Aikido and Feminism

Good grief, I’ve been quiet, haven’t I?
IMG_11067Well, if you’ve been watching my Flickr stream, you know I passed my brown belt test. Tons of pix here. While I was testing, I thought I was doing terribly, but I’m always my own worst critic.
I also recently sent a link to one of my favorite essays on feminism of all time to a young woman on a message board where I occasionally hang out. She had, much to my dismay, said that she was not a feminist in a post espousing the idea that men and women are equal! So I sent her Yes, You Are, by the brilliant and hilarious Sars of TomatoNation. Here’s a taste:

The definition of feminism does not ask for two forms of photo ID. It does not care what you look like. It does not care what color skin you have, or whether that skin is clear, or how much you weigh, or what you do with your hair. You can bite your nails, or you can get them done once a week. You can spend two hours on your makeup, or five minutes, or the time it takes to find a Chapstick without any lint sticking to it. You can rock a cord mini, or khakis, or a sari, and you can layer all three. The definition of feminism does not include a mandatory leg-hair check; wax on, wax off, whatever you want. If you believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards equality of the sexes, you are a feminist.
Yes, you are.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions anymore, but if I did, I’d probably include “to fight abuse and misuse of the word “feminist” wherever I find it.”
Aikido and feminism are definitely connected for me. One of the reasons I’m so proud to have reached brown belt is that I’m one of only two women with this rank in my dojo. We have no higher-ranked women, either. The idea of a woman attaining high rank in a martial art — even one as pacifist as Aikido — is so unusual in our society that we have very few women at the dojo at all. There are a handful of teen gals who train, but most of them will probably go the way of other teen gals who trained there — off to college, and off the mat.

It doesn’t help that we don’t have any female teachers at my dojo (partly because, as I said, we don’t have any women ranked higher than first-degree brown belt). We used to have one, but, well, it’s a long story. But the idea that women must be one way, and that men must be another, which is at the very heart of sexism, keeps a lot of women off the mat. The pressure to conform pulls a lot of women who do train off the mat eventually, one way or another. And, of course, once there aren’t very many women, it’s hard to get more. It’s a cycle that feeds itself.
I have a goal. Not a New Year’s Resolution, because I don’t do those anymore (and anyway, this will probably take more than just this year).
I want to keep improving my Aikido and start teaching. And I want to find a way to reach out to women in our community and encourage them to train. Training in Aikido begets self-confidence, self-discipline, self-respect, health, and all sorts of other positive benefits. And few things make it obvious that men and women are equal like watching a skilled female Aikido student training. A woman can execute a hip throw just as well as a man, given the same training. Like most things, Aikido doesn’t require a particular set of genital plumbing.
Feminism and Aikido: two great things that go great together.
Interested in Aikido? Here’s the dojo where I train. And here’s a list of dojos in our Aikido federation.

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3 Responses to Aikido and Feminism

  1. Rich says:

    I think it is odd to use a dictionary to define a complex political movement.
    So what sub-type of Feminist are you?

  2. Ealasaid says:

    Rich –
    I haven’t tried classifying myself into a sub-type, but at a glance I’d say I’m a Liberal Feminist.

  3. Kristen Miller says:

    I think that the problem is that feminism has become so widely associated with the ideas like all men being evil, that society always has been and always will be trying to oppress women and their rights, etc. One feminist professor in my dept informed the women in her class that getting married and having kids is selling out. I have always refrained from calling myself a feminist because of this association. I guess I feel like those sorts of things are pretty much just whining but not accomplishing much, so I prefer not to be associated with that sort of attitude.
    However, I’m all about showing that women can do the same things men can do. An outside observer might say that’s pretty much the theme of all my interests. I joked back when I was the only female showing up for the department’s faculty softball team that I should put up fliers saying, “You call yourself a feminist? Come out and play some softball with the guys!” The suggestion was met with grave frowns and strongly discouraged.
    As for women in the martial arts and the issue there, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. I’ve been doing american karate/MMA for a little over 16 years (started just before I turned 13), and have been teaching for a majority of that time. It always makes me sad how few girls and women will do it and stick to it.
    With the girls, we always seem to lose them (unless they’re of a certain personality type or have a group of friends in the class) right around age 12. At that point, they’re in middle school where they really start obsessing over what people think of them (especially boys), and they worry that boys aren’t going to like them if they are a girl who could beat the boy up. Some of them have been frank enough to tell me so, but it usually manifests in the form of them taking up a “girlier” interest like ballet or gymnastics or something. One girl who was super talented (and yet the younger sister of a girl who won tons of beauty pageants) quit after within a month she dislocated a boy’s jaw sparring with him at a demonstration and broke both of another boy’s arms at school (boy was picking on her and a moron — kicked with one leg, she grabbed it and held onto it, and then he decided to kick with his other leg, too, and she pulled the first one and he caught himself as he fell w/ both hands). She started getting teased at school for breaking the boy’s arms, so she quit karate altogether.
    It breaks my heart that this is when we tend to lose them, because that 12-17 years old range is the time martial arts could benefit them the most.
    Adult women, I think, talk themselves out of it for both the reasons you cite. Part of it is just the idea that women won’t do as well at it as men. Part of it is worry about how they’ll be perceived, I’d say particularly if they’re single. I know I’ve become acutely aware of just how intimidating I am to men these last few years as I’ve started getting more serious about dating. That’s something that I can’t fix — most guys really are uncomfortable with the idea that their girlfriend could beat them up. I’m not willing to give up what I love just because of that — that’s my personality type that kept me in it in the first place. I’m going to do what I’m going to do and I reckon eventually I’m going to find a guy who finds that to be an appealing thing about me. But it’s sad that that sort of thing does keep many women from doing many things they’d both enjoy and benefit from.
    But regarding the use of the word feminism… I would LIKE for the word to be associated more with action than with words. I would use the word to describe myself more willingly if it were taken to be more about doing things to show that the sexes are equal rather than whining about them not being. I don’t know if we just need another word or if I’m just going to have to wait for other definitions to become more common knowledge…