by Samantha Seff
Being a female in such a male-dominated sport comes with its fair share of grievances and challenges, but it also provides us with invaluable lessons that can be applied to daily life as well. I’ve noticed that women have a habit of shrinking ourselves and making ourselves smaller in situations to appear less authoritative which can be misconstrued as “bitchy”. Rather than risk the possibility of being judged as anything less than dominant or powerful, we will kneecap ourselves in order to satiate society’s preconceived notions of how a woman should be viewed. I can almost guarantee you that men don’t go through life trying to downplay themselves in order to be more approachable or less domineering. They are viewed as alpha and top of their game and what many others aspire to be like. So why don’t we do the same?
Let’s elaborate further on the kneecapping theory. By this I imply that oftentimes, we as women will slightly diminish our own thoughts and actions in order to appease the masses or to ensure that we still come across as amicable and approachable. By saying things such as: “maybe you should do that grip differently” or “That sort of seems like you’re muscling the technique” we are subconsciously asking permission to come across as more polite. We do not need to add modifiers to our sentences in order to seem less harsh when we are in the right mind space to say what needs to be said, and we shouldn’t feel as if we are inconveniencing others by telling them how to do the move properly, especially when we clearly have the knowledge and experience to do so.
If we are uncomfortable in a certain situation, we have every right to speak up for ourselves and let our voice be heard. This doesn’t make us weak or inferior just because we lodge a so-called complaint in present company. Women don’t have to maintain a fear of inconveniencing or upsetting every person they come in contact with or harbor the anxiety that others will view them in a negative light for stating something that no man would ever second guess himself about voicing. If you are flailing on the mats and in danger of injuring someone, best believe I will call you out on it. And if my safety is in question by rolling with you, I have every single right to turn it down. ‘No’ is a complete sentence.
By being afraid of how others may perceive us and therefore kneecapping ourselves, we are inevitably doing more harm than good and diminishing the power we can achieve just by having the gusto to allow our voices to be heard. That belt around your waist is indicative of the hard work you have earned and achieved through countless hours of dedication on the mats, so it’s perfectly okay to assert your authority. Do you think Joan of Arc was afraid of the opinions of the mere average commoner who hadn’t an ounce of the bravery and warrior spirit she possessed? Be like Joan and start imposing your will.
Let’s agree to stop apologizing for things we have no business being sorry for. Saying things like “I’m sorry but you’re hurting me” during a roll on the mats lessens the responsibility of the culprit going too hard on their training partner. Why are we sorry? Even if we are of higher rank, the individual with more muscle and strength does not need to go 100% in cranking our limbs and grinding our joints. I am not sorry for telling anyone this, but will make my safety for my fighting career my utmost priority. If that makes me a selfish B word, then so be it. But at least I will be able to fight another day where it really matters in competition, and not the imaginary gold medals inside of the dojo.
It’s taken many years for me to be comfortable in the skin I am in and to have the confidence to speak what I mean and to mean what I say. I was not handed a brown belt from my professors for no reason, but have earned the knowledge that comes with achieving this rank. If I don’t command respect with myself by speaking with strength, then who is to say anyone else in the gym will respect what I have to say as well. My voice and my will are unrelenting and unwavering, and if a woman in position of power makes you uncomfortable, then that is a ‘you’ problem and has nothing to do with me.
Women have made their mark in this sport and continue to break down barriers every single day. We should never apologize for accomplishing great feats and letting our dominance be heard. The lion doesn’t apologize to the gazelle for feeding his family and neither will I for feeding my competitive spirit. We will persevere in our recognition and allow ourselves to flourish, always confidently believing in our hard-earned positions of authority and letting it be known it is well-deserved. A woman’s place is on the mats.
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