I have been quietly watching from the sidelines the much needed discussion about gender in the martial arts and in particular our martial art. Which is why I deferred to my friends Theresa Murphy and Amy Tiemann last month for their well written article. Up to this point I haven’t said much publicly about the subject, which for those of you who know me, is astonishing. That’s about to change.
Taijutsu has NO gender. Taijutsu or more specifically, ninpo taijutsu, when accessed to its fullest is a gravitational dance of energies in space and time between minds and bodies in conflict. The study of it is an exploration of both science and art that takes a lifetime to possibly understand it all. Taijutsu is the key to unlocking the lessons in our modern and historical kata to go beyond memorized movement. When done well, it often looks like magik no matter who is doing it.
The catch to taijutsu is in knowing what I like to call ‘generic’ taijutsu versus the taijutsu shown specifically to you by a good teacher. The underlying science, the cause and effect of taijutsu is formless and non specific to anyone. The use of that taijutsu is extremely personal to each and every person using it. Good teachers know the difference and give each student what they need at that moment to understand taijutsu. Inexperienced teachers teach their taijutsu to everyone.
I’m fortunate to have students who have been training with me for more than two decades. On numerous occasions I have made corrections to their taijutsu with the apology that what they are doing is something I taught them wrong years before when I didn’t understand ‘generic’ taijutsu. This misunderstanding, I believe, is at the heart of the discussion of gender in our art because while taijutsu has no gender the presentation of it does.
The issues of violence men and women face are very different. The goals, mindsets, and beliefs of each in general are not the same. Generally when men think of violence they tend to think of battle, women tend to see it more from the perspective of predator and prey. This statement does not limit the genders to one perspective or another. I have a male friend who who started training many years ago at my teacher’s dojo in Boston because he was being constantly bullied and a female student and friend who trained with me for a short time and then went on to cage fighting because she always wanted to compete in that sport (another important distinction is between sport and actual battle).
As teachers trying to make a difference and help we have to be aware of who we are teaching, what their desired goals are, and what they need to see to understand and believe they can be safe. Are you teaching a student in the dojo who has committed to ongoing training or are you doing a one day women’s self-defense seminar? Who are you doing the seminar for a college sorority or a group of female realtors? The needs of all are very different.
Many well meaning male instructors try to teach women’s self-defense without exploring the specifics of what women are dealing with. As a male it took me years to get a feeling for the problem, I can never completely understand but I have been asking questions and researching this issue since 1994. That research lead me to creating with Theresa Murphy a program we call LIVE: Lessons In Violence Evasion designed to teach women to evade and escape violence. It addresses what we believe to be the goal of the majority of women in a violent situation, to get away, it uses simple exercises and games that are fun and unlikely to trigger emotional responses to teach concepts of evasion and escape, and it is presented by a woman to help female participants to see themselves being capable of doing it.
We have been presenting LIVE since 2004 and the results have been fantastic but does this mean I can not teach women how to evade and escape and Theresa can not teach men how to fight? Absolutely not!
At the LIVE seminars I have helped many women understand how to evade and escape and every week at the dojo Theresa teaches men and women how to fight because that’s what they came to class for. It’s about perspective. It’s about having the understanding of ‘generic’ taijutsu and being able to adapt the presentation of it to the student you are teaching. It’s about understanding and meeting their needs.
There is no gender in taijutsu but gender does matter, as does age, physical health, emotional health, past experiences, and future goals because combined they are an individual person who wants to be safe.