimately each person needs to accept responsibility for his or her own self, and that responsibility includes things such as career aspirations, interpersonal relationships, mental and physical health and personal safety.

As a parent, I am supportive of my daughters training in martial arts and have noticed parents seem more willing to put both their sons and daughters in the sport.

Yet, people’s reactions to my own training in martial arts is annoying. All too often people joke about how I could kick their or someone else’s ass. I am asked to perform my skills for their amusement sometimes because they doubt my skill, and other times because they think it would be cute to see.

It is frustrating to hear these things again and again and I do not think about my training in terms of kicking someone’s ass. I think of my training as a defensive sport. I respect it and train very hard to be excellent in my craft.

I do not doubt my skill but I also appreciate that in life there are no guarantees; I do not look for a fight but am confident that I can defend myself if something crosses my path.

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photo Doug Sparks