The Female Ghetto and Paradise Island – “Can You Help the New Girl?”

Long before I started training, I often felt like “Third Gender.” My earliest memories of pre-school were of a little troupe of boys who were my friends. I don’t remember their names now, but I remember that we would pretend to be soldiers, or play on an old, rusted-out tractor that had been painted in bright colours and left to us as play-equipment.

When I started primary school, children segregated themselves into gender groups, and I tried to do the same. A beautiful girl with long dark hair and big greenish eyes introduced me to the term “Best Friend” and claimed to be mine. She consecrated the “Best Friend-ship” by taking me to a big old pine tree that she called “the Tree of Sheba” and burying a fallen pine-seed under it. The next week, she had a new best friend, and I was heart-broken. I continued to visit the tree for a long time afterward to see if our seed grew – it never did.

Later in primary school, led by a thrillingly talented and tomboy-ish girl, who won every athletic event she entered, all of the girls in my grade started to play soccer. I found an outlet for my physical energy, my competitiveness and my lust for challenge (all of which had formerly been described as an “attitude problem”). I was never very skilled at soccer, but I enjoyed it immensely, and my eagerness to assert myself physically made me an effective, if not very skilled, defender. Our team went on to win local tournaments. We never really had a coach, although I do remember our male teacher being very supportive of our team and organising a seminar with a real, grown-up female soccer player.

Almost spontaneously, we practised every recess and lunch-time, usually against the “boys team,” who weren’t nearly as dominant in their tournaments as we were. We would run out to the oval and make a pair of goal posts out of hats and bins. Kids would be hurrying to eat their snacks or lunch while playing.

I loved the cameraderie in this experience. To this day, I miss the sense of female solidarity and pride that we had as children.


In Defence of Culture, Autonomy and Identity: Martial Arts as Protest in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Lone Boxer

Those who follow me on Twitter would have noticed a lot of my Tweets lately have been about “mysticism” in Martial Arts. I had been writing my final essay for this semester and now it’s done – I’ve really finished Uni for the year. I ended up calling my paper “In Defence of Culture, Autonomy and Identity: Martial Arts as Protest in the Twentieth Century and Beyond.” In the end, what it came to represent to me was the articulation of over fifteen years of Rage that had previously only ever found expression through physical means.

It’s funny that my “Martial Arts” and the ethnic protest that they represented were always a source of shame and bemusement to certain people in my life. I’m sure they’re happy now that I’m doing something “respectable” at University. The irony is that my studies are motivated by exactly the same righteous anger (at being denied a culture of my own while being marginalised by the one in which I live) that initially motivated me to want to learn how to kill people with my bare hands. (Let’s be honest; that angry sixteen year old who walked into a Pradahl Serey Kun Khmai gym and said “I want to learn how to fight” wasn’t interested in spiritual transcendence or individualistic self-improvement).

I never did put hands on those people who were on my teenage hit-list (there was a list) and I have not become anywhere near as accomplished a fighter or “Martial Artist” as I had hoped to be by now. But in the process of writing this essay, I realised that my years of training have been worth something, if only because they have made me a small part of a phenomenon that is much bigger and more significant than myself.

Nothing that I’ve suggested is new: there is a lot that has been written on this subject, and there is room to be far more comprehensive. For example, I was unable to go into s discussion of the Blacksploitation film genre, or to analyse the socio-political implications of Women’s MMA. But I hope that you get some enjoyment or insight out of what I was able to discuss. Comments are very welcome.


Tapering, and The Burden of Proof

It’s Thursday night and I’ve finished my final training sessions for the Synergy Pro BJJ comp this weekend. I’ve had a near-perfect lead-up, with no personal stress, minimal injury and little disruption to my training routine.

The final week before any fight or competition is, for me, always a relatively light one. I halve the duration of my training sessions, and switch from full rolling to doing drills which are specific to my game-plan. My priority is being mentally and physically fresh, fully recovered, on weight, focused and happy. So far, I consider this week successful, because I am all of these things. The soreness of the last and hardest weeks of full training is gone; the minor injuries I that accrued have almost completely healed.

Tapering is not a new or revolutionary concept. Any strength and conditioning coach or experienced athlete is familiar with the concept. However, as I have discovered over many years of training in different disciplines with different coaches, not all martial artists do what is physiologically best.


The Grind: Someone is Watching

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 3.37.23 PMThere was a young woman at the gym this morning doing some observations as part of her Certificate IV in Fitness while I was doing a strength and conditioning session.

Dayni, my strength coach, introduced me as an MMA fighter and explained what we were doing in terms of strength and conditioning. The young woman was very interested, and asked me a lot of questions that I don’t usually “have time for.” Today, I took the time though. I answered all of her questions about how long I’ve been doing “this” for, why I started, how old I was, what I did for work, what I was doing for the rest of the day, what other training I did apart from weights training…

I’m glad that I did, because now I realise that she was asking because I was something that she’d never seen before. It’s hard for me to recognise that some people see me that way, because to me what I do is so normal, so ordinary, so tedious at times, that it doesn’t warrant consideration and I find it hard to understand why people are asking me “basic” questions like what I’m doing “after this.”

As if to confirm the validity of the thoughts I’ve been having lately about putting myself out there as a way to somehow add value to the lives of others – and particularly to expand the minds of girls and young women – this young woman said:

“I love it when I see girls do things like this. It makes me believe that I can do anything.”



Why Today’s “Women’s Fitness” Industry is not Fit for Women

Said everyone who has spoken to a memberships consultant ever!Those of you who know me or follow my blog will know that I have major issues with the “women’s fitness” industry. Although I love working with women and I love empowering people to discover the benefits of health and fitness, I detest the people and slogans who are intent on telling you, my sisters, all about how insecure and intimidated you are and why you need to hide from your male comrades in pink weight-rooms filled with hydraulic machines. Don’t even get me started on “women’s kick/boxing” classes. (Do you want to know the difference between men’s and women’s combat sports? Being a female combat sports athlete means you need to work twice as hard for half the respect and maintain supreme mental focus and a super-effective strength-training regime just to keep up with everyone else in the gym. Still want to do “women’s kickboxing??”)

I think what irks me most is that competitive sport and even simple recreational physical activity was once a right that was denied to women. Like so many other things that we enjoy today due to the courage and persistence of our fore-mothers, we tend to take this for granted today and even slide back into a sort of complacent inferiority complex because it’s “easier.”


Why I’m Tired of Hearing People Say “You Should Learn to Love Your Body.”

From scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, courtesy of Wikipedia CommonsMost of the marketing which is aimed at my supposed demographic – women in their twenties – at best irritates me and at worst just plain offends me. (Don’t get me started on how much of a f*ck I do not give about whether a new car has a shoe compartment, iPod connectivity or a “support network.”)

This rant in particular is about magazines and soap companies. You know the ones. The ones who have slender, skinny-fat models in their fashion spreads and most of their ads, but occasionally run a “real beauty” campaign showing over-weight women who haven’t had their cellulite airbrushed away, or who do a “body-image” issue showing “real” unfit women in unflattering underwear. For all the fluffy crap about “loving” yourself or accepting your “flaws,” all I really see is a consolation prize, a way out for under-achievers. “Don’t worry,” is what they’re really saying, “Here are some unflattering pics of out-of-shape women so you can compare yourself to them and feel better about yourselves. We know that you’re not happy with the way your body looks and feels, but it’s okay because not everyone can be perfect. Here are some real women.” (So, the models in your ads and fashion shoots aren’t real? Athletic women aren’t real? Women who are actually happy with their bodies – probably because they don’t put their time and energy into taking on your self-contradicting crap – aren’t real??)

Now at first you may think that this is callous, that I’m drumming up business by attempting to “shame” women into getting all OCD about their diet and exercise. Stick with me for a minute.


The Real Women’s Fitness Dilemma

I read an article yesterday which really moved me, about the sole woman to represent Afghanistan in this year’s Olympics. Tahmina Kohistani describes being discouraged  by crowds who would “jeer and hurl insults at her and question why a woman would even think of taking to the track” during her training sessions in her home country.

I can’t imagine the extent of the difficulties this woman must have faced in preparing for the Olympics. Her country is in the process of rebuilding itself after years of war, and the concept of women’s autonomy is still relatively new. She describes running for the first time with shoes the day before representing Afghanistan in Poland.

She says that she is racing for the women of Afghanistan, to show them that despite society’s expectation that their lives revolve around their husbands, children and homes, they have the right to pursue their own ambitions.