Throughout the last 31 years I have seen may women come and go in the Martial Arts. For the most part women join Karate for many reasons which may include getting in shape, or learning some basic self defense to protect themselves on the street. Most ladies it seems do not make it all the way through to the Black Belt level because just like the men, it takes a large personal commitment to achieve the rank and you have to be a little crazy as well.
The women that do stay around do seem to be a special breed and I have had the blessed opportunity to work and train with some of the best ladies in the business . The Nashville and surrounding sister Dojo's have produced a lot of these great fighting ladies, Sandra Strong, Barbra Steel, Donna Cripps, my beautiful Wife Julie Gabbard, Becky Stinson, Lori Cummings, Audrey Sanders to name a few from our group. Other Dojo's within Isshinryu have also produced some great Female Karate Ka, Theresa Barnette and Angel Short from Kelley's Heroes and Stephanie Husky from Athens are today's exceptional female leaders. If you know any of these ladies I think you can attest that are indeed a special group.
I think that in the world of Martial Arts you will have to agree that as a standard its considered a "Mans World". Ask any of the above mentioned Ladies and I bet I can tell you what their answer would be. In the dojo women are indeed at a disadvantage compared to the strength and size of their male counterparts. I know that in the early days at Nashville there wasn't much mercy shown to the ladies in the Dojo . The mind set was that if you were going to be a part of the Dojo then you had to be tough enough to hang with the best, and these ladies did, thats what made them so great.
I think that from the start ladies are faced with more challenges to achieve a high level of skill in Martial Arts than men are. If this is true statement then the women that do excel and achieve have actually accomplished more than the men which do the same thing. Think about it, how many guys would stick it out if they had to fight a 7 foot 425 lb lady every time they went to the dojo Ladies that excel in the Martial Arts have done so by showing a lot of guts, great heart, commitment and perseverance.
Over time I have noticed that the Women who have paid the price to developed great skill in Karate, don't always get a fair shake in tournament competition when they have to compete directly against the men. I always thought that in tournaments we were supposed compare apples to apples and when it was all over "Let The Best Man Win"....right? Well actually that seems to be the problem. I have personally witnessed this fact on several occasions where in Kata competition the Lady performed the best Kata by far. But when the judging was over the scores didn't give the credit where the credit was due. I ask myself why does this occur.
I thought that judging was supposed to be unbiased in relation to Affiliation, the Color of the Uniform and most of all Gender. I mean we have national discrimination laws that prevent us from acting in such ways to prevent injustice and assure that everyone is treated equally and given the same opportunity. So why cant we seem to do this in the world of Karate Tournaments? I feel that men have always been the dominant gender in Martial Arts and most Judges, Competitors and Spectators think that the men are just supposed to win. I DON'T AGREE. The winner of any event should be based on performance, demonstrated skill and finished execution..... PERIOD. If a judge doesn't have enough character to make his vote based on this criteria he should excuse himself. If a judge doesn't have the skill to properly recognize this criteria he shouldn't judge at all, no exceptions. Give credit where credit it is earned.
All participants in Martial Arts that compete at the higher levels have paid a great price to be there and deserve to be treated justly, man or women. To any Judge that may read this please remember, if you find yourself in a position to cast a vote and you find yourself second guessing due these same circumstances, don't be the one to put another brick in the wall and make it higher. Throw the brick straight up and break that "Glass Ceiling" and let the best Karate Ka win ................whoever it may be.
Sensei David Gabbard