A Woman in karate - my training journey

By Sensei Linda Marchant, IOGKF England.

Sensei Linda Marchant, 6th Dan, shares her experiences as a women training in Karate, in mind, body and spirit...

Mental/Physical/Spiritual - ‘Sanchin ’ - Three Minds or Three Conflicts - At different times of your life these elements re-prioritise themselves several times depending on your age, well-being, situation/circumstances.

Physical

My journey started when I was about 7 years old with yoga, but some people start their journey later in life. I had huge energy levels and in fact my younger sister complained to my mum that she wished “Linda was battery operated” - so she could turn her off”!

One way that my mum thought to channel such physical energy (apart from running around the garden all day!) was the use of the calming influence of meditation and the concentrated effort that is required to undertake the yoga postures. This was a similar position to some people who have fantastically high mental energy, using chess and/or crosswords to structure their thought process. The result was very positive and I believe the reason of my strong ability to focus throughout my life.

For me there was no real plan at the start of my training journey, nor did I know of the goal that I desired. All I knew was that I wanted to

  • Learn about training 100% of the time
  • Practise 100% of the time
  • Push to my physical limits 100% of the time
  • Try my best 100% of the time

At the age of 10, I definitely needed some extreme physical focus and so I started to train in judo. This is where I started to learn about endurance and this continued with rowing from the age of 17 where I practised this fully and pushed myself to far greater limits to understand my capabilities, my weaknesses, strengths and my absolute love of training. In Goju-Ryu Karate practise I could apply this learning and concentrate on technique by de-coupling my mind from the physical, but then realised that I had to entertain it in Kata training - which felt, for the first time, like an assault course for the body, mind and spirit and totally fulfilling.

As a young person, I trained 7 days a week, as a young woman this was quite unique at the time but I felt it was absolutely necessary to be taken seriously in the dojo. In my other sports I was mostly competing with other women, but in karate, when I first came to London in 1984, it was a very male dominated, quite macho environment (and with no women’s changing room!) and I found it very difficult even to be noticed, particularly as a green belt - so was mostly ignored for the first 2 years! However, I did not let this deter me and I just kept turning up and as I was quite fit and not a push over, thanks to my judo training, was able to compete equally with everyone at my level so that eventually Sensei learnt my name and I am still there!

In my training journey, I have had to be very self-motivated and put together my own training plan for competitions because I took them very seriously and no one else was going to do that for me. This also included visualisation which I learnt over the years from my intense rowing days and involved the steps of the plan over a period of 3 months from that first run on day one to visualising standing on podium with a medal and applause and being able to phone my mum and say,”what’s it like to be the mother of a World Champion?” - Which eventually came true!

Women in any sport have to balance their lives and their priorities - whether that is their careers, husbands or family commitments and I have seen many stop training because karate training seems to tip this balance and it is never re-gained. There is a danger that external groups that set themselves up to cater for ‘women’s self defence’ are actually deceiving women into thinking that they will suddenly be able to look after themselves. Whilst there are a lot of great methods of defence the point that is missed is that the mental, physical and spiritual side is what all human beings seek and of all those women that turn up to these groups, many do not complete the course, as they feel unfulfilled. Goju-Ryu has such unique methods of training, to suit everyone without exception for the whole of their life. The training methodology includes whatever, everything and anything that people are looking for, whether this is ‘self defence’, a fighting system, extreme physical workout, or pure art forms in the Kata. The Hojo-undo training means that all physical abilities can be catered for without the thought of just doing ‘weights’ and gives people a huge sense of satisfaction and enjoyment, particularly when they lift a Kongoken for the first time!

Mental

I have found in my experience that a women’s love of training is sometimes hampered by being unintentionally intimidated by their male training partners. Once the groups are separated there is more equality in physiques, kindred spirits and confidence increases. Those women who are more perhaps ‘robust’ in stature and give an air of confidence easily accept their dojo environment and tend to dismiss an all-women environment as ‘pointless’. It is interesting to note that I have found some of these women almost bordering on using ‘bully-boy/girl’ tactics in the dojo and act with almost false bravado as they are actually themselves ‘fighting’ desperately to get noticed.

My personal belief is that the dojo should be a safe environment to train for all types of people and that there is a harmonious balance that is greater than society can achieve, that loves, nurtures and protects brothers and sisters for wonderful moments in training of the body, mind and spirit.

People are very complicated and I believe that we are too quick to judge and label actions or non-actions. Taking the Zen philosophy ‘just to be’ and do what we can to the best of our ability is human nature, but also acknowledging that there are differences that mean nothing, other than they exist, rather than making them some kind of excuse for non-performance!

The macho image of Sanchin is sometimes misrepresented and frightening to some women to what is a marvellous form of moving meditation. The physical side is as a result of your regular training and of course women must be careful to avoid at menstruation time or in pregnancy, but the key is to practise from beginner and iteratively learn with your basic training. Let Sanchin help you in balancing your life as a means of some ‘me-time’. The breathing has certainly helped me and others in stressful situations and I also understand for labour pains - both the mother and the father!

Spiritual

I have seen more of a never-give-up attitude with women in general, perhaps due to our natural, cultural or psychological tendencies to be nurturing and caring. To be able to deal with conflict that may harm others against all odds, see some women undertake amazing physical feats – reports of a mother lifting a car up to retrieve a child in a pushchair and similar events means that you should never underestimate anyone!

My training journey has been a bumpy ride and I have been lucky to have had some marvellous teachers along the way, to sometimes cushion the blows and oil the runners in my training. However, there has to be an inner drive that is you, your spirit, your mind, your body, that is a continuous journey and if you love it, by training hard, nurture it, by helping it heal when injured, and feed it with a balanced diet and regular rest, you will enjoy and/or endure anything that life has planned as your adventures.

In the words of Shihan Keiko Fukoda, 9th Dan Judo
“Be Strong, be Gentle, be Beautiful, in mind, body and spirit”

Linda Marchant
6th Dan, IOGKF