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A Female Martial Artist

shares her experience
in the 2009 TCSL Tournament

So what was it like being the only female martial artist in this year's Traditional Chinese Sword League Tournament? I'm going to be very honest and tell exactly how it was for me.

Female martial artist in Chinese swordfighting tournament

The Week Before the Tournament

Idon't know what your idea of a female martial is but this is what it's really like. A few days before the Chinese Sword fighting tournament, a wave of complete inadequacy struck. Images of babes with blades triumphing over the confident male warriors, vanished beneath a cloud of doom. I was alone with no training partners. There had been no partner training for me for eight months. The others were strong young men who had classes every week. What was I thinking! Fortunately my teacher was now only one state away instead of the other side of the world, so I phoned him.

"Help, this female martial artist doesn't think she even knows how to fight anymore!"

And he was there for me. Usually, my teacher finds the things I have to work on or the attitudes I should change. But not this time. He made me feel valued, restored my confidence, let me know he believed in my ability and why. It was the sort of pep talk a student remembers for life and I'm not going to share any of it but just say it did the job.

Then, later, during classes at the Great River School, he spent a whole hour with me doing some partner training and helping me find my way back into useful responses to swordplay with a real person, instead of just in my mind. I was ready to go.

female martial artist with a sword

On the Day of the Tournament

I actually woke up feeling ill - couldn't believe it .... a case of nerves? Me? I wasn't quite at throwing up stage, but it was enough to avoid the boat ride before the tournament. I didn't wish sea sickness on those who went ... not quite.

When we arrived in the venue, I put my female martial artist guise back on, stepped out the platform for length, checked the lighting through my helmet, and was ready. The list of bouts went up. I was first, against the only contestant I was absolutely certain I couldn't beat. Not ready anymore! I didn't beat him - that part over - ready to win my next match. I put myself "in the moment", remembered to give the competitor an unnerving smile, and won the bout. I won just one more that day, although several were pretty close. There was lots of encouragement from the audience. Somehow, being the only female martial artist made me a hero. I admit to enjoying that.

The rules of the tournament meant I could use any Chinese sword within the dimensions specified, so I alternated with jian and dao. I used a Raven studios dao and borrowed my teacher's jian - a Tiger's Den, Graham Cave weapon. I used my Tony Mosen jian for the seminar the following day. More on the comparison in another page.

It was fun on the platform - some of the best fun I've ever experienced. Win or lose, it made no difference to the total elation of doing the most exciting thing a female martial artist can do - being at full speed in a full contact swordsmanship tournament. You feel nothing up there but the thrill of the moment. You feel invincable. It's like flying - a sense of complete freedom and ultimate enjoyment of life. It didn't take much of that for me to realise this won't be my last tournament. I learnt a lot and that's the main idea - to know where to improve for next time.

female martial artist with Chinese sword

The Day After the Tournament

How come I'm so tired? Is this finger broken? Probably! I've lost my voice. I don't want to miss a moment of the seminar with my teacher, despite the probable broken finger. I start planning to come again in a year or two. I surely won't have the luxury of being the only female martial artist next time, so I'd better improve my skills.

female martial artist in a sword tournament

The Week After the Tournament

The aftermath of a tournament can bring out the best and the worst in those who competed. I'm embarrassed to say it brought out some things I don't like admitting. I was certain I'd won two more matches, one other was undecided, and then the pictures showed a fourth decision against me that really looked as though it should've gone the other way. It's not smart to question the decisions of four really good judges and an expert referee. You can't change anything, so why even think about it. I suppose it's just human nature. How can a person go from feeling totally inadequate to thinking she might have a better take on things than a judging team of five much better trained martial artists? I wasn't overly concerned. The tournament was amazing fun and it didn't really matter. I still thought about it though, and in one case I even asked. I bet most of the other contestants at least ran their matches through their minds and wondered too.

Look at this series in the elimination round, for example. The pictures could say he attacked, I deflected and then hit him on the head. Female martial artist in DE round

Female martial artist in DE round 2

Female martial artist in DE round 3

But what really happened? The referee said a picture taken a split second later would reveal that the cut slid off rather than getting a solid hit, and missed both the head and the shoulder. He knows what he's talking about and his analysis is surely correct. Pictures don't always tell the whole story. Just the same ... I really like this set. It was at least, a good deflection and counter strike in the heat of furious battle. So I seem to have learnt something. The other student deserves congratulations for his skill in evading the strike.

After a tournament, the right thing to be doing is thinking about why someone got a good strike on you and working out how to never let that one happen again. This is more profitable than thinking about which strikes you might've got that were not seen. My teacher was back to his normal advice after the tournament and those wise words are his.

It doesn't matter whether you are a male or a female martial artist. The main thing to take away from a tournament is how to grow and learn from the whole experience. We are here to advance our art and leave something for future generations. In this, we are a team and not individuals.

Tournament DVD Now Available

If you would like a DVD of the tournament, they have been made by Jonathan Doyle of Nycreator animation. Look under the Fight tab for a preview of the video.

TCSL Tournament DVD 2009 mark 2

Next Time

There will be a next time for this female martial artist. How about you? Will I see you in the Traditional Chinese Sword League Tournament? If you're even thinking about it, start getting your equipment together. The hardest one is the gambeson. Use this information if you like. make your tasset from this pattern. Then there's the helmet. I'm going to do a page on tournament equipment soon, but for now - I suggest getting yourself on Terry Tyndal's list, or finding an armourer. The Philippino helmets most wore are okay, but you do risk a hard bump on the head even through the padding. A steel helm will eliminate this risk.

Here's that page on the ultimate fighting equipment.

Leave female martial artist tournament report and return to main tournament page

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