Saturday, April 4, 2015

Scaling the Martial Arts Cliff

I was thinking about my friend +Andrea Harkins post, "Why Women Fall Off the Martial Arts Cliff".  If you haven't read it, take a moment and do so - it's pretty important stuff.

My older daughter earned her 1st Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do last year (read my parentbrag posts here and here).  She's in her early teens, and intends to be a "martial arts lifer".  Right now, she's added in training in fencing as part of her martial arts growth - and yes, I'm thrilled.  I think fencing is just downright cool.
Well, usually it's cool.

But as Andrea points out, there are going to be obstacles in her way, obstacles that might not be there for a guy with the same goals and of the same age.  There are TONS of young women in the martial arts (in many places, they're the majority these days), but I agree with Andrea - once you get into our age range - and I'm not much younger than Andrea -  the women are thin on the ground compared to the guys.

The truth is, once children enter the picture, women tend to be the ones who sacrifice and scale back their interests for the sake of the kids more often than men do.  I do not have this issue myself, but I know I am in the minority, speaking with friends who train and other women who pursue other hobbies as passionately as I do the martial arts.

For a martial arts lifer like Kidlet, if and when she settles down into family life, she's going to have to cope with this expectation.

I started the martial arts late - just shy of 40 - and kidlet was nearly eight years old when I began (and was in most of our classes - when she wasn't, she could easily amuse herself on the sidelines for an hour),  However - within the year... I became pregnant with our second child.

During my pregnancy, I gave up hard arts and for a time studied a bit of tai chi (and I still have an interest in it to this day), relatively casually.  My hubby trained in our garage from time to time with folks we'd met in the FMA's in the area, but did not attend a formal school. Once our second daughter was born, we took up training Arnis again, but only with each other, and only when our baby was napping upstairs.  When we had the opportunity to train independently (me in tai chi, him in Inosanto Kali), of course the other would take on watching the kids.

When we moved to Texas and sought formal training together again, it quickly became apparent to us, as we evaluated our options, that either 1) we would have to train at a rec center program because they are the only ones that offer child care for small children or 2) only one of us could train at a time.

I guess this would be Option 3?

We quickly ruled out Option 2, because we want to train together and the martial arts is just as important to me as it is to him. This is a key point - I love training as much as he does, and there was no assumption in our house that either one of us would give up something we love.

We ended up training at a rec center program, and we've been really happy with that ever since (and incredibly lucky that our art - which is relatively obscure - is being taught at a rec center in the first place).

The important part is this:  We made it a priority for both of us to train.

Here's what I think we can do to help women scale this "martial arts cliff"

1) We need to teach our daughters that they do not have to give up the martial arts when they become a mom. We have modeled this for Kidlet, and we will advise her to make this clear with any potential mate - that she's not going to stop training completely when children come into the picture.  Do not teach the expectation that when a woman becomes a mom, she is the one who sacrifices while the guy gets to keep training.

2) We need to teach our sons the exact same lesson.  I think it is not unusual for guys to really want their wives to participate in the martial arts, too, if it is their passion.  Make it easier for her to do so by making it a priority for both of you to train together, and even support her training without you sometimes.

Best two out of three - loser does dishes for a week!

3) Help parents solve child care issues.  This is a big one.  If you have a school, figure out a way to have inexpensive child care available.  Maybe a senior teenage student in another class can babysit.  Maybe some of the families associated to the school is willing to watch a little one during class.  If you want more couples and more adult women in class, solving this will remove a huge obstacle to training.

I want Kidlet (and our younger daughter) to be like Andrea some day, and for them to have a larger female peer group than Andrea and I have today.

What are some other ways we can help women keep training?  I'd love to hear from you!