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Old 10-21-2004, 08:43 AM   #17
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Different dojo populations...

If you read Deborah Tannen's book "You Just Don't Understand" on communications styles between men and women she sums up the basic difference this way: "Males use language to compete and females use language to connect".

In the Aikido context males instructing their partners has two basic reasons. First is the competition / pecking order aspect. They do this with each other, not just with the women, it's just part of the competition already taking place within the martial context of the training. Some places handle this by having no talking although in our dojo I haven't done that as I find it frustrating for beginners who really do want help from just about everybody they train with. But it's pretty natural... I even had a visiting Japanese student from the Honbu dojo give me instruction on a technique when he couldn't actually do the technique on me and I had just nuked him on the same technique. His world view of being a Japanese student from the home dojo made in incumbent on him to be in the superior position (which caused him to not even note the fact that I was having no trouble doing the technique in question).

A second general observation of men and women is that "Women want to be understood and men want to be appreciated". Tannen notes that when women communicate their thoughts about events in their lives to men, the men tend to take a problem solving approach to this communication. When a woman talks about a frustration or difficulty encountered she is looking to be heard by the person she is communicating with. Men see the communication as a call for a solution and when they offer the solution, which seems perfectly logical to do when presented with what they see as a problem, the woman often feels that her feelings or experience are being devalued and she doesn't feel "heard".

So this is the second cause for men instructing women in the dojo; they don't really know how to relate to women very well in any other way. Women tend to view their Aikido practice very much as a communication process with the partner. Even as they work on the various technical issues involved they want to feel as if they are sharing the experience with their partner. Just listen to how women communicate about the process when they are with each other, maybe in the dressing room away from the men. Guys simply do not communicate with each other in the same way at all. A guy who has the very best of intentions will see the various issues associated with training as issues to be solved. When he sees that a woman (it could be any partner) is having difficulty with a technique it is almost automatic for him to see this as a problem to be solved and he will offer a solution. This comes from a genuine desire to be helpful and also the desire to be appreciated by the female as Tannen noted. And just as in other areas of communication between men and women, the female often feels that, despite his good intentions, the male who is offering this help isn't validating or understanding her process. To see this in action just watch how women will take instruction from each other in a different way than they take it from a male. Of course the males offer instruction to each other differently than they do to their female partners. It's just helpful to understand the dynamic, then perhaps you can avoid being so frustrated.

The issue of equality on the mat has always been problematical in the martial arts, especially in Aikido in which there are so many female practitioners. Males spend a lot of time being confused about what is wanted by their female counterparts (what a surprise considering how the rest of life is). Everyone is aware that the women want to be considered equal to the men. But the men become painfully aware early in their practice that "equal" doesn't translate to "the same".

The young testosterone boys have a whole way that they tend to train with each other. This is how they establish their pecking order and earn the "respect" of their peers and even their teacher. But if they train with the women in the dojo in the same way they train with each other they are accused of being macho and even being abusive or at least too rough. But when they "train down" to their female counterparts to avoid these charges they get accused of not respecting their female partners.

I have heard over and over again from female Aikido friends of their frustration about not having the guys train seriously with them. At the same time, at a summer camp one year a guy was there who was very rough in his training. The word went around the camp that he was hurting the women and was abusive. Well, he was rough... but the men's reaction was to go toe to toe with him and smash him back. The women's reaction was to withdraw and process their feelings about being abused and devalued.

This is VERY confusing for the men. I can attest to much of this as I had the rare experience of being a male in a dojo run by a very senior woman, Mary Heiny Sensei, in which the majority of the students were female. I was made aware of the double standard very early on when I discovered that if one of the women did a certain move, she was being a "powerful woman" and if I did precisely the same thing, I was being a "macho jerk".

Whereas women tend to have to put up with this whole issue of the men talking down to them, instructing them, disrespecting their training, when you put a guy into a mostly female training environment, I assure you that he will put up with whole array of passive aggressive manipulations which don't make him feel very validated. I watched a number of times how experienced male martial artists came into the training environment and have all of their previous experience devalued by the females traiing there. One guy in particular had won the Hawaiian full contact championships in th sixties. he could hit anyone in the dojo at will if he wanted... The women wee terrified of him so he was made to feel like his previous training was some sort of black mark against him that could only be erased by doing the spiritual art of Aikido (according to the unwritten rules of the females in the dojo of course). He ended up leaving.

I point this out only to say that, yes, women do not get equal treatment or the treatment that they'd like from many, if not all men they train with. I largely believe that this is simply a continuation of the same inability men and women have in communicating in general. But I also want to point out that this isn't just the men and that when one reverses the dominance situation and puts the females in the majority role, it doesn't fare much better for the guys, for precisely the same reasons. I think it takes a lot of practice and experience for folks to work these things out. And they don't all arrive at the same solutions.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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