Women break into martial arts

Story, photos and video by Bethany Knipp, NewsNetNebraska

Whether they are looking to learn self-defense or creating an outlet for expression, women have begun breaking into the martial arts.

Amberlyn Edson, a martial arts teacher, demonstrates how to avoid a frontal attack with her husband Luke at a women's self-defense seminar.

Amberlyn Edson, a martial arts teacher, demonstrates how to avoid a frontal attack with her husband Luke at a women's self-defense seminar.

Amberlyn Edson, 34, teaches aikido at the downtown YMCA in Lincoln, Neb.  When she began training in 2002, Edson said she started because of artistic and self-defense purposes.

“At the time I felt like I was a big clutz and so it was a way for me to learn how to be more graceful,” she said.

But Edson said that while more women are involved in martial arts than in previous generations, the practice is still male-dominated and can be intimidating for some women.

“I was really lucky. I trained with people who were comfortable training with other women,” Edson said.

Karla Hudson, the associate executive director of the downtown YMCA, said about a third of martial arts class enrollees are women. She said there are generally seven or eight people in a class with two or three females.

Jeff Alexander, owner and head coach of Lincoln MMA, also said women make up a smaller portion of the enrollees in mixed martial arts. He said for every six or seven men taking classes at Lincoln MMA, there is probably only one woman.

Alexander said what might be keeping more women from being a part of MMA and “building up the nerve to come in” is the stigma the sport has for being violent and competitive.

But he said that’s not what MMA is about.

“A lot of people in the community think we’re bloodthirsty brutes but we’re highly trained athletes,” he said.

He said some women might fear they will just be beaten up.

Alexander said promoting the sport for women is something his club should be doing more of, which would help lessen MMA’s stigma.

“There doesn’t need to be a barrier for women,” he said.

Edson said that part of martial arts lack of inclusiveness can be explained in its history. She said men have traditionally studied martial arts and when the practice was brought to the United States from Japan after World War II, the people who had access to it were men in the military.

For Paula Ray, 62, self-defense has been a lifelong priority after  she was attacked as a young teenager. YouTube Preview Image

Ray recently attended a women’s self-defense seminar with her daughter and her 12-year-old granddaughter to solidify the notion for her granddaughter that it’s okay to fight back an attacker.

“It doesn’t diminish who you are as a female. It makes you stronger as a person,” she said.

Edson thinks as time goes on, more and more women will want to learn martial arts and self-defense.

“I think for women growing up, each generation is a little more advanced in terms of breaking out of gender roles and being more of themselves,” she said.

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