The Silent Rise in Women Martial Arts

By Sara Ng

There has been in silent rise in the number of women taking up martial arts, something that has always been seen as men’s domain.

Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated named Ronda Rousey, the reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s bantamweight champion as the most World’s Most Dominant Athlete of 2015. It appears that the martial arts hype has also been slowly creeping into Singapore, where there is an increasing number of women making a foray into what has traditionally been a male-dominated field.

Nonetheless, it appears that women are inclined to take up martial arts for the same reasons as men - to increase their fitness levels, become stronger, and learn to better defend themselves.

Photo Credit: Minnesota National Guard from Flickr

In Evolve MMA, one of the biggest mixed martial arts gyms in Asia, they have an even split of male and female members. According to Heath Sims, Head Coach of the Evolve Fight Team, Evolve MMA has seen a constant increase in female members since they opened in 2009. Similarly at FightG, there has been about a 30% increase in the number of female members over the last few years.

The growth in popularity of martial arts amongst women has even spurred various gyms to offer women-only classes. At Krav Maga Global Singapore (KMG), Wan Mun, who is the head Instructor of the Women’s Division, said that they have increased their women specific sessions from monthly sessions to fortnightly classes to cope with the demands. Similarly at Evolve MMA, they offer women-only classes in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Heath opines that “some ladies are more comfortable training with other girls but once they get comfortable with the training they all begin to mix into the regular classes.”

At KMG, “[the women’s classes] are specially catered to train and teach some of the more specific defences and techniques related to defending yourself as a woman in this modern age. The techniques are a necessary component of Krav Maga and are essential weapons in the women's arsenal, and training with other women is an excellent way to get introduced to the system.” KMG has taken its women-specific focus one step further – Jennifer Jacoby, a female instructor says, “many of our local instructors in Singapore are certified in teaching women specifically.  These instructors go through intensive training to identify how women can be victims of attacks and how defensive techniques may need to be altered to better suit a woman.  Additionally, we explore very gender-specific situations and consider limitations women may have due to lack of strength or restrictive clothing.  We are able to incorporate this different approach in our general adult classes to some extent, but we can better focus on these issues in our women’s only classes.”    

Photo Credit: Keith Ellwood on Flickr 

Whereas at Evolve MMA, Heath says that the instructors “teach real and effective martial arts to female students the same way they do with the male students. There is no difference when it comes to the level of training provided. Everyone starts as beginners and progresses at their own pace”.

Although some gyms like FightG have yet to roll out women-only classes, it appears that such classes are in the pipeline, according to Darren de Silva. Nonetheless, Darren says that instructors currently do take a slightly different approach when teaching female students.

When asked about the allure of martial arts, Melissa Sim, who has been practicing Muay Thai for 2 years, said, “I like the feeling it gives me, helps me to de-stress and makes me feel 'strong'. It is pretty different from any other previous sports I've done and being barefoot feels really liberating too”. Are there any differences between male and females in their experiences practicing martial arts? For Melissa, she says she can't speak for the professionals and those who are competitive, “but I guess for those of us girls who do the sport for fun, girls have a more difficult time sparring because I don't think it is in our nature to hurt people.” As for whether she would encourage more women to take up martial arts, Melissa says, “Yes, I would definitely do so because martial arts not only shapes you physically, but mentally as well. Having some self-defence skills in this day and age wouldn't hurt as well. My advice would be to be open to trying new things and sticking with it for a while, things may be tough and not something you can imagine doing for a while but hang around a little bit longer and you may be surprised”.

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