Submitted by: Bodhi McSweeney (originally written in 2006)
Editors note: Since this article was written there has been extensive activity by the association with regard to gender equality and The Aikido Foundation has sponsored a book outlining the training experiences of a number of female Aikidoka.
(2013 update - Currently AKA has 250 active female members across the country, about a quarter of the total active membership. Four are ranked 6th Dan and four ranked 5th Dan, which are very senior grades. The ratio of black belt holders to training students is twice the number for females than males, 6% of female students hold a black belt rank to only 3% of male students. Go girls!)
Recently a number of women have begun training in the dojo where I practice and I am enjoying the company in the change room as well as the more balanced energy on the mat.
Most of my training years have nearly all been with men, who fortunately were sensitive and caring. I could imagine if they didn’t have these qualities and had been more ‘blokey’, I may have found it harder in the beginning, as I was insecure and lacked confidence. I did have some strong female role models for which I am very thankful.
I have often pondered why so few women train in Aikido. For those women who do take it up I see that there is a need for what I would call a “woman-friendly” culture within the Dojo and for mentoring.
We are taught that there is a no discrimination (or special consideration) made for sex difference — only recognition that individuals have different body types and personalities. I do appreciate this, but feel we must also acknowledge that there are differences between men and women.
Women, for example, have menstrual cycles, and might want to train during pregnancy. A woman trainee might have a baby after starting training and actually be breast feeding during the critical year between 1st Kyu and Shodan. And through all this women will still want to practice authentically.
I wonder about the confusion for men training with us under these conditions. In my experience men want to protect and care for the bearers and nurturers of children; but these men will still want to train authentically with everyone on the mat. Such a situation raises issues for us all to consider. I know we’re addressing this in many places because of the number of trainees I now meet who are women and also mothers.
To me it comes down to caring for others along with respecting their desire to train with you even if they are not as big, small, old, young, strong, fluid or soft as you are. Because we’re all different (and different at different times in our life) the answer probably lies in finding the appropriate training for “this person at this time”. If it’s not right for you or you’re worried about your training partner then please mention your concern so that you both can practice with confidence.
If you do have a problem that you feel isn’t to do with the nature of Aikido but more about someone’s behaviour towards you (another student, instructor or beginner) then my understanding and experience suggests that you can safely take this sort of personal issue to a senior instructor or someone else you trust and it will be treated seriously.
I understand that the Aiki Kai has employed a barrister experienced in equal opportunity issues for sports to help draw up appropriate guidelines for Aikido. She is currently working on this and I think that’s great!
These are my thoughts. In the coming issues I will present reflections from other women in Aikido as well as discussing issues pertinent to women.
If you have anything to say or wish to contribute please contact me, Bodhi McSweeney,
C/O PO Meander 7304, Tasmania.
Through the Aikido Foundation, we will shortly be making available a fascinating book of articles submitted by female Aikido students, 'In Conversation with Aikido Women', recounting their view of the training and their experiences in various dojos around the world. Ed