Question: What's it like being the only woman? Related Question: Do you miss having the company of other females?
I’ve been asked this question since Year 1 but I’ve only answered it in person. As of fall 2016, I’m no longer the only female student at the Center, but still the only one in the Shaolin/Taiji program.
The short answer was/is: It’s the norm and I didn’t know what it’s like to NOT be the only female.
Training wise, I follow the same schedule. If I compare myself to the guys, the limitations due to my gender are probably power and strength (in the muscles, ligaments and tendons). Strength is not the same as power and a person with less strength can still generate more power than a person with more strength. Limitations due to my small stature are shorter range (for striking and kicking) and less mass to 1) help me stay rooted against a larger person with skill and 2) to execute takedowns. On the flip side, my frame allows me to be faster and I’m a smaller target. In Dr. Yang’s research in Qigong, his conclusion is that women are stronger internally while men are stronger externally. Each body type has different advantages and it’s up to you to train your strengths and exploit your opponent’s weaknesses.
One advantage I have over the others is that every student is naturally challenging for me. They’re generally bigger and taller, and some are faster and more skilled (in some ways and it depends on the situation). You always want training partners who help you improve.
Perhaps it’s due to a combination of my physical size and personality but I’ve been described as “having spirit” and being “vicious.” When you’re small and want to survive, you train spirit and sense of enemy. It was a big factor in landing the job on “Assassin’s Creed.” In terms of acting, it’s not easy to fake.
Daily living is… okay. The challenges come more from dealing with the large numbers in our community rather than the gender differences. I’m an introvert and I value solitude. We’re of varying ages, backgrounds, and personalities with different experiences and responsibilities so we’re all treated differently. As long as there is respect, we can live in harmony.
It hasn’t been perfectly smooth and there were a few rare occasions when a comment or joke about women was made in poor taste. I didn’t speak up because: 1) It’s not my problem or responsibility* if someone else has that attitude. 2) Those types comments and gossip reveal more about the speaker than the subject. 3) It shouldn’t be up to the targeted group to defend itself. Anyone who wants to create a world of equality should stand up for others. (*In that sense, it’s everyone’s responsibility.) On one hand, oftentimes I’m too preoccupied with my own work to bother with my fellow students. I’m also a fellow student, not the teacher. On the other hand, I hope my fellow students and I graduate with a “high level of morality” as stated on the program application.
I hope everyone realizes that even casual jokes against any category of people can have deeper psychological impacts than we realize. Society molds us from our childhoods and we’re all brainwashed in some way.
I don’t really miss the company of other females in general. I miss the company of particular people.
[I missed my 2 week deadline to post by 9/20 due to making an unexpected drive to SFO and staying over for one night. Then I got food poisoning and was out of commission for a few days.]