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Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences

Guelph School of Japanese Sword Arts, July, 2003

Introduction to the 2003 panel presentations

Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D., Organizer

This year, we organized the Guelph School of Japanese Sword Arts panel (and, in fact, the whole weekend) around the theme of "Women in the martial arts."  Though there have been a small number of books and articles on this subject, we had not as a group undertaken the idea before.  We were pleased to have a number of female teachers at the seminars; in fact, we have had a number of female teachers from year to year, but issues involving women in the martial arts had not previously been addressed at the GSJSA.

One of the things that did not happen this year was in spite of having women in the martial arts as a theme, and some publicity regarding it, we did not get a big increase in women taking part in GSJSA this year.  On the other hand, the weekend was overall quite successful with all the teachers being very good, and very generous with their time, in and out of class.

As to the papers themselves, Emily Dolan Gordon's "Putting up with Men" outlines some ways in which women are kept out of martial arts training, and some ways in which they can be made to feel welcome in a dojo.  The main point seemed to be that women mostly want to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.  This seems simple enough, but it is surprising that it does not always happen.  Several sources cited in Emily's paper also said that having women already in the dojo proved an inspiration to new female students.

My paper, "Raising the Bar," critiqued existing written sources on women in the martial arts (though the same critique could be applied to martial arts in general), and suggested ways in which scholarship can be improved.  In particular, I noted the lack of basic research on women - we still do not know who practices, or why.  Without answering some basic research questions, much of the writing on women in the martial arts will continue to be narratives of women's personal experiences, rather than what could be called substantial data that would help us better understand women's roles in the martial arts.

Joseph Svinth contributed a list culled from the Kronos database on EJMAS entitled "Women's Martial Arts: A Chronological History, 479 BCE - 1896 CE"  As interesting as it is, the list was better as a research tool than a presentation.  Instead, I pulled some of Joe's data and commented on it in a mutually authored piece, "'The Ideal Amazon of the Age,'" in which showed some of the breadth (though not depth) of the information available on women and combat sports available from it.  Then I fashioned a hypothetical research subject inspired by some of the entries, in order to show how Joe's list could lead to further research.  I am also including Joe's list here (including the lengthy and valuable bibliography) as it brings up a great number of subjects of interest.

We did not have a tape recorder for the discussion which followed; but Discussant Sandra Jorgenson kindly made available the notes that she made in order to discuss the individual papers.  Her comments indeed led to some good topics, and there were more besides, including the problem that is common to everyone: how to make time for the dojo and for family (without neglecting either one).  As usual, no ready answers were found; but the discussions were lively and will hopefully spark more interest in women in the martial arts (and related topics) in the future.

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