A Level Playing Field

By Melvin Ruth
Published on Sep 16th, 2009

I've spent just over 10 years studying Kenpo Karate. I've trained in seminars, local schools, and studios outside our region. I've trained with many talented martial artists and a "big name" or two. During the 1980's I boxed and trained in Tae Kwon Do. I've met some wonderful people along the way. I have always appreciated the martial arts for being a place, unlike a boxing gym, where men and women could train together.

In my prior studio training, I'd rarely seen women "pad up" and stand toe to toe freestyling with male training partners. It was common, in those studios, to train with women wearing makeup, nail polish, etc. They were always considered off limits to contact or aggressive attacks. This was discouraging for both my wife and me. Women, after all, are more likely to be victims of assault, usually attacked by a stronger (read MALE) assailant. I know that the leading cause of death for women in the workplace is violence; sometimes at the hands of a robber, but often by a coworker or due to domestic violence brought from home to work. I could never understand how such an unrealistic approach could be allowed in Martial Arts training. Women need to be able to defend themselves. Why not train them to do so?

I met Skip Hancock in January 1998 in Baltimore, MD. A few years later, I was training with Shirley Hancock, Skip's better half. I would not hit her because of my prior training. Where I trained before it was, "No contact with females even if they're 5th degree black belts!" Shirley understood my concern but informed me that if I did not hit her she would continue to strike me harder until "I understood". She told me that if Skip saw me taking it easy on her, he would get upset; viewing my behavior as a sign of disrespect. Until that time I had never attacked or struck a woman with "attitude". Shirley Hancock is very talented --- a true Martial Artist.

Since that time I have trained with two other women who are now my regular training partners. These women can both give and take it! We work on techniques, forms, sets, and freestyle. 've had a few chances to freestyle with them --- pads on and plenty of contact. These ladies are tough and good at what they do. I've been impressed by their skill level and their ability to recover from the occasional solid shot. On every occasion, they take the shot and keep on fighting. It is an honor and a pleasure to freestyle for 3 minutes rounds with Diane Ruth and Lena Varuolo. My hat is off to both of them. I'm sure there are many talented women studying the Martial Arts. I'm just sorry that it took me so long to meet ladies who are great role models and an inspiration. I have great hopes to meet others in my Martial Arts future.

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Melvin Ruth

Melvin Ruth started boxing for the Highland Exchange Club in 1986. He began his formal study of Korean Martial Arts in 1988, Tae Kwon Do in Baltimore County. By 1994, Melvin joined the U.S. Army and National Guard serving honorably through 2004. After returning from various military missions, Melvin began training in Kenpo Karate in 1997. Mr. Ruth received his black belt certification in Kenpo Karate in 2003. Melvin began working with Kenpo 2000 while pursuing his black belt. He is currently refining his Kenpo as a student of Professor Skip Hancock. Mr. Ruth is a partner in M&D's Modern Martial Arts of Bishopville, MD The studio is affiliated with TheMALC and Kenpo 2000. Melvin is the Director of Infrastructure for The Martial Arts Learning Community, Inc. (TheMALC).

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