When we first started Urban Tactics Krav Maga, our students were primarily males. Now, we have more and more female students, and in some of the mixed gender classes, female students occupy a larger portion of the group. Being raised by strong and independent women and having served with many capable female soldiers in the military, I firmly believe that a woman can be just as capable as men when it comes to being a warrior. Historically, there are plenty of cases of female warriors, ranging from shield maidens of the Vikings, Amazons (warrior women from Greece or Asia minor), female gladiators of Roman Empire to female Japanese samurai. In any society and era there are stories of women taking up arms to defend their loved one and themselves.Even in ancient Japan, which is known as an extremely patriarchal society, allowed female warriors. Female Japanese warriors in Japan are called onna-bugeisha, who are generally wives, sisters and daughters of samurai and, in many cases, they would go into battle alone with their male relatives such as the infamous Tomoe Gozen. The legend states:
“Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka (her husband) sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.”
— The Tale of the Heike
In western history, it was a female warrior who caused the Roman Empire the most headaches during AD 60 or 61. Queen Boudica of British Iceni tribe led an open rebellion against Roman occupied forces on British Island. Boudica had great success in the beginning of the war but ultimately could not withstand the overwhelming forces of Roman Empire. While facing the imminent defeat in the Battle of Watling Street, Boudica responded to the Roman’s call for surrender with following message.
“Our cause was just, and the deities were on our side; the one legion that had dared to face us had been destroyed. I, as a woman, was resolved to win or die; if the men wanted to live in slavery, that was their choice.”
Generally, in western culture Chinese women are often perceived as weak and docile. The women in my family are quite different. These women are strong, direct, independent, and sometimes stubborn; a typical character trait of Northern Chinese people. I was raised seeing and knowing that women are equal to men. On top of that, my mother was a Lieutenant Colonel of the Republic Of China Army (Taiwan); one rank higher than my father who was an air force major. My mother specializes in psychological warfare and rifle instructing. I suspect she has been performing tactical psychological operations on me since I was a baby. This might explain my quirkiness. In fact, at my PSYOP analyst course in Kingston, after reading my autobiography mentioned that my mother was a PSYOP officer for 25 years, the course officer and instructors come up to me and say it will be an honor to meet your mother. Having served in the Canadian Army reserve for 12 years, I have worked with numerous females and many of them were in combat trades among men. These women can perform their job just as well as any men in the military. I have had several female instructors during the courses, and they often established their authority through knowledge, experience and professionalism. I learned to respect my superiors because of their rank and knowledge instead of their gender.
This kind of feeling is universal. In fact, one of the most famed snipers, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who had the most kills in Iraq, frequently mentioned in his book American sniper that one of snipers he looked up to was Major Lyudmila Pavlichenko. She was one of the most successful snipers in Russian military history during World War II against the invasion of Nazi Germany.
In the gym, I have been paired up with many ladies who are dedicated to the art of fighting. I have quickly learned not to underestimate them and pay the proper respect when stepping into the ring with them toe-to-toe. In fact, I never felt embarrassed when I was knocked down by a female fighter. A person’s gender, religion or sexual orientation when they throw a proper hook does not matter when the energy is directed on your face, because the last thing you think about is not their gender, but how painful that shot is and sometimes you don’t think much for the next couple of seconds. With the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, many female fighters are starting to take the sports fighting stage. There are many amazing female fighters, like Ronda Rousey. These female fighters are not particular big or strong but their technique, fitness and mentality have instilled respect within millions of MMA fans. The prowess of female fighters should never be underestimated.
In some bizarre way, sometimes mainstream media portray women as helpless victims who are waiting for men to rescue them, or the weird concept that women are not as capable as men. I assume this is because some men are insecure about their own masculinity and identity in society and among other men, so they have to put down women to feel better about themselves. A man does not need a weak woman to show that he is a man, just as a woman does not need a man to define what kind of woman she is.
As a male Krav Maga instructor, I have no way to understand the challenges faced by my female students on a day-to-day basis. All I can say is that based upon history and my personal experience, courage and character are not the property of one specific gender but universal to the entire human race. One of the most important messages that the founder of Krav Maga, Imi, left to us is the reason we teach Krav Maga. It is so “one can walk in peace”. Perhaps we are not as strong, big or athletic as our attackers, maybe we are outnumbered and have a weapon pointed at us, but one of the things will give us the edge over our attackers is our training. May my students fight as fiercely as Tomoe Gozen, defiantly as Queen Boudica, and as accurately and skillfully as Ronda Rousey.
This article is dedicated to my mother. I am only strong because you showed me how to be strong.
Written By: Borhan J
Edited By: Warren C, Lecia T & Jon F