Cris 'Cyborg' Santos
Cris 'Cyborg' Santos, MMA woman extraordinaire

Reflecting on my previous discussion of ‘women in martial arts‘, I don’t believe I properly emphasised the support and brotherly love I’ve received from the vast majority of male martial artists I’ve known since I began training.

My first dojo, the IOMASDA Ryu academy in Rochester, New York, was led by Master Leroy Haughton, currently head of the Webster branch of Chase Karate. Master Haughton and his fellow instructors – two men and a woman – were deeply interested in involving women in martial arts, and I mentioned in my earlier post that I first came to the dojo for a women’s self-defence course. Master Haughton encouraged me to develop a ‘warrior spirit’ and from the start treated me as a valuable student. My year’s training at IOMASDA gave me a huge amount of confidence to continue to pursue martial artistry after I relocated to Glasgow, UK.

In Glasgow, where I became active in the Glasgow University Shorinji Kempo Club, I was again surrounded by male martial artists who welcomed me, respected me and enjoyed training with me. In my second year with the club I was asked to be club secretary and in my third year I acted as captain; the first (and perhaps only) female captain of the GUSKC. My main training partners were men, and my grading partner up to shodan was John McCallum. I had great personal and training relationships with the guys, and they were very supportive of me getting my black belt and I never encountered any man’s serious reservations about training with a woman.

In London, I felt very welcome when I joined the Bob Breen Academy. Again, all the male instructors treated all the students, men and women, younger and older, stronger and weaker, with respect and with the understanding that everyone had a place in class and everyone brought something to share with everyone else. Dave Birkett has been particularly nurturing of my martial artistry, encouraging me to take up grappling and to compete in BJJ; I also train at his club, Dartford BJJ. Wayne Rowlands and Steve Wright at the Bob Breen Academy have also been regular training partners and are always looking to develop the confidence and abilities of female students.

My team mates at Dartford BJJ have been especially supportive of having me in the dojo, and I owe them a great debt for being such great training partners; as Dave says, ‘iron forges iron’. There is a great deal of fellowship among us and I feel that all the students respect me as a martial artist and actively enjoy training with me. At Bob’s, where folk are friendly and generally open to training with all comers, I have, however, more often experienced men concentrating on the middle distance in order to avoid training with me when pairing up for class. At the same time, over the course of the past four years, as I have become more and more proficient, I have ‘won over’ guys who, for years, studiously avoided eye contact when picking training partners, and who’ve recently started actively seeking me out as a training partner. This is deeply satisfying as I’ve clearly won their respect and perhaps helped to broaden their minds a wee bit as far as ‘women in martial arts’ goes.

While overall my experience as a ‘woman in martial arts’ has been positive, as I have recounted, on rare occasions I have felt marginalised. These experiences stand out as they are unpleasant, but they are aberrations and are balanced by the actions of men like Dave Birkett, Marc Walder and Dave ‘Speedy’ Elliot who seek to promote and encourage women’s participation.