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Everybody On The Mat

A question was raised at Festival that required a woman’s touch. So this month I’m going to step aside and let you read a very important post from my friends. -Fuutoshi

Everybody On The Mat: Inclusivity Through The Lens of Kunoichi Women Warriors
By Theresa Murphy and Amy Tiemann

We highly value the benefits of To-Shin Do, and want to make this art accessible to anyone who is motivated to train and learn. To achieve that goal, we have thought a lot about the issue of inclusivity through the lens of making sure that women feel included and appreciated as students, training partners, teachers and leaders in our art. We believe strongly that making training safe, respectful and powerful for women opens up new possibilities for all students, because the art of training like a kunoichi is valuable to everyone.

How can we make sure that everyone in our dojo community’s talents are utilized and appreciated? Today we offer 3 key ideas start this conversation:

1. Empowerment and challenge by choice

We believe in “challenge by choice,” meaning that all students should have the freedom to say no to training activities that do not feel safe to them, whether that means physically or emotionally unsafe. Yes, we train to move past our limitations, but in the long run, we can only really do that in an environment where our personal training boundaries are respected as well. As teachers we may not know what people are dealing with—injury, past trauma, chronic limitations, protecting oneself as we get older. Instructors and coaches don’t need to be mind-readers as long as we create a training space where people can “sit this one out” if it doesn’t work for them, possibly watch from the sidelines, and then rejoin when they are ready. This choice extends to a thoughtful selection of training partners as well. Everyone should feel that they are empowered to change partners whenever necessary.

2. Trauma-informed teaching

Being trauma-informed in training is such an important issue that we can’t possibly do the topic justice in a short article, but we can start the conversation. Be aware that because we are training to defend against real violence in everyday life, certain situations can trigger PTSD, panic and anxiety attacks, or can just be very uncomfortable, and feel unsafe. Ground fighting, weapon training and in-close situations (chokes, in-tight grappling, grabs) can especially be triggers. For example, a ground-fighting situation can feel like a non-threatening sports-like grappling scenario to one student, but may resemble a sexual-assault encounter to another. Introduce these situations and trainings in a gradual, controlled way to students.

What is appropriate for one group of students may not be for another. Keep training age-appropriate and emotionally safe for kids, teens and adults. Teachers and coaches should be aware of setting up training situations with regard to sexual appropriateness. Students should know ahead of time what the drills and exercises in class are before engaging in them, and training pairs should be set up through a combination of thoughtful pairing on the part of teachers, along with choice from students.

3. Encouraging leadership

Consciously encouraging people of all genders to progress through the leadership pipeline as training partners, demonstration partners, coaches, trainers, and instructors will serve to increase empowerment throughout our community.

This leadership pipeline can start with including girls and women in all forms of training, including being selected as ukes. Not choosing women as ukes to demonstrate in front of a class creates a barrier to learning and also possibly a negative-feedback loop, because when women aren’t called on as ukes, they don’t have as many chances to develop their skills in this crucial role. This can be a barrier to smaller people regardless of gender, as it is tempting to rely on “big strong guys” to be ukes because it looks more impressive to show that a technique works against them, but this creates a training bias that deprives many students of practice opportunities in the long run. We suggest that instructors make sure that everybody (who would like to) is selected to train the role of the uke in front of the class on a regular basis.

Engaging all students and using multiple ukes helps see the drill or kata from multiple perspectives and how taijutsu adjusts for different situations. At the same time, teachers should be cognizant of making each uke aware of what is expected of them and what will happen to them prior to having them punch in so they are aware or can decline due to injury or it being uncomfortable.

We believe that an awareness of inclusion and a conscious effort to utilize each ninja’s abilities to their full potential will be a powerful benefit to our community. We encourage dojo leaders to be mindful of this and even track information like promotions and drop-out rates of male and female students as objective data, to make sure that unconscious biases are not affecting training and progress in negative ways.

The great news is that empowerment is not a zero-sum game. We believe that the opposite is true—when we learn from everyone’s gifts and potential excellence, our whole community gets stronger. You could envision the benefits of looking through other lenses, such as age, culture, and more. What are the lessons we can all benefit from, by learning from each other?

One Response to Everybody On The Mat

  1. Brian R. Haines November 2, 2019 at 6:22 pm #

    Fantastic article. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by strong women my whole life and I appreciate those who come to the dojo to train and teach, a perspective that is missing in a lot of martial arts disciplines.

    One of the reasons I like Taijutsu is I feel comfortable with my daughter training in this style in what is a realistic but safe place. I also appreciate all of the positive female role models that are available to her through this experience.

    My other thought on this is that its difficult to know how people’s past experiences will inform their training. It’s only through honest dialogue that the appropriate boundaries can be established and everyone can have the best experience in the dojo. I think Taijutsu encourages that.

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