I’ve always thought of swordplay as being one of those rare sports where women have an equal chance to compete with men. Strength and speed are factors in swordplay, and so is size. In absolute terms men have all the advantages there. If an opponent is bigger, stronger and faster than me, I should obviously yield the fight. I will not win. Fortunately for me, winning has nothing to do with my motivation to train, spar, or compete. I enjoy the process of overcoming adversity. There is no point for in training if I’m just going to win everything with no challenge. If I ever became the unbeatable fencer, I’d quit and take up another art.

Luckily, I’m not likely to face that issue anytime soon. More physically able fighters are out there to beat me…except…they usually don’t. Athletic fighters are generally amongst the easiest opponents to beat. They have such an expectation that pure physical skill will serve them, as it always has, that I find it easy to let them be their best…and trap them, and rip a shot into their head. Over and over. And I never seem to be able to use my natural advantage in speed or strength to grab a quick win over anybody. Somehow or another I seem to lose to people that are slower and weaker than me.

It’s not just me, either. I am in no way an exceptional fencer, except for my experience and perception. Physical advantage is always a factor in a fight, and all others things being equal, it will be a deciding factor. It can even be a factor that overcomes some advantages of another fighter. When I look at tournament results, when I look over video reviews of fights, when I watch people fight…I see people lose to physically inferior fighters all the time.

Aggression isn’t the deciding factor either. It can be a killer leveler. Pig-headed blindness, blinkered focus on pure offense, the willingness to score a touch at all costs…with just a hint of rhino-thick skin and little deafness, will indeed win you a lot of bouts. It will even win you some respect until people open their eyes up a little and and see what’s going on. The issue with this approach is that it makes you a one or two trick pony, and once the community learns the trick, you stop winning.

The best approach to winning is to have a cold-blooded ability to analyze your opponent and yourself, a willingness to constantly improve your game, and the mental ability to maintain a pleasant and energetic demeanor in the face of every obstacle. That approach is equally open to men and women.

I think women are at a real disadvantage in the current world of western martial arts. They don’t have the numbers to give them the shared experience they need to work together and develop what needs to be a sex-based approach to overcoming particular issues. They are not nearly enough role models on any level to act as inspiration or to provide leadership or mentoring. Role models are important. We all need someone we can identify with to encourage us past our rough points, to show us a path that will work for our particular needs. Men have a better start on this right now on numbers alone. Until we have consistent, equal numbers of men and women training, this will continue to be an issue.

Extra work needs to be put in to balance the numbers. Women need to be recruited into the art. They need to be encouraged with the visible presence of strong role models. They need to know there is a support network in place for them when they come to train. This doesn’t currently exist…the opposite exists. Commentary online tends to drive women away, more than anything. It’s bullshit that is supported by silent consent. We let the trolls loose, with their snarky little comments, and we don’t say a damned thing about it. We present an unwelcoming environment.

Do we need women-only tournaments? Hell no. I think it’s a terrible idea, and a terrible precedent. But I would like to see a women-only showcase tournament. Just like I’d enjoy a champions-only showcase tournament. Or an old guys showcase tournament. I’d even like to see a particular recurring event become known as the tournament for one subset of fencers or another. If one tournament hosts a women’s only longsword tournament that women train year-round to compete at? Cool. If one tournament hosts a showmanship-over-reality tournament that people train all year for? Cool. Showcases are cool. Highlighting a subset of regular tournament fighters? Cool. Chopping a portion of competitors out forever by making a separate division? Bullshit.

It would make more sense to have tall/short divisions than it would man/woman divisions.