Friday, 9 July 2010

Females, fear and training partners

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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Steve said...

Ultimately, this is the conclusion I've come to. I may be wrong... in fact, I'm probably wrong. But that's not going to stop me. :)

Basically, at least in BJJ, I've come to the conclusion that there ARE differences in how men and women train. We have different expectations and different needs.

Everyone needs support and encouragement, but it's going to look different for women and for men.

So, for right now... at this very moment... subject to change if data suggests that I'm missing the boat... I'd say that the answer to the question I posed (Do women want to be treated as female training partners or simply training partners?) is that women as a group want to be considered training partners first, but they also don't want it forgotten that they are women, too.

Our school is starting up a women's only class. It's not intended to permanently segregate women from the regular classes. Rather, it's a time when women can roll with similar body types without getting crushed by people who significantly outweigh them or are much stronger. It's also, from what I've been reading lately, desirable because women seem really good about bonding and supporting each other, even long distance over the internet. The camaraderie I've seen on the web between the female martial arts bloggers has been much more visible than between the men (although that's also still there). There are groups and organizations all over popping up for women who train in MA, specifically grappling and BJJ. I think that's awesome, and if it encourages women to get involved in MA, I wish them the best. :)

And thank you for the reference. I really appreciate it. :)

Sue C said...

Hi Steve,

I think you are starting to hit the nail on the head now as far as understanding what women want (or need) in a martial arts environment. Though I think it is perfectly possible for men and women to train together if they are matched reasonably well for size, age and grade, that is not the same as suggesting that men and women of the same size are the same.

A martial arts environment is still a male dominated one and when dojos opened their doors to women under sex equality legislation in the 1970's/80's, women were basically admitted on the understanding that they trained like men - men's idea of treating men and women the same was to treat everyone like men!

To be accepted in this environment women had to act tough - become one of the lads and lose their femininity. In effect, it had a brutalising effect on those women.

I think we are a little more enlightened now and many dojos are not such macho environments anymore. Women feel more comfortable training there and don't feel such a need to become of the lads.

However, martial arts themselves remain geared up to men (they were designed by men for men to fight other men). This leads to confusion as to how to train women who, wish to remain feminine, in a martial art. I think there is still a long way to go in developing training techniques for women who are training in a man's world. Such training techniques need to address the particular problems of female psychology, lack of natural aggression, different body builds and higher fear factor whilst still enabling those women to develop the necessary strength, fitness, courage and robustness needed to perform the art to a good standard - and all this without brutalising the woman and stripping her of all feminitity. A tall order!

I think your introduction of some female only classes is a good idea, particularly for beginners/intermediaries. But some training with men is essential for women as well - after all, men are often the reason women feel the need to learn self defence in the first place!

Good luck with your new classes - I think you're starting to understand women! :-)

Felicia said...

Thanks for the mention, Sue. I'm glad you got to train with your hubby as well (too cool!) - and sending good thoughts for your upcoming grading.

There probably have always been questions about how to train with women, but the truth is this, really: individual results may vary. It is up to each woman to determine what is appropriate for her - just like it is for ANY martial artists when training.

I don't quite understand how women present such a big question mark on the mat. Not sure how to deal with a female training partner? ASK and she'll let you know...

Michele said...

Great post Sue!

I think it is fantastic that you can work with your husband. My husband and I do not work well together as training partners. It started years ago at a demonstration. We were partnered for self-defense. I was a green belt and he was a shodan. Two minutes before our turn to demonstrate, he started changing things that we practiced. I was a bit overwhelmed with the last minute adjustments.

Sue C said...

Hi Felicia, maybe we should be a bit more vocal about how we want to be treated - I suppose we can't expect men to be mind readers!

Hi Michele, my husband and I are pretty well matched in size, age and experience (though he is obviously stronger than me). We also understand what each other wants to get out of training. That's not to say we don't ocassionally bicker or scowl at each other when somethings not gone quite right and we've hurt each other - but it doesn't lead to any major domestics!

. said...

Great post Sue. Looks like this is the hot topic of the moment. LOL.

I absolutely love training with my DH. We're both at a similar grade and whilst he is somewhat larger than me he knows what I'm capable of doing and dealing with (it's not often he goes lightly on me, put it that way). I also agree with your comments on training with other women in the dojo. There are two female Sensais in my dojo whom I love to train with (both have very different body types and styles and bring something different to the table). The other female student is the same grade as me but is a little less sure of herself and seems to flip between being too timid (so it's little more than going through the motions) and being too forceful, to the point of being dangerous (overcompensating maybe?). It takes training with her a much more difficult task than training with the two black belts.


Sue C said...

Hi Marie, It seems quite rare to find the perfect training partner. Sometimes you train with someone and you feel that you gain most of the benefit and with other partners you feel they gain most of the benefit. But then life is about give and take isn't it!

Ninja Techniques said...

All the women I've seen have wanted to be treated simply as a "training partner." It might just be me, but I think it's good to try to keep a standard level of training up (even with kids—if you treat them like they're incompetent, they'll act incompetent, but if you treat them respectfully and responsibly, they'll act that way too).

John Coles said...

Thought provoking article for me given my work on the science behind the tactics and techniques of the martial arts. I can see the applicability of my work in understanding and studying these tactics and techniques.

Firstly, your confidence and reduction in fear of falling arising out of your breakfalling techniques training mirrors that found by Dutch researchers. They have implemented a fall prevention program in Holland and are the first to use martial arts falling techniques in such a program (outside the martial arts). They found that participants reported a reduction in fear of falling after only 5 or 6 45 minute sessions. And as the fear of falling hsa been found to be the biggest predictor of injury from falls, this is a good thing.

Differences between men and women in training. (a) My work has revealed a relatively recent finding that physiologically and behaviourally, women respond differently to threats or harm. This is part of the subject a chapter looking at the evolved human response to threat or harm. Which if followed by a chapter discussing the martial arts intervention into that process. (b) I'm currently writing on training methods of the martial arts and your discussion fits in quite neatly to it. Actually, it applies what I'm saying in a slightly different context but simply increases the relevance.


John Coles

Sue C said...

Hi John, I'm really starting to think that your book will be a revelation to me! For quite a while now I've thought that the differences between men and women in a martial arts training setting matter a lot, and this is not just to do with size. A small man is still a man and is not the same as a woman of equal size. Likewise a large woman is still a woman regardless of strength. I think the more important differences are psychological and physiological (mainly due to differences in testosternone levels). I think these differences need to be addressed in the way men and women train. Unfortunately, not many people seem to agree with me (or misunderstand what I am saying)- even other women seem to be in denial about their needs in a training environment! I'm hoping your scientific approach will shed some light on the male/female debate.

The Strongest Karate said...

I know the post is 2 yrs old, but I'd still like to weigh in.

This might be the result of growing up as a groovy Gen-Y kid, but I dont suffer from either the "women are weak" or "I cant hit a girl" mentalities.

I've always adjusted my techniques and intensity to my partner while taking into account both physical and psychological differences: I fight my sensei differently (poorly) than I fight the guys my age; differently than I fight the 8 yr old in my class; and differently still than I fight girls.

I will admit, though, that I do have some cultural trappings: I let her dictate the intensity of the match. So I will nearly always start at a very low level and ratchet it up to wherever she wants it to be.

Not really sure that all this contributes to the topic other than "Hey look at me, I'm not a chauvinist". Although, given the history of the Western world maybe that is a "win" in itself(?).

Sue C said...

Brett, you have a sensible approach to training with partners of different sizes, ages, gender...

Unfortunately male training partners look at me and see small, light middle aged woman - better go easy and not hurt her! I usually feel frustrated and humiliated by this. I was holding the striking pad yesterday for a purple belt guy and he was barely touching it. I encouraged him to hit it harder and he just mumbled "I don't want to hurt you". Well, I didn't WANT him to hurt me either but I accept that pain is a necessary consequence of training. I get this same attitude with locks and throws - it makes me mad! Fortunately my husband understands my frustration and whacks the pad as hard as he can, puts locks on until I'm wincing with pain and throws me rather than places me on the ground. He loves me really!

The Strongest Karate said...

They don't want to hurt you, huh?

You know, the worst injury I've received so far was from a female brown belt. She threw a low roundhouse that connected with the outside my right knee so hard that it collapsed my joint. I had to finish the fight with her and the rest of my opponents that day by immobilizing the joint thru fighting in zenkutsu dachi! And it was about 3 months before my knee was completely back to normal.

It was during her belt testing, so she was a little jacked up. And I had never met her before so I know it was not intentional. But I was right when I told myself, "Don't take her lightly"! lol


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