Journal Entry      Checking out a new judo club

I was looking at joining a new judo club, in a new part of the country for me. I had just moved and was looking for my home.  For that is what my judo club is, it is my home: the place I belong, a source of strength, my extended family.

I was visiting to see if this would be the place for me. I introduced myself to the instructor and gave him my rank credentials. His name was familiar to me as mine was to him. As wide spread, and with as many people that practice judo, those of us who have been around a while get to know each other, if only by name and reputation, just like a large extended family where we’ve heard of each other, but haven’t met everyone in the family.

Traditionally students line up by rank at the beginning and end of class. As the students lined up, the women went to the end.  In years past, the women, if they were allowed at all, lined up at the end, after the youngest male. It had been a number of years since I had been at a club that still did this.  The line was a line of power, a line of respect and it was supposedly a line of commitment and knowledge. Women had their place in the hierarchy. No matter how long she had studied judo, what her rank was or how long she had studied, she was placed under the youngest, most inexperienced boy, even the one who had started that very day. This club that I was visiting, lined up this traditional, oppressive way.

Looking around as they lined up, I knew that I would have to challenge the status-quo at this club. For the moment, I lined up at the head of the women. Just to see how the class would be conducted. I was wondering if the women were treated with equal respect, and the line-up practice was a remnant that had yet to be challenged, or if women were accorded the disrespect that was initially shown.

Class went fairly well. Little things though, still separated the women from the men, the girls from the boys.  The girls were helped up after they were thrown, the boys got themselves up. As the workout intensified, a group was assigned to practice forms, all but 1 was female.  The boys were pushed physically and the girls encouraged to sit down and take a break if it got too hard. Outright disrespect for the women was not practiced, but it was there, subtle and as a matter of traditional practice.

After class, I was invited out with the rest of the black belts, the ranking members of the club, to get to know me and for me to get to know them. This is standard practice when ranked visit each other’s clubs. Everyone was nice and we had a good time. They were conservative and it seemed to me, tradition bound.  They hand even thought about how they treated the female members of the club different. I didn’t push or challenge, but let them explain how they retained the traditional values and practices of a judo club.

I decided to join, and believed that with my influence as a female black belt, I would start to challenge the traditional, gender based practices. The first one I tackled was the line-up.  I didn’t say anything, but at the next class, I stood with the male black belts. I got the look, the what are you doing look. The look that said I was stepping out of line (I was, wasn’t I), but out of respect for my rank, no one said anything. During class, every time I was offered a hand up, I let them know that I could stand up by myself. At the end of the class, I again stood with the black belts, and one of the adult novice women, stood in line with the men, according to her rank.  No one said anything.

The next class, all the adult women had integrated into the line-up, and one of the young girls, asked the question “ why do we have to stand at the end”  The instructor didn’t answer, and looked at me, expecting me to tell them about tradition. Instead I said “: you don’t, your rank is just as good as the boys”.  The next time we lined up, we were fully integrated, nothing more was said about the matter. The girls and women started noticing that I was not helped up and that I didn’t sit out during the hard parts of the workout. I started to push them to participate, and then, so did the other senior students. Soon the women were just part of the class. 

I didn’t stay a member of this club for long, I moved again. But I like to think that when I respected the traditions, but did not accept the different treatment for women, I opened the instructors’ eyes just a little. Let him see that women doing judo, were just people doing judo and that they didn’t need to be treated different and didn’t need extra protection.