View Full Version : gender balance

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Paula Lydon
10-07-2003, 07:58 AM
~~An observation: My dojo seems to be at about one female student for every six (or so) male students. Also, since I've been there--7 years--there seem fewer upper dan female sempei who either train regularily or are in any sort of teaching/leadership role. Being me, of course, I have begun wondering...

1) We like to say that gender doesn't matter on the mat, but I appreciate having more advanced female students to observe, question, etc. as well as male. These 'older sisters' have understandings that relate directly to being female and training that males will not.

2) Why don't more females stay, either at lower or upper levels? Is there something in the dojo atmosphere that subliminally discourages females? Is there something in the training itself?

3) Is is all just part of social conditioning and to be expected? Yet, I've seen dojo with many women up to the majority, in every position availiable.

4) I do get a sense quite often that to be a young male is best, a young female is 2nd best, to be either but with lots of rank is 3rd best.

Any thoughts? Yours in :ai: :ki:

10-07-2003, 08:29 AM

My dojo has the ratio you mention, but when I go to seminars, I see a 2:3 ratio (women to men), with a fair number of the women shodan or higher.

Our dojo is still growing. We have far fewer women come to check out the place than men. Of those that check out a class, few stay. It may be that in our area, with small cities and a lot of rural land, fewer women are interested in martial arts. In contrast, the dojos near a large city seem to have many more female students.

Personally, I really enjoy working with women, but I don't find it very much different from working with men. I see more differences between people of different experience levels than between people of different gender.

Just some observations.



10-07-2003, 09:34 AM
When you look at a martial art as a community program or course, and you put it the same group (which really it is, it is extra-life activity and people only have so much time in their life outside of work and families) then youíll see that women usually prefer aerobics or some sort of music-related art form, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, and the more traditional arts like quilting, etc. How many men do you see in those classes? Not nearly as many as are in martial arts. So when you question where are all the woman Ė they are in those other courses.

Itís just interest patterns. Fewer women are interested in martial arts, and fewer men are interested in those other art forms.

(I said fewer, not none...no flaming me please)

The ratios are probably pretty acurate, given the number of woman that are actually interested in a martial art. I suspect the attrition rate of martial arts is gender-irrespective too, in that people quit for the same reasons regardless of whether they are a man or a woman but when you only have 10 woman to begin with Ė when 8 quit it is much more noticeable.


10-07-2003, 09:37 AM
"What percentage of your aikido dojo is female?"


-- Jun

10-07-2003, 09:51 AM
I think many of your questions touch on why women don't practice aikido. I feel that partially it is cultural/social reason in that women are not typically encouraged to train in martial arts. In other physical endeavors such as gymnastics women dominate the field yet women have been encouraged for years through the media and our culture that gymnastics is a "women's sport".

But once they get to a dojo, for whatever, reason, the challenge is keeping them there. In my four years of training aikido, I've found that women getting past the first stages of ukemi the biggest challenge, more so than the men. Women, like myself, seem to be more intimidated by the rolls and breakfalls. I've seen this in most of the new women that have come to our dojo. However, most men, although still finding rolls challenging, seem to jump right on into the rolls and in a couple of months they are happily breakfalling. I think this is the biggest difference. It took me a couple of months just to roll confidently. But once the women catch on to the rolls and breakfalls they seem to come across the same issues and challenges like their male peers.

As far as training is concerned, the differences have more to do with body type. As such, most women have smaller bodies and face the challenges smaller framed people face.

I'm medium framed, when I train with larger and physically stronger people, I tend to focus on moving from my center more and keeping my extension. When my stronger partners resist, I have a lot to work with and they usually fall pretty hard. When I train with smaller people, mostly petite women, I focus on my connection and finding the energy they have to give me so I just don't plow them over.

In regards to dojo atmosphere, that's a tricky one. First, it is up to the sensei to create a positive atmosphere for all students, including the women. Second, it is up to each practitioner to be positive. For example, as the senior female kyu rank in my dojo (although we have several dan ranks), I take the time and work with the other women in the class. And if I don't, just being another female body on the mat helps. As a woman, I found it encouraging to know that there were other women in my dojo, and it was very encouraging to see the dan ranks. Although, due to size not all schools have this.

The atmosphere needs to be welcoming-- for all newbies. But, the atmosphere has to be something natural if it is too forced then that makes people uncomfortable, too. In regards to the atmosphere just peculiar to women, I would suggest keeping locker room talk in the locker room, and leaving a line of communication open in case there is any inappropriate behaviour (i.e. sexual groping) on the mat.

I do believe that this applies to all people in the dojo. We should be courteous and welcoming to all. We should have open lines of communication for all.

In my experience and opinion, the difference between a woman's experience and a man's, in my opinion, is subtle. It is hard to pin point and nail down, but if we are open enough and sensitive enough, we might begin to see the slight differences. Slight as they are but important nevertheless

10-07-2003, 10:02 AM
The ratio seems to be much better at your dojo than at mine. At my dojo, until recently, there were only 2 women to the 30+ males in each class nightly and are still kyu rank.

There are currently more beginner women (maybe 5 total), but they seem to leave within a 3 month period.

It seems the women are treated differently by the sempai (even kohai) as well as the chief instructor. Which I believe the chief instructor is the one that needs to set the example of all persons in Aikido should be treated equally. Until that happens, I have to sit back and watch the women become discouraged and leave only for new ones to follow 3 months later.

The ones, well one now, that does stay around is not "allowed" to go up the ranks as quickly as the males are, although IMHO she is very talented. She doesn't get involved in the dojo politics and I assume that is why she is still training. It is a shame to watch someone so talented and she has to "wait" until her male counterparts are at her level before she is allowed to test.

Just my 2 cents.

10-07-2003, 10:14 AM
Statistically men do more sport than women, so you'll find this in pretty much everything. Also, combat sports tend to be more male dominated. What you need to do is encourage more women to join!

I've also found personally that, more men have an intial interest, but also women are very discouraged by ukemi (possibly see it as painful or potentially damaging). Also in the aikido groups I've seen where there are many women the techniques tend to be done much more gently. Is it a physical threat women feel during certain training methods? Hard to say.

I didn't understand your 4th point Paula.


10-07-2003, 10:15 AM

It sounds like the women who start at your school are noticing this difference and are voting with their feet and are leaving.

It is very frustrating to be as skilled or even more skilled than your male counterparts and watch them move up the ranks faster, and you (the general 'you') are held back just because you are a woman. I'd leave, too.

Since you notice this difference, what do you do about it?

10-07-2003, 10:28 AM
There is a paralell thread running on Aikido Journal right now:

Plus, this was addressed recently in Women in Aikido (Anne Marie, can you give that link please?).

This is a very interesting topic!

10-07-2003, 10:29 AM
It'd be interesting to know what it's like training in the traditionally male dominated society of Japan. I'd pretty much agree with your (extensive) post Anne Marie.

Is there a difference (in general) between training objectives for men and women? Do some instructors believe women incapable of effective self-defence? (or maybe there is just a difficulty relating to them?

I hope in our the members believe they are not treated differently because of their sex (though allowances are made for physical ability and confidence.)


10-07-2003, 10:33 AM

I try to encourage all the women that join to hang in there. The first 3 months I believe are difficult for anyone, male or female. First you need to learn to roll and that is more of a fear for adults than children. Once they feel comfortable falling and understand it is the sempai's role to assist all kohai in their training, they seem to be more relaxed and want to stay. But I see them change, overnight sometimes, just because of the way the chief instructor, who is not approachable, treats the women. The CI treats the women like kids and most of the women that join are intelligent working women and they leave because they are insulted more than for any other reason.

I believe at this school it is the CI that causes the womens attendance to be so low.

As for moving up the ranks, it is very frustrating, even though Aikido is not "competetive", to want to grow and you are not "allowed" to, sort of poisons the reason for going to the dojo each day.

I believe once you receive Shodan that you are really just beginning and you are serious about "learning and understanding" Aikido. So why hold someone back, because of gender, if they are committed and serious?

10-07-2003, 10:37 AM
Here's one that we had going on for some time regarding why women don't train in martial arts:


But if you read through the site, you'll find a lot of times we bring up those subtle distinctions and discuss them from our female point of view. ;)

Anne Marie

10-07-2003, 10:53 AM
Go into a gym and look at who lifts weights and who hangs out in the aerobics classes. There are exceptions but I bet the ratio is about 90/10 each way. Then ask yourself where your dojo fits with those two parameters as the extremes.

10-07-2003, 11:09 AM

As a further source for support the women in you dojo that you mentioned, if they participate on internet bulletin boards, you can send them here. http://pub48.ezboard.com/bwomeninaikido I started this site so women can talk to each other about aikido. While its nice to have the male perspective or just talk with other peers about aikido sometimes it is nice to hear or talk with another woman.

Paula Lydon
10-07-2003, 05:38 PM
~~Ian D. had a good point in that perhaps male sensei (possibly more so Japanese) have a difficult time relating to their female students. It's easy to say that, ideally, there should be no difference, that all students are treated the same. And they may be, but, as Anne Marie pointed out regarding subtlties in interaction and experience, 'treated thus' and 'related to' can be quite different critters on an energetic level. It may look right, but something just doesn't feel right...

~~Frank, what does you CI say when you ask him about the situation with the women? It seems that everyone in the dojo must know it's going on.

10-08-2003, 02:03 AM
could it be the word "MARTIAL ART" that scares females at the first time? bcos from what i observe females refuse to take up martial art because :

1. they tend to generalize martial art training as hard, tough training like we see in kungfu movies (even the wax on, wax off kind of training...)

2. the perception of martial art itself, here in indonesia people still perceive martial art as sanctuaries for trouble-makers/fighters to release their alter ego, thus, females (even some males) often draw themselves from training because they coudn't stand up the beating

3. they don't dare to try, that's why in my opinion, flipping during demonstration might even scared people away, because what they see flipping is very hurt, they get scared on the first time

4. unfortunately some martial art still use the serious, tense atmosphere so the training is not enjoyable. Most people i know drawing off from martial art is caused by this reason (hell, if only they know that in aikido you're encouraged to smile and laugh during training, in appropriate time of course)

5. Injury, this is also the main reason. people, usually females is really scared about this, causing no.3

oh, and females also don't want to look muscular like female judoka, so eventhough i already explain that aikido training doesn't concern on muscular training, they still refuse to go(sigh). Sometimes i can't blame them because some of the system had run that way...

10-08-2003, 02:49 AM
Strangely enough in my gym the woman outnumber the men on the weight machines...just a weird observation.

in my dojo the ratio is about 2 to 15.

i think the reasons for starting the art are somewhat to blame. A lot of women at my dojo joined only because of partners who joined at same time...

injury is a big part of it too. we don't think we're indestructible and in a beginner class with bigger strength-using males you learn that real quick.

So maybe a quick reason to leave in early stages.

10-08-2003, 03:11 AM
I tried to respond a few posts back but had to delete it. Some might have thought it cro-manganish and given me more flack than I deserved.

Last session had me worried - the woman are starting to outnumber the men. I like training with women, I want them in my dojo but I really want a 70/30 ratio with the men dominating.

The reason really revolves around the group dynamic - getting a bunch of men to push their martial spirit is a lot easier than a group of women. If the dynamic is right several but not all women will be right in there and the rest I can accomodate. I can push a man where culture demands I must push less with a woman.

10-08-2003, 03:11 AM
Maybe when people come to have a look at practice women tend to see themselves in the role of uke whereas men tend to see themselves as nage, which looks much more fun and less hurt-full ;).... just a thought - but it could explain why women are less likely to join in the first place.

On a more serious note: I think that the lack of role models is a common problem. Often when female aikidoka reaches upper kyu or dan ranks they also reach an age where they will start a family or focus on a career. It's often so much harder for a woman to find the time to continue practice, than for a man. The lack of high ranking women in the dojo could be a problem for new students. We need someone to look up to, and I think it is easier to be inspired by someone of the same gender.

10-08-2003, 07:30 AM

When the CI is approached regarding the way the women are treated in the dojo, he seems oblivious to the comments and isn't AWARE of his behavior. I've been practicing at the same dojo for about as long as you have been at your dojo and I continually see his behavior towards women and he still doesn't seem to think there is anything wrong with his behavior. The CI is not asian, so in reading the other posts that is not the reason. Also, this same CI treats new women in the dojo as prey. The CI is not married, but his behavior towards new women in the dojo does not appear to be very AIKI. This is another cause of the women not staying. Not sure if this is the case at any other dojo, but there is definately a pattern at this one.

Paula Lydon
10-08-2003, 05:25 PM
~~Gee, Frank, maybe you should show him this thread...:)

Suzanne Cooper
10-08-2003, 07:25 PM
Hmmm...I must be training in dojo heaven...

I was a part of many organized activities during my 20 years in show business from uncountable numbers of choirs, bands, orchestras, plays, and commercials--but I've never been a part of a group so interested in furthering every single individual as a person as my dojo.

If there's any sexism, I haven't seen it. And like most members of minorites (I heard once that there are approximately 1% more men in the world than women), I look. Its as though they concentrate on what each person needs rather than on why each person needs it. I guess I'm saying that I've not gotten the impression in my dojo that anyone has thought "If she was a man, she wouldn't have this or that problem with technique."

And you know, I LOVE to be uke! Call me strange, but I really think uke has the more interesting part. Maybe after I've hit the mat a few hundred more times, I'll think differently, but right now it's the most fun. :D

Suzanne Cooper
10-08-2003, 07:31 PM
I just took a poll of my teenagers and their opinions of being uke and they like it, too. My younger child said it helps her understand what she's doing wrong.

Clayton Kale
10-08-2003, 08:05 PM
Hmmm...I must be training in dojo heaven...
I agree with you. Reading other posts on this and other threads, sheesh. We don't have near the problems or ego clashes that I've read about. Maybe we're lucky 'cuz we're in the south. Whatcha think, Suzanne? ;)

Seriously though, in my dojo, males outnumber females, but we've got several ikkyus, nikyus and sankyus and yonkyus. I have noticed there are many young girls in the kids' classes. I have noticed that a new female student in the adult class usually doesn't stay long... at least since I've been there.... hmmm. Maybe I should wash my gi. :o

Suzanne Cooper
10-08-2003, 08:30 PM
Heeheehee! That could be it, Clayton! ;)

10-08-2003, 09:31 PM
Just to add my few cents worth...

On average,our dojo has more males than female. But the ratio would be about 5 females to 7 males on any one night.

It must be noted that out of the females, only one is shodan, two are 3rd kyu and the rest are beginners.

I must say that our sensei is the reason we have so many women. He is open and friendly, giving a family atmosphere to the club.

I am proud of the club's ability to keep its women members.

As far as martial arts in general, doesn't a thread around here say that drop out rates are high anyway. When you think of how many women even turn up in the first place, compared to men, then its not that strange that there are less that continue on.

10-09-2003, 12:54 AM
And you know, I LOVE to be uke! Call me strange, but I really think uke has the more interesting part. Maybe after I've hit the mat a few hundred more times, I'll think differently, but right now it's the most fun. :D

Amelia Smith
10-09-2003, 06:28 AM
When I started aikido, there was one other woman at the dojo, out of about 8 students in all. I'm back at the same dojo now, and there are 12-20 people who practice regularly-occasionally, including 4-5 women.

Here, and sometimes at other dojos, I've noticed that people have a preference for young men, especially if they're tall. I think this is because they make a nice big sound when they hit the mat - very satisfying - and they also tend to be a little more injury resistant.

I also think that the demands of family (and pregnancy) are a factor in women leaving aikido, though many do get back to it. This hasn't been a factor at my dojo here, though I've seen it at one of the other dojos where I practiced (which had maybe a 1:2 female:male ratio). If anything, I think women are more likely to exercise than men, espoecially after their early 20s, because of social pressures to stay in shape, look young, and all that. I know this affects men, too, but I think it's more important for women.

There are other social factors, too, which discourage women from training. I just remembered that men who don't do martial arts are often absolutely freaked out by the idea of a woman who does. They're afraid (irrationally) that she might beat them up, and then where would their masculine identity be?

But it's so much fun (especially ukemi). That's why I stuck with it.


10-09-2003, 09:09 AM
In our dojo we have a significant number of women; possibly 40% of the total.

We also have a 5th Dan Shidoin (Aikikai) female instructor who is an excellent role model for both male & female students.

Reasons I have been given for women either not starting or stopping are (in no particular order):

The fear of injury

Too many men (?not enough women) on the mat

Reluctance to indulge in close contact with strange men (i.e not family members)

Fear that Aikido would be too physical

Has anyone else come across these or others?

10-09-2003, 09:49 AM
Our dojo is about 20% women and our main instructor in the UK is female, so lack of respect isn't a problem normally (especially after attacking her in randori).

Phil, I'd disagree regarding your "aikido is too physical". One reason I've heard a few times is that aikido is that it's not physical enough, many of the younger women interested in ma want to hit someone, not throw/lead down gently (OK, so we're wimpy ki-types thanks for the reminder Larry).

I think aikido has the same problems that judo, wrestling etc. have. No matter how you promote "size doesn't matter" etc., most randori practice will show close combat where size will be a factor. I have been given the impression that some of the striking arts are preferred as they give a false sense of keeping a "safe" distance in combat.

The strangest problem I've had with a female student was due to religion really rather than gender - orthodox so could not practice with or be touched by men other than family/partner. I became quite inventive with my verbal visualisations of technique...

Bruce CB
10-09-2003, 10:42 AM
The first dojo where I practice aikido, there were about 2:12 female/male ratio. With my current dojo there are no female presently practicing. Iíve been practicing for about 8 years with this dojo and only seen two on that span. The first (we have been practicing together for about 4yrs. from the first dojo & decided to transfer to this new dojo) lasted only about 8 months and the other about the same length. Our CI and the rest of the group are very accommodating and friendly although there is this one guy (sandan) who seem to easily get attracted to women practicing MA and could not hold his feeling and would start flirting with them which I guess contributed much to this.

It could have been better, I guess, if there were female practitioners on our dojo, in that way we could learn much from them on how to do technique on a much bigger partner/uke.

Personally, I believe that culture and family demand also contributed much to this scenario.

10-09-2003, 11:28 AM
Where I train we are a about 20% female. The second highest rank is a female 5th dan. No one would mistake calling her a "flower". ;) We also have couple of sandans and nidans, and a few shodans (two or three of whom will be testing for nidan). In all we have about 6-8 female dan ranks. It's always great to see them fly, it's very encouraging to know that if they can then I can, too. And when I was new it was refreshing to train with them.

I re-read my post and noticed it sounded like women, in general, are intimidated by ukemi. I meant to say that in learning ukemi it seems to be more intimidating. I was just noticing this, as we just recently had about 4-5 women join our dojo and they all were having a harder time learning to roll than the men. But once the women get past learning to do ukemi, then they usually fly just like the men.

A question to those ladies who love taking ukemi, did you love it from the first day? Or was it a process for you to get to the point where you learned to embrace flying? I'm the latter.

Karen Wolek
10-09-2003, 02:01 PM
Hi Anne Marie,

Ukemi made me very nervous in the beginning. It took me several months to learn to roll, then I received a knee injury as uke for iriminage. That didn't exactly help the ukemi fear. I was off and on the mat for months until my knee healed. Now I'm back 100% and I LOVE ukemi.

I still don't roll well and I haven't learned to back roll or breakfall yet. But as one senior told me the other day, now I can "take the punishment", LOL. Generally, I know how to take the ukemi and I LOVE it. I can't help but grin sometimes.....it's just so much fun to fly around nage!

So while I'm still nervous rolling, I really do love being uke, sometimes more than being nage!

(As far as ratio, our dojo has seven or eight women practicing right now, and probably about 20 men, I think. Two of the women are brand-new, the rest have been practicing for between 10 months and 13 years.)

Paula Lydon
10-09-2003, 05:14 PM
~~Hi Anne Marie,

Ukemi did not come naturally to me and so I have worked long and hard at it. There was much fear and awkwardness in the beginning years. I was always drawn to it as I learn more quickly from feeling an experienced person's tech. on me rather than mostly performing the tech. Besides, I find that I'm more uptight when excicuting tech. than when I'm relaxed and simply moving with nage.

I think ukemi is the Ultimate Secret Art! I don't care all that much if I can catch my attacker's center as long as they can't get mine. Even a bullet couldn't strike me if my ukemi skills were refined enough--which, of course, they're not. Maybe a really slow moving stick...:)

Suzanne Cooper
10-09-2003, 05:44 PM
Paula Lydon--bulletproof monk-ette! :)

Loved that movie, BTW. Could've done without Mr. Funktastic, but the writers would have had to figure out another way to introduce Jade...anyway...

10-09-2003, 10:27 PM
My dojo is right now about 60% female. three of us currently kyuless tho i'm going for my 5th kyu test in 2 weeks. i am probably an anomaly but i prefer a more even balance- we could use a few more guys!Though we had an "all girl" class the other night which was kinda fun.

I have known from my first class that i would prefer ukemi, i jusst had to have the "newbie shoulder trouble" to teach me fear of falling before i could overcome it! But since i have ben known to be overly "assertive" in Real Life, i find it educational to discover how much i can take back of what i dish out!

Hanna B
10-10-2003, 08:58 AM
I can push a man where culture demands I must push less with a woman.So, culture demands that you do not treat the sexes equally on the mat. Is this because you are in Japan, or would it be the same in Europe or the States?

10-10-2003, 10:19 AM
Frankly speaking Japan is only more extreme. There are places I would go with men (as a man) that I would not go with a woman.

This is not a reflection on the respect I have for an individual but cultural demands.

It does not take much effort to think of examples - I don't think I have to elaborate.

Paula Lydon
10-10-2003, 04:53 PM
~~Hi Peter R.,

~~I'm glad Hanna B. asked her question, as I'd been contemplating just what you might have meant by your earlier post. I reread it and still wonder what you mean by 'pushing mens' martial spirit' which seems easier for you than pushing women to find/embrace/exhibit theirs..? I would like to understand your view on this more clearly, if you care to elaborate. I have always found much of interest in your posts.

~~Also, call me a ditz, but again I'm unclear on what you mean by places you would go on the mat with a man (being a man) that you wouldn't go with a woman. Is it:

a) physical contact? I've spent years in jujitsu and you really don't think like that after a while :)

b) intensity? Granted, I don't care to take continual slamming as a compliant uke as some of the young men/women can handle.

c) sexual discomfort? See a).

~~Again, if you have time, I would like to better understand you and your views. I've never trained in Japan and so perhaps it all amounts to cultural differences? Thanks!

Hanna B
10-11-2003, 05:40 PM
In one of my previous dojos, it was hopeless to make people including my teachers throw me for breakfalls. I guess either I was not supposed to learn them, or they did not want to "beat me up".

10-12-2003, 11:58 PM
What can I say but with this sort of subject no matter what you write people will put their own spin on it. Hence my initial reluctance. Think what you will but its a classic example of individual and cultural baggage at work.

I thought my posts were pretty clear in stating that the group dynamic is dependent on the ratio of men to women. No where did I say a women is less capable of achieving skill or martial spirit.

Do I treat women differently on the mat ? Eventually less and less - but I must say I tend to give female beginners more time to adjust. At the very least the degree of contact makes some people uncomfortable. With a man I don't even consider it, with a women I do.

Hanna B
10-13-2003, 03:23 AM
We should thank you for being honest about it. Too many people are not.

10-13-2003, 04:23 AM
You make it sound that my approach is a short coming on my part.

At the moment half my students are women. The only dojos that I have personal experience of that even come close are Shodokan Honbu and the Shodokan Branch of a women's university. On average, they are tough, highly skilled athletes. Conversly, when I visited the local Aikikai Shihan there were absolutely no women on the mat.

This thread is all about addressing the gender balance. Far from a short coming I must be doing something right.
We should thank you for being honest about it. Too many people are not.

10-13-2003, 05:27 AM
I think Peter made a very important point in that any gender bias (perceived or real)decreases in a good dojo once the person leaves their "beginner" status behind, so I'll have modify my earlier response.

I do treat beginners differently at the start, normally based on their previous experience (if any) and their body type. I will be more careful with a beginner who is small, fine boned or obviously lacking in any combat experience - this does cover many women. After about a 6 months I expect to be able to attack them the same as any other person on the mat. Does this make me a bad person?

Hanna B
10-13-2003, 06:13 AM
Peter - I do not intend "to make it sound" in any way. If that is the result, then my wordings was a mistake. Most of us has areas in which we act differently to different kinds of people, and most of the times we are not honest to ourselves about it. I prefer a teacher who treats the sexes equally on the mat. That does not necessarily the teacher who claims to do so...

Ian - treating people according to ability is fine. Following preconceptions and not adjusting to reality, i.e. "I belive women are weak, so I treat them like they are week and them I complain that I have no strong women in my dojo" is not. I do not know you, the above statement is not aimed specifically at you nor anybody else. BTW, I do not understand why you believe anybody believes you are a bad person.

Dario Rosati
10-13-2003, 07:43 AM
2) Why don't more females stay, either at lower or upper levels? Is there something in the dojo atmosphere that subliminally discourages females? Is there something in the training itself?
Hi Paula, I'm new at Aikido and I can guess why this happens.... yes, it's the training.

I started 2 months ago with my wife, in a very small dojo (10-12) students wich does a lot of cross-stages every 2-3 months.

After this 2 months I feel I did the right choice, both in dojo and martial art... but my wife finds the thing a lot more difficult, cause she's the only woman in the dojo.

Why? She's not very tall (1,6 m) and has a very small figure (less than 50kg), this cause the "boys" to (un-willingly and irrationally, I hope) avoid her as nage, since at the start it's very difficult for a beginner to do even an irimi-tenkan in the proper way (i.e. a "grappling" or simply "big" uke often frustrates her tries).

She's often confined in the uke role, and even if the sensei follow her directly (I think he sees what I see and tries to help with it), she feels somewhat "out of place".

I try to help her, but the contraddiction is that, for my training, I can't stay with her too much at the dojo since we both are beginners (I help her at home sometimes).

I think the "out of place" feel is what makes lot of women to quit... the only women I saw practicing with success are tall or/and have a robust figure, or are the wives of a sensei...

I think this is the real cause because even I (a normal man, 1,8 m, 75kg) have found at my first stage that beginners are often "avoided" by the more skilled one... the rule says "practice with someone a bit skilled than you" and this obviously contraddictory rule tends to "cut out" the least skilled.

It's a shame because from what I've seen Aikido fits very good for women, imho.... the problem is that there is a "high barrier at the entrance", to use an economic term.


Paula Lydon
10-13-2003, 07:48 AM
~~Peter R., thank you for responding. I'm sorry if you felt there was personal judgement on you involved in my questions, as there was not. I really only wanted to understand you and your views better, as I stated. Now I do.

~~Regards contact, I think how anyone conducts themselves depends on their intentions and control.

~~Regards beginner women, I agree (through personal expierence of teaching them) that the majority have a culturally more difficult time upon entering into MA practice. I have noticed, though, that the previous two generations--teens and 20s--seem a little less hesitant to jump in there :)

~~Funny thing: I had a male student quit once because he couldn't stand hip throws; having his groin anywhere near another man's.

~~Life's a wonder! Enjoy!

Paula Lydon
10-13-2003, 08:01 AM
~~Dario R., wonderful insights and points. Thanks! I've trained in Aikido 7 years but only recently began testing, and I notice at camps or seminars even, in regular class if someone doesn't know me, that yudansha surrepticiously glance at belts and make their choices of who to train with, or not. Sad but true...I hope your wife can find her way there because it is a inspiring art!

10-13-2003, 08:05 AM

That's truly unfortunate that the men in the dojo won't train with your wife. One of the most powerful and impressive women I've seen in aikido is very short and petite -- like your wife. She's around 5 feet tall and a little over a 110 pounds. And she has some amazing ukemi to top it off. Men never hesitate to train with her.

You already pointed at that the rule of thumb is to train with someone more advanced. There is another rule of thumb for those more advanced -- train with a beginner.


I didn't mention that she is a Sandan... ;)

You're observation is correct and what your wife is communicating to you is what many smaller women have to deal with, a lot. Please validate her feelings and observations. It can be frustrating especially when people don't tell you how (or don't know how to tell you) to get around their muscling resistance. She may be doing the technique just like they are except the results are different. In her case, they don't budge. In theirs, they can just plow her down into the mat each time they throw her because they are stronger and bigger than her. Just because they can do the latter doesn't make their aikido any better.

Let your wife know it can be done, and she can learn to throw those big guys. Just focus on her center and all the other aikido principles. And pity the fool that refuses to train with her.

Hanna B
10-13-2003, 08:07 AM
Hi Paula, I'm new at Aikido and I can guess why this happens.... yes, it's the training.


Why? She's not very tall (1,6 m) and has a very small figure (less than 50kg), this cause the "boys" to (un-willingly and irrationally, I hope) avoid her as nage,
People's actions described as "it's the training". Amazing.

This is probably the point where each thread that in any way relates to women in aikido seems doomed to degenerate. Wait and see what happens...

Dario Rosati
10-13-2003, 08:28 AM
People's actions described as "it's the training". Amazing.

This is probably the point where each thread that in any way relates to women in aikido seems doomed to degenerate. Wait and see what happens...
Ops... a word remained in my keyboard and this altered the whole statement :)

My english is not that good, sorry for that... I meant "It's the training environment", which is made mainly by people attitude and innate way of acting/thinking.


10-13-2003, 08:50 AM
Just to add another question, does anyone else have difficulties with getting male beginners to attack women (of any grade) properly? I find myself having to jump on these "wuss" attacks quite often - it's getting easier now we have some higher graded women back in the dojo, I just ask them to deal with this appropriately, but there does still seem to be this "chivalrous" attack mentality.

OT. Hanna: re "bad person" - it was joke, forgot the smiley.

Hanna B
10-13-2003, 10:55 AM
Dario, that certainly changed the meaning... thanks for your clarification.

10-13-2003, 12:47 PM
Our dojo just started offering aikido six months ago. We've got about 10 students aged 13-60; two of us are woman in the 40-50 range. I've got a purple belt in kenpo karate, she's got a 3rd degree black belt in tae kwon do and is a tai chi instructor. Both of us are just about the smallest people in the class, but no-one would doubt her abilities for a moment. I find that I can do the techniques on anyone in class until they start resisting hard (we do that once we learn the techniques) -- but then the very big, strong guys who outweigh me by 60lbs can stop me until I get very, very good at a technique.

My Sensei and classmates have all been

great -- I never feel like there's any

sexism or ageism or sizeism going on.

We swap around and always learn things by doing techniques with various people.

People were extra gentle with me at first, but as soon as I made it clear that I didn't want to be coddled and that I could take being thrown around

they were fine. My Sensei helps by telling newbies working with me, "She's tough, she can take it," if he sees that they're taking it easy on me.

All of us who started six months ago just had (and passed) our first test,

and we were all treated the same. I don't forsee any problems with our being promoted in the future, I think we'll be treated just like "one of the guys."

I'll admit that some of the grappling we

do in the weekly jujitsu class some of us take along with the aikido is a little awkward to do with guys --

kami gatame and tate gatame, for instance -- but you get used to it after a while, and no-one ever makes it seem inappropriate.

10-14-2003, 06:20 AM
I do treat beginners differently at the start, normally based on their previous experience (if any) and their body type. I will be more careful with a beginner who is small, fine boned or obviously lacking in any combat experience - this does cover many women.
Logically that sounds like what I'm doing although most likely it extends beyond that - probably it is related to my chivelrous (cro-mangon) upbringing.

Looking for more logic - because what I previously described just is and I see no reason (based on the resultant situation) to change - I could say that generally women and men come to Aikido with very different preconceptions of what they expect or want out of practice.

The primary premis is that I teach to train. I want my dojo to reflect my needs . I find that men (no matter what the build) tend to make the transition from preconception to practice faster because the distance is less. This has a lot to do with me probably having pretty much those same preconceptions when I started and have not really advanced that much.

So here is the question (and this time I'll wait for a few answers before I step in the brown stuff) but do people see a gender bias in reasons/preconceptions for coming to Aikido? And how quickly do they change?

10-14-2003, 01:05 PM
"do people see a gender bias in reasons/preconceptions for coming to Aikido? And how quickly do they change?"

reasons/preconceptions - no real difference gender wise (except a couple of outliers, one man wanted to train vs an axe, and brought own axe, one woman thought all attacks would concentrate on her handbag and never her body, yes also brought own handbag - consider these two as the same gender, nutjobs)

change - not so much change as different stages at different points in their training. Men, in general, are gung-ho very early on, soften then this re-emerges at 2nd kyu or so. Women seem to start softer then hit their agression stage about 3rd kyu onwards... I've found it's actually harder to stop the women being too rough than the men once they're capable.

disclaimer - gross generalisations, assuming no other martial experience in student and basically reserving the right to be wrong...

Ron Tisdale
10-14-2003, 02:55 PM
My first experience with cross-gender training was in kickboxing. I was doing a little training in college (read very little) with some friends, and decided to drop into a dojo in Tacoma, Wa, while there for the summer. The teacher wanted to see what I'd picked up in my 'informal' training, so put me in with one of his women trainees...I can't even remember her rank. But she was ***tiny***.

Long story short...she kicked my butt! She had the sweetest little roundhouse kick...and hit me with it all day long. It was actually quite amusing...


10-17-2003, 11:12 PM
Hi Paula,

Reasons why female aikidoka at higher levels have left our dojo:

1. Because they were young when they started training and then moved out of home and began to experience real life.

2. Because they were older when they started training and moved away to further their careers or they started a family.

The same reasons why women stop doing anything they love.

As far as lower-graded women go, they either love it or don't and if they don't, they disappear.

We have about 10-20% women at our dojo. Our Sensei is encouraging and supportive of all.

I think that more women find it hard to attack well (as uke's). I know that it took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that I was meant to actually try my best to hit someone, and with enough power to really hurt them. But, many men also have this problem. I also think that many women progress more quickly as beginners, perhaps because with less stregth to apply, we learn more quickly not to try to use it.

In the past I prefered training with men - because (in general) they attack more sincerely and because I can feel their strength so easily that applying techniques is easier. And usually women are so much more flexible! Training with women is more challenging - but then again, that's what I'm there for. When my technique works on our other higher-ranking female, I know I'm doing it properly. If she can stop me from throwing her, she will. This is how I learn...

I love teaching women - I enjoy watching them progress. And I like being the 'older sister' role-model :-)

Jeanne Shepard
10-20-2003, 10:26 PM
I'm guessing that women leave for the same reasons med do, its just that fewer women come in the door in the first place.


10-21-2003, 12:26 PM
I've found it's actually harder to stop the women being too rough than the men once they're capable
When I started aikido, I really didn't think I could hurt the men. It wasn't until after about 2 years (now into my 4th year) of aikido did I realize that my aikido skills were capable of injuring my male partners. Learning this though was a huge revelation. But I would have never known this if my male practice partners didn't say anything.

Now, when I train with newbie guys I go easy on them just like any other newbie. It's funny because they will resist me because they think my technique isn't working, but I'm usually just being gentle. I'll asking them if they want me to intensify my technique and and they say, "yeah." Then I do and they're like "wow." ;) (not that I'm that entirely amazing, btw ;) ~tongue firmly placed in cheek~)

10-21-2003, 07:10 PM
Just to add another question, does anyone else have difficulties with getting male beginners to attack women (of any grade) properly?
Have experienced both sides of the coin. Guys who attack full power. Which worries me a little cause they haven't taken the time to gauge my ability (this would pertain to any training partner male or female) and don't make allowances.

Lately a lot of guys new to the dojo have been apologising for tossing me...which I didn't experience much when I first started.

I usually respond to matt chivalry with greater attack than theirs. Then they lift their game to match it.

But yeah, it is the beginners that take a noticeable hesitant stance while the more experienced usually just ease off a little until they know if i can take it.

Not that I don't appreciate chivalry in everyday life - sometimes a rare thing.