More than a Woman

Sho-Rei-Kan 1959

Shihan is the one standing on the right,
with his gi top partially open.

Shihan has a group picture of the Sho-Rei-Kan dojo from 1959, and when I first saw it I was surprised that there were a couple of women in it. Sometimes I wonder what it was like for them, training martial arts in Japan in the 1950s. I can’t imagine their path was an easy one.For all the complaints women might have today; that there aren’t enough of us training or competing, that we don’t always get the same respect as the men; we still have it a lot better than our foremothers did. If not for them blazing the trail, our acceptance would be that much more difficult.

Warrior women in Japan were actually somewhat common at one point, which Sensei Gary talks about in his article Onna Bugeisha: The First Female Martial Artists of Japan. Unfortunately, misogyny took over, and it still has a hold to this day, as evidenced by the initial refusal to award Keiko Fukuda-Sensei a 10th dan in Judo, simply for being a woman. Thankfully, she did receive that acknowledgement before her death last month. She gave her entire life to Judo, and I think she deserved better in return.None of my teachers at the dojo have ever treated me as “less than” because I’m a woman (some of the students, yes, but never the teachers). I have always been awarded the same respect for the amount of work I put in. I appreciate that my Sensei understand gender isn’t what makes or breaks a fighter. Woman sweat the same, we bleed the same, and we feel the same pain as the men. The only real difference is, whether we like it or not, we fight for all womankind.

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