To my Martial Arts brothers, I now have your attention. Let’s talk.

And yes, I discuss, in a way, bikinis and Martial Arts in this post. While I discuss Filipino Martial Arts, this post applies to the entire martial arts industry.

In this post, I discuss a problem that persists in the martial arts industry: sexism toward our martial arts sisters.

I teach Modern Arnis both to children and to adults. 60% of my children students are girls. I did not target this or any other specific demographic in my marketing. They just started showing up. Kudos to their parents who wish to give their girls the means to protect themselves but, more importantly, to become strong and confident teens and women.

I am completely committed to giving all the girls and boys the tools to become strong and confident citizens.

Truth be told, BOTH boys and girls will benefit from being in the same class. The boys will greatly benefit from the presence of girls as this decreases the chances that they will be intimidated by the opposite sex or adopt warped views of them.

Girls, despite constant negative societal messages, will learn that they can be just as good as the boys. Ronda Rousey anybody? 🙂

A few months ago I was perusing a Filipino Martial Arts forum and came across a post claiming to make a connection between photography of bikini-clad women and the practice of Filipino Martial Arts. The poster egged on others to post their photographs of women, preferably those in bikinis.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Several commentators responded that this was highly inappropriate and that it had no connection to Filipino Martial Arts. I put in my two cents saying that the thread was an insult to women who practice Filipino Martial Arts.  While the poster claimed a connection between his photography of bikinis and Filipino Martial Arts, there was no doubt in my mind that this was a bullshit connection and that he pigeonholed women into one category: sexual objects. 

He claimed that was not his intent. To say that he was not convincing is putting it mildly. But the perception is often reality. The perception is the poster is saying to women “you are nothing more than a sexual object.”

Wow, what a way to look at 50% of the human population, Mr. Neanderthal.

Encouragingly many men spoke up against this thread and denounced the demeaning nature of it. It took far too long but the thread got taken down.  But the fact that this kind of ugly sexism exists is something that needs to be confronted at every turn. 

It is more than just the aforementioned forum incident. More recently, a female martial arts colleague of mine has been subjected to appalling sexual harassment by a supposedly high-ranking martial artist on Facebook.

Female martial artists are put in a difficult position when confronted with this kind of misogynistic bullshit either in person or online. On the one hand, if a female martial artist objects, she is deemed a hypersensitive “man hater.” If she doesn’t, her silence is deemed to be an acceptance of the misogyny and “it’s all a harmless joke.” 

Regardless of this difficult position, there will be many women who WILL speak up. I applaud them! They need to be heard and respected.

However, the onus isn’t on the female martial artist.

The problem is the misogynists spewing this bullshit nonsense. They believe that women are “beneath them” and cannot countenance the possibility that women may be better than them. They can’t stand the thought of being “shown up.” They’re the wolf whistlers, the cat callers, and the leering punks who employ various means to demean girls and women and make them feel worthless.

The reporter in the below clip got what he deserved for his disrespect of Ronda Rousey.

While the asshats constitute the majority of the problem, there is an increasing number of men who are calling these punks out. One trend that I have noticed is fathers of daughters who are encouraging their daughters to tap into their athletic potential. One such father is a martial arts friend of mine.

He is a former wrestler and has coached wrestling on the high school level for several years. His daughter practices Kenpo Karate. Apparently, she expressed a desire to get into wrestling. His ex-wife will not let her daughter wrestle, presumably due to old fashioned thinking about girls and wrestling. Huh? Fortunately, John has told his daughter that once she gets her black belt in Kenpo Karate, she can practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She should look to this girl in the below video for inspiration. 🙂

There should be more fathers like John! And those include those who bring their daughters to my classes.

But, despite good men like John, the problem still persists.

While it seems better today than in the 1970s, there are still messages, implicit and explicit, aimed at girls and women about their worth. I have had quite a few friends of mine express to me experiences similar to those recounted in this post: Being a “Girl” in the Dojo: Sexism in Karate.  And I know of several who have been victims of sexual assault.

Jackie Bradbury, aka The Stick Chick, has an excellent post in her post: Fight Like a Girl. Note her reference to the Gracie Academy. I’ll return to the topic of the Gracies below.

Many women navigate each day worrying about two things: being hit on and being sexually assaulted.

So they turn to martial arts to learn how to defend themselves. The dojo, kwoon, and training space should be a safe zone where they should not have to worry about those two things. But thanks to asshat posters like the so-called FMA Master, they wonder if the “safe zone” is truly safe.

Where do folks turn when they want to educate themselves about martial arts and possible training venues? The Internet. It’s a fair bet that women are not going to exactly feel safe when they see demeaning posts similar to what I saw the other night.

Is this the way to attract women to Filipino Martial Arts? Let’s think about this.

Many have bemoaned the fragmentation and politics of Filipino Martial Arts and have talked about exposing more folks to the beauty of FMAs. Indeed, it was one of the themes of “The Bladed Hand.” But if there is the kind of sexism that I saw the other night in a Filipino Martial Arts forum, how are we expected to expand the appeal of FMAs?

While MMA has a well-documented sexism problem, some in that industry are doing an impressive job reaching out to women.  For example, Rener Gracie recently did a women’s self-defence seminar specifically geared for deaf and hard of hearing women. See the below clip:

How much do you want to bet that they will likely be considering Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instead of Filipino Martial Arts? It doesn’t hurt that the Gracies have a Pink Belt program that appeals to women. How do you think they’re doing among women?

We need to expose Filipino Martial Arts to the widest audience possible and introduce to the beauty and awesomeness of FMAs. That includes the girls in my kids’ classes.  Peachie Baron Saguin, Diana Lee Inosanto, and Graciela Casillas are just a few of the well-known female FMA players. In addition, I’ve had the pleasure of training with Master Gaby Roloff and Karen Callahan. Both absolutely amazing! We need more! We need to attract and expose FMAs to women. 

Sexist posts do a disservice to teachers and instructors in FMAs wishing to expand their reach and, most importantly, to women. It insults my sisters and friends in Filipino Martial Arts.

To my martial arts brothers, here’s a simple guideline before you engage in potentially sexist behaviour: if your wife, daughter, sister, or your mother were training in the martial arts or taking a self-defence course and you found out that an instructor was subjecting them to demeaning sexual comments, how would you feel? 

My guess is that you wouldn’t be happy.

Then don’t be an asshat and treat everyone with respect and dignity.

Let me make it crystal clear, sexism in martial arts is completely unacceptable. Full Stop.

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6 thoughts on “Bikinis and Martial Arts

  • September 9, 2015 at 8:32 am

    I’ve dealt with this issue several times and have written about it, too. In marketing, sex sells, even if it is demeaning. I’ve seen media clips and posters of women practicing “traditional martial arts” in bikini tops and short shorts while they do a kick, for instance. Come on. Is that reality? I practice traditional arts. I don’t look like that and I’ve never stood alongside another female practitioner who did. This is not the “real” female martial artist; and if marketing wants to go that route, a beautiful woman in a gi can fit the bill. But, half naked always sells. Let’s be honest. Some sexism is necessary for women to excel in some areas of the industry, such as fighting. The audience is predominantly male and so beauty and sexiness has a place. They wouldn’t watch as much otherwise. I often worry that girls and women who are not extremely fit, beautiful, or sexy feel they won’t fit in the martial arts dojo because they think that is the typical karate woman. Truth be told, there are a lot more of us “every day” women who are trying to learn, teach, or excel in the martial arts. Martial artists and writers like you and I have a responsibility to embrace all female martial artists, to help them excel, all ages and body types. Learning a martial art is not about how you look on the outside, but how you look on the inside. On the other hand, women sometimes embrace the sexy image because it is the one thing in recent years that finally catapults them up the ladder toward more exposure in the arts. It can be a double edged sword. How much is too much? Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I’ll think about it next time I wear a bikini.

    • September 9, 2015 at 8:41 am

      Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting on this post. I agree with all you said, ESPECIALLY your quote “learning a martial art is not about how you look on the outside, but how you look on the inside.” This is the message I’m imparting to the kids class, girls and boys alike. But especially the girls due to the overwhelming societal messages as you point out. I’m only one instructor out of thousands and I hope that I can make a difference here like you are in Florida!

      • September 9, 2015 at 9:03 am

        And you are making a difference. Everything you do and say helps to cultivate a better martial arts atmosphere for everyone, no matter where they live. We are all in this together, for sure!

        • September 9, 2015 at 9:17 am

          Thank you for this comment!

  • September 9, 2015 at 11:04 am

    Nobody wants to see me in a bikini, LOL, so it must be that what’s in my brain and in my heart is more important than my figure – otherwise I wouldn’t be making satisfactory progress in my art.

    • September 9, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Hey Joelle, thanks for the comment! That’s exactly the point. Andrea said the same thing in her comment as well.


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