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Women in The Martial Arts and Uechi Ryu Karate Do


This page is dedicated to the incredible of women of Uechi Ryu Karate Do, both past and present.  You will find a brief history of women in Martial Arts and Uechi Ryu Karate Do and a Registry of women in Uechi Ryu Karate Do at the bottom of the page.  Soon to come will be a list of links to other sites with information regarding women in the Martial Arts and women in Uechi Ryu Karatedo.

Celebrating Women in Martial Arts

For every woman who's donned a gi
Who's entered a kwoon, kwan, or class

For every woman who's thrown their first strike
And told their nerves to go fly a kite

For every woman who's faced their fears
Who's endured glances, looks and jeers

For every woman that's stuck to her guns
Stayed in that class and didn't run

For every woman with the courage to train
We honor you
We celebrate you
We respect you
We hold you in high regard

For every woman who comes to train
Stands on the shoulders of pioneers

Each generation of women standing taller than the one before.

By Dana Sheets

Women in Martial Arts

   It was generally thought that an outgrowth of the women’s movement of the 1970s inspired the first participation of women in the male-dominated field of martial arts. However, in actuality women have been training in martial arts for over 150 years in Asia !

   Naginata, (wooden or bamboo swords in imitation of the Kendo shinai, similar to the European halberd) is a Japanese martial art of both power and grace, is characterized by the grandeur of its sweeping movements. This art was taught to people of all ages interested in either competitive fighting or in the physical beauty of its choreographed movements, or kata. One system – Toda-ha Buko-ryu -- has been led by women for over 150 years.

   Women were said to embody the spirit of bushido because their nature was to be selfless and nurturing. A woman trained in naginata was supposed to be soft but strong … patient and enduring. The strong body she developed in training was necessary to keep healthy and active to carry out her work. She was said to have a ‘full spirit’ and strong beauty … and the study of naginata with home economics and sewing would develop the perfect woman.[1]

   In the early silent and “talking” movies made in Asia during the early 1900s, many women achieved fame and notoriety by incorporating forms, dance routines, and naginata into their fight scenes.  However, in the U.S. , women didn’t start appearing in martial and/or combative arts until the 1940s. Following is a brief chronological history from 1940[2] until now:

  • 1941 – Bob Hoffman introduces the idea of women’s weightlifting and bodybuilding to the readers of Strength & Health.

  • 1942 – Female wrestling becomes popular in the U.S. , with so many men off to war.

  • 1946 – Robert Trias, who learned Shuri-te Karate while stationed in the Pacific during the war, establishes the first Karate School on the Mainland. His daughter, Roberta Jane, was one of the first female black belts in the U.S.

  • 1949 – Enny Rukmini, a 34-year old Pencak Silat practitioner joins anti-colonial forces in Indonesia . Following independence, she became the chief instructor at her father’s school and subsequently a leader of the movement to introduce silat into the school system.

  • 1954 – Actress Gail Davis plays Annie Oakley on television, thereby providing a generation of North American children with their first female role model having significant martial arts skills.

  • 1955 – Despite resistance from male instructors, increasing numbers of North American women start studying judo.

  • 1958 – George Mattson introduces Uechi-Ryu Karate-do to Brookline Massachusetts .

  • 1959 – Writer Ian Fleming introduces European and American readers to karate with the publication of Goldfinger. He had been inspired by watching a demonstration of women’s judo at the Kodokan in Tokyo .

  • 1959 – Bruce Lee begins teaching Wing Chung to Americans in Seattle – both male and female.

  • 1960 – Steve Armstrong, a former Marine, introduces Isshin-ryu to Tacoma , Washington . He accepts women into his classes after a woman walked into his class and asked him why her sweat and money should be different from a man’s.

  • 1961 – Rusty Glickman defeats a male opponent during an AAU judo meeting in NYC. Afterwards women are banned from competing until 1971.

  • 1962 – Honor Blackman becomes the first actress to win theatrical fights using techniques borrowed from the Asian martial arts.

  • 1963 – Diana Rigg, Blackman’s replacement on the Avengers, also utilizes martial arts in her role.

  • 1965 – Paula and Pauline Short open the Karate School for Women in Portland , Oregon .

  • 1965 - Katherine Keith begins training in Uechi-ryu in Kalamazoo , Michigan .

  • 1966 – Kay Tsuroka becomes the first Canadian woman to receive a black belt from the All-Japan Karate-do Association in Chito-ryu Karate.

  • 1968 – LaVerne Bates starts a women’s Ch’uan Fa class in Los Angeles .

  • 1971 – Py Bateman establishes a Feminist Karate Union in Seattle .

  • 1973 – A Polish study finds that most elite male athletes come from working-class backgrounds while elite female athletes, on the other hand, come from upper-class urban backgrounds.

  • 1974 – As part of the International Women’s Year, the Women’s International Boxing Federation is created.

  • 1974 – Pauline Short & Py Bateman celebrate the International Women’s Year by holding the first all-women’s karate tournament in Seattle .

  • 1978 – Women’s sparring events are introduced into Japanese Tournament Karate. Ishimaru Yumiko takes second in the kata division – first in the fighting division. The winning combination was a front kick, followed by a left hook.

  • 1982 – First Women’s Savate Championship is held in France .

  • 1985 – Capoeira grows among North American Women, particularly those with dance backgrounds.

  • 1991 – Karate Aerobics becomes the rage in NYC and California . “Boxing without Punishment” offered to both men and women in NYC.

  • 1992 – Women’s judo becomes a permanent Olympic Event.

  • 1993 – Iran hosts the first Islamic Countries Women’s Sports Games.

  • 1996 – Female boxing champion Christy Martin wins a purse of $75,000, which sets a record.

  • 2001 –Michele Yeoh, actor and pioneer women’s martial arts expert, transcends cultural boundaries in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She choose action films because she could incorporate her dance background into them. “Martial arts were choreographed and that related to my dance background which involved energy, strength, choreography, flexibility, and discipline.” Previously beauty and power were often incompatible as kung fu heroines were portrayed as androgynous and undesirable.

  • 2004 – Women of Uechi-ryu to embark on Women's Friendship Tour to Okinawa which represents Uechi-Shohei-Ryu Associations and all Independents.

    Women all over the world have made martial arts training a significant part of their life. Abe Toyoko, a senior instructor of Tendo-ryu in the early 1980s was well known for her blunt speech and strong opinion which was reflected in her art:

"A woman’s whole life is to be woman-like … to be a like a woman, however, is not simply to be soft. To be woman-like is to be as strong as soft or demanding as a situation calls for. Be appropriate and act with integrity. This isn’t being taught at all (to today’s practitioners). And it is the heart of budo … it is alive in the practice …[3]"



[1] Women Warriors of Japan , ‘The Role of the Arms’ Bearing Women in Japanese History’ by Ellis Armdur.

[2] A Chronological History of the Martial Arts & Combative Sports 1940 – 2003, Joseph R. Svinth.

[3] Women Warriors of Japan , ‘The Role of the Arms’ Bearing Women in Japanese History’ by Ellis Armdur.

Comments and Notes from women in Uechi Ryu Karate Do

      Jean DeCosta (Nanadan), one of the women pioneers who started training in Uechi-Ryu in 1974, shares her thoughts on women in karate:

 Karate has always been a private and spiritual endeavor for me. I originally started in Kempo style in 1973 in a class for women only in Providence.  When the rest of the women dropped out of the class I was not allowed to attend classes with the men (at this time very few women were in karate -- thank goodness times have changed)! After looking into many dojos and not finding what I wanted either because of distance from my home, philosophy differences, etc., I learned a new Uechi-Ryu dojo was opening in my hometown of North Attleboro .  I enrolled immediately and am still learning, 29 years later.

The dojo will celebrate its 30th anniversary in April of 2004, and Ed and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary this year. So not only has karate given me a family, spiritual support and a healthier lifestyle, but also the opportunity to travel to Okinawa and train with Master Kanei Uechi and also Masters Takara, Nakahodo, Nakamatsu, Inada, Takamiyagi, Higa, Yonomine, and many other wonderful practitioners of Uechi-Ryu/Shoheiryu.  




Copyright ©April 2002 Marguerite Hess

Women’s Friendship Tour Marguerite Hess, 1195 Ocean View Circle,  Jensen Beach, Fla 34957  Telephone: (772) 334- 7731 

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