Friday, October 09, 2009

Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful

My fellow blogger Kick Ass Sue asks: Should women train differently from men in martial arts? based "on the premise that traditional fighting arts were developed by men for men to fight other men and are thus best suited for the male physique".

I'm not so sure about the premise. Men, who as a broad generalization start out strong and top-heavy, have the option of developing their strengths while they are young, but this is a short-cut to nowhere. As we age, if this strength, speed, and even flexibility are the basis of our ability, the young guys will soon overtake us. The natural strengths of women -- low center of gravity, strong legs and core, superior grace and rhythm -- on the other hand, are a more sound and long-lasting basis out of which to build a martial artist.

On another point, though, in this day and age it is true that there are more senior male martial artists than females, and therefore fewer role models for aspiring female martial artists to look up to. In Sue's post she mentions the legendary founder of Wing Chun, Shaolin nun Ng Mui. But what about living female role models?

The amazing Keiko Fukuda springs to mind. Her grandfather was the first significant Jiu-jitsu teacher of Judo founder Jigoro Kano. In turn Kano taught Judo to Fukuda in the Kodokan's women's division. As a 5th dan, at the 1964 Olympics she demonstrated the advanced Judo two-person kata Ju No Kata, which she also wrote the book on.

At time of writing she still teaches judo 3 times a week at age 96, is the highest ranked female-judoka ever (9th dan). Fukuda's life is the subject of the film, Mrs Judo: Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful.

Here's the blurb:
Her destiny was set two generations before her birth, during the final days of the samurai era. In 1934, at 21 years of age, Keiko Fukuda embarked on a long journey with judo as her vehicle. This path meant giving up marriage, family, and her Japanese citizenship. She has endured war, discrimination, and crossed oceans, to become the highest ranking woman in judo history. She is the last living link to judo’s original history. Today at 96, she still teaches judo three times a week, and through her gentle soul she exudes wisdom and inspiration to all who come in contact with her. “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful,” is an hour‐long documentary film about K it eiko Fukuda’s inspirational journey.
I'm looking forward to seeing it.

[Edited May 2016: Keiko Fukuda was promoted to 10th dan in 2012 and continued to teach Judo until shortly before her death in 2013, aged 99.]


Sue C said...

I really appreciated this post. You clearly have a high opinion of women in martial arts. The trailer video was fantastic and very inspirational. I think I might go on a quest to discover some more modern day martial arts heroines.

Thank you

Dan Prager said...

Hi Sue

Glad it hit the spot.

I look forward to reading about the other modern day heroines you discover.

Phil Doherty said...

hello Sue and Dan,
I agree that there are not enough top female instructors as role models and that probably has to do with sexist notions that martial arts are a macho masculine pursuit...especially in years gone by.
But there are inspirational female instructors out fact I was talking to one today, Jill Kelly, 5th Dan, from the KUGB.
She not only instructs at a highly successful club in Ashington, Northumberland, but has produced a number of kata champions over the years.
Another female highly regarded in the UK is Christine Poole who is a high ranking Ju-jitsu exponent from the North East.
I think that in many ways female are superior to men when it comes to martial arts as many men rely more on strength and aggression while females utilise the body mechanics of the technique to get the desired results.
(Yes Sue - I get everywhere! To Dan, Sue is a blogger on mt site Martial News and is probably surprised to see me here!)

Dan Prager said...

Hi Phil

Thanks for stopping by. It would be great if someone like Sue (hint, hint ;-)) did blog interviews with modern martial arts heroines. I see from your comment two candidate interviewees already. I think I remember seeing a book somewhere also: Women in the Martial Arts.

"I think that in many ways female are superior to men when it comes to martial arts as many men rely more on strength and aggression while females utilise the body mechanics of the technique to get the desired results."

Very much the case. The challenge with men is to get them to use their strength and aggression more appropriately; with women to get them to the stage where their advantages start to shine through.

-- Dan

Sue C said...

Hi Dan, Hi Phil, don't mind me - you can map out my MA career if you want! (:

Actually I've just bought that book on women in the martial arts -but I haven't had the chance to read it yet. I might think about that idea of interviewing influential women in the martial arts, could be interesting.

Yes Phil I was surprised to see you here (as opposed to commenting on my blog - hint, hint)

Kouhei Tsukuda said...

Thank you for a post on a topic that I've always felt VERY strongly about. I actually feel that women can - if encouraged to put aside social conditioning, especially at a young age, hold their own in the martial arts in comparative weight classes. I have seen women certainly bring as much dedication and intensity to their training as any male counterpart. Once again, thank you for stressing this much-needed point.