As an informed middle-aged white male, I was always aware that sexual harassment and sexual violence were an unwanted presence in our society. However, the #MeToomovement has been an eye-opener, in showing how much more pervasive these afflictions are in our seemingly civilized society. It has become crystal-clear that females of all ages are subject to a kind of treatment that many (most?) men are unaware of.
There is no question that our institutions need to be changed to deal with this situation. The police need to take the word of women complainants more seriously. The courts need to make it easier for women to bring charges forward. Schools need to address issues like bullying and consent. Business needs to have more women on corporate boards and at senior management levels. The construction unions need to have more women in non-traditional trades. And so on…
But this will not happen overnight. In fact, it is the work of a generation — or even of several generations. What happens in the meantime? How can we protect girls and women from unwanted advances? And how can they protect themselves?
I have had the good fortune to study and to practice a martial art for nearly four decades, and I would like to recommend the martial arts as one possible method of increasing the security and safety of women.
Wait, don’t stop reading yet! Forget pretty well everything you know about the martial arts. The movies have done a terrible job of portraying what is essentially a self-empowerment activity into a glitzy choreography that turns a lot of people — especially women — off. And some martial arts haven’t helped matters by turning themselves into competitive sports.
Most martial arts were developed by oppressed people who had to learn how to defend themselves against better-organized and better-armed opponents. The Brazilian martial art capoeira, for example, is an empty-hand martial art created by slaves to defend themselves against their masters. (Part of its genius is that it is disguised as a dance.)
There are many different types of martial arts, and all have their own distinct “personality”. And within each martial art, there are different teachers with different teaching styles. So even if you have tried a martial art before and didn’t like it, it might still be useful to explore other teachers of that art or to explore another art altogether.
The martial art that I practice, Aikido, is the only one that I know of that has an ethical component. Our view of an attacker is that the person is unbalanced, whether emotionally, psychologically or morally, and our job is to neutralize the attack without harming the person. (Some of our techniques cause short-term pain in order to have the attacker reconsider his actions, but they don’t cause injury.)
What I tell my students is that they already have the power inside them to be able to successfully defend themselves against any type of attack: against one person or several persons, and even if the attacker is armed with a blunt or sharp weapon. My job as a teacher is to unlock the power that is already inside them. I do this by teaching tried-and-true techniques that anyone can learn.
Aikido is not a competitive martial art. There are no tournaments to fight or opponents to be subdued. Rather, learning Aikido is the process of overcoming the fears that everyone has when faced with confrontation. (And since the vast majority of confrontations are not physical in nature, Aikido can also help with disrespectful bosses, colleagues or others.)
The #MeToomovement has lifted a veil that covered up too many social ills. Let’s get to work to fix these problems so that our daughters and grand daughters don’t have to put up with the problems that have plagued society.
In the meantime, let’s provide women of all ages with the tools and techniques they need to protect themselves should they ever need to do so.
Mike Clair is a 5th-degree black belt in Aikido and the head teacher at Fudoshin Aikikai in St. John’s, a not-for–profit martial arts school.