I grew up loving martial arts. Throughout my life I’ve sought it out.
I was about 7 years old when I became obsessed with the movies “Seven Lucky Ninja Kids” and “Three Kung Fu Kids”. I asked my mom and dad if I could take karate classes. We didn’t have enough money to pay for yet another expense; I knew that and didn’t usually ask for anything, but martial arts was different. Of course, the answer was “no”, both because of the cost and also because I was told by relatives that “little girls don’t do martial arts”. I had no choice but to give up for the time being, since I didn’t have the means to take classes myself, given the cost and transportation that weren’t within my means as a tiny 2nd grader living in a sprawling Los Angeles County suburb. Nevertheless, I never gave up on my interest in martial arts.
In middle school, my mother was a teacher at a community Chinese school, and there happened to be traditional Chinese dance class there. She decided to sign me up for it since it was low cost and I had to go with her to school every Saturday anyways. However, instead of doing the Chinese cultural dances that everyone else did, such as ribbon or fan, my mom signed me up for Chinese sword dance. It wasn’t exactly martial arts, but she clearly didn’t forget my interest in martial arts and decided this was a good compromise as well as affordable. Although it wasn’t the action-packed fighting I’d seen and admired in movies, I was really happy and took lessons in sword dance for over three years and performed in a lot of events. Here’s an example of sword dance for anyone who’s never seen it. It’s more dance than martial arts, but it did give me the calisthenic foundation for future martial arts.
It wasn’t until the summer before college, when my parents sent me to learn Chinese culture and language in Taiwan, that my love for martial arts was able to fully bloom. First, the program I was at had an extracurricular courses aside from Chinese language classes, and one of them was Shaolin Kung Fu. I immediately signed up for it, and it was my first real martial arts training. It wasn’t intensive, but I learned a few forms and my first drop stance.
That summer, when my classmates and I all went to an MTV (Movie Television), a place where people could both rent and watch movies in small private rooms, all the girls watched “The Color Purple”, while all the boys watched Jet Li’s “Fist of Legend” in another separate room. I was the only girl who chose the Jet Li movie, and “Fist of Legend” made me both a Jet Li fan and reawakened my childhood love for martial arts films.
I brought this passion with me to college, where I had the freedom to join college martial arts classes, and I took shotokan karate for two years. Then, when I went back to Taiwan again the following summer, one of my cousins helped me sign up for a tai chi class that ran at 6 am every morning in a local park. After college, the first thing I did after graduation was look for a martial arts school near my house, and I joined wushu for two to three years. Later, I dabbled in some tae kwon do, and currently, I take kick boxing, boxing, muay thai, and a little bit of anything that comes my way.
Let’s be clear–I’m not really any good at martial arts. I just really enjoy it. It’s fun, and it keeps me fit, happy, and healthy.
Throughout my martial arts life, I’ve always noticed that there had always been more boys than girls, more men than women that were interested in martial arts. There were usually women in the classes, but they were also usually outnumbered. I’d say that even though there are more and more girls and women in martial arts, that’s generally still true today. So whenever I met another woman who liked martial arts, I felt I had found a sister in arms, but often, they weren’t as ardently passionate about martial arts as I was. They thought it was cool and tried it out, but it wasn’t as much of a priority, they didn’t seek it out as much as I did, they didn’t dutifully work through lists of Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and other martial arts movies to make sure none of them were missed. It was mostly boys and men who could match me in interest and fervor for everything martial arts. Like that first of 50+ viewings of “Fist of Legend”, where I was the only girl watching the Jet Li movie, I always felt like being a female martial arts fan was a bit lonely.
That changed big time when I discovered Invicta Fighting Championships, the all women’s mixed martial arts promotion.
I was immediately smitten, watching all the videos they had online, following all the news, and adding female MMA fighters to my feed on every social media platform I used. It felt like I had found a home for my martial arts soul, where there were tons of girls who not only loved martial arts as much as I did, they loved it MORE, because they were there in the cage, testing their skills, not just fans of martial arts who dabbled in it for fun like I did, but legitimate martial artists who put it all to the test. Every Invicta FC event was an EVENT for me. Not only that, it spilled over into watching Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), although I sort of focus almost exclusively on the women bouts there. UFC Fight Pass is awesome.
Fight like a girl indeed.
On top of loving martial arts, I’m also an educator, a writer, and definitely more of an academic than your average joe. It’s probably not surprising that as a girl who’s really into martial arts, I would call myself a feminist. The term “feminist” can mean a lot of different things, so let me be clear in saying that when I say I’m feminist, I’m someone who welcomes continuing dialogue, deconstruction, and reconstruction of concepts of gender. So although a kick butt woman can always turn my head and capture my admiration, the feminism I subscribe to is more about being willing to challenge your existing ideas and beliefs.
You would think that someone like me who loves martial arts and has formally studied feminist theories would not need any of her views of women and women’s empowerment to be challenged. Although I try to keep an open mind, I didn’t think I needed my views to be challenged all that much either, especially by an organization that promotes female martial artists, something that I have been naturally bred to love.
Nevertheless, it did happen.
More in Part 2.