Girls in martial arts: yay or nay? (or: How karate improves your life)

Girls in martial arts, yay or nay; or: How karate improves your life

It is a common misconception that girls in martial arts are aggressive and like to brawl. So, how can one girl doing martial arts teach you an important lesson about life and are you up for the challenge of rejecting your prejudice and fighting your stereotypes?

 

Aggression stereotype

Most often, when people ask me if I do any sports, since I appear completely sporty even when wearing skirts and girly apparel, until recently my response was I only cheer heartedly on handball matches.

However, it changed last year, when I returned to my karate lessons. Now, the conversation would immediately switch to another question, “Can you kick my ass here and now?” in which case I would have to further explain that martial arts are not about attacking people or being able to kick their ass but rather to avoid any conflict and resolve to violence only when there is no other option.

Not even most famous girl martial artists in the world are exempt from the false belief of being aggressive or quarrelsome, or even labelled some other names, no matter how far from the truth that may be.

 

My story with karate

Long time ago, when I was still in primary school, we were offered a wide selection of sports or extracurricular activities to do after school, in school premises. At first I tried dancing, but it didn’t work – I wasn’t even able to remember the basic steps. It was strange, and will never fail to impress me how my body feels the rhythm and is able to perfectly improvise a dance to any tune, however when it comes to formal learning of even the basics, I could never grasp a hold of any movements.

The next thing I tried years later was karate, but only because my father learnt that it was his friend giving lessons. So I went. The school hall we used was not particularly suitable for such a sport, and although it now seems tiny to me, back in the days it was spatious enough to accommodate dozens of pupils eager to learn some new moves.

During summer, but before the school year would begin, we would practice in the open, in the small “forest” in the school yard – yes, my primary school has a huge yard, with two such “forests” consisting of several dozens of trees, a football field and a volleyball field, and plenty more room in between.

Later on, we moved from the school premises to a nearby communal hall, a cold, long and narrow, concrete room, with even no heating, absolutely unsuitable for such sports.

As time went by, those dozens of karate students decreased slowly, and I was one of the drop outs – I was already in high school, my grades not as expected, one even threatening to have a big impact on my future. I was tired of karate, I lost my motivation, winter was coming, my group at home already fell apart so we once again were supposed to change the venue to the town high school hall, and my math grades so bad I just didn’t know what to do anymore nor how to study to fix the damage.

The final step I took was passing my green belt exam – barely – and dropped out completely, for more than a decade.

However, as I already mentioned in one of the previous texts, on How to lose weight without actually losing weight, years have passed, but something was hidden deep, deep down, and awoke once I saw a karate lesson poster. I did end up in tai chi chuan, which brought me tranquillity for years and improved my neck condition, and I settled in for it for even longer than karate in primary school.

And then, last year, that hidden, sleepy voice within me woke once again and pushed me towards finding a new karate club, in an attempt to finally do something with my life and get a grip of what I was doing.

And here I am, now, almost 9 months and two blue belts later, summarising my impressions on how much has karate improved my lifestyle and how it slowly but steadily started changing me into a better person.

Read on, but don’t blame me if, by the end of the text, you realise you would like to follow in my footsteps. After all, everyone can do martial arts, but it depends on our motivation and physical and psychological abilities how much can we achieve and what level of mastery can we strive for.

 

Karate can improve your life in many ways

What follows is my perception on how can practising any martial arts influence anyone’s life. I do talk about a girls’ perspective, but I believe it does not necessarily have to be just girls – everyone should be able to find themselves in at least some of the aspects.

The list is not extensive, but rather just the most prominent features that I recognised in myself. Somebody else may have a completely different point of view – feel free to correct me in what you believe to be wrong, or share your opinion – no matter if it differs from mine.

 

1: Stance and posture

One of the first things you will learn in any martial arts is proper stance and body posture. The point of them is to show you that all movements should be natural, and if something hurts, you probably aren’t doing it right.

Of course, here I am not talking about natural body adjustments to new or unfamiliar moves. Until you get comfortable with performing certain actions, your body will rebel against it – until such movements become your second nature. That is why skipping warm up is not a good idea, as it serves the purpose of warming up your body for what is to come, preparing it, stretching it to accommodate new positions and movements.

Hence, in all martial arts, one of the basic postures is standing up straight, unless demanded otherwise by the specific movement. Your knees should slightly bend, allowing for more fluid movement; all hand movements straight as well; head tilted backwards; feet touching the ground in three points to allow for stability.

Yes, it will hurt. Such stance needs to be taught and learnt properly, and it’s great you do martial arts, because once you master it, you will no longer slouch, and will naturally come up with ways to relieve your back and spine of improper posture.

 

2: Proper nutrition

Another thing that all athletes know is the proper nutrition rule. If you want to do well in your training sessions, your body must be fuelled properly well in advance.

I think I only twice made the error or eating half an hour before my lesson – because I was forced to. And, oh, boy, was that a reckless decision. I will now say – never again. I would rather go to my karate lesson hungry than risk exercising with my stomach full.

Other than that, the general rule of a thumb is you should have a meal at least two hours prior to your training session. I believe so much time would make me hungry just before the start of the lesson, so one hour, to one hour and a half, is quite acceptable – particularly if you have a tendency not to consume heavy meals.

You will also learn, in time, due to trial and error, what foods do you good and what don’t, what sweets are okay to eat before your training (chocolate bar or a bite of honey, to work with your blood pressure in case you have hypotension), and that the hunger you have after your training is all normal.

When I started training, back in October 2016, I actually felt hungry all day long for at least a week or two. I’d have breakfast before work, and in an hour I felt hungry again. Luckily, that was the period when I introduced fruit snacks instead of refined sugars, and it’s a habit I stick to this day.

My sister even claimed I’d gain more weight than losing by eating post karate lesson, but, I must say, it’s not the type of hunger that would make me eat a hamburger or drink a litre of Coke. I prefer a banana, or a bowl of muesli, yogurt, or the like – nothing really heavy.

In the long run, once you learn to organise your meals better because you have to prepare your body for the karate lessons, I am sure you will reap the fruits of it in the years to come, and your body will be grateful to you in the long run.

 

3: Hydration

I am the type of person who could completely do without water. Not even a sip of water a day.

Not a smart thing to do, I know, but this habit (or, rather, the lack of habit of drinking water regularly) sent me to ER more than once due to gallbladder or kidney stone. That was when I made the decision not to let it happen even again, and I cringe every time when, at the end of the day, I realise I haven’t met my daily goal of water consumption.

If you are anything like me, doing martial arts will significantly help you fight this nasty habit of dehydrating your body. I force myself to drink up to a water of liquid while at work – not a problem at all with a bottle of water and 2-3 big mugs of tea, and the rest is booked for my karate lesson – half a litre during the lesson, and at least half a litre more afterwards.

Since summers here tend to be scorchingly hot, I am even considering using a litre bottle for my trainings, to force myself to listen to my masseuse and drink at least two and a half litres of water a day.

Once again, your body will thank you hydrating it properly.

 

4: Health benefits

It may have come as a normal consequence of proper nutrition, enough hydration, regular night sleep, as well as regular physical exercise, but health benefits are one of the most precious side effects of not only martial arts but any sports in general.

What I noticed soon after the beginning of my karate lessons was better thermal regulation, i.e. I wasn’t sweating as much as before. Maybe it was due to sweating excessively during the lessons, or maybe my body simply found a way to finally get rid of those toxins in the right way – during the lessons instead of all the time.

Secondly, after several months I went to donate blood. It took us about 15 minutes by foot to get to the clinic, but I know for sure my blood pressure was naturally very low. When the doctor tested me to see my general health condition, my blood pressure was almost normal! I remember two years ago I rode my bike to the hospital for 20 minutes, yet my blood pressure after such cardio training was not even close to what I now had after a 15 minute stroll! Amazing. Now tell me another activity that could do that to your body in such a stable manner!

 

5: Self-confidence

Karate can teach you many positive traits, self-confidence one of them. Some people are born with it, some have to make it happen. Which group do you belong to?

Of course, it is difficult explaining it now, but just remember: standing there, listening to your sensei (i.e. teacher), performing the actions and movements you never thought possible, advancing in skill and performance in time, being able to do some punches or kicks, blocking an attack, improving your instincts and speed, passing levels, persisting with practising even when you think you have no more strength, knowing you are doing something for your body and psyche, it all has an impact onto your self-confidence.

It also has to do with proper posture, but you will not be able to fake self-confidence the same way you cannot fake good posture. And, in the end, if you don’t give up when the obstacles arise, self-confidence will come.

 

6: Come to terms with your body

When I was doing karate for the first time, it was that time when your body starts changing. Wearing a bra back then meant I tried real hard to cover it up, make it unnoticed by wearing t-shirts that would mask it. I cannot really say why I did it, but it happened.

I am sure many girls feel the same, even worse, and do not accept their own bodies. Not before, not during, not even after puberty.

Doing not only martial arts, but any sports, at such a precious an age, will surely make you come to terms with your body, accept all its flaws and appreciate it – if not for anything else, then for its ability to perform some killer kicks and punches. Who would not appreciate such bod?

 

7: Get used to locker rooms

The club in which I currently practice karate has only two groups, age-based. That means that kids of the same height, usually up to the age of 10, attend the beginners’ group lessons, while all others are in the adult group, no matter the belt (i.e. level). That further means that kids aged 12 are in the same locker rooms as people aged 50, and all in between.

Sometimes it may feel awkward. My friend from the lessons told me that it happened to her more than once that one girl used to stare at her while she (my friend) was changing, but I take it as the children’s amazement with nice women’s body, and their realisation they could have the same body one day. We’ve all been through that phase, haven’t we?

For me it is not a problem. I do not even pay attention to it. It does feel unusual exercising with the same age group I used to be a teacher to, but I decided not to overthink it – I am there to learn some karate, not analyse the absurdities of life or ponder on who’s gonna look at me in a certain way…

 

8: Organise better

Before I started karate last year, I lived at home, with my parents, and worked in a school. Although I basically had a lot of spare time, due to varying time schedule at school, I mostly spent that time either preparing lessons or tests, or grading them, or filling out paperwork. In fact, it seems to me now that my life revolved around school, and that I did nothing but school. I even spent time with my colleagues solely, as all my high school friends were mostly away, and those who were not were never the type of friends I needed anyway.

But, after I moved to another town and found another job and started my karate lessons again, I had to find a way to have time for my job, my lessons, my friends, the movies, the theatre, preparing meals, visiting home every once in a while, travelling abroad from time to time, drinking with my (school colleagues) friends, and having enough sleep.

It wasn’t easy, it still isn’t, and although there is not always enough time for everything, the only thing I still haven’t found the time for are my studies.

The thing is, the more things you have to fit in to your day, the more efficient will you be in organising your day if you want to achieve such high standards.

 

 

To wrap this up for the moment, I will stop here and I hope you stay tuned – the second part of this article is coming up soon.

 

~ ~ ~

Missed out some of my previous posts? Make sure to check them out here:

 

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