His passion is protective, compassionate, so he underlines my frailty, my naïveté; whereas I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness,who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.
- Anaïs Nin
Now that I'm the father of a girl, I'm starting to pay a lot more attention to the way I talk and think about women. I've started to wonder whether the things I think and say about women are things I'd want people thinking and saying about my own daughter. It's been a revealing experience, especially in the dojo.
Despite my best efforts, it would seem I'm still a little bit of a sexist out on the mat. Maybe not an old-fashioned "women belong in the home" sexist or a gangsta rapper "bitches and hos" sexist, but still a kind of sexist. The way I train with female partners is clearly different from the way I train with male partners.
Specifically, I am a weaker uke for a female nage. I am less likely to throw a munetsuki strike with conviction at a female nage. I am less likely to make an honest attack with a ken (sword) or jo (staff) against a female nage. And perhaps worst of all, I am more likely to capitulate to a female nage's technique.
The sin here is twofold: first, I am not giving my female training partners the respect they deserve, and second, I am depriving them of the best they can get out of their training.
I, of all men, should know better. Both the clubs where I train have female head instructors and female brown belt students. I've had multiple opportunities to train with Chicago's wonderful Yuki Hara Sensei, a woman of great skill and great strength. Even off the mat, I am surrounded by strong, independent women: my wife, my mother, and many of my friends and former coworkers. I have no excuses.
I have written before about how the martial arts can work like a mirror. They give us an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly. Not for the first time, I'm decidedly dissatisfied with what I see in that mirror.
So what's a man to do about it? It's unlikely that such a tendency manifesting itself in the dojo is isolated to the dojo alone. It's probably something that creeps into all my relationships in life. Could I some day sell my daughter short the way I have my training partners? It's an unsettling thought.
The solution, I think, is what Buddhists call mindfulness, and what we in Japanese martial arts call zanshin. I do not consciously esteem women any less than I esteem men; my mistake is a subconscious one. The answer, then, or at least the beginning of the answer, lies in getting out of the subconscious: getting off autopilot, paying attention.
I'm going to have to start asking myself some questions. For starters: am I treating the person across from me like a martial artist or a fragile vessel that I'm afraid of breaking?