The Woman Warrior: What Does That Even MEAN?

Tachibanna-hime ukiyo-e
Tachibanna-hime fighting a dragon under a bridge

As you might’ve guessed, I’m a woman (10 Awesome Points for you if I didn’t need to tell you that).  And, I’m a martial artist which puts in the category of warrior (if you’re someone who believes that the term warrior is only reserved for people who have experienced actual combat, that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m interested in discussing mindsets. So, put your diatribe a side and just listen), because I’m training very closely to the ways ancient people did to fight each other in battles and wars.  Also, I’m philosophical so I like to think about things and find answers to my questions.  Questions like, I represent a minority in the martial arts, why is that so?  Why are many women not-so-inclined to become martial artists?  Is it too male? Too violent? Too… something? I’ve spent many hours researching the warrior mentality, what it means to be a martial artist as a woman, and etc.

Up until recent history, traditionally men were the warriors in many societies.  Modern politics aside, men are physically stronger and have more endurance than women so it makes sense that they would be the ones to fight wars.  A quick Google search on the how to be a warrior and such and almost all articles are for men.  I think I found maybe one article on women in combat and in police forces.

I know that some civilizations had women warriors. For example, archeological studies show that many of the burial sites for Vikings were actually women who fought alongside the men.  The ninja had females who were called kunoichi (くノ一).  These women infiltrated households as spies often posing as domestic help, sometimes using their sexuality to gain trust and extract information.   The samurai had the onna-bugeisha, samurai women who sometimes fought with the men and defended the home.  But, this seems to be against the norm, warrior hood was generally for men.

So, why are women underrepresented in combat oriented fields and activities that are typically male oriented when they have equal access to the same opportunities as men?  What does it mean to be a woman warrior in today’s society?  The only place I can go is to my own experiences and observations at this point.

In my martial arts group, most of the time I’m not treated especially differently by the men.  However, I do occasionally run into someone who doesn’t want to do a technique on me with any strength because they were raised “not to hurt women.”  Conversely I’ve had guys go a little rougher and say something like “I’m helping you by doing this with strength so you learn how to get out of it.” Or, I’ve been called “one of the guys” when I’m the only female in the group and I complain about penis talk.  I’ve been told that kunoichi are “special.”  No one has really explained why that was true.  Are we really special? I speculate that this means that kunoichi were a much smaller percentage of ninja than males.

These kinds of phenom leave me feeling a bit conflicted at times.  I don’t want to be treated differently, I want to be taken seriously, and I want to hold my own against those bigger and stronger than me.  But, I have to fight through fear, doubt, feeling left out, feeling “too” included, feeling like I have something to prove.  These problems don’t even scratch the surface of what it means to be a woman warrior.

Looking to the few examples we have in literature and the like, women warriors were fierce and a bit scary.  The Valkyrie were creatures feared by men in various prose, Wonder Woman is part god and nearly indestructible, the Amazon are fierce female warriors who mainly lived to fight battles in a brutal manner. In stories, it’s all well and good to create near super humans women to be effective warriors, but in real life that’s no so easy.  Eschewing the virtues of women to have what seems like men with boobs does real women who choose the warrior lifestyle a great disservice.

The main problems I think we have to overcome to be seen as legit warriors in our own right is our roles, function, and makeup.  Speaking in huge generalities, women are potential life-givers.  We bear the children and raise them, for the most part.  We nurture and grow ourselves, our families, and our resources.  We are focused on relationships, our emotions, and overcoming.  Men are generally singly focused on one thing at a time.  I’m guessing (because I’m not a man) this means when it’s time to fight, that’s what a man focuses on, when it’s time to work, fighting is put aside and work becomes the focus.  I can see this being an incredible asset for a warrior: singular focus on the task at hand, hell-bent on winning.  For women, I think our tendency to think about everything can get in the way of really going for it in battle.  We’d have to train ourselves to maintain a singular focus.  My emotions can be a distraction and slow me down.  I have to push past them and remember what I’m doing and why.  Maybe this is why women have a hard time thinking of themselves as martial artists: learning violence, going up against men, and generally being overwhelmed by the need for focus is intimidating.

I really haven’t settled on any particular reason for the difficulties that I face as female martial artist, but I hope I’m headed in the right direction.  I’m open to more ideas and discussion to get a rounder point of view.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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