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In celebration of International Women’s Day, IAF has compiled a summary article based on best practices and viewpoints gathered from its members and Aikido practitioners all around the world on how dojos can continue to encourage women to take up Aikido in the spirit of inclusivity (this also extends to the disabled and the practice of Aikido in other cultures).

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Aikido is practiced by both men and women, worldwide -- at its core, Aikido is the study and practice of Budo, a code of moral principles taught at the dojo through martial arts. These Budo principles are then observed by the aikidoka in his or her everyday life outside the dojo.

Aikido does not discriminate in terms of physical strength, size or stature, gender, nationality, religion or age, hence it is considered a highly inclusive martial art where men and women are able to practice together without many constraints.

The exceptional and unique study of energy, “non-strength” and flexibility in Aikido draws both men and women to the martial art. However, like in any martial art or sport, women may tend to drop out when they start a family or for other various reasons.

Promoting an encouraging environment at the dojo

Starting something new can often be intimidating. There may be dojos with more women and in some cases, dojos with only one female aikidoka in a sea of male aikidokas. It can be very daunting for a sole woman practitioner, especially if she is a beginner.

Therefore, in this regard, care has to be taken by the leadership of the dojo. Senseis need to seek to understand and be sensitive to the dynamics of the dojo, embrace and help to make the female practitioner feel welcomed, as well as encourage more women to join the dojo.

Andrea Stitzel whom has practiced Aikido for over 20 years and now runs a dojo in Austria shares a comment from one of her students, “For me, there never was any importance to gender, religion (or) the color of the skin. The partner can be male, female, Muslim, Christian, Canadian, African, Austrian...there was never any uneasiness in being a woman while practicing Aikido or whether one is at a disadvantage as a woman. As a woman, I can say Aikido is for everyone.”

Tiffany Jo Golding from UK shares that the females at her dojo are of mixed abilities and are helped according to each’s abilities in Aikido, rather than differences. She found it helpful that additionally, the sensei imparted on practical self-defense tips for real-life situations in classes and taught them to be aware of surroundings.  

IMG 0001Aikido women practicing in a dojo in Austria run by Andrea Stitzel

The instructor dynamics and ensuring a level playing field

How classes are being taught should be reviewed from time to time to ensure that the syllabus and style of teaching are as inclusive as much as possible as how male or female aikidokas receive or process instruction may differ, due to the different physical makeup, as well as motivations.

Basic classes with a slower pace for beginners and unranked practitioners where they can ask basic questions can help with the initiation, especially those who have not taken up a sport before, let alone a martial art. Proper instructor classes for new teachers at the dojo can also help with the consistency of how techniques are being transmitted. A good instructor can focus more on a deliberate pace rather than seeking perfection or flashy throws; or set different challenges for each group of students according to their abilities. Teaching is often a skill to be learned. Senseis should also endeavor to invite more women Aikidokas as ukes on the mat.

“In training in multiple dojos, I have been able to see lots of different teaching styles. All of these styles have something to offer in that they can show different viewpoints on Aikido and variations on techniques. It also allows for different ukes to practice with, which allows me to ensure my Aikido works and is not just going through the motions. It also sometimes means that another Aikidoka can explain something in a new way, so you understand it like never before,” says Golding.

Golding (in the first row) with her classmates in the UK.

Norbert Hochstrasser from Hungary says, “Our association, the Shurenkan Aikido Sport Association is in operation for more than 15 years now. During this period of time, four of our women members became a yudansha, and three of them are currently members of our instructor team. In SAS, we stand for equal gender representation, therefore our instructor group consists of 3 women and 3 men. The girl and women practitioners are significantly as important in the children’s as they are for the adult’s group. Their feedback and reflections are most useful for the whole group as in many cases their reactions are much more socially sensitive.”

“We believe that more highly-educated women aikido instructors could be the resolution for making Aikido more popular between girls and women. Furthermore, we also believe one huge development that can make a difference is if dojos are able to offer day classes for housewives - this can help more women to try out this beautiful martial art.”

For Stitzel, as a woman dojocho, making sure that the dojo committee is equally represented by men and women has changed the dynamics of the dojo. “We are four trainers (3rd to 5th Dan) of whom two are female (4th to over 5th Dan) and two males (both 3rd Dans). Each of us teaches one class a week; however, our teaching days are not fixed which means also that members who come primarily only on one specific day in a week are exposed to all of four of us. Women as much as men need role models when they want to grow and learn something; I am lucky that I can offer this to both groups in my dojo.”

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Marsha Baleava from the UK

Proper etiquette, safety and discouraging the use of physical strength during practice

Aikido naturally stresses on the proper use of energy and flow vs. other martial arts which may tend to focus on physical strength. However, in dojos where there may be more males than females, sometimes, this can be overlooked. 

“Some male practitioners may be unintentionally overpowering their female uke with strength rather than using the technique correctly, which gives the girls the wrong impression that they are not good enough, because the guys seem to be able to do it, and the girls can’t,” says Marsha Balaeva from the UK. 

“Instead of excessive force, the dojo needs to stress on teaching Aikido as a low-impact martial art, where each practitioner uses as little force as possible, aiming to achieve precision, fluidity and sustained contact. This means no strong grips, no interfering with the tori, but a high speed flowing practice.

“If this can be encouraged and praised, then I think a lot more women would stay and continue training since this way of practicing puts women on a level playing field,” added Balaeva.

Golding agrees that proper etiquette and a code of conduct can help to remove confusion “as everyone can understand what they should be doing, when and with whom. It can also encourage equality & a sense of belonging.”

Laurie Jacob from France says she generally encounters three attitudes with male toris: ”..Some are very happy to be able to throw me away easily because I am smaller and lighter while others are too scared of breaking me to perform the technique efficiently. Lastly, and the best attitude for me (as a female aikidoka), is when the male tori tries to focus on the technical skills required to train with people smaller and skinnier: they were trying to improve their own flexibility, specific technical points, and to keep their center low…they manage to make the most of everything and make for a truly enriching practice for both.” 

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Laurie Jacob from France

Proper communication is key during practice at the dojo. Let us all be aware of our partner’s needs and have a safe and inclusive practice.

The IAF Gender Committee has held various gender balance activities over the past year, read about it here. Watch this space for more activities.

#Aikido #AikidoWomen #IWD2018



International Aikido Federation

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