George S. Ledyard wrote:
There are a good number of very senior women who are attaining top rank and teaching, not just in their own dojos, but on the seminar circuit where they can influence a very wide group of people. It is these role models who are vitally important for the next generation of female instructors coming along. It is also through their influence that many males will not view Aikido as just the "boys club". In my own case I have trained from the very start of my Aikido career with some incredible women. Raso Hultgren Sensei (Missoula Aikikai) was one of my first instructors along with Megan Reisel and Sarah Bluestone (three of the five yudansha who moved to Washington, DC to help Saotome Sensei open his dojo there were women). Patty Saotome Sensei and I have been going toe to toe on the mat for going on thirty years. I spent over five years training at Mary Heiny's dojo in Seattle. I've been classmates with Linda Holiday Sensei, Joanne Veneziano Sensei, Kimberly Richardson Sensei every one of whom has her own school. So I think my own training has been uniquely affected by powerful Aikido women.
Reading the above, I was struck by the usual sense of "lost without a handhold" I get in some of these female-oriented discussions. Let me use the example of white-water kayaking (which I've done longer than I've done Aikido or any other single martial art). There are women that compete in white-water competitions and some of them can kick my butt because they're skilled and they practice daily, etc., etc. However, there are a lot of women kayakers who are "good in comparison to most women but middle-of-the-road in comparison to most men in a given river town". When we get to holding competitions that involve the mediocre women and the announcers are proclaiming how great are their skills, etc., I start feeling queasy. There's an artificialness and dishonesty about publicly stating something that most of us in the kayak community know isn't true and it somehow soils (some of us, not all) our reputation and love of the sport to have this sort of BS go on.... even though "it's for a good cause, championing women". Worse yet, there is something really wrong about recognizing a medium level of skills for one gender while ignoring the same skills in another group of earnest practitioners. It's called gender bias.
I know or have seen some of the "incredible women" you just named, George. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them are given more press than equally-skilled men because they are women and there again seems to be that idea of "it's OK if we distort the truth a little bit since it's for a good cause." Hey..... if it's a man or a woman that's got something I can learn, I'm for 'em. If Aikido is going to become a vehicle for over-hyping women because "it's the right thing to do", I'm going to start feeling queasy. Let's recognize the really good women and start having them at Aiki Expo's and let's encourage everyone
to do and be the best they can. But let's leave all the street shoes at the entrance to the dojo, eh?