It’s rare for women to train in martial arts. I know, because I’m a woman and I train in ving tsun kung fu. All I have to do is look around the room during class and I can tell you this is a male-dominated art.
Male students outnumber female students by at least ten to one. The ratio varies from school to school, but it’s never an even split, let alone a majority-female group of students. Which is odd, considering this system was invented by a woman and designed for a smaller, weaker person to effectively defend themselves against a bigger, strong attacker. The system uses physics and the geometry of body structure to effectively and efficiently overcome brute strength. Ving tsun is ideal for women to study. It has been for centuries. It stands to reason, then, that it’s not the kung fu that’s driving female students away. When we, as women, decide that we’d like to train in some form of martial art to become badass warrior goddesses capable of defending ourselves and others, we do our research. We dive into social media to see what’s out there. We watch tae kwon do videos from the Olympics, MMA fights, etc - tough, athletic, brutal stuff. Then we look up women training in kung fu, and the majority of the media we find falls into two categories: 1 - women fluttering ineffectual slapfight butterfly hands at indulgent men 2 - women with real skill being scolded and corrected by a dude every time they bring a hint of power Look. Women spend a lot of our lives being underestimated and condescended to. We know it when we see it. When you trot out your handful of female students like trained poodles to show off their kung-fu-like dance moves … When you square off with a woman who’s got some real structure and then chastise her every five seconds … When the entire tone of your female-focused media is “Aw, look at her go! Doing her li’l chi sau like she thinks she’s a real kung fu person!” … We know what we’re seeing. We can smell this kind of condescension a mile off - it’s familiar to us, y’see. It tells us everything we need to know about training kung fu: that we shouldn’t. That kung fu is a male space, and the only reason for women to train there is to smile pretty for the camera and not make the dudes feel bad about their own kung fu. That if we train at your school we’ll be patted on our pretty little heads and applauded just for being girls in a kung fu school, not for actually learning anything. Social media has magnified this problem. Post a picture or a video of a woman training - regardless of how good that training actually is - and you’re guaranteed a fresh flood of likes and shares and attention to your school’s online presence. And if that’s your entire goal, then congratulations. I guess you win. But if the goal is to actually show some respect to your art and train more women in good kung fu, then take a long look at the media you’re putting out there. Would you post that picture if it showed two dudes doing the exact same drill? If not, then don’t post it just because there’s a girl in it. Would that video have more kung fu and less mansplaining if it featured a lesson with a male student instead? Then either do the video again with a guy, or - better yet! - change how you teach your female students. Why are you sharing this picture or video at all? Is it because you’re proud of the hard work the female student has done, or because you just want the attention? Wouldn’t it get even more attention if you showed kickass women doing good kung fu? Don’t water down our kung fu. Train us like real students, represent us like you take women’s training seriously, and more of us will come train. Female students are not your school’s walking participation trophies. We are not your pretty clickbait. We are kung fu students and we just want to train.