The Iaido Newsletter  March 2000

Women in the Dojo? I THINK not.

By Dale Flowery

 EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following bit of piece was submitted as an example of all too common attitudes I have encountered in dojos outside Japan.  While perhaps a bit extreme in it's characterization, it is far too close to the opinion of many martial artists.  Dr. Deborah Klens-Bigman was kind enough to offer her response to these comments.

I remember years ago when the first woman stepped foot in the weight room at my local gym.  All us guys clapped at her bravery, and we helped her lift because she really wanted to get strong. What fools we were, as soon as the other women found out she was there they started lifting too. Then they started complaining about the furnace room we were using and the weights got moved to a carpeted room with mirrors (which attracted dust and body builders). Soon after that they made everyone wear shoes and shirts, they told us we couldn't spit on the floor, and they told us we couldn't swear or even yell when we lifted.

Then the tourists came, these scrawny little guys that show up just to watch the women's crotches and plug up the equipment. No, we should never have applauded that woman, we should have shoved her right back out the door.

The martial arts are a serious business, and so far, at least in the traditional arts, women are a much appreciated rarity. I'm talking about the real martial arts, the weapons arts. I've been doing koryu bujutsu for almost 20 years now and there hasn't been more than 20 women in all the classes I've attended so far. It's been lovely, all the students concentrating on the arts and not on the tarts. There's a reason why monks are celibate, and women forbidden in the monastery.

Women don't like swords and sticks. They don't like the boring repetition of the koryu, months and years of going through the same simple movements with nary a "self defence" application in sight. No chance to roll around on the floor with a sweaty guy either. Just the bokken, the hiss of danger and the hair standing up on the back of your neck as you move out of the way.

But now what do I see in every MA magazine on the shelf? Aerobic kickboxing! Half dressed models on the cover! Martial arts as "self defence"! What's next, fashion advice? This is a very dangerous trend and when I was asked to write this column I was never warned about it. Go look at to see what I mean! Well I'll warn you all now, music in the dojo, fitness and fashion tips, articles discussing the self defence applications of martial arts can all lead to women in the dojo!

Trust me, you don't want that. It leads to pastel colours and no spitting rules.

Yours in Budo
Dale Flowery

Dale Flowery has been studying the true martial way for over 20 years. He first became involved in the martial arts when he met an old Japanese gent at the local market. Suspecting there was more to this man that met the eye he camped on his back porch for two weeks before being invited in for tea. As it turns out, Flowery's intuition was correct and he began his study of koryu in the family way. Although he will not reveal his teacher's names, Flowrey does admit that one of his mentors is John Gilbey.

Comment on "Women in the dojo?"

When Peter Boylan first asked me to comment on Mr. Flowery's article for the electronic version of the Journal of Japanese Sword Arts, I thought he was joking. Mr. Flowery seems to be getting in touch with his Inner Neanderthal just to be provocative. He is obviously an articulate individual, one of the things that makes me take his piece less than totally seriously. Nevertheless, I have been asked to comment, as one of the "ladies of budo," so I do, as follows.

It's unfortunate that Mr. Flowery's weight room was transformed to his dislike; though it sounds like some of the changes at least were for the better (as my biologist father would point out, spitting on the floor isn't a sanitary practice). However, I don't really buy his dubious extension of logic to suggest that women are ruining martial arts. After all, the responsibility for "aerobic kick boxing" and models half-dressed in spandex should be borne as much by Billy Blanks (presumably a champion martial artist just trying to make a living as much as the next guy) as by any individual female participant in Taebo or any of its many variants.

Speaking as someone who has practiced weapon arts (both Western and Japanese) for more than 20 years, I feel I can point out something that Mr. Flowery seems to have missed: weapon forms of any kind are rarely practiced by anyone, regardless of gender. Mr. Flowery states "Women don't like swords and sticks. They don't like the boring repetition....." This entire paragraph applies to nearly anyone who tries any weapon style, except for the very few silly types who seem to have a screw loose somewhere, such as Mr. Flowery and myself. In the past few years, I have visited a number koryu groups in New York City. Regardless of the actual stated enrollment, I've never seen more than five people at any one practice session for most of them (one or two of the participants being teachers). I notice seminars draw a fair number of (mostly male) participants, but most of them will not be in regular classes 12 months later. This, in itself suggests the limited appeal of martial arts weapons styles (as opposed to anything "aerobic," or for "self-defense").

I could wax long on the fact that some weapon styles (such as Tendo ryu naginata and kyudo) have been dominated by women for many years, and that there are women practitioners of these forms who can easily kick anyone's butt. I could also mention a teacher I know who has fewer female than male students, but a greater proportion of the women are high-ranked seniors, but I don't feel the need to go into any of that. Mr. Flowery's lament could be seen more as a comment on the commercialization of martial arts than anything else, though he is wrongfully blaming women when the cause is obviously elsewhere.

By the way, I have never studied a koryu that condones spitting anywhere on the premises. What style is that?

Deborah Klens-Bigman

TIN Mar 2000