Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Women's Martial Arts, an Interview

Below is an interview with a female martial artist, Marianna, who has been studying martial arts for almost 15 years. She is now getting into MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), where there are not currently a lot of women. You will see in the interview below that Marianna was supported to persue her interests in martial arts early on with the support of her dad who enrolled her in classes when she was nine years old. In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that Marianna is my cousin and i am incredibly proud of her for all her accomplishments and goals. She does not only demonstrate physical strength but also strength of character, as martial arts have taught her to over the last 15 years.

Some of the gender questions that came to mind as i watched Marianna's fight included: What kind of messages do the women holding up signs in the middle of the fight (and the photo op with the same women at the end) send? They are almost naked and we as feminists quickly notice this sort of blatant objectification. Shouldn't a female fight, with an empowerment and strength focus, send a different message and leave out this sexist tradition from the ring? Another question that arose for me was whether there are certain double standards for women in the sport.
Do they expect the women to be feminine and conventionally attractive while maintaining a "tough guy" attitude? Which female fighters get more attention (in terms of fans and sponsorship) the conventionally pretty women or the women who look tough, ready to kick ass, and are unmotivated by maintaining a conventionally feminine appearance?

If you have questions for Marianna about martial arts and MMA, feel free to leave them in the comment section, maybe i can get her to swing by and answer some :)

1. What made you want to learn and start practicing martial arts?
I've been doing martial arts since i was 9 years old. My brother was taking Tae Kwon Do and I was always intrigued by it so my dad let me start taking classes. Then after i got my black belt my dad encouraged me to look around at other schools and that's when i started taking kung fu with Vincent Lyn. I trained with him for 6 years before moving to Miami for college. I took some time off from the martial arts at that point. A year ago I decided I wanted to get back into it. I looked for serious schools before finding out that one of the best MMA camps in the world was just around the corner from my house. I joined American Top Team and couldn't be happier with the training. I am pushed every day and find the sport to be so challenging. (MMA is the combination of wrestling, jiu jitsu, boxing and kickboxing).

2. Did knowing how to fight throughout your life make you feel more safe in situations where women are "supposed to" be afraid, like walking alone at night or meeting men for the first time?
Actually, I've never been in a real fight. I do feel safe knowing that i have experience in combat but now-a -days people don't really fight with just fists...so i think i've just been fortunate not having to prove myself on the street.

3. What types of double standards have you experienced or seen in the world of MMA in terms of gender?
I've always been more of a tom boy than a girly girl growing up. Sports were always part of my life and I've had to deal with criticism from family and a few friends about how girls shouldn't be playing sports and instead being girly. But thankfully i've never been the type of person to take things personally. I enjoy being challenged physically and this is what this sport does. Fighting is just as mental as it is physical so i feel that it sort of mirrors life. You have to be strong physically, mentally and spiritually to make it through daily struggles and the same goes for MMA.

I like to prove people wrong. I think girl fighters can definitely be sexy. Why not be the total package? Yea i'm a girl, yes i can fight and yes i'm sexy. I don't think those aspects have to contradict themselves. Actually a lot of guys think that girl fighters are hot. After my fight I got a lot of feedback from some spectators. They all showed me a lot of love and respect and these were people who didn't even know me. They just came up to me and told me what they thought.

As far as body image... the sport is very demanding (that's why you see so many hot guys with amazing bodies fighting). I'm noticing my body change and a lot of people don't realize the sacrifice on your body. Fighters are constantly loosing and gaining depending on timing of fights. So it definitely keeps you in shape and I love that about it!

4. Do you think it's harder for women fighters to get noticed than male fighters? Is it more difficult for female fighters to get sponsorship?
I think it's easier. People always talk about the girl fights! I think being an attractive girl opens doors because sex sells. Just look at Gina Carano. She's an awesome fighter and shes hot. she's the most popular female fighter in the world (but not because she's hands down the best in the world). What sets her apart is her looks. I am a huge fan of hers...she's got a lot of sponsors, she keeps it real and she's not afraid to be sexy.

5. What is some advice you'd give to girls and women starting out in martial arts?
Martial arts are great because it's a great workout, you get to meet a lot of nice people, you will challenge yourself mentally and physically and it's fun to learn. I am totally for strong women and I think women that do martial arts gain confidence in more than just protecting themselves. But as far as women's MMA, it's gaining popularity by the minute. like I said...people love to watch women fight. So i doubt the sport is going anywhere.

6. Why does the ref keep fixing your bra during the fight? I thought that was a bit strange...
Ok so i was planning on wearing my t-shirt the whole fight. When i got into the ring they told me it wasn't tight enough and my opponent's feet could get caught in it so they made me take it off. The problem with that was that I had plastic boob protectors in my sports bra (which is required to wear...as well as its required to take a pregnancy test before fights). So during the fight the boob protectors kept shifting and at some points sticking out of the sports bra. So the ref kept fixing and adjusting it for me. LOL. quite embarrassing but at least they didn't fall out!!


Anonymous said...

I've always wondered why there aren't women on those Ultimate Fighting shows. Frankly, such blatant violence for the sake of violence bothers me, so I don't watch them. But it is interesting that women don't appear. Why is that? It's okay for two men to bludgeon one another until one passes out but not for women? Or are there women on those shows and I've just been missing it?

Sarah J said...

Wooohooo! I'm a total MMA junkie but nowhere near committed enough to train full-time. Thanks for doing this!

Fannie said...

Cool interview!

As someone who trains in karate, I'm not all that surprised that Marianna said:

"Actually, I've never been in a real fight."

Those who have been taught well know that physical violence is a last resort (contrary to popular perceptions of martial arts).