Strategic Living

Training Women in the Martial Arts: A Special Journey, by Jennifer Lawler and Laura Kamienski

This succinct book is unabashedly, and refreshingly, fearless. The authors state three aims:

  • inspire more women to train in martial arts,
  • help those who know women martial artists be better at supporting them, and
  • educate those who teach women in martial arts and self-defense about the reality of violence against women today.

Sounds great, but what's so fearless and refreshing about that?

One would think that with women's breakthroughs into the martial arts over the last several decades, obstacles facing women in martial arts would have faded away by now. Yet even though more women than ever are beginning martial arts training, fewer stay with it for a significant length of time compared to their male counterparts.

This book is fearless and refreshing because Lawler and Kamienski pinpoint not only reasons that individual women may choose to stay or leave training, but also societal structures that encourage women to forego learning crucial skills involving strength, confidence, and safety. The authors are not afraid to use the "f" word (feminist) many times. They even describe our social structure as "patriarchal." These days, that's refreshing. And fearless. And, alas, accurate.

The first chapter enumerates some reasons that women begin martial arts training. It includes what to look for in a school that will welcome women. The three middle chapters ("Gender Roles," "Power Dynamics," and "Hierarchies and Rank") each deal with the particular way that women can find themselves frustrated, sometimes without really knowing why. These chapters build on each other.

I know women, as I'm sure you do, who believe that gender roles have no real power today. To the contrary, the authors point out the everyday interactions with families, friends, coworkers, other students, bosses, and others whose purpose is to keep us in gender/role boxes that are comfortable to others. The authors give suggestions on how to better recognize these interactions as well as steps to counteract them. In fact, the last chapter discusses ways the authors have, in their seminars and schools, instituted change.

Any martial arts instructor who teaches women's self-defense should read this book, and read it again. Streaming throughout this book are stories and statistics on violence against women, from desensitizing annoyances to outright assault. Many women enter martial arts because of their experiences with violence, or because of the experiences with violence they wish to never have. The authors make a clear distinction between the skills taught in martial arts and self-defense training. They give a lot of information on what needs to be included for a great self-defense program for women. Kamienski in particular is well-educated in women's self-defense issues and is certified as a self-defense instructor by the National Women's Martial Arts Federation (the premier and most rigorous organization that reviews and certifies self-defense instructors).

What do you really want from your martial arts training?

  • Training--that should go without saying. But incredulously enough, training sometimes slips through the cracks if you face power and control issues.
  • To be taken seriously in training.
  • Learn.
  • Get stronger, both physically and emotionally.
  • Empowerment.
  • Respect.

Those were the issues over 35 years ago when women began demanding training. These issues are still hanging around like second-hand smoke in an old bar. If you recognized yourself in this book, or recognize any of the many experiences the authors describe, this book is a great validation of your experiences. It is a source for strategically planning to get all you can from martial arts training.

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