Well, how does one begin a guest post? Carefully, I think. The topic I’m choosing to introduce myself with is why I am both a woman and a mixed martial arts fighter.
For those of you unfamiliar with MMA, let me give you a little background. MMA is a form of fighting that incorporates elements of martial arts, boxing, muy thai fighting, Brazilian style fighting, etc. It focuses on striking with fists, elbows, feet and knees, as well as submission style ground fighting, pinning opponents, etc. It has become sort of famous for how violent it looks and the high rate in injuries it can cause. It tends to result in injuries, ranging from the very minor to sometimes major ones. So, I guess you’re thinking, “why would anyone (male or female) choose to do this stuff?” Well…
I came to MMA primarily through boxing. I began boxing in high school. I took it up for a number of reasons. Firstly, boxing was a sport that fit my body type. I am 5 ft. 10 in., and go (now) about 170. I enjoy working out and weight-lifting. I didn’t do it initially because I wanted to lose weight or be healthy. I liked the results it produced.
Also, I put up with some harassment in high school, particularly from girls, and boxing gave me a confidence and stature that I liked and enabled me to stand up for myself. When I went away to college, I starting going to a gym initially for boxing and martial arts (I have my green belt in shotokan karate). The gym offered classes in MMA techniques for both men and women. I took up MMA with no desire to compete against other people or in actual matches (which is totally fine). Lots of MMA practitioners do not actually fight. They just train for health or self-defense purposes. A trainer at my gym suggested that I start sparring with other women at the gym, and I did. It grew from there. Now, the gym will sometimes sponsor exhibition fights – people who train at the gym in a friendly fight to promote the sport. I am not a professional and don’t intend to be (what with the whole law school thing). I compete in matches because I enjoy it, because it keeps me fresh and on my game, and because (here comes that word) I find it empowering. So, why do I, exactly? Let me try to articulate a few reasons:
1.) Being strong is awesome. I mean physically strong. I’m aware that, as far as empowering women in the long run goes, increasing our physical strength is not high on the list. But I always deeply internalized the idea that women are WEAK. Weak in a whole mess of ways – physically, mentally, emotionally, too. For me, the building up of my physical muscles, endurance, stamina, and body in general was an amazing experience. Don’t take this as a put-down of anyone who doesn’t lift weights or build up their bodies. I am not stating across the board that physical strength to something to be strived for. But for me, the realization that my body, itself, is a source of strength and power and skill, was a huge thing for me.
2.) MMA is a great sport in that, unlike some others, it is not especially weight obsessed. There are absolutely some MMA fighters who become fixated on a particular weight class and fight to stay in it (and will use really wonky forms of weight control to do it). However, especially in women’s MMA, the trainers really do not emphasis weight, loss or gain. They emphasis learning what your body type is, how it responds to particular kinds of training, and learning its limits. Then, they tend to train you within those limits. For example, I am tall and very long-limbed. I am also on the thin side for MMA and do not weigh a great deal. My training is a lot less of boxing and strength and much more flexibility exercises, grappling, and floor-based fighting styles. I get a lot of submission and chokehold training too. A larger woman with a higher weight would likely get more weight training with an emphasis on boxing, striking, and martial-arts styles. These differences work because there are multiple ways to win an MMA fight. You can knock out your opponent, make them submit through a hold, or just go to a judges’ decision. So really, the job of the trainer is to help you discover the skills that work best for you, and to train you well in them.
Now I now that some of you are likely unconvinced. You might think that MMA is barbaric because it’s pretty violent. And it is. I pull no punches here. Fighters get choked, punched, pinned down, kicked, thrown down, have their limbs twisted, and other stuff. Lots of times, people bleed (usually from the head, where the skin is thinner and easier to split). Noses and fingers and toes get broken. People get stitches. I’ve been injured several times. Yet I keep doing it, and I greatly enjoy it. Why? It’s a complex question.
I guess the first part is that I do not inherently view violence as a bad thing. I am not a pacifist, believer in non-violence, or anything of the sort up front. I don’t embrace the theory that because a sport is violent means that it shouldn’t be played. I also believe that simply because MMA is violent or bloody doesn’t make it wrong for women to participate in it. The criticism that it is savagery is really a sort of insult. A fight can last approximately 15 minutes (with breaks in the rounds). The crowd does not see the weeks (sometimes months) or training and planning the fighters have invested in this short time. We train hours on end to get ready, and our coaches and trainers invest a lot, too. To suggest that because it is brutal or violent, the fighters are not well-trained or prepared is false. Each fight represents a giant investment in a fighter’s time and energy.
Secondly, MMA is not savage because it looks crude or rough. Martial arts are praised for how graceful or elegant they look when practiced a lot. However, martial arts shares a lot of goals and teachings with MMA overall. Martial arts emphasize neutralizing the opponent with minimum harm (which, yes, MMA teaches as well). They emphasis striking critical areas of the body and using momentum to turn your opponents. MMA applies the same teachings, just in a different manner. Just because it looks crude or like play wrestling doesn’t make it so. So really, I don’t believe that the violence poses a substantial barrier to women fighters like myself.
Lastly, isn’t MMA dangerous? Yes. But all sports are. And just because great danger appears to be present does not mean it actually is. You might be surprised to know that serious injury rates in MMA are extremely low. This is for a bunch of reasons. First, serious injuries are minimized when the fighters are well trained and prepped for the event. The worst injuries occur in unsanctioned fights with untrained fighters. If your trainer or coach (and you) all prepared correctly, the risk of injury is low. In addition, the referee is there to ensure serious injury risk is minimized. MMA refs can stop a fight at any time, for any reason. They are there solely to ensure that the fighters are safe the entire time. They are required to stop a fight if they believe that one fighter cannot adequately defend themselves. In short, MMA, despite how it looks, is incredibly safe.
So in closing, what do I want you to know about MMA and female fighters? I guess it’s overall, that while what we do might not be your personal cup of tea, we’re doing something that, at least for us, is a form of having power. I think I’ve discovered that it is awesome when you realize that what this amazing body you have (yes, it is) can do (regardless of what this is), the moment is amazing. And being able to use mine all the time, to fight and win and push it in new ways, it outstanding. My chosen method was Mixed Martial Arts, and I’m glad it was. So this is why.