It’s been a historic weekend for martial arts. Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche tore it up in the first UFC women’s Bantamweight championship. It was a great fight…Rousey was the expected winner, and won the way that a lot of people predicted, but it wasn’t a walkover. Rousey earned the win after surviving a truly vicious neck crank. It takes a champion to keep fighting through that kinda pain. It was a good fight.
While it was historic, I really enjoyed that it was, at least in the media, mostly free of controversy. Most of the fight media did something that would have been unexpected a few years ago. The only condescension to be found in most coverage was in the subtext of wondering why it took so long to happen. And Liz Carmouche’s sexuality was treated as a part of her character, not as a novelty…it was just a thing mentioned in passing. It’s crazy. One weekend has passed and I feel like the martial arts world has grown up into adulthood overnight.
But it hasn’t been overnight. There is a strong and vibrant local MMA community, and women have been prominent practitioners since the beginning. I don’t have any numbers to back it up, but I’ve gotten the impression that there is a higher proportion of women doing MMA than there ever was doing traditional martial arts. While the usual thinking is that women are turned off by violence and avoid “rough” martial arts, I think the reality is that women have been turned off by arts that seem more concerned with posture than reality, and when you get right down to it, you can only posture so much in MMA before a fist meets your face. Practicality has an appeal.
It can be the same with swordplay. Safety equipment prevents bloodshed, but you can’t get around the fact that being touched with a meter of sharp steel is not a good idea. Despite what the odd ducks might think, there is not a lot of fantasy involved in modern swordplay. You can talk all you want, and dissect the work of ancient masters in any conceited fashion you please, but in the end you have to be the one that touches, and is not touched. There is, like anything humans do, still room for bullshit, but it is significantly reduced in earnest swordplay.
Big and strong is no defense against fast and talented. No amount of toughness can stop your skin from parting under the pressure of sharpened steel. And no matter how much people admire you, you can’t deny the blunted tip that rests on the fine mesh of your mask, revealing who got the better in this brief exchange.
Equality comes from the desire to rise to equal challenges. With equal weight classes, how would the 135lb bantamweight woman champion fare against the 135lb bantamweight male champion? You can make a point that at any weight, men will carry more muscle than the equal weighted woman…but anyone who has watched any UFC bout can tell you, muscle can make a difference, but pure strength has never stopped a champion from getting their belt.
Strength matters in swordplay only as much as it is the basis for all speed. The physical actions of using a blade require complex mechanics. A well trained physique is needed to provide the framework to carry speed along the body to the blade, to move it at the right time and place against an opponent. To propel a woman to championship status in swordplay, it is only necessary that she receive the right training…the best training…while constantly being challenged by the best possible fighters. It’s not necessary that she be a man.