Boys Hitting Girls
By Nami Bhasin
For those of you who haven’t yet met me in person, I stand at a staggering 5’ tall and am certainly not the strongest woman you’ll ever meet. Not surprisingly, I was just a bit afraid of entering the Dojo, where men and women of different shapes, sizes, and skill levels all train together. On my first day, I had hoped beyond hope that my training partners would take a little pity and be gentle with me.
Then I got paired with my very own Goliath (suffice it to say, allnames have been changed to protect the identities of actual people. Also, he isn’t really a giant, but he is very tall).
Goliath was assigned with grabbing my lapel while I found a way to get out of the grab and move to a safe distance. Not once in that 1-hour class did my giant opponent, “take it easy,” with his grabs. Each time he tugged at my Gi, I grew slightly more furious with him. Doesn’t he realize this is my first class? Doesn’t he see that I’m just a little girl?
I spent myself on frustration until somewhere in the middle of class, while I was catching my breath with my back on the mat,when I realized the only thing I was mad at was his insistence on treating me as I might be treated in a real-life scenario. He wasn’t a bullying goon, but he was acting like one on purpose—and it was to help me learn! I soon felt gratitude for my training partner, who saw in me what I did not see in myself- a woman who is strong and capable of defending herself. There was amindful practicality to Goliath’s toughness, and I saw in him a type of masculinity that was new to me. He was compassionate, but tough. Fair, but practical.
I recently read an article about the push in New York to ban Mixed Martial Arts, and the subsequent backlash by UFC President Dana White, who describes the ban as, “thepussification of America.” 1 Some of MMA’s defenders have castDavid (as in, “…and Goliath”) as the model for today’s young males. The disturbing dissonance here is that David was completely aware of his own body, size, and ability. He leveraged what he had to kill the giant Goliath. In order to fight MMA style (or any other ring sport, for that matter), one must change his body to match that of his opponent. Where David acted mindfully, many fighters are being asked to conform to a specific and narrow definition of masculinity that says, “Men win fights. Period.”
To the men of the Dojo, I offer my humble thanks for practicing martial arts with a purpose. Since that first class, I’ve been paired with many a Goliath (it turns out a lot of men at the Dojo are quite tall), and I never again prayed for special treatment. Their best shot at me is my best shot at learning how to defend myself.