Develop your self defence skills and knowledge
At Shin Gi Tai Martial Arts Academy in Basingstoke, EVERYONE is welcome to come to our classes. There are no barriers to cross, no matter age, ability, gender, race or sexuality.
However, people often construct their own barriers to joining, despite wanting to try martial arts. For me it was a lack of confidence, for others they may feel like they are not fit enough, scared to come, worried about what a class will involve, feel that they are not capable or worried they will be judged. I have always felt that the hardest part about doing martial arts, is overcoming these internal barriers to come through the door for your first class.
Do women do Karate?
Historically, we had two longstanding evening mixed adult martial arts classes which do have female members, but many of those moved into the class from our children’s/teenage classes, there were very few that are new female members who come straight into that group. Despite being open and welcoming to women, we had less enquiries from women and less women than men joining. We would always try and ensure any social media coverage or advertising of the classes would include women and we had both male and female coaches in the classes but the uptake was still low. Something which I found disappointing and frustrating, as I would love everyone to experience the positive lifelong benefits martial arts can offer.
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Female participation in sport is generally lower than male, societally we see a drop off during female teenage years and this is often made worse in martial arts by the male dominated stereotyping and misconceptions about what classes might involve (Cobra Kai springs to mind). It is easy to assume that the lack of female participants is due to lack of interest, however over the years I have been training and coaching, it has been apparent that there is plenty of interest, just a lack of provision for classes where women feel comfortable.
It is not enough for me as a coach to know women are welcome and the class is a safe and comfortable place to be, they have to believe it and feel it for themselves. Having taught teenage girls self defence classes in schools and colleges, uptake tends to be good when a course is provided on site specifically for them, but those same girls would never seek out or attend a class somewhere else, despite their desire to have a go.
Why Martial Arts?
I had a fascination with martial arts from a young age. I’d always danced but relished the challenge of a new physical activity:
As someone who preferred working alone to playing team sports martial arts held appeal. I was bullied in secondary school and martial arts training felt like it offered a potential solution to stop the bullying but I didn’t have the confidence to even try a class. At the age of 14 I remember standing outside the local sports centre, watching a class through the glass door panel desperately wanting to go in but unable to pluck up the courage. It struck me there were very few other female students in the class and this made me really uncomfortable, however I do remember seeing a female black belt coaching one of the groups and although I didn’t know anything about her, she made me realise it was possible to not only do karate but to be successful. I desperately wanted to be able to join the class and have her as my coach, simply because she was female. However, she was teaching the advanced students and I knew I would be put into the beginners group, working with a male instructor and almost all male students and I just didn’t feel comfortable to try. I was 17 before I attended a class, by which time I had moved to a new town and seen an advertisement for a new class starting in the village hall just a few doors down the road from where I lived. As much as I was nervous about going, I felt empowered by the knowledge that everyone in the class would be new and it was tailored to beginners. Had it been an existing class with more experienced participants I wouldn’t have felt comfortable in going.
This memory is one of the driving factors why it is important to me that we provide opportunity for people to try martial arts in different ways, so they can choose where they feel comfortable.
When I attended my first class there were roughly 20 people taking part, only 2 of them, including myself, were female. It was impossible to not feel drawn to work together when we needed to partner someone, I felt more comfortable with her as we were a similar size and build. It was some unspoken sense of comfort that training with another female was more appropriate, the close physical contact which was often required sometimes feeling uncomfortable to a shy 17 year old girl when partnered with the men in the class. This is not to say that anything ever happened which gave me cause to feel uncomfortable, just my own sense of discomfort and embarrassment.
However, it was a mixed class and we were always (quite rightly) encouraged to work with all members of the class and it didn’t take long before I felt more comfortable training with any member of the group. I have no doubt whatsoever now that training in a mixed class did me good, it made me learn how to work techniques and skills against many different people of varying sizes and made me a better martial artist. It taught me to be comfortable in fighting up close and personal with both men and women, something necessary for good self defence skills to be effective outside of the dojo. With this in mind I would always encourage women to make the transition and add a second class to their training if they can to ensure that they do grow comfortable training with men as well as other women. However, ladies only classes do offer a fantastic opportunity for women to begin martial arts in an environment where they feel safe, comfortable and supported by other likeminded women.
Why would you choose a Ladies only class?
There are many reasons
why women will choose a ladies only class. I have taught women who have been raped, attacked or in an abusive relationship with a man and don’t feel comfortable to be taught by or work in close proximity to men. Some are unable to train with men for religious or cultural reasons and many simply feel more comfortable training with other women as they harbour a belief that they will perform better comparatively amongst their peers. A female only class can also often make women feel understood as training can be more difficult during menstruation or menopause, post partum or during pregnancy. All of which some women can find difficult to converse about with a male coach.
In terms of coaching, there is no difference between what is taught in a mixed class and in a ladies only class. We work to the same syllabus, expect the same level of effort and work to develop skill, strength and fitness just as we would in any other class. The only difference is it’s female driven, all with the objective of improving female participation and it works! We now have 2 ladies only kickboxing classes and 1 ladies only karate class and as a school now have a higher percentage of female adult members than male. The classes have all proved popular and there has been a progression for some of the students to attend additional classes each week in the mixed class. When surveyed, the mass majority of the participants all stated that the fact that the class was ladies only was the primary reason for their initial participation and without that provision they never would have taken up the sport. I take that as a win for women in sport!
Traditional Martial Arts training coupled with modern Sports Science.
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