Over Sexualization in Martial Arts
My dojo hosts many seminars...
Yet I distinctly remember one of my first...
I showed up and as I joined the mat one of my fellow peers made the comment,
“Wow you look pretty today.”
I was slightly taken aback. It wasn’t a compliment I was use to receiving on the mat. When I asked him what brought that about, he said,
“You actually have makeup on.”
This threw me for an even bigger loop. Attractive was never an adjective I thought to describe myself as on the mat. During training I would use adjective such as confident, strong, athletic, and maybe even badass…
It was a few months later, I was told by a potential sponsor who wanted me to test their gear out, said that they were withdrawing their offer because my photos on my social media were...
not “hot” enough.
Photo credit: BJJEE at bjjee.com
I was blindsided, confused and I’ll admit it hurt a little.
I had originally thought I was suppose to test the Gi’s and promote them in a business like manner. The truth of the matter was this company didn’t want me promoting their merchandize with my talent and reputation. They wanted me to promote them with one of the oldest marketing tactics, based on the philosophy that sex sells.
Regardless of this marketing scheme that has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years; our society has become more progressive, reforming their ideology on feminine beauty to include qualities such as confidence, strength and athleticism. With this psyche, it’s natural that female martial artists could become sensuous and even provocative. But at what point of time do we cross the line and focus not on a martial artists capabilities but rather their appearance?
At what point of time do we as a society begin to sexualize martial artists?
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I was proven wrong by the first class. The striking class with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and his dad/coach Ray Thompson was a pleasant surprise. Here where two clearly experience instructors not only providing realistic drills but discussing the technique and theory behind each drill that was obviously Kempo based (and yes some of the students were kids and women).
It was also an eye opener. As I watched it became clear that very few students had any martial arts basis to go off of. Some of the students didn’t even know what a proper fighting stance was. The Thompson’s were introducing them to literally basics and principles such as...
There is technique in MMA. It comes from the basis of whatever system you choose to start with. You have to learn the basics and hone your technique otherwise you’re just another bozo jumping around in gym shorts.
After class I got a chance to talk to Stephen.
A funny history lesson: My Grandmaster Sifu Ed Parker Sr. was Elvis’s instructor and it was Elvis’s involvement in martial arts that inspired Ray Thompson to start martial arts.
Stephen replied, “No, because of the way I move I don’t worry about it. I see these guys, you can tell (they’re effected) by the way they talk but they get that way in the gym. You have to train smart. When we spar we work light, we work the body not the head. You just have to train smart.”
Training smart was something he had brought up in the class repeatedly even discussing his former injuries and how he listens to his body to determine work outs at times.
Stephen didn’t even hesitate, explaining the importance of learning to defend yourself regardless of age and that it helps teach modesty and respect. He also brought up bullying, that learning to defend yourself will deter bullies.
Pretty much what all proper martial artist instructors have been saying since the beginning of time that no one wants to listen too. Now at Upstate Karate they teach various styles of martial arts. I have been somewhat confused about this in the past and I had read articles and rants online about learning too many systems and never mastering one. “Some people feel that by doing MMA you aren’t mastering a system. Your response?”
I can relate as an instructor. The countless times a student missed class for a week because of a track tournament or even a fatigued student because of back to back practices; at times the parents seeming to be more concerned with the quantity instead of quality of sport activities. I had a wonderful time talking to Stephen. He appeared to be a genuine guy that enjoys not only doing martial arts but teaching it, even taking time during the seminar to help the younger kids in the class. The complete opposite of what I expected.
We later watched the class by Carlos Condit ...
This ended up being pretty much a drill class. Carlos introduced incorporating elbows into blast double take downs and double under clutches. This was interesting to me because I had never heard of such things but as I watched the students you could tell that because they lacked the power principles most would have to try hard to take someone down or get pulverized in the process. The main lesson I walked away with from Carlos was a comment he made that indirectly connected back to Stephen’s interview...
“The more wars (sparring) you have here (gym), the less you have out there.”
Carlos responded, “Yes my son’s been doing Jujitsu a few years. He’s 6. I don’t train him, I just play and wrestle around, let it be fun.”
There are many different systems of martial arts and at times I think parents get confused on what is what and which they should enroll their child in. So I asked him for advice he would give parents thinking of enrolling in martial arts.
Carlos believes and advises, “Take out the competitive aspect and let them train and have fun. When they have fun it allows them to make mistakes and grow.”
I think in turn MMA has the potential to be no different from a singular martial art. It really just depends on where you train and who you train with. Unfortunately with the popularity growth of UFC I believe we will see more MMA versions on McDojos popping up. Anyone who’s contemplating training in a MMA style should take their time to do their research and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The trainers that enjoy the sport and know what they’re doing will welcome the questions because they have the knowledge to answer and are worth your time.
IS ALL FAIR IN LOVE & WAR?
Is it fair to assume if martial artists spend so much time contemplating war, then love is going to come up eventually.
My Sifu once advised,
“Date someone in martial arts.”
I’ve contemplated that statement, wondering if that really is the secret to a successful relationship. As marital artists our equilibrium is naturally set to balance life and mat, but what happens when a third party becomes involved? Haven’t we all heard the phrase,
“You’re going to the dojo again?”
Let's be honest, we've all been there and done that...
I was visiting two of my married Kenpo friends; discussing sparring with them when I found out they never sparred together. They practice techniques and forms together… but they didn’t spar. They worried it would cause bad feelings and resentment between the two of them if one was either hit too hard or just right.
As a person that loves to spar, the idea of working techniques/forms and eliminating sparring sounded like hell to me; like building a relationship with someone and removing sex from the equation.
This entire time I had been day dreaming what it would be like to date a fellow martial artist—thinking how wonderful it would be to work out together and for someone to finally understand my passion for the art.
Relationship goals... Or Urban Myth?
In reality it’s a naive concept.
No relationship is perfect and we tend to lose sight of what is important. Finding a partner that supports us and respects us for who we are. Every relationship is different and will have different needs. If someone loves you for who you are (and you are a martial artist) then they should respect and love that part of you because it’s who you are.
I’m no relationship expert but I am a martial artist and I hope my future partner recognizes from the sparring to Kenpo kisses (bruises) and the long mat hours are not only what I enjoy but they are making me a better person every day.
Jesalyn Mae Harper
Hello my name is Jesalyn. I'm a divorced single mom and a karate addict...
I am currently a 1st Brown belt in American Kenpo and a Junior Instructor at Double Dragon Kenpo Karate under JR Diaz, I am part of the Parker/Planas Lineage and study Karbaroan Eskrima with JR Diaz, under Guro Ed Planas
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