Gender and Age

Just another Saturday informal practice time. One of my sensei  was showing me a way to set someone up for a crescent kick to the head. As I watched I casually put my gloved hand up to the side of my head whenever I saw Sensei’s leg come up for the kick. As Sensei explained the movements he repeated them again and again so that I had plenty of opportunities both to watch carefully and to try and see what it might look like if I didn’t know what was coming. At one point I stepped outside myself and thought, “Wow, this is actually kinda funny – a woman my age letting someone kick to her head and she’s just casually blocking like it’s no big deal.”

I admit that I still have a persistent vision of what typical middle age looks like for women. Saturday morning could mean sitting in a chair reading a good book and sipping hot cocoa – maybe call Mom and see if she wants to go to the antique store later. This contrasts sharply with my Saturday mornings filed with weights, calisthenics, basics, forms, sparring, bruises, and gallons of sweat. Maybe I’m laughing at myself when I find humor in the contrast between what my life is like and my vision of typical middle aged womanhood.

“Brave” is how one friend outside my martial arts circles describes me. Why? Because as often as possible I get into a tournament ring to spar with karateka who outrank me. Because I am not scared to explore beaches and forests with only my little dog for company. Because I risk injury every time I spar or am thrown. Because I consider most bruises to be badges of honor. Because I’ve taken the first of the “really hard” belt tests. Is this brave? I’ll bet many of my martial arts “brothers” take these things for granted. But for an average middle-aged woman… Different story. We’re “supposed to” be well on our way to retirement.

I’m not the only middle-aged lady acquiring bruises for funsies (as Jackie Bradbury puts it). Heck, two middle-aged lady martial artists are in my dojo and they outrank me. There are more in the Karate organization I belong to. I’m acquainted with even more from tournaments and seminars. There are a few who are Internet buddies of mine and I hope someday to meet them in person. But if one were to ask any given person on the street to describe what a martial artist looks like, that person will most likely describe a young, buff male. Go a step further and ask any given person on the street to describe what a martial arts student looks like and you’ll probably hear a description of a little boy. Not a grown woman who’s started the next half of her life.

Admittedly there are some physical things I do that are concessions to my age. I have noticed it takes me longer to heal from injuries than when I was younger so I take even minor twinges seriously. Paying attention to proper form in stances and adjusting one stance ever so slightly should help stave off knee problems. It takes me longer to build muscle and I must be content with small gains over long periods of time. I absolutely must fall properly when I’m thrown. I have to watch what I eat and carefully time when I eat on workout days. I’ve got to stay hydrated. I must go to bed on time. Taking naps between work and Karate has become a habit. All that said, there are young people out there who can’t do half the things I do. I might have to work around some things but that doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t pursue my art. I know this, but sometimes my past still whispers to me.

Old thought patterns die hard. I was born in 1970, and society was quite different then. Little girls were supposed to be cute and fluffy. They were supposed to play with dolls and tea sets. In most literature for children boys had wonderful adventures. Most books about girls bored me to tears. Ice skating was an “acceptable” sport for my mother, and knitting was an “acceptable” pastime for my grandmother (who was only 42 years older than I). Women were supposed to have big hair and wear the latest fashions. I was bombarded with movies and TV showing women as silly little sex objects who were often in need of rescuing (mostly because they did something stupid or failed to take action). Most telling – I was the first woman in my family to graduate from college. I’ve fought hard to be who I am today.

Still… The other day I came home from Karate class and mused, “What a strange hobby I have,” as I flexed my upper back to ease the ache from being thrown about a dozen times. Then I realized my gender and age bias. As I wrote above, old thought patterns die hard. What’s strange about someone finding something he or she likes to do? What’s strange about that someone setting goals, achieving them, and setting new goals? What’s strange about someone becoming more physically fit, more mentally disciplined, more confident? What’s strange about anyone acquiring knowledge of how to survive if attacked? Everyone deserves opportunities to pursue excellence. Karate is my “way,” and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Related reading:  Gender Inequality

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

6 thoughts on “Gender and Age”

    1. Of course you’re 25 🙂 Online, you can be any age you want 🙂 Osu and thanks for stopping by and reading!

  1. Joelle-san,
    Nice topic…I started my karate training in 1981 and I was the only 10 year old boy at my senseis’ dojo in Boston Massachusetts. We had a few female karatekas and interesting enought one of the is still training today who I think is in her 70s…
    Through my years of training I can confirm that there have not been that many females in the martial arts as they are today. Makes my passion for karate even stronger. Love it!
    Again congratulations on your journey and do not let age be the subconscious of your on going training. Osu

  2. Osu, Valentino-san! I am honored that you stopped by to read my little musings. Thank you very much for your kind words of encouragement. Kudos to the lady in her 70s who is still training! I trained in the mid 1980s and yes, there were few female beginners and even fewer sensei. I know what you mean about it making your passion for Karate even stronger – we’ve gained a lot of ground and it’s good to keep the ball rolling. Again, thank you for stopping by and commenting! Osu!

  3. Osu! I am really glad that I found your blog. I am about your age (I was born in 1971) and did a little bit of Goju Ryu karate and judo in my youth, but have not done any martial arts for 25 years or so. Not until about two weeks ago, that is, when I finally kicked myself in the butt and checked out a trial lesson in a local dojo that teaches kyokushin karate. I instantly fell in love with it, even though it is way above my current fitness level and I feel terribly slow, weak and winded in class. There are a lot of doubts in my head if I should really go for such a hard and brutal martial art at my age. Like, wouldn’t I be better off taking yoga or tai chi classes like other women my age do? (Well, tell you what … I was never someone to do what “other women” did and probably never will be) Won’t it be too hard? Isn’t the risk of injury to great? But despite all that, despite the bruises I got during kumite, I haven’t missed a single training during my two week trial run and am now ready to sign for a membership. So I am glad that there are other women out there who started karate (or got back to it after a long break) later in life and still manage it. It encourages me immensely. So thank you for sharing your stories.

  4. Osu, Jutta! Kokondo! Wow, you are gutsy! Your fitness level will get better over time. On non-class days I do a circuit workout that incorporates whatever I need to work on for karate. I wish I’d known about how to structure my workouts when I first started – it’s well worth researching. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

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