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Tag: women

Zoe Chandler kicks Miika in the nuts: for The Swordsman's Companion.
Zoe kicks Miika in the nuts: for The Swordsman's Companion.

I get asked this question rather often. Here is my answer, and my reasons for it.


The underlying assumptions behind the question (which like many assumptions are gross over-simplifications and largely wrong) are that women are physically weaker than men, and less aggressive. Either one of those is apparently a disadvantage in a fight, so might cap your performance at a level so low it makes participation a waste of time.

Let me be absolutely clear: the WHOLE POINT of martial arts is that skill beats muscle. Only when skill is equal (or you are unskilled) does brawn make a difference.

The WHOLE POINT of swords is that they are labour saving devices. It takes very little strength or power to kill someone with a sword.

And the WHOLE POINT of training is that IT WORKS. The weak get stronger, the timid become more bold. The rash learn caution, and those that have relied on their strength learn other ways to win against the day when their strength will fail them.

Let's leave aside the simple facts that a third of my students over the last 15 years have been women, that many of the class leaders and instructors I have trained are women, that the only instructor I've ever invited to teach medieval wrestling at my school is a woman, and that I can think of at least a few women who could soundly kick my arse in wrestling, or unarmed combat, or with a range of weapons from dagger to sword to bow to gun. These women by themselves prove beyond reasonable doubt that women can be excellent martial artists and swordfighters.

However, the question is not, is never, “can I be as good as that person?”. It is “can I be better than the person I am today?” Yes, obviously. I've never known the answer to this question to be “no”.

In asking that question, we can then ask “will swordsmanship training make me a better swordfighter?” The answer to that is invariably “yes”, assuming a decent teacher or group or school.

And the question after that is “will becoming a better swordfighter make me a better person?” That can only be answered by the whisperings of your own heart. If I didn't believe that the answer is often “yes”, I wouldn't teach swordsmanship for a living.

I extend the exact same logic to anyone and everyone, regardless of size, age, (dis)ability, or any other thing. And it makes me furious beyond reason to think how the assumptions of the question, and the frequency with which it's asked, imply that women are so generally assumed to be ‘weak', ‘incapable', or in some critical way inferior.

I've taught a few people to shoot pistols, including my sister and my best friend. My best friend is an experienced martial artist, stuntman, bodybuilder and all that. My sister is a copywriter, with no weapons training or combat training of any kind. My best friend is the only person I've ever seen who actually managed to hit both the floor and the ceiling of the range in the same session. My sister got every shot onto the paper at 25 metres, first with a .22, then a 9mm, and then we had some fun with bigger calibres.

The difference? My friend has seen just about every action movie ever made, and couldn't help acting the shooting. My sister just did everything exactly how I told her to do it, as best she could. Guess which one I'd rather have show up to a sword class?

You might also find these posts on these related topics interesting:

Women's Class (regarding gender-segregated classes)

Swords do not discriminate. Neither should swordsmen. (regarding trans swordspeople)

Gay marriage in Finland? About bloody time. (regarding, you guessed it, gay marriage in Finland)




Lonin, April 4th 2016.

I have always made sure that there are at least some women in the photos in all of my training manuals. This photo from The Swordsman's Companion is one of my favourite pictures ever:

Last weekend, teaching at Lonin in Seattle, one of the women students told me that the only reason she had started training was because she had seen the women in my books, and therefore felt it might be ok. She got her biggest, toughest-looking male friend to come with her, just in case, but she came. She’s now on the governing board of her club. I nearly cried when she told me this. Martial arts training should be for everyone who is interested, be they clumsy or deft, weak or strong, timid or bold, tall or short, without regard to their starting point. Everyone can get better with practice.

Later that day, I taught my first ever all-women class. It was a fascinating experience for me as a teacher, and also as the head of a large and very diverse school. In essence, I know nothing at all about the particular requirements women may have in training, so I asked them what they wanted, they told me, and I did my best to oblige. I am, after all, a consulting swordsman. I think the class went well, everyone seemed happy with it, and I’ve only had positive feedback about it so far. And it has got me thinking (again) about the whole issue of gender in martial arts. When I was a kid, one of my role models was Cynthia Rothrock. You can see her famous scorpion kick in this excellent Ameridote video:

At my school karate club we were taught by Mr and Mrs Williams. Either one of them could have kicked my head off. My first fencing coach was a woman, Gail Rudge. She was assisted by the captain of the fencing team, also a woman. Neither of them had any difficulty stabbing young Guy when needed. Which was rather a lot. This all means that I have never been infected with the foolish idea that women can’t do martial arts or swordsmanship to the very highest level.

In a perfect world, no kind of gender discrimination would exist, and so nobody would think to organise a women-only class. But mansplaining is a thing. So is “I couldn’t hit a girl”. So is copping a feel when you’re supposed to be grappling. So I can see that this kind of class could be preferable, at least to some women. I should also point out that Lonin is an extremely inclusive and friendly club, vastly more welcoming to people of all kinds than many others I have seen, so it’s not like they had a special need for this kind of class. But the women training there just decided to organise a semi-regular women’s class, and advertised it to the general public. Over 30 people showed up! Clearly, there was something about a mixed, general, beginners’ class that put these women off, and starting this class just removed that barrier.

A martial artist ought to be able to handle whatever opponents life throws at them. My primary reservation about women-only classes stems from the possibility that women’s training might become ghettoised, and women who train in these classes might never get to train outside them, or might choose not to, and so limit their own development. They should be an option, not a refuge.

But that’s a lot of ‘mights’. What I saw was people happily training, some of whom would not have got started without the psychologically and physically less intimidating option of the women’s class. And it’s probable that some of them will grow in the Art and become role-models for the next generation of swordfighters.

I salute them.


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