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I'm not trying to say anything controversial here, but looking at the general differences between the female and male bodies I am wondering if there are any general things that are easier for or women are generally better at in martial arts.

For example, it is generally accepted that men are stronger on average, so generating power is easier for them. However most women are generally lighter so could it be easier for them to generate speed more easily during striking, or have better cardio on average? Those are the sort of things I am asking about. I think this is useful when training new students, not by stereotyping based on gender but understanding how the differences of a body type affects training.

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    Your question is incredibly subjective, and even when suggesting a positive (i.e. "women are lighter therefore have better cardio") it cannot be logically true for all people of that classification. Every single person is going to have their physical positives and negatives, two physically similar people can have completely different capabilities. There isn't really any golden rules you can apply here.
    – slugster
    Jan 26 at 4:41
  • Yes definitely which is why I was asking in a general sense as oppose to in all cases. Nothing applies to all cases, there are always exceptions.
    – FrontEnd
    Jan 26 at 6:40
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    @slugster This argument applies to nearly any division of people. Simply put, if people are involved, you are looking at 'averages'.
    – PipperChip
    Jan 26 at 20:58
  • I've considered posting an answer, but so much of it comes down to that there are physical differences in aggregate that don't apply to the whole, and social aspects (bias regarding whether one looks "graceful" in movements, willingness to court injury, whether flexibility is considered gender-appropriate) that definitely pops up in my experience, but is not inherent to the gender, and might vary by society. Jan 28 at 12:32

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On the general difference between genders in martial arts training

In the documentary 'Be strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful', Keiko Fukuda - first woman ever to be awarded the 10th dan in Judo - theorised about women often being better Judoka technically speaking.

She argues that this was not because of their gender as such, but because they tend to simply not have the strength to power through against a partner - a common practice among beginners - and therefore have to learn efficiency early in their career.

This is probably a lesson she learned from one of her early teachers, Mifune, who was, as she herself points out, small and with a weak physique even for Japanese men and yet had such a good feeling, timing, speed, and precision that he could not be beaten in competition even by much bigger opponents.

The only anatomical difference she mentions is that female muscles were longer and made for more graceful and speedy motions, which I consider to be inherited bias as this does not fit with any anatomical knowledge from certifications and seminars.

Thus, I'd argue that female practitioners (on average!) might not have an inherent advantage in any dimension of martial arts but rather are forced to train to be faster, and more precise, and with better timing, than male partictioners (again, on average) if they want to properly execute a technique against resistance. This effect is multiplied when training in mixed groups with direct comparability. This way, their initial disadvantage becomes an advantage as they do not focus on the mere outcome or outer form of techniques, but train the ways and principles to reach their goal, which in the long run leads to a better technical development.

As Steve writes in his answer, though, nothing prevents male practitioners (small or big) from having the same focus and development. And as a friend of mine (some 5 feet, 50kg, 2nd dan Japanese Jiu Jitsu and 1st dan Judo with quite a punch behind her kicks and strikes) had to admit: Despite all her technical and fighting prowess, if someone like me with a solid knowledge and ability as a well-rounded fighter and 50%+ higher weight went all out against her, she wouldn't stand a chance if not for some lucky knock out.

On the consequences for martial arts instructors

First off, the following has nothing to do with gender as such.

One of the main consequences is that if you want to have something to offer to all practitioners, you need to understand and be able to develop technical principles for and in your students in various ways. It does not help to just repeat the demonstration of a technique and let your students repeat it as "they will get it on the way". Regardless of the gender, there are three learning types: Some need to see (visual learning), others need to understand (conceptual learning), and some need to be moved correctly (bodily learning). Everyone needs all components for perfection, but especially for the initial acquisition of a new technique, there is one type dominant in everyone. Accordingly, you need to address all aspects by being a good model in demonstrations, being able to explain what is going on, and correct movements hands on sometimes (movement restriction by forming a barrier or guiding via a stick - no hitting! - if direct contact is socially inadequate).

The same goes for training forms: from mere technical drills to competitive forms to cooperative formats (students helping students) to small "games", the more diverse the technical, cognitive, and social demands, the wider the variety of people your training is able to reach and develop. There always is a certain correspondence needed between instructor and student and you should always remain authentic as you cannot please everyone. But being open to new input and having fun in developing new forms of training will certainly benefit both students and yourself.

Another, more general advice is to be open to listening to and addressing any point students are having problems with, including and beyond mere technical weaknesses (in your own demonstration or their reproduction). Not every technique suits every physique and I sometimes see how a proposed solution for a certain situation just does not work for some students due to them having different body proportions and leverage. This sometimes manifests as demarcation roughly between genders but by no means is limited to that as there are e.g. stout men with short limbs as there are tall women with long limbs. This obviously all the more is important when it comes to social problems of group (or your personal) interaction.

Referring to the first part, the most "gendered" difference will be muscular development. Accordingly, when it comes to power generation (regardless of whether we talk about strikes, kicks, throws, strangles, bars, or even weapon hits), people need a more technical approach with power generation from the whole body if they have less muscle weight. Thus, you need to reflect your own techniques on how much their success or power relies on muscular strength and, in case they do a lot, omit or improve the technical aspects of them before teaching them. Another, minor aspect that comes with the slower muscle growth in women (has to do with hormones as testosterone is one of the main drivers of muscular growth; main reason why male students between 14 and 19 profit most from strength training per unit) is that building up strength takes longer and muscles tend to be more flexible, ie. women need more strength training and less stretching for the same grade of performance improvement. This should be considered when it comes to planning of lessons.

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When I was training in my high school Judo club, my instructor was a woman. She was a 5th dan. I think we were discussing differences between males and females in Judo, and she remarked to me that she thought the girls learned more quickly than the boys did and were more technically proficient earlier on. I was surprised to hear her say that, given the size and strength advantage the boys had. Were the girls just smarter than the boys?

The reason, she said, was precisely because the boys were more muscular. I didn't understand. She said that when you lack the muscle power and size that the boys have, you lose a lot more often. So she said the girls had to learn to use proper technique and leverage in order to win, whereas the boys tended to rely on their size and strength.

As a result, girls usually have to invest in their losses much more up front than boys do. And that gives them a head start in their technique mastery.

Boys can approach it the same way, she said. It requires that you become aware of when you're just forcing your technique against a smaller opponent. Do that, and you'll make quicker progress.

Since that time, I have never forgotten her lesson and have always approached my training the way she recommended in all the different martial arts I've trained in. I have lost much more often, and at times have appeared "soft", but I used those as opportunities to improve.

Hope that helps.

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For striking arts, flexibility comes to mind. Having a head start there is especially useful for adults starting martial arts training, but even some boys are problematically inflexible. With proper training most people under 40 can get as flexible as they need to be to do all the usual kicks head high in two or three months, spending half an hour to an hour a day.

And past a point, being more flexible and loose can make it harder to do certain motions as explosively. Many movements in striking arts rely on plyometrics - e.g. where the arm you're about to punch with moves backwards even as the hip beneath it rotates forwards, until there's a stretch through that side of the body and the nervous system kicks in to force a contraction - to protecting the body from being over-stretched and damaged - that then snaps the punching arm's shoulder forward, and the arm that's been moving backwards itself stretches and then snaps forwards. It should be like a chain of whips cracking. Another example - if you're a dancer and can comfortably stand upright and lift your leg up vertically beside your head, then clearly your muscles are so accustomed to that position that they're not going to provide a nice plyometric resistance to help you bring down an axe kick quickly and with devastating power. You want to be able to bring the leg up without it being a ballistic stretch (likely to injure you), but it should be decelerating the motion and contracting to bring the leg down fast and hard.

I agree with the point Philip and Steve have made. Although male, my hapkido master was pretty frail and had to find techniques that would work against much stronger, resisting people.

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  • It looks like you may not have finished your third paragraph. Jan 27 at 16:49
  • @MacacoBranco oh yeah - lost quite a bit of what I'd written. Most of it wasn't too important, so just filled in the gist. Cheers
    – Tony D
    Jan 27 at 22:23
  • hi @TonyD are you sure about the flexibility issue? I asked the same question here fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/44652/… maybe you can answer
    – mattsmith5
    Jan 27 at 23:13
  • @mattsmith5: that question's focused on running speed, so I won't answer there. Eric's answer acknowledges the importance of myotatic/stretch reflex, which alters the timing and firing rate of muscle fibres, plyometric movements also have a miogenic factor - utilising elastic energy storage in muscle-tendor tissue. The important part of Eric's answer is "I can't find any evidence that it would be a stronger or weaker contraction just because she is more flexible." - he writes a lot, but doesn't know.
    – Tony D
    Jan 27 at 23:45
  • (too long so continuing here) it's not even just about whether the contraction is still strong, it's the relative position and timing of the various parts of the body that are in overlapping contractions. I'm just saying in my experience, someone with a lot of static flexibility and very large ROM on many joints will find it hard to produce short, sharp, untelegraphed explosive movements, or react as fast and powerfully.
    – Tony D
    Jan 27 at 23:52

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