His passion is protective, compassionate, so he underlines my frailty, my na´vetÚ; whereas I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness,who does not believe me na´ve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.
- Ana´s Nin
Now that I'm the father of a girl
, I'm starting to pay a lot more attention to the way I talk and think about women. I've started to wonder whether the things I think and say about women are things I'd want people thinking and saying about my own daughter. It's been a revealing experience, especially in the dojo.
Despite my best efforts, it would seem I'm still a little bit of a sexist out on the mat. Maybe not an old-fashioned "women belong in the home" sexist or a gangsta rapper "bitches and hos" sexist, but still a kind of sexist. The way I train with female partners is clearly different from the way I train with male partners.
Specifically, I am a weaker uke
for a female nage
. I am less likely to throw a munetsuki
strike with conviction at a female nage
. I am less likely to make an honest attack with a ken
(sword) or jo
(staff) against a female nage
. And perhaps worst of all, I am more likely to capitulate to a female nage's
The sin here is twofold: first, I am not giving my female training partners the respect they deserve, and second, I am depriving them of the best they can get out of their training.
I, of all men, should know better. Both the clubs where I train have female head instructors and female brown belt students. I've had multiple opportunities to train with Chicago's wonderful Yuki Hara Sensei, a woman of great skill and great strength. Even off the mat, I am surrounded by strong, independent women: my wife, my mother, and many of my friends and former coworkers. I have no excuses.
I have written before
about how the martial arts can work like a mirror. They give us an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly. Not for the first time, I'm decidedly dissatisfied with what I see in that mirror.
So what's a man to do about it? It's unlikely that such a tendency manifesting itself in the dojo is isolated to the dojo alone. It's probably something that creeps into all my relationships in life. Could I some day sell my daughter short the way I have my training partners? It's an unsettling thought.
The solution, I think, is what Buddhists call mindfulness, and what we in Japanese martial arts call zanshin
. I do not consciously esteem women any less than I esteem men; my mistake is a subconscious one. The answer, then, or at least the beginning of the answer, lies in getting out of the subconscious: getting off autopilot, paying attention.
I'm going to have to start asking myself some questions. For starters: am I treating the person across from me like a martial artist or a fragile vessel that I'm afraid of breaking?