Tag Archives: boundaries

How Martial Arts Empowers Women

22 Aug

If you watch martial arts movies, you know that martial arts is extremely male-dominated. This often leaves women wondering if there is a place for them in martial arts classes. Am I strong enough? Will I get hurt? Will there be other women there? Will I be taken seriously? Will I be harassed?

Janice earned her black belt after 50!

Anyone can do martial arts. Male or female, any age, even people with physical or cognitive disabilities can learn to do martial arts. If an instructor tells you differently, that only demonstrates their ignorance.

Any well-qualified instructor who has integrity should make ANY new student feel welcome and supported at their school. If this is not the feeling you get from an instructor, look elsewhere! Remember, the rules for authority figures are the same for anyone else– if it feels disrespectful, it is disrespectful.

Reasons women benefit from martial arts training:

1) Feel stronger and more connected to your body. Martial arts training develops balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, speed and power. You will be amazed at what your body can do! How hard you hit has very little to do with how big you are. When you feel good about what your body can do, you feel good about your body in general.

I trust Jennifer Endres (now 5th degree Master Instructor) to strike with control in close quarters.

2) Get comfortable setting physical boundaries.Working in close quarters with classmates to practice self defense techniques may put you outside of your comfort zone initially, but you will quickly find yourself becoming more confident and less intimidated by other people who are in your space. You also learn to set clear physical boundaries through communicating with your practice partners.

Did I mention how fun it is?! Laughter is a great stress reliever!

3) Let go of stress and anger in a healthy way.There is something about the physical process of throwing strikes, in the air or on bags, that literally shakes stress out of your body. This, combined with the grounding of stance work and learning healthy breathing techniques makes martial arts an excellent stress reliever, especially for those of us who feel we need to keep our stress to ourselves (a common concern for many women).

From my 2nd degree test-- The woman in red is my mom, Master Mary Murphy. The 4th degrees on either side of me are now Master Instructors as well! There's no end to the opportunities for learning...

4) Develop a sense of achievement and success. Regular practice leads not only to significant improvement in technique, but to opportunities for rank advancement. There’s something very satisfying about tying on that shiny new belt, a visible reminder to the whole school of what you’ve accomplished through persistence and practice! Plus, rank trumps everything else in a martial arts school. When we line up to take a drink at the water fountain, it’s not “ladies first”, it’s “white belts first”!

If you are in the Madison, WI area, check out to schedule a free trial class.

The Word “NO”– Always a Classic!

30 Nov

My mother is a 7th degree black belt, and she raised me in a martial arts studio. One day I asked her what my first word was as a baby. She laughed and answered, “No!”

“No” is a classic strategy in self defense and sexual assault prevention. Everyone has heard “No means no” or seen women in self defense classes with their hands raised screaming, “NO! BACK OFF!!” Unfortunately, in my experience teaching women’s self defense, I don’t see many women coming into my classes who feel confident about using this simple word.

If you don’t feel comfortable saying no to people, I don’t blame you. Women are taught in our society to put others needs before our own, to be pleasant and polite, to let others speak first and not to interrupt. These deeply ingrained lessons can be serious barriers to standing up for ourselves.

I ask women what stops them from saying no and they answer the same way every time:

“I don’t want to be mean.”

“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

“I just feel so uncomfortable I don’t know what to say!”

I’m waiting for the day when someone can give me one good reason that explains why saying “no” is mean. We’re not talking about saying “Get out of my face, loser!” We’re talking about say “No.” or even “No, thank you.” Sounds pretty polite to me!

You know what’s not polite? What really makes people feel uncomfortable? Discounting the word no. For most women, this happens so often, they don’t even notice it anymore.

“Hey, can I buy you a drink?”

“No, thank you.”

“Come on! How about a shot?”

“Really, I’m fine…”

I mentioned this concept to one of my students the other day and she lit up with recognition immediately at the thought of it. “Yes!” she said, “It’s like every time I have to turn someone down for any reason I internally prepare to defend my reasons.”

We don’t need a reason to say no! We can say no whenever we feel like it.

“Can I buy you a drink?” “No.” “Oh come on…” “I said no, and my answer is not going to change.” (walk away)

I have very rarely had men in social situations respect my use of the word no immediately, except in situations where I was forced to step slightly beyond basic assertiveness to protect my girlfriends. You may not notice it because they might be acting nice, or maybe they are making a nice offer.

“Here, let me help you with those groceries.”

“No thank you, I’m fine.”

“Come on, there’s such a thing as being too proud, you know.”

This example is from The Gift of Fear. The woman finally let the man help her with her groceries, after which he followed her into her apartment and raped her. She ignored her initial instincts of fear, but they later helped her to escape safely even though her attacker had a gun and had intended to kill her.

If you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, you are a good person. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable! If someone discounts your “no”, they are consciously making you uncomfortable. They are not stupid. They know you feel awkward and they are counting on it. This person does not deserve your consideration. They are not worried about your feelings, so you don’t need to worry about theirs. No apologies, no excuses– Just say “no”.

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