Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Women and Budo

Louise here,

At the International Seminar of Budo Culture, (see Erica's previous blog), one of the general discussions was about “Women and Budo.” The coordinator was Kaori Yamaguchi sensei (from Judo), and there were five women on the panel: Jyunko Oishi sensei (Kendo), Harumi Watanabe sensei (Kyudo), Rie Tsuihiji sensei (Sumo), Miyuki Kumazawa sensei (Aikido) and Yasuko Kimura sensei (Naginata).

One of the things that they discussed was the difficulties women face learning budo, which in Japan has traditionally been a man's occupation. For example, Tsuihiji sensei was one of the first women to do sumo, and even now there are less than 300 women sumo players in Japan. Some of the difficulties she faces even now range from basics like no separate changing facilities (so has to put up with the men baring all) to a lack of women training partners. Watanabe sensei started kyudo at university, and had to endure a lot of bullying from her male seniors. Kumazawa sensei found that her mainly male aikido training partners were reluctant to train with a girl, but she dealt with that by just going and claiming someone to help her train.

My personal experience is a bit different to what the Japanese women were talking about. I began training karate in New Zealand at classes that were run by Robert Smith sensei at my girls' high school, so gender wasn't an issue, us all being girls. When I joined Robbie sensei's main dojo however, I still don't remember any difference between boys and girls. We all trained together and fought together. Granted, in karate a lot of training is individual, and when we did train with partners we had a tendency to want to go with our close friends of the same gender, but when we changed partners we'd end up working with everybody in the end. In the last year or two before I came to Japan, there were few women seniors training at my club, so I'd almost always train with the men. Thus, I don't think I've ever made a distinction in my mind about women vs men.

I found a contrast when I came to Japan. Not all the time, but often, the girls have to partner with other girls. I sometimes get irritated when this happens, because it limits the experience we get. Men generally have more physical strength than women, so use their bodies and techniques in slightly different ways. I think both men and women need experience dealing with these differences.

This is without a doubt a huge topic: women's place and experiences in budo. I think it also extends beyond just 'women and budo' to 'women and men's respective experiences in the world.' How far do basic biological differences between the genders and the weight of history and customs create differences in our place in the world? What really do we mean by equality between the sexes? Because it is certain that women today in the Western world are filling roles that have traditionally been held by men and are demanding the same freedoms and responsibilities as men. Do men also fill roles that women have traditionally held? Do we share the same roles equally? I suspect there are as many answers to these questions as there are people in the world. In Japan I feel that society is also slowly moving the same way as the Western world, though of course I've only been here for ten months, so I'm no expert.

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