Woes of The Chivalrous Fighter

Jab. Cross. Uppercut. 

Shit! You got her in the boobs. Again.

“I’m sorry.”

*

Should I give her a push kick? Will she be able to take it?

Perhaps, I’ll just touch her lightly.

Push Kick.

Yikes, that was close! Almost got her in the nether region.

Seriously though, can I be done now?

**

I have been practising Muay Thai (Martial Arts) for close to 3 years now. Inevitably, I’ve had to spar with fighters of the opposite sex – the ladies (in case you were wondering). Whilst I’d like to think of myself as a chivalrous person, I have to confess that I unreservedly dread sparring with women.

I am probably exuding the misogynist vibe right about now. I’ll sort out this misconception in a bit, but first allow me to describe the 3 types of ladies I’ve (generally) met in the ring. 

1. The Beginner

She comes to you with a smile that points to trepidation rather than elation. “I just started learning; please go easy on me,” she says. You reassure her that it’s just a learning opportunity where she gets to focus on sparring techniques. Being the gentleman you are, you throw punches only to stop the motion right before they reach her. Does she return the favour? No. She proceeds to wildly and randomly throw punches – as though your face is tantamount to the proverbial bullseye. Perhaps it’s natural reflex, or her inability to contain her excitement. Nevertheless, it freaking hurts.

2. The Eager Learner

Unlike the volatile novice, the eager learner is more technique-oriented. Her moves are much more controlled and relatively predictable, and consequently less painful. “Don’t worry about me, just hit me harder – that’s how I will learn,” she says. Apparently, there is no room for chivalry. In fact, you hope that she wasn’t offended by your decision to soften your blows. You tell yourself to go harder, but your heart doesn’t permit it. You conjure images of your sister or your mother (given her age). There is no way in hell you are ever going to consciously hurt her.

3. The Serious Fighter

She approaches the ring with years of experience under her belt and technical skills that may even surpass yours. “I am training for an upcoming fight,” she says, capitalising on your size and assumed strength. She may be the better fighter, but you’re much bigger than her – piece of cake, right? Now, prepare yourself for bruises. She will come at you like the force of nature. You’re nothing but target practice to her. This is the best time to practise your blocks – because you’re not going to hit a girl, are you?

Even so, everyone has a limit. Her strikes will agitate you. There is only so much you can take before you subconsciously return a kick at full force. You immediately regret what you have done. Your moral compass eats at you (even though you know that it’s permissible in this predicament). In shame, you regress to your role as a walking punching bag. Goddamn conscience. 


The Conundrum

One thing I learnt from these collective encounters is that women are ruthless. Regardless of which category they belonged to, women generally reciprocated my gentle moves with power – they wanted it to hurt. I suspect that this could be a result of the indoctrination of gender roles. Normatively, men are the big macho tough guys and women are the demure damsels.  Could it be that women find a certain sadistic pleasure from knowing that they could hurt someone who is generally deemed to be stronger than they are? Or perhaps they just do not want to come across as weak – thus making their punches ‘count’ (in other words, painful). Or have I just been the unlucky chap who happened to have reminded these women of the aggressor that spawned the viral twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen? Of course I’m being hyperbolic here. Nonetheless, it begs the question if some women are learning Muay Thai for self-protection against plausible assaults and I just happened to have been at the right time and (wrong) place.

To be fair, I must acknowledge how the gender roles have influenced my perception as well. My reluctance to fight a woman to the best of my ability –even when the opponent is better skilled– could possibly indicate my refusal to perceive women as on the same level playing field as men. It also goes to show how I perpetuate the notion of women being the weaker sex. Or how I would inherently want them to be the fragile damsels in distress, just so that I can reassure myself of my masculinity. Perhaps this is why I pretended to be unaffected by their strikes even when they were painful. (Epiphany: Is that why they kept striking harder? Because I make them feel impotent?)

Obviously, I’m going to remain indignant of these accusations (even though they happen to be self-imposed). I still cannot fathom how any man can deal with hitting a woman unrestrainedly. I guess I will simply invoke the latent ‘gentleman’ card by actively avoiding women in the ring.

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2 thoughts on “Woes of The Chivalrous Fighter

  1. Julie says:

    Okay, so… okay.
    Up front: I’m a kickboxer (or used to be, training to go back to training in fact), I’m a woman, I’m a mother, so I’m talking from my experience of being both a strong (in body and mind) and sensitive woman who calls herself a feminist.

    K.R., I really do like you, but yeah, you’re actually right – there are… I don’t want to say misogynist, but sexist tendencies in your words here. Pretty strong ones actually. It speaks for you, though, that you recognize them but I wonder why you don’t try to do something against it?

    Why would it be okay to hit a man as hard as you can but not a woman who trains with you?

    As a food for thought: from my experience as a fighting woman, I can tell you that NO WOMAN I met that does some kind of martial arts thinks of her opponent as primarily a man. The other one is a sparring partner, no matter the gender. And as sparring against another in practice, you want them to be at their best and be at your best yourself. Being “ruthless” just means that we use our normal strength without holding back *as you are supposed to* in training. It’s got nothing to do with “getting” at a man or feeling impotent or inferior to a “stronger” man or sadistic pleasure. Nothing. Why would you even think that? Do you think the same of a male opponent? “Hm, why would he try to hit me with his full strength – does he get a sadistic pleasure out of beating me?”

    Personally, if I had to fight you and knew you had these thoughts, I’d be really offended because I’d feel patronized. Why can’t you see your sparring partners as exactly that – sparring partners, not “female” and “normal” sparring partners? Also: women who train in martial arts know exactly what they can expect when training. Bruises, hurt – that’s just training. It happens when you use your body in almost any kind of sports. No woman will blame you for using your strength when training with her.

    “I guess I will simply invoke the latent ‘gentleman’ card by actively avoiding women in the ring.” That’s not gentlemanly. That’s sexists. And it’s nothing you should be proud of but something you should ACTIVELY try to change.

    Try to actually train with your partners instead of patronizing your female opponents by holding back. Try to *teach* the beginners how to use technique instead of just strength instead of blaming them for it (they’re beginners, remember?). Try to *believe* the eager learner when she says “It’s okay” – she is NOT your sister or mother and you do her no good in holding back. And actually try to realize that the serious fighter is a *worthy opponent*, not a weak girl that needs to be protected.

    Please try to think about that and really try to change your perspective on this whole subject. You’d do yourself and your female training partners a favour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Julie! Thank you for taking the time to write a reply. Your insights have been a a real eye-opener, especially since I’m gaining the perspective of a female fighter for the first time on this issue.

      I agree with your viewpoint. I have to admit that my thoughts were rather chauvinistic and my actions were patronising. This is the indication of my self-critique: “just so that I can reassure myself of my masculinity.”

      I must also mention that the description of women are somewhat generalised and even embellished to fit the overall flow of the whole post. So to answer some of your questions, yes I do actually teach the beginners technique. That’s the main reason why I end up sparring with beginners (and still do). They are excitable and volatile. This is true not only of the females, but males too. And I usually have to stop short of connecting my glove to their face because they mostly haven’t adapted to not closing their eyes in fear/anticipation of the impact.

      I have no excuses for the “eager learner”. It’s an inherent problem with me. And like you said, I have to stop thinking of them as a mother or sister – something I am actively working towards. And I guess at least now, thanks to you, I can more or else understand where they are coming from. As for the “serious fighter”, I definitely consider them to be worthy opponent – trust me, I have gotten many worthy bruises from them. The problem I face is somewhat similar to the aforementioned ‘mother-sister-complex’.

      When I spar with men, I realise that we more or else emulate each other’s intensity. When the opponent starts going hard, we intentionally go harder; and the converse is true. But when I’m sparring with a woman, I just can’t seem to match her intensity and go harder. Not because I think she is weaker, but because I think to myself, “what if my mom or sister was sparring with a guy and he hits her till she bruises?” The problem is I am always thinking; talking to myself in my head (even during sparring); thinking of ridiculous scenarios. I am also a visual person, so it affects me a lot. That’s the crux of the problem that I have to work around.

      And the last line about avoiding women, it should also be noted that it is an implausible scenario. I have sparred with many different types of women since. And I realised that after having finally expressed my sentiment, somewhere other than my head, I was able to better engage the women fighters. I think the process of writing this post (that unwittingly elicited my self-realisation of my perpetuation of gender roles) has helped me tremendously. Now, when I am sparring with women, my mind keeps reprimanding and reminding myself not to perpetuate such notions with my actions. I know, I am a little weird with my ways.

      Liked by 1 person

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