I am the only woman cross training between three different schools filled with ten or so men in each. In many of my classes, if I do not fully understand a technique, they will hit me with more and more power, often going overwhelmingly fast to the point that I come out of class the only one covered in bruises. Sometimes the men, even though they are two or more feet taller than me, get mad when I beat them in sparring. In one case I was knife fighting a man much bigger than me who had been training for many more years than me, who had only been training a couple months, when he suddenly got really mad that I kept the knife tagging him; he leg swept me by surprise, sprained my ankle and I almost cracked my head on the hard wood floor. A lot of times in my classes, if I do any technique wrong, I pay the price of becoming an example of what not to do before they do a really hard joint lock or smack and or grab my hands and arms really hard to the point I can actually feel my eyes tear up.

I love training with the guys and have nothing against men. I have asked them all to go easier on me as I get way too many injuries in classes, but nothing really changes. I don't know if it's an ego thing, or if men just don't know their own strength. A lot of the guys I train with are big muscle builders and are around six feet or taller, whereas I am five foot seven and clearly not looking threatening. I know getting hit is bound to happen and beneficial to learning how to correctly perform a technique, but how hard is too hard? Any thoughts?

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    What martial art is this? Are sweeps part of your knife sparring? Do you bruise easily? Why are you training at three different schools? What kind of force is supposed to be used in training—full, no-contact, light or medium contact? Aug 15, 2015 at 12:53
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    The OP's profile states "I am a beginning martial artist...I train in Jeet Kune Do, Pencak Silat, Wing Chun, Southern Five Animal Kung Fu, Kali, Modern Arnis, Balintawak, Boxing, Viking Glima, Irish Stick, Catch as catch can wrestling, Esgrima Criolla, native american warrior arts from the Cherokee, Navajo, Inuit, Apache and Cheyenne." It also seems likely that the level of contact varies from, say, boxing to wing chun. (Also, see the OP's other, related question.) It sounds like hard sparring is not right for you at the moment, Bethany. Aug 24, 2015 at 12:46

11 Answers 11


In my experience as a male trainer and trainee the key for a hard, educational or maybe painful training is trust between all parts of the training group.

Female fighters have told me that they were beaten up in training after they told their opponent to slow down. Afterwards they felt violently abused.

So in such a case the trainer has the responsibility to intervene the situation immediately.

This has nothing to do with the woman/man being a weak person. Every training partner who disrespects the emotions and fears of his opponent (regardless of gender) acts irresponsibly. It's imaginable that a person who acts like that has a serious violence problem or inferiority complex.


Accidents happen. However, when you have an accident with people you are not really trying to hurt - you make extra effort to make sure the accident doesn't happen again - otherwise it is not an accident.

If someone's ego at losing in sparring causes them to attempt to really injure someone, that is not a safe person to work with. Consider what you are saying: "If I do the technique wrong, they hit me harder. If I do the technique correctly, and 'win', they hit me harder."

I highly recommend finding a new school/training group. There's the people who are hurting you, and then there's the fact that there's other people who see this and aren't stopping it either.


Hi have a trained a couple of ladies over the years and here is my take on it.

For starters, there is a difference between training hard and just getting beat up. While I believe that is very important that you treat a women the same way you treat a man it is also important to not discourage a women from training.

First - As a women you should be aware that in a violent situation, the predator is not going to take it easy on you.

Second - You mentioned that you are cross training in three different schools. I really don't recommend that. Not because learning multiple styles is a bad thing.

Rather, because you are learning so many things from so many different people, you aren't going to be able to build a solid foundation.

Third - Often times, people get hurt because the people they are training with are using way to much force...

Another wards they lack control so they may be hurting you by accident. In many cases you get hurt as a result of being too good.

And your opponent is struggling so they result to using muscle because their skill has failed them.

If you asked them to go easier and they don't respect that, then it is up to you to not train with them.

There are only 2 things you learn by getting hit..

  1. How to take a hit ( really though how many times do you have to experience being hit before your like,, okay got it!) ?

  2. You learn to develop timing under pressure..

The reality is though, you don't need to constantly get beat up in order to learn how to defend yourself.

I also agree with what was also said. It is the responsibility of the trainer to monitor the situation and take appropriate action...


Quite frankly, it sounds like you're in an abusive training environment. The language you're using is uncomfortably similar to what I might hear from someone being beaten up by their spouse, the "they only hurt me badly when I'm doing things wrong" and making excuses for their behavior. It is possible that you're in a situation where you're literally out of your weight class (while martial arts is an equalizer of sorts, being that much tinier than your opponents in a full-contact class is like having a bantamweight boxer decide to spar with the heavyweights) or that you're falling into a situation where macho behavior means that violence keeps escalating, but it sounds more like some of the people are looking to hurt you because of who you are, as a female martial artist.


To echo more of what everyone else is saying: there is a fine line between abusive behaviour and hard training. My reading of your question is that your sparing partners have crossed it. Did they do that knowingly or by mistake I cannot tell.

Some schools do go for a harder than rocks attitude that if you do not bleed, you are not training hard enough. Are you in one of those?

If you feel the need, talk to the head coach/trainer/sensei/whatever they are called. Raise it as a concern nothing more for now. If nothing happens from that conversion, you can either got to the national organisation or just leave. Finally, if nothing is done and you are getting injured, seek legal advise before potentially reporting it to your legal enforcement agency. Clearly, this goes from a friendly chat to WMD response.

Abuse should not be tolerated.


Talk to your instructor.

Your instructor should pair you up with another woman with similar build/height, but if the situation does not permit such arrangement then your male partner should know better than to go full force on you. It might be good practice but if you don't learn anything and only getting injured, it is not going to do any good to you.

how hard is too hard?

I think you've answered your own question.

really hard to the point I can actually feel my eyes tear up


I'm late in this post but the bottom line is....you need to find better schools with better instructors.

Instructors will dictate what kind of students stay at the school. If an instructor is a bully and has a bad attitude, soon all the people who don't appreciate bullies and don't have bad attitudes will leave. In turn, all that's left are bullies and people with bad attitudes.

The same goes for great instructors that are caring and fair.

I train Shidokan. We study knockdown karate, kickboxing, boxing, judo, jits, and mma.

If anyone is ever executing a technique or sparring too hard on a less experienced student, you better believe that the next round that student will be working with an upper classman or instructor and will get a taste of their own medicine.

I respect everyone trying to diagnose the issue here but the short answer is, you are not respected at these schools and need to go elsewhere to a business who cares about all their students.


Your classmates should not be deliberately hurting you during a class. There is a place for hard training, so you know what it feels like, but it should only ever happen once the proper technique has been learned.

The behaviours you describe (leg sweeping, joint locks, etc.) strongly suggest that the men you are training with do not understand how to help their fellow students, nor have they understood that, by helping, they will improve their own techniques.

A lot of the other answers have recommended talking to the instructor(s) and I agree. Talk to the instructor at each class, explain the problem (I wouldn't single out/name any individuals, though); if the instructor isn't prepared to take you seriously and deal with the problem, find a different school.

  • Leg sweeps and joint locks are appropriate if the sparring rules allow for them. Aug 24, 2015 at 12:47
  • @DaveLiepmann; a valid point, but the OP suggested some of these techniques had been performed (on her, by men) out of frustration, rather than as part of a safe, controlled sparring session.
    – Mike P
    Aug 25, 2015 at 20:28

First of all. Although this question already has many answers basically re-iterating the same, please let me repeat that there is a fine line between training hard in martial arts and abusive behavior, and at least on the surface of it, it seems like what you are enduring tends towards the latter.

However, there is always (at least) two sides to any story. Without trying to find excuses for use of excessive force, try to think back on those cases where you have got hurt and ask if and what you or your training partner or instructor could have done differently to avoid this situation.

Did you or your partner have the full understanding of the exercise and technique you were supposed to be exercising? Was the level of intensity of training within the attainable limits to both of you? Did you or your training partner practice within the framework of the exercise? Was the instructor paying attention?

Whenever you found that things were getting out of your hands, did you send clear enough signal that you wanted de-escalate the intensity of the practice? Was this signal summarily ignored?

I am not trying to put blame on anyone or give anyone any excuses, just trying to give you pointers for evaluating your situation and evaluating if the training environment you're in is toxic or merely insensitive. That is, if this is a general attitude issue, find yourself a new place to practice. If this is just a communication issue, work on communicating your expectations.

It is hard in martial arts. Very often the problem with injuries is that one or both of the sides are out of their depth and are compensating for it with more aggression than what they are able to control or contain. Look out for these situations and de-escalate.

The trouble is, that whenever you practice any martial art, there is a very real chance of getting hurt in the process. To put it in the words of a disclaimer in my teacher's book: "[...] The practice of [...] any martial art is itself a dangerous activity. You can absolutely expect to be injured, perhaps seriously, in the course of study and practice. That is the nature of serious training in any martial art [...]"

The problem is that this aspect of the training greatly obfuscates the distinction between abuse and accident. Be aware of the situation you're in and if you ever feel that things get out of your control, just walk away!

This is the safest way. Do not put up with abuse — at this point it does not matter if abuse is deliberate or incidental...


If I do not fully understand a technique, they will hit me with more and more power

Are "they" other students in your class? And are they attempting to learn an offensive technique compared to your defensive one?

I ask because they may be more focused on their own training than on yours if that is the case, and increase their power as they get more comfortable with their own technique or after getting warmed up. Only by speaking up will they notice that you might be uncomfortable with your own technique or with the power they are using. Even then, some people won't want to take it easy, what it really comes down to for those people is that they either really enjoy hitting things hard, or they just care a lot more about their own gain from this training than what they care about what you gain from it. (It seems commonly believed that going all-out means you get more out of the training, a debate I don't want to get into)

However, if it is an instructor, it could be that there is some communication gap. If you're naturally a tough person he might not realize just how fast/hard he is going if you're "toughing it out" and send no feedback. On the opposite end, if you wince at the lightest possible hit (This doesn't sound like the case but I figured I'd cover it) he may just gradually give up on going soft enough, he might not have the patience or control to train someone as softly as you'd like - which obviously could be a problem.

Note that he might think you are getting the technique right, and is slowly making it faster and faster (which also tends to mean harder and harder, though good control can overcome that) Again, you need to speak up for feedback on how your technique is, or ask him to continue at the previous pace where you are comfortable. Then, if nothing changes you know the issue isn't communication on your end and you'll have a better idea if you'd like to train somewhere else.

get mad when I beat them in sparring

Assuming you didn't ask them to take it easy, then win and trash-talk them, in which case just about anyone would be a little angry (and take it a bit more seriously next time), I would say that being angry for losing is understandable but unfortunate. It's too bad that their sportsmanship is poor, but there's not much you can do about that other than (bowing/shaking hands/showing respect) to each other.

he leg swept me by surprise... on the hard wood floor

The way you phrase it makes it seem like he did this in anger and frustration in an exercise that, while arguably you could have been prepared for a leg sweep, was not set up for that. Even if the rules of the exercise (if there were any) allowed leg sweeps, he shouldn't be striking out in anger with the true intention of hurting you. This is a major flag that I would take seriously.

A lot of times in my classes, if I do any technique wrong, I pay the price of becoming an example of what not to do before they do a really hard joint lock or smack and or grab my hands and arms really hard to the point I can actually feel my eyes tear up

The circumstances around how you and the instructor practice in this case is kind of important to how to take this. If you are volunteering to demonstrate a technique in front of everyone, it might be that the instructor would do this to anyone who made the mistake. In fact, if it were a more experienced person, he may ask that person to make a mistake on purpose.

This doesn't mean he should be rough in his demonstration.

If he is calling you up, I would assume he thinks you are now "the safe bet" as a sparring dummy, he knows you're new enough to make mistakes and can demonstrate his point without you complaining. The considerable size difference, if there is one, could also be a major factor. He might be able to show off fancy moves on a lighter opponent, or the technique might be better demonstrated by a lighter person against him.

If this is a partner exercise, whoever gets stuck with the instructor is likely going to be the person who is demonstrated on.

In every case, I would ask him 1 on 1 either not to demonstrate on me, or to take it easy when demonstrating on me, though on the partner case you may have to deal with having someone else as a partner then. You are not there to get beat up. If it still continues, he may have character flaws that require you to find a new instructor.

Ultimately, my answer tries to explore unintentional possibilities. It still very could be some form of feeling good about themselves for "beating" or "man-handling" a woman. If you don't think anything I've said is a possibility and think these happenings are in any way intentional, I would try to find a different place to train. Let them beat each other up, and find a more respectful place to train.


You seem to practise a kind of boxing. If you are a woman and a beginner I would suggest you to begin with a softer martial art (Aïkido...), but even in this case it's not 100% sure because it all depends on people. Another solution is just to change school and find a school with some women so you can spar with women and/or with men who have a minimum of respect/education.

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    I have heard of epic sexism in all martial art styles. The school is what matters the most here. Aug 17, 2015 at 18:20
  • @Sardathrion It's not the school who matter but the people (read my answer), Do you know in the same school you can have different activities ? Aug 18, 2015 at 8:14
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    I did not down vote your answer. My comment referred to your advice of doing Aikido. A style does not protect you from sexism, but a good dojo will. Aug 18, 2015 at 15:31

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