Benarroch, October 2020
A Perspective From a Girl in a Dojo
The desire to transform an ordinary event of my life into something extraordinary led me to create my series: "A Perspective from a Girl in a Dojo ". One might never think that women, photography, and Tae-Kwon-Do can go hand in hand together. However, I have taken these elements present in my life and found a way to put them together to enhance the perception of feminine strength.
The purpose of my "A Perspective from a Girl in a Dojo” portfolio is to reveal how young women can be fierce, strong, and fearless individuals while still being the sensitive and feminine girls we each are.
I started Tae-Kwon-Do eight years ago when I was a 7-year-old little girl. Now, as a young woman, I feel it has become part of my identity and has truly molded me into who I am today. My martial arts experience has been especially unique because ninety percent of my time there I have been surrounded by guys, often the only girl training. Even the instructors have only been men. I know that many women have experienced the same situation in traditionally male-dominated sports or professions. I want to show how unique the few girls and young women who keep showing up at the dojo are; those who feel it is okay to be standing alone if you are genuinely passionate about what you are doing.
The unfortunate reality is that there are not many women training in martial arts, let alone, who become masters. So, at the moment, not only am I among the highest ranks in the academy, but I am the highest-ranking female in the whole school. I am a conditional first-degree black belt, and, in a few months, I will be a certified First Dan black belt**. I feel incredibly proud, empowered, and accomplished to be in such a position, not only as an individual but also as a young woman.
Since I began my series and started to explore the true depths of feminine strength, my self-confidence and self-awareness as a female martial artist and photographer started to bubble up to the surface. A whole new appreciation and empowerment have unintentionally emerged. I realized how great it would be to spread this recognition to others.
I wish to inspire other girls, expand the idea of powerful female figures, and illustrate the new beauty of having feminine strength, determination, and spirit. My definition of femininity slowly evolves, as I witness it every day when I see the girls at my dojo training hard and fighting fearlessly.
They are the reason I chose to photograph this personal series above any other.
I want to keep this precious instant of our morphing into powerful yet feminine young
I want to celebrate them; I want to celebrate us.
**In February 2021, I received my First Degree Black Belt!
If you're interested in this series, I recommend reading my college essay which I attached to the bottom. It's about the difficult mental and physical transition I took from being a weak girl embarrassed of her sport, suffering from internalized misogyny, to a powerful and proud young female martial artist!
Mind, Body, and Soul
There Is Beauty In Strength
Being a Young Girl in Tae Kwon Do
“Why don’t you tell people you practice Tae Kwon Do? You should be proud. It’s so great!”
my parents often asked, which I answered with a shrug.
One day after school, coming across my male classmates after their karate class, I excitedly shared with them that I also practice Martial Arts! Expecting to share exciting sparring stories, I was caught off guard when I was instead met with condescending laughter. Standing there, I realized it was my gender that caused their smirks; my gender that seemed out of place in this male-dominated sport. Feeling rejected, I stopped telling people I practiced Martial Arts.
For the first seven years of training, my dad took me to class, ignoring my pleas not to go. Every other day were sparring days. I hated sparring days. I hated the oversized, bulky sparring gear meant for a man’s body, grappling with guys twice my size, and being their 5’0 punching bag. Every time I was paired to fight a male peer, I counted the seconds until the fight was over, until class was over, until I could escape to the safety of my dad’s car. I was ecstatic on the few occasions the instructors paired me with a girl, but the further I climbed the ranks, the fewer girls were there for me to spar with.
By the time I graduated into Master’s class, I was entirely dwarfed by all of my puberty-completed peers. After several messy nosebleeds, hidden tears, and painful broken nails, I realized a changed mindset was the vital tool for survival in that jungle of testosterone. Before facing my peers again, I would need to defeat the ridiculous notion that my size and gender were holding me back.
Slowly, I began grappling with what it meant to be a young woman taking up space in a male-dominated environment. I let myself enjoy training with mascara and perfume. I gave myself time to put my hair in a ponytail before a fight.
Even outside of the dojo, I used photography as a means to explore what it meant to be a young woman in martial arts. While creating my photographic series, I further developed my appreciation for the few other young women in my dojo and decided to celebrate them—to celebrate us. Through this project, my ultimate goal was to inspire other young women in similar male-dominated environments and expand the concept of powerful female figures.
Embracing my femininity was the first step to empowering myself. As my self-image improved, so did my skills. My newly-evolved perspective enabled me to see the advantage of my small stature. I noticed that, unlike my opponents, I was a much smaller target with a much faster uppercut. In between their predictable jab-cross combination, waiting for the final cross to leave its post from protecting the fragile jaw, I would swiftly dodge their cross and uppercut the unprotected jaw, effectively delivered from my 5’2 angle. With each passing match, my internalized misogyny evaporated along with each drop of sweat produced from the same men’s sparring gear I hated for so many years.
I spent so long desperately trying to fit in with my male dojomates that I unintentionally alienated my feminine side to fit in. Society constantly whispered into my ear that being a woman and practicing Tae Kwon Do were conflicting by nature. However, seven years into my journey, I finally gained the balance to walk the tightrope between my ability to roundhouse kick a man and enjoy a manicure. Two years later, I earned my First Dan Black Belt, officially becoming the highest-ranking girl in the dojo. No longer was I the timid girl afraid to take up space, but instead a fierce fighter confident with her abilities and an integral part of the dojo.