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Females, fear and training partners

Posted Jul 09 2010 12:00am
I have just read Michele's thoughtful and insightful post: What women want - karate version , which in itself was a response to a post by Steve (BJJ blog) . Michele poses the question:

Do women want to be treated like training partners or treated like female training partners?

The basic gist of this question is: does a female karate practitioner want their (male) training partner to treat them as a woman first and a training partner second or just treat them as a training partner and forget about gender differences?

Judging by Steve's blog post this is a question that puzzles men, they appear to find it hard to interpret women's responses to training with them and therefore find it difficult to pitch how firmly they can apply techniques.

It seems that women's experiences of training with men varies greatly between clubs. Both Michele and fellow blogger Felicia have trained regularly with male partners. In my club the women rarely ever train with men (for ippon kumite or goshin waza), despite there being very few of us. Does this put me at a disadvantage? Yes and No! Yes, because I rarely get to train with the gender that is more likely to attack me so I don't know if I can make techniques work against them. No, because women understand each others psychology better and can often work sensitively and intelligently together. However, most women I have trained with are just not robust enough for me to train hard with and so I have to hold back a lot.

There are only 3 adult women in my class (plus a few teenage girls). Out of the other two women  I prefer to train with the black belt. Though she is much bigger than me (this size differential creates its own problems regardless of gender), she is fairly robust and strong. She also acts as my own personal 'sensei', guiding me through techniques and thus I learn a lot from her. The other woman, though she is the same kyu grade as me, is a lot less confident and robust so I can basically only 'walk through' techniques with her. I am not able to demonstrate what I am capable of when I train with her.

On Wednesday I had the opportunity to discuss this issue of training partners with my instructor. I am coming up to my 1st kyu grading very soon would obviously like to put on a good 'display' of ippon kumite and goshin waza. To do this I need a suitable partner - one that will let me apply techniques fully and is able to be thrown. I requested having my husband as my partner in the grading (even if he has a man as his partner when he demonstrates his ippon techniques). My instructor was fine with this idea and allowed us to train together in last nights session. We then demonstrated the full range of our techniques to him in a 'no holds barred' sort of way to show that I am robust enough to handle the throws, locks, strikes and take downs.

My husband makes an excellent training partner for me. He definitely treats me as a training partner first and female second. He knows that I need to be able to show that I can do this stuff in an assertive, confident way but also that I can 'take it' from him in an equally uncompromising way. I think we put on a reasonably impressive display. I certainly enjoyed it and felt very energised by the experience.

I do not have a problem training with other women. I enjoy training with my black belt partner and learn a lot from her. I don't mind training with my less confident brown belt colleague as it is an opportunity to try and build her confidence by encouraging her to do the techniques on me a little more firmly. However, I would like some more robust partners occassionally and for me that would mean training with the men. In this situation I would like male partners to treat me as a training partner first, taking into consideration age, size, strength and grade differences - gender would not be important if they did that.

But why are some women more fragile and lacking confidence that others? How can we help them? I have discussed in previous posts some of the gender differences that may affect training: Women in martial arts  and Women's self defence - is it just an illusion.

I think that many women suffer from the 'fear factor' when they start learning a martial art:  Fear of getting hurt or fear hurting someone. I was no exception when I started but it all started to change for me about a year ago. Two things happened that helped me overcome my fear and toughen up a little.  Learning to breakfall properly had an enormous influence on me - my confidence soared once I realised it didn't have to hurt when I fell over! The second thing happened at my kobudo club. I was lined up with the jujitsukas to participate in a round of hip throws. I was still wearing a white belt at this club so Sensei warned the others not to throw me too hard. When it was my turn to be thrown by a 2nd dan (male) he seemed to forget my white belt status and threw me so hard I nearly bounced! I managed to breakfall, so I wasn't hurt but it winded me and shook me up a little - I wasn't expecting it! The guy involved got reprimanded by the Sensei.

Reflecting on the experience later I realised that he had actually done me a favour. If I could tolerate being slammed down that hard and not get hurt then what was I worrying about? It was a bit like being thrown into the deep end to learn to swim - you either sink or swim. I decided to swim. I've never really looked back since then and my confidence with throwing and being thrown has just grown and grown.

I'm not advocating that other women should submit to a sink or swim policy but I think every woman needs to think about what it is they are fearful of and look for solutions within themselves as to how they may overcome training fears and thus be able to thrive in their martial art and be a good training partner for others. Once they have achieved that it shouldn't matter whether they train with a male or female partner - their ability to be a good training partner will take precedence over any gender issues.

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