25B. Women…What is going on?

6. Isabelle continues, “In our dojo, I noticed that the beginner classes have very often more than 50% female (our present beginner class is women only!). As we go up the ranks, this percentage decreases, few women end up black belt and even fewer shugyo student, sensei, etc…What is going on?”

Well, yes again. Most of the time university classes start at about 50% female. Community dojo start at about 30% female. (I’m not sure why but perhaps it is tied to the current views in the community of women and men roles???) By the end of the first year of training the percentages in the dojo change. In the university dojo there are 40% female completing the first year. In the community dojo 25% of those completing the first year are female. The male percentage continues to incline and thus the percentage of females continues to decline with the passage of time until there are some males left and no females left. (But please note that the total students completing the first year is less than 50% of those who started.) Barbara Sedgwick and Ceci Cheung have trained the longest of any women with 16 years of active training and are to be commended for their accomplishment. But all of the women from more than 16 years ago are gone, and there were hundreds of them. On the other hand, Paul and Neville Billimoria have trained for more than 20 years each. If it weren’t for those two brothers the duration of training would be the same for women and men.

I cannot argue that something occurs faster in females than males in regards to termination of training. There is here, I hope you understand, no condemnation. The difference in the duration of training for females is only slightly less than the duration of training for males and most all students terminate before reaching black belt regardless of gender. The only point to be made here is that there is a slight but consistently earlier termination in training among females than males.

So let’s look at females at Aoinagi Karate. First, I want to assess the women who have attained black belts and compare them to the men who have attained the same rank.

Diane Hara, Sandan
Barbara Sedgwick, Sandan
Ileana Frometa Lewis, Sandan
Becky Butler Richardson, Nidan
Ceci Cheung Brace, Nidan
Lisa Kanetake, Nidan
Kim Kelso, Nidan
Julie Evans, Shodan
Kim Thomas, Shodan
Sue Merritt, Shodan
Juliana Asperin, Shodan
Holly Hanson, Shodan
Kathy Morgan, Shodan
Sandy Pappas, Shodan
Cindy Engel, Shodan
Jane Goodwin, Shodan
Susan Rutherford, Shodan
Delana Wrobleski, Shiro-soto
Lauren Danylyshyn-Adams, Shiro-soto

Seventeen women have attained a dan-rank at Aoinagi Karate and 44 men. The women thus represent 28% of all black belts awarded.

Two girls have earned a junior grade black belt (Shiro-soto above) and six boys. The girls thus represent 25% of all junior grade black belts awarded.

Three women have earned third degree black belt (Sandan above) and seven men. The women represent 30% of all third degree black belts awarded.

Four women have earned second degree black belt (Nidan above) and 13 men. The women represent 24% of all second degree black belts awarded.

Ten women have earned first degree black belts (Shodan above) and 24 men. The women represent 29% of all first degree black belts awarded.

I applaud the female gender. Congratulations!!! In spite of the lack of support from the community in general and (I hope rarely) lack of encouragement from classmates and in spite of probable lack of support in personal relations the females have attained 28% of all black belts awarded at Aoinagi Karate.

You might wonder why I am so pleased. So let’s look at some perspectives in society. The society applauds a man that can protect himself and thus encourages a man to get out and “get your black belt in karate.” (Does it do the same for women?) The family (especially parents) encourage their boys to learn to stand up for their own rights and, because karate may help, encourage the boys to get out there and “get your black belt in karate so we can be proud of you.” (Do parents do the same for girls?) An adult man is encouraged to have an outside of the family recreation to keep him sane, but, so often the adult woman is considered irresponsible for the same recreation. If the recreation happens to be something other than a female type activity (cooking school, homemaking, voluntary charitable organizations) the parents, family, peers sometimes begin to question the woman’s sanity or morality. (By now I must be making some of the women livid about what they don’t want to be occurring but know is occurring.)

In spite of such social disadvantages I believe it is a remarkable representation that women hold 28% of the black belt population at Aoinagi Karate. I commend them. Their performance is great.

So, to enlarge our perspective of women at advanced stages let’s look at the position of women in the menkyo (licensed positions).

The following list includes all of the woman who have attained bushi (warrior license) and trained in shugyo since the time of the beginning of Aoinagi Karate 25 years ago.

Diane Hara (Omori no Hara) (10 years as bushi)
Donna Anzai (Anzai) (3 years)
Becky Richardson (Terriha) (6 years)
Ceci Cheung Brace (YupMan) (5 years)
Ileana Frometa-Lewis (Onagi) (4 years)

The five women listed above represent 26% of all the bushi who have ever attained the shugyo menkyo at Aoinagi Karate (men = 14). Unfortunately only one women of the above is actively training currently. She is, of course, Ceci Cheung Brace. Since there are currently nine men bushi and only one woman bushi the current women bushi percentage falls to only 11%.

I interpret the figures to indicate that the percentage of women who begin shugyo training is about representative of the percentage of women at Aoinagi dojo. But in the last few years, for some as yet unexplained reason, there has been a recent decline in the number of women training as bushi. Women bushi should account for approximately 25% of the bushi. Seeing as there are currently ten bushi I would expect between two and three of the bushi to be women. With so small of number it is impossible to tell whether women are no longer being represented or if it is just a freak of statistics.

To get a better view of the situation I have selected a time period of the last ten years and will count each person’s years training then add them together to compare the women person-years with the men person-years. The following is a list of the women bushi who have trained in the last ten years and, in parenthesis, the number of years each has trained as woman bushi.

Ceci Cheung Brace (5 years)
Ileana Frometa-Lewis (4 years)

The women bushi have a total of nine person-years over the last ten years while the men have a total of 49 person-years over the last ten years. Women then have 16% of the person-years accumulated by bushi in the last ten years. Sixteen percent is better than 11% which was the women representation of the current bushi but it is still quite low considering the average dojo population is 25% women. To bring it up to 25% the women should have another seven person-years in the last ten years. To bring it up to 50% (the goal where the representation of women would equal that of men) the women would need another 40 person-years or at least four more women bushi training for all ten years!!! It does appear that women are not quite fully represented in shugyo training….but wait just a minute.

Recently three women applied to me for shugyo training. I am rather delighted, no, it is more than that: I am ecstatic. Two of the women are black belts and very respectable gyo students of many years training. The other woman is brown belt yet but comes straight to the point with me; she is determined to achieve black belt and is applying now so that I understand her wants and desires right from the start. I can only respect such sincerity. She applied when she wanted. She still must achieve shodan before I can accept her as shugyo (Sensei Kim’s requirements) but there is no doubt in my mind she will make it to shodan and beyond if she continues as she is going.

Prior to the recent three applications I had had only one female applicant for shugyo in the last four years and that applicant withdrew her application after a brief discussion of the process. I respect that decision. So, now let’s compare events over time. Over four years there was only one applicant. In the last month there have been three applicants. The point is that things now are starting to look UP for the women in the menkyo system and their art.

The three women in application process for bushi, if they seriously desire and take the actual step into shugyo, will become the next generation of bushi. Times may be changing. Let’s hope that the women in Aoinagi Karate are beginning to desire larger involvement in martial arts and that this desire is from the depths of their hearts. Then, in my lifetime, I hope to see equal representation of women in the highest echelons of martial experience.

I was proud of the first woman to earn a black belt at Aoinagi Karate (Diane Hara). I was proud of the first woman to enter shugyo training at Aoinagi Karate (also Diane Hara). I will be proud of the first woman to enter Sensei, sozosha and shihan. I can’t wait. And after the first one gets there I will beam with the second, third, fourth and n-th. I can’t wait!!! Can you, Isabelle?

I doubt the lack of women bushi and sensei stems from the lack of desire on the part of Sensei Paul Billimoria, Sensei Neville Billimoria or from me. Isabelle (and some other women I have discussed this with) doubt the lack is due to the lack of desire and affinity by the women. If both of these diametrically opposite beliefs are true, which they can be, the only reasonable answer is because of lack of proper communication between the Sensei and the women. So, let’s verify the position of all three Sensei so the women have little doubt of their Sensei’s desire for women bushi, sensei, sozosha and shihan.

Please let it be known to women (and men alike) that the Sensei, all three of them in Aoinagi Karate, are eager and desirous to have women bushi to train. They won’t beg you; you must apply for and if necessary beg them until they are convinced you really want to be an “artist of life.” But under every difficulty they pose to you they are hoping, wishing, praying that you make it on your own by persistence, openness, and desire.

When asked if he would like to train women bushi Sensei Paul Billimoria put it in his usual high-spirited way, “Bring ’em on Sensei, and let’s get goin’.” Hmmm, kinda sounds like he is ready and waiting.

The Sensei are waiting patiently. And, Isabelle, that is “What is going on” currently with the women bushi, women sensei, women sozosha, women shihan issue at Aoinagi Karate. The Sensei desire more women for shugyo training and are waiting, waiting breathlessly.