Recently, I started watching Into the Badlands, and I was pleasantly surprised to see strong female characters, such as The Widow (Emily Beecham) jumping, kicking and punching in amazing acrobatic martial arts fight scenes with their male counterparts. I was a big fan of the TV show Nikita with Maggie Q. and I was pleased to see women using martial arts on the small screen again. With women headlining MMA fight cards, having a bigger presence in martial art classes, and with the recent success of the movie Wonder Woman, it made me think: Is there a culture shift towards women being more active in martial arts, or is this just a temporary anomaly?
When it comes to martial arts, even at this late date, I think that most people still tend to think of women’s participation as the exception rather than the rule. When I started studying martial arts in 1990, there were only ever a few women in the class, if any. More often than not, it seemed like their presence was merely tolerated by some of the male students. I remember one male student telling me that he wouldn’t allow himself to be taught by a woman regardless of her rank. As shocking as that attitude is and was, that wasn’t all that long ago. I never had a problem with women studying martial arts, but some did, I wonder if any still do?
At first glance, I think it is obvious that more women are participating in martial arts, both recreationally and competitively than ever before. Things have changed. It is not so strange for a woman to study martial arts any more than it is to take a spin class, and that is a good thing. Fighting competitively is taken more seriously as well.
Now, it is not unusual to see women on a local fight card, and more than a few women in any martial art class regardless of the style. My own school has had a larger number of female students in the past few years than I have ever had before. I see no reason why there shouldn’t be more women participating in martial arts in the future. Will this trend continue?
Martial arts are not just seen as a means of self-defense anymore, or as a super-secret men’s club. Now it seems that martial arts are more broadly viewed as a means of personal development and fitness, and as such they are attracting more people: Including women and even men that may have previously shied away from studying a combat sport. As overall perceptions about martial arts have changed, it seems natural that some of the archaic perceptions about gender would change as well.
I think that women’s presence in MMA was a huge change in the attitude towards women in martial arts by many who hadn’t given it much thought before. I remember being in a Judo class, and hearing a woman onlooker ask the teacher “Is that (meaning Judo) what Ronda Rousey does?” She also asked if she could try it out! Clearly the effect of seeing women in martial arts on a large scale has made them an option for more women.
What about men’s attitudes toward women in martial arts? I think that most men have a more accepting attitude toward women studying, and while there will probably always be islands of misogyny hidden away, as they are elsewhere as well, for the most part, I think the days of thinking that women can’t or shouldn’t be doing martial arts are probably over. At least I hope so.
Women in martial arts can only be a good thing for everyone, and I hope that the trend of being featured in the various forms of entertainment media will continue. More women on TV, in movies, in competition and more importantly in classes, helps perpetuate martial arts to a larger audience overall. Martial arts should not be specific to any particular gender, as it is one of the few things that are truly universal and accessible to anyone who is willing to work hard to achieve their goals.
With martial arts, you get out of it what you put into it, no matter who you are. More women in martial arts will broaden its scope in general, and bring new perspectives, ideas and popularity. I hope that we are on the cusp of a new trend towards women becoming more involved in all aspects of martial arts. This is a turn of events that can only benefit the entire industry in terms of acceptance and longevity. Hopefully, we will get to a point where martial arts is not something that men do, or women do, but rather something that all people do.