Power and Conviction

Power and Conviction

I was recently asked to lecture on the “Myths of Women’s Physicality" at the Multi-Cultural Issues and Concerns Conference hosted at the West Virginia Graduate School. Workshop topics ranged from "The Need for Diversity Training in Schools, the Community, and Workplace” to “Cultural Awareness in Expressive Therapy." As several professors spoke on topics related to education, I began to wonder whether my subject was appropriate for this forum. As a defensive tactics trainer, I wondered what I had to offer.  Their primary concerns evolved around how to implement multi-cultural programs in schools and the community.

I was paired with an ACLU representative who spoke on "West Virginia Women's Issues." After discussing a welfare reform bill and other issues affecting women in the state, she stated that it was her belief that women subconsciously feel they cannot defend themselves if attacked by a man.   At that moment I realized why I needed to be there and why what I had to say was important. Her comment echoed the most important myth concerning women's physicality. A woman who has had no formal self-defense training may be at a disadvantage of surviving an assault, and, for this reason training can give women the equalizer that could change the outcome of any situation.  

The myth that women are more passive and as such weaker than their male counterparts has long been put to rest. While still regarded in many circles as the “weaker sex”, women in every corner of the world have marched hand in hand on the battlefield with their male counterparts.     

While women serving in the United States military are not required to fight on the front lines, and it was not until 2011 that we saw women in the front lines in Afghanistan, history tells us that females have played a key role in some of the world’s major battles. History book are littered with the exploits of brave women who not only held their own, but excelled in the combative arts.   In Arabia, the women of the "hashashin" (assassin) were so fierce in the fighting arts that the fearful French gave them the name "daughters of death." The French Foreign Legion, British Soldiers, and anyone else crossing the desert took precaution to avoid these women, who were experts not only at extracting information but also slaying upon command.

It was common during World War II to see women heading to the front lines. Many made huge contributions with their fighting prowess.  During that period of time Soviet women were known to fly combat missions. In fact, on several occasions they were part of all-women crews. By 1943, there were about 600 women combat pilots in the USSR air corps.  Polish women were known to have marched to the Russian front to combat German invaders armed with their own rifles. German women learned to use all small arms and served on the front lines. The Soviets considered them to be as deadly as the male German soldiers. Women Guerrilla fighters also took active combat roles in Hungary during World War WII. Chinese women trained, fought, and died beside the men. China currently has a males-only combat policy, but everyone fought the during World War II. Female Yugoslav Resistance fighters were tough and feared by the Nazis. All Israeli soldiers, male and female, receive full combat training. A Frenchwomen captured 25 soldiers by herself in August 1944(David Truby, Paladin Press 1977 Women at War, A Deadly Species).

Today,  not only will you find  all women Kurdish units fighting against ISIS, Afghan women arming themselves and fighting against the Taliban, but, also U.S. female marines can be found in Afghanistan as part of a Female Engagement Team (FET).  The United States military may still be protective of its female population, but the same cannot be said for a society that can’t stop predators from victimizing women.

Martial arts were founded on the premise that a smaller, weaker person can defend him/herself against a greater adversary. Throughout history, women have proven that they are more than capable of becoming proficient in the combative arts and have played a significant role in shaping the world with their physical prowess. Some of these women have even created and advanced martial arts systems of their own.

It is common knowledge that the birthplace of kung-fu was the Shaolin Temple in Northern China. The training ground where Shaolin monks practiced meditation and kung-fu was constantly under attack by the ruling party. During one such siege, a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui escaped the destruction and moved into the mountains where she continued to practice her art. There she befriended a young girl named Nim Wing Chun, who desperately wanted to learn to defend herself.

Nim Wing Chun was being forced to marry someone she didn’t love. She believed that if she could learn to fight she could take control of her life. Hoping to get out of the marriage, Wing Chun offered to marry the man if he could defeat her in a fight. The man accepted. After extensive training with Ng Mui, Nim Wing Chun triumphed over her undesirable suitor and won her freedom.

Nim Wing Chun devoted her life to an art that would later carry her name. The art made famous by a woman would be embraced by some of the greatest names in martial arts history, including Bruce Lee, considered the greatest martial artist of all time. In more recent times, the late Kali Grand Master Floro Villabrille told me of his personal encounter with Princess Josefina, who lived in Gundan, a small Filipino village in Samar. She was well versed in the art of war. Although she suffered from near total blindness because of cataracts, Villabrille stated that her sensitivity was so great that she could feel if he silently switched his weapon from one hand to another. Villabrille credited much of his knowledge and skill to the time spent with Princess Josefina (Personal Interview, Hawaii, 1983)

The myth is that women can’t effectively fight back against a larger assailant. However, attributes such as agility, fluidity, sensitivity, and speed come naturally to women. Muscle mass and power may be important in hand-to-hand combat, but that doesn’t always apply when using an impact or edge weapon.  Body mechanics, leverage, torque, timing, speed, momentum and target selection are all principles that can be taught by a competent instructor. Women not only can learn to fight back, but survive any lethal or non-lethal attack.


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