The martial arts were invented and developed by our ancestors who fought against animals and amongst themselves. People wanted to protect themselves and their families. The first mention in recorded history of a woman Chinese martial artist was in 496 B.C. of the Spring and Autumn Period, when King Yue invited Yue Nu, a female sword specialist from Yue, to teach his soldiers sword-practicing techniques. Historically female martial artists devoted to studying and practicing the martial arts were few and far between.
Now in the 21st century life is different in many ways. The invention of modern weaponry has shifted the focus of the martial arts from fighting to include the practitioner's health, personal growth and awareness, social interactions, discipline, and to the art that has been preserved through cultural traditions. Today's women and men work together, raise children together, study together, and the once clearly defined roles of the sexes are as difficult to pin down as water flowing.
Many women are studying, practicing, and teaching martial arts today. The numbers are growing and this trend is likely to continue. This has created a new circumstance in martial arts studios. The issue of sexual harassment has surfaced, and under the magnifying glass of "political correctness" it should be acknowledged and addressed. This is an issue that affects everyone, since harassment also exists between members of the same sex, taking other forms of power plays.
PAWMA (Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists) defines sexual harassment in martial arts: "Sexual harassment is making unsolicited written, verbal and/or physical contact with sexual overtones. Examples of sexual harassment in martial arts include engaging in implicit or explicit coercive sexual behavior which is used to control, influence, or affect the opportunities, ranking, and/or learning environment of the students. Withholding or threatening to withhold rank for not complying with sexual demands or offering special treatment in return for sexual favors is sexual harassment."
Sexual harassment exists in all areas of human endeavor. Politics, churches, schools, businesses, all suffer humiliating exposés from time to time. It is unrealistic to think that this type of harassment can be purged from society. There are people who will always try to take advantage of other people. Being in a position of influence and power makes it easy. I'm not saying that we should accept its existence, but learn to recognize it and deal with it more directly.
As adults taking classes (I am not addressing the issue of children in the studio), be aware of what is happening around you. Anyone can open a school. Learn to discern the atmosphere of a school in the same way you look for good instruction. Attend classes, observe the style, get a feel for the group, and decide to stay or leave. Not all instructors will meet your standards, but when you go into someone's school, if you feel uncomfortable about him or her, leave.
A word to instructors. It is part of the training to understand the appropriate use and amount of power. With power comes immense responsibility to your students and to your art. Students come to your school trusting you. Respect their positions. Your own level of development depends on your impeccable integrity.
At the root of martial arts is consciousness of one's self. It is imperative that we take personal responsibility for our interactions, regardless of gender or class position. We must pay attention to our own gut feelings. If something doesn't feel right, but we are not sure, observing other interactions throughout the school can help us to evaluate our situation. Using methods such as various forms of meditation to support the physical aspect of our practice can help to develop consciousness and allow us to move to a deeper understanding of personal interaction which is not gender responsive. This attention needs to be evident across all areas of your life. It is an issue of personal integrity.
Just as people must continually monitor their posture and intent during their practice, we must vigilantly monitor our own behavior and attention to this issue. The potential to abuse power and mistreat others is always there. Whether we are the student or the instructor the responsibility is ours. Let's add to the positive cultural experience of martial arts.