Women in Martial Arts

Assunta Morrone: Gender Equality in Aikido
Assunta talked about the dojo as a microcosm of society, both of which predominantly organised
through patriarchal power structures. This shows for instance in the over-representation of men in
technical committees as well as senior teaching roles, and women in senior roles often finding
themselves in admin or organisational supporting functions to the patriarch of the dojo. This can be
seen in Australia as well as overseas, as a look at the gender distribution in the US Aikido
Federation’s Technical Committee demonstrated, and at the struggle needed to bring about any
female representation, which led to the creation of the Independent Coalition of USAF Women.

This was followed by a look at the causes for women not participating, in particular investigating
gender-based violence, which often goes under-reported. The movement #MeTooAikido was
brought to attention, which was started by Neilu Naini, who was raped by her sensei as a young
student. Assunta also shared some of her own experiences, for example of women aikidoka being
ignored as uke for demonstrations by a senior Japanese instructor at a seminar; the sensei, when
challenged about this, deflected the blame back on the women saying they were not giving any
indication of wanting to be called up. The next day of the seminar, about 15 women deliberately sat
in the front row so he had to call them up.

Assunta concluded that sometimes lack of gender equality is not necessarily intentional, but what
happens when the privileged are not aware of their privilege. And that irrespective of merit, doors
are open for men, where women have to push them open. Also, that most men (apart from gay or
trans men) rarely need to think about personal safety, whereas women constantly assess their safety
in every environment.

The question of female only training environments was briefly touched on, and the conscious choice
of who to train with. Assunta concluded her presentation with a Janice Taitel quote on the cost of not speaking up.

Clare Engel: Challenges to Retention of Women in Training
Clare started by sharing the results of a small gender related survey she conducted among senior
male sensei of her school, which was that to them gender identity was not the defining factor when
dealing with students, but the individual and their needs.

She then elaborated on the challenges women face in a male dominated dojo environment
especially when first starting out. This ranged from white pants not being very period friendly, to
women feeling unsafe entering a male dominated sphere, to the observation that many women’s
path to seniority is delayed by taking long breaks in their training for having children. These and
further challenges result in low rates of women joining dojos as well as to a high attrition rate for

Clare continued by looking at what can be practically done to provide women with a supportive
environment that allows them to feel safe and welcome. This led into a discussion of measures to
encourage inclusivity, for example through the Welcome Here Project and Safe Space (see resources
below). Clare outlined different measures that had been trialled, for example running intro classes

for women, media campaigns, and measures to invite women into leadership roles, and highlighted
the importance of developing an individual plan of training with the student.
She concluded with a call for reassessing the relevance of how things should work.

Joanne Martin: How Aikido Can Help Us Evolve by Balancing the Masculine and Feminine Energies
Joanne drew the focus from the political and pragmatic towards the energetic, by looking at the
interplay of masculine and feminine energies in the context of aikido and its expression by
practitioners of either gender.

She pointed out that aikido was in its very nature an example of balanced masculine and feminine
energy, for instance as expressed in the two roles of uke and nage. She then focused on what the
balanced versus distorted masculine and feminine each looked like, and that by training in aikido,
men and women got to work on both aspects of themselves, thus creating more balanced
individuals. For example, women can find it challenging or even confronting to learn to give a good
attack as uke, whereas male aikidoka may find it challenging to receive with gratitude. By
consciously understanding the qualities of both sides, the aikidoka was able to consciously work on
their growth and evolution.

The same held true for the energy of a dojo, where the presence of women could help to bring
balance, from which both sexes benefitted.

In the context of personal growth, Jo encouraged everyone to bring awareness to who we were
drawn to train with on the mat, and who we avoided, and that growth often happens when we
challenge our habitual comfort zone.

Recommended Resources and Reading:
Regarding gender equality:
#MeTooAikido: https://www.metooaikido.com/forum
Independent Coalition of USAF Women, a group of senior women in the United States Aikido
Federation appealing to the USAF to examine and improve gender equity in the organisation:
Interview with Janice Taitel Sensei https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM-MyTAC9Bs
Regarding inclusivity:
The Welcome Here Project, which supports businesses and services throughout Australia to
create and promote environments that are visibly welcoming and inclusive of lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) communities:
Equivalent in the US: http://www.safespaceamerica.org/
Academic paper on aikido in the lives of women aikidoka:
Noad, K. (1996). Samurai of Gentle Power : An Exploration of Aikido in the Lives of Women
Aikidoka. Free to download at https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses_hons/707/

Blog posts and articles:
On Takako Kunigoshi https://simonechierchini.com/2020/08/23/takako-kunigoshi-

Further reading on women in martial arts:
Hoppe, Stephanie.T. (1998). Sharp Spear Crystal Mirror. Martial Arts in Women’s Lives.

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