When people find out that I do Kung Fu, they’re often surprised. Then they make assumptions that I do it because I don’t feel safe, or that I want to feel tough, or that I’m aggressive. Trust me, I don’t want to be a man, and anyone who knows me knows I have no aspirations to be aggressive or tough. Rather, in doing Kung Fu, I have come to believe that martial arts provide important benefits for women.
I actually started my martial arts training in Kenpo Karate when my daughter’s pediatrician recommended it as a way to help her learn to focus. She did learn focus. And so did I. I had no idea how much my body craved being still, but also being able to move into purposeful action from stillness could provide so much power. I also discovered that those moments of stillness could be nanoseconds or much longer, but they came more easily the more I practiced.
And then I began to find those same moments of stillness in my everyday activities. Women are notorious multitaskers making these moments of stillness and focus critical to improving choices for work, for relationships, for life.
In practice, I also learned to listen to my body. I don’t know how it happened, but I realized somewhere along the way that I lived most of my life in my head and not connected to my body. When you’re learning to move your body in relation to others, as you do in martial arts, you learn quickly how your body is connected, how it responds, how comfortable it is in relation to others and what movement means to that relationship in space to others.
As a mother, friend, family member, and coworker, I am often in close quarters with other people, and I began to be more aware of how my body was moving and responding to others —like Thanksgiving dinner around a crowded table with family, or riding in a crowded subway car in a foreign country, or comforting a child, or defusing political conversations with friends, or keeping cool during tough negotiations at work.
Martial arts didn’t make me more aggressive or argumentative; it made me more aware and diplomatic, giving me a range of options for responding to conflict or discomfort.
Overwhelmingly, when I talk with women about martial arts, they tell me about their dislike for their own body. I’m not a model by any stretch of the imagination, however, martial arts gave me a new respect for my body. When you respect your body, it’s hard to let anyone else disrespect it.
Once I learned how to listen to and respect my body, I also learned how to challenge it. So many times Master Taningco would ask us to jump a stick held at waist level, or attack an opponent twice my size, or fall down on the floor safely, and my brain would say “that’s not going to happen.” Then I would try and discover I could do exactly what I thought I couldn’t. Sometimes it required modifications or practice, but it was never impossible.
There is nothing more empowering than that kind of training. Especially for women, whom I have still heard referred to as “the weaker sex.”
By Monica M. Schultz