Why do Martial Arts gyms, also known as dojos, always seem like such a boys club? From the Child’s Class at a Tae Kwon Do gym to a Muay Thai class for teens, where are the girls? Unfortunately, girls are less encouraged to participate in sports in general, and Martial Arts specifically. Starting as young as toddlers, toys for girls are less geared toward physical activity than toys for boys. Where girls receive make-up kits and dolls, boys receive baseball gloves and trikes. Then as girls become teens, they leave sports in higher numbers, citing body image concerns and peer pressure. When it comes to martial arts, society still tells us contact sports are masculine. Think about hockey versus figure skating or football versus volleyball. Sports that involve physical contact, like martial arts with kicking, punching, grappling or sparring are not considered to be girl sports. Hitting isn’t “ladylike.” Telling girls, either directly or indirectly, that martial arts are for boys does them a great disservice. The benefits of martial arts participation are seemingly endless, here are just a few.
Long-term Physical health
Girls involved in martial arts become women who are less likely to suffer from strokes or other cardiovascular heart diseases. An active lifestyle helps prevent diabetes, breast, colon, and lung cancers, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s just to mention a few. Martial arts’ use of kicks and time spent on one leg helps to improve balance, posture, coordination, and spatial awareness. Martial arts often have a focus on stretching, which helps participants gain flexibility as well. Girls in martial arts are less likely to use drugs or tobacco or suffer from unwanted pregnancies. The list of health-related benefits from martial arts and sports involvement goes on.
One of the pillars of martial arts is self-control. Girls are taught to control how hard they hit and their temper if someone hits them too hard. This focus on self-control turns into a better delay of gratification and stronger willpower. All combined these skills substantially increase math and aptitude scores. Sports, including martial arts, heighten academic success in girls and is a predictor of increased future wages.
Many martial arts focus on self-defense. What to do if someone grabs you from behind, grabs your wrist or neck, how to disarm someone, any number of different scenarios. Learning how to protect oneself in controlled situations can make all the difference in the real world. Girls and women with self-defense training report fewer unwanted advances and are more likely to resist assault and endure less severe attacks than women without training. It’s disturbing but the reality is that a third of women will experience violence in their lifetime. Martial arts can give girls the tools and know-how to protect themselves from scary situations.
Throughout a martial arts class, from breaking boards to taking a punch, learning a new form, or grappling takedown, girls learn how to overcome mental and physical challenges. This gives them feelings of empowerment and pride all of which increase self-confidence. Likewise, the ability to defend themselves provides girls with a sense of safety, allowing them freedom from fear of victimization, another self-confidence boost.
People won’t mess with her
The feelings of self-confidence that girls get from martial arts translate into self-efficacy and assertiveness. Her inner confidence shows outwardly as strong posture and stride, and awareness of her surroundings. This visible confidence provides another layer of protection, if she doesn’t look vulnerable she’s less likely to be targeted. I once had a master say over and over “Confidence is the best form of self-defense.”
Despite those who would rather see girls engaged in aesthetic sports like ballet, martial arts can be the gift of a lifetime to a daughter. It can be a fun way to engage in necessary physical activity and a vehicle for driving academic success. Most importantly it can teach her how to defend herself from potential harm, giving her the security to navigate the world as an empowered, confident individual.