Are Martial Arts Good for Women?
In order to evaluate whether martial arts training is beneficial to women, we need to consider the aspects of personal growth, self defense, and fitness/health. Given the wide array of training methods, options are available for people with a wide range of dispositions. Training is specifically designed to suit the needs of women.
The term Martial Arts is often associated with the idea of fighting in our culture. In particular, two images come to mind with regard to how women are socialized in the United States. First is the image of two men brawling in a bar. Even if one man is only trying to defend himself, the aggression he shows while rolling on the ground is seen as very distasteful. The second image is a woman, socialized to be the victim, being attacked. She may throw her arms up in dismay, helpless, her only defense being to scream and only if the attacker allows it.
Both of these images, however, have nothing to do with martial training. In the first case, we find that genuine defense does not come with a motivation based upon selfishness. Aggression for the sake of self preservation fails. Instead, we recognize the ethical foundation of the practice will bring a certain calm and patience which enables one to respond to violence more effectively. No one likes the negative states of mind in selfishness and aggression that emerge from the image of the two men brawling. If instead we envision the man in the brawl patiently tying up his attacker on the ground as he calms down, everyone would find this situation more palatable.
As for the image of helplessness, our culture unfortunately produces this very destructive pattern of socialization. As Mitsugi Saotome explains, we have a grave responsibility to protect ourselves. If someone harms us, they harm themselves very seriously, and so we must train ourselves to be strong to protect ourselves for their benefit. Their well being is tied up with ours, so we must thwart their attempts to do harm for both of our sakes. There is no place for this socialized victim mentality.
Given that the martial arts training does produce positive character, what other benefits accrue? How can a weaker woman effectively defend herself from a stronger opponent? What about fitness and health?
There are two approaches to self defense: generating power from a static position, and receiving/redirecting the force of the attacker. Women do have a physically weaker upper body than men, and so the first method will be more difficult. So instead, women can be quite effective by focusing their training on the second method. By accepting and evading the power of the attack a woman can very efficiently redirect the power back to the attacker in the form of a strike, throw or pin. Ethics are considered in avoiding a selfish desire to harm the attacker. Instead, one focuses on communicating to the attacker that their idea to harm another is actually harmful for them. This mindset is maintained when inflicting pain upon an attacker to discourage further violence. At the precise moment when their mind becomes nonviolent, the woman stops the pain. The attacker is thus controlled with the minimum harm inflicted. So in short, rather than go up against the strength of a stronger opponent, receiving generally becomes the go to strategy for women in martial arts..
For fitness, again martial arts training can be considered a form of exercise rather than training to inflict harm on others. As we cannot speak with knowledge of other martial arts, we will use Aikido as an example. Leg strength is developed by maintaining low and powerful stances throughout the practice as well as some of the specialized ground work. Arm strength is developed with weapons training. Core strength is developed through falling technique. After proficiency in falling is developed, one can develop an aerobic workout for cardio vascular benefits.
If we look at the population of women who train in martial arts broadly, we typically find the highest concentration in Tai Chi first due to its emphasis on health. Next in line would be Aikido due to its graceful movements.