Hi there and thanks for looking at this blog.
My name is Barbara and I have been involved in traditional martial arts training and teaching since 1980. At that time, I was 18, living in my small hometown in North Carolina, and in my first year of college. My prior middle school years, I was bullied horribly. I did not have the tools to assert myself or protect myself and I totally lacked self-confidence. So middle school, along with puberty and feeling awkward and self-conscious…well those years were miserable.
During middle school the bullying became so bad I remember my mother wanted to put me in martial arts at a school run by an ex-military man, Stroud. My father, also ex-military, refused to let me take classes stating, “I won’t have my girls doing pushups.” I had my hopes up before he rejected that idea that I could go learn “karate” and be able to defend myself and stop the torture. My parents moved me to another school instead. Well, that didn’t work either. The new school didn’t give me the tools of self-confidence, self-protection and assertion I so desperately needed. High school was somewhat better friend-wise, but I still struggled socially.
“But if I could just be a black belt,” I thought, “That would change everything.”
And then my father died. It was awful. He had esophageal cancer and it took him in six months. I watched my strong father disintegrate, and my mother with him. He passed at the beginning of my senior year…and I got lost for a little while trying to deal with grief. It’s a sad part of my life and a good part as it forced me to grow up and be the strong person I am today.
So, after high school, in my first year of college, one of the PE courses offered was “martial arts.” You betcha I signed up for that class! I was so freakin’ excited to finally be doing “karate.” The teacher, guess what, was the same instructor, Stroud. He taught at the college and at his school (“dojo”). The first class I went to, I walked in and there’s this five-foot-one man in a white pajama uniform (“gi”) twirling two “twirly” sticks (“nunchauka”) and I literally thought, “He is going to kill me.” And he called class to order and we started doing exercises, pushups (I could do 1), sit-ups (5) and running laps around the gym. Yep, killing me.
And there was also in class an auburn-hair woman called “Kay,” in her 30’s, she was a psychology teacher at the college and she was a BROWN BELT. And she was nice, and she was pretty, and she was kind, and she was TOUGH and she was SWEATING. And I was sweating, and we were sweating, and working out and training together. And I was learning how strong my body is, how beautifully everything works together and how much stronger and tougher I could make it. And it wasn’t just Karate, it was Jiu Jitsu. Wrist locks, throws, pressure points, arm locks, escapes from grabs, escapes from throws. IT WAS WONDERUL! I FELT POWERFUL FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE.
But you do not have to be powerful or strong to do self-defense/martial arts. Not at all.
After the college course, I continued my training at the dojo. I have to admit I was pretty obsessed with it…I wanted that black belt! So, I trained 4-5 times a week and I made a lot of new friends who became my martial arts family and support system. We trained together, did tournaments and seminars up and down the east coast, did demonstrations in every small town you can think of (sometimes on a flat bed truck!) and the dojo is where I met my best friend, Richy, who was also training. So between Richy and Kay, I had two strong, beautiful, tough, smart role models who showed me that I could also be tough and pretty. And Shihan (word for “master teacher”) Stroud, well he treated all students equally and was proud “we girls” were as tough, if not tougher, than the “boys.” And after a three-night, two-hours-each test in 1985, I receive my Black Belt.
Martial arts for women is not an easy road though, as I found out when we visited other schools or participated in martial arts camps. Traditionally, martial arts have been a male dominated area. So, there was harassment, condescending comments and discrimination that “we girls” witnessed in other arenas. There was and still is the unspoken insinuation that a female can’t be pretty AND aggressive. It’s still hard for me sometimes when I get around other male black belts when they base my ability on what they think I know compared to what I do know and “test” me. Not all male black belts behave that way, however the ones that do I at least now have the maturity to ask them if they want me to hurt them before I actually hurt them. (In my younger years I may have upset a few male black belts).
In Altitude Martial Arts’ self-defense course curriculum, the structure is not about developing a warrior woman, it’s about waking up your warrior woman. We are in a patriarchal society that defines and conditions our language, our feelings, who we are as a female gender, and can squash us down if we let it. Notice I said, “If we let it.” We don’t have to adhere to the conditioning, we can educate ourselves and each other about our special place on this earth, and not allow ourselves to be subjected to being a second class citizen. Ahhh, but we women are too nice and for a long, long time have abided by the oppressive system and now struggle to rise to equality.
Self-defense is a first step to empowering yourself. It’s a first step in helping you realize your full potential. It does not make you less feminine. It encourages your voice and your inner strength. Self- defense teaches you that your body and mind can protect you. Self-defense is simple, effective and can be life-saving. Being encouraged by strong role models and achieving small successes helps your self- confidence and improves your assertion. I am here to encourage you. And you’re never too old to learn, never.
Our tweeners/teen self-defense classes are to help our girls in those awkward spaces to know they aren’t alone, they have more choices than they know about, and to have fun while learning. Again, it’s waking the warrior spirit so if something threatening happens, our young females take action to avoid being a victim to bullying, dating or peer pressures, and safety while alone.
My desire is to be part of your village. To pass on to other females what was given to me. To have you find your full potential. And then if you’re warrior is really awake, you can decide if you want to get your black belt too.