Women’s Blog #2 – Role Models

I watched my brother do karate for 5 or 6 months before I ever joined.  I sat on the sidelines and did my homework.  I remember Sensei Scott and Ethan teaching class.  I remember a Josh, I remember white gis, and I remember my brother always being in the front row.  He copied everything Sensei did.  It wasn’t until my mom, exasperated that I wouldn’t start (I played ninja turtles all the time with Joe…), got Suzanne to talk me into taking class. I thought I was a total tomboy, but the power of having a female role model take my hand, even though she was my age, and drag me into class was absolutely priceless.  I had never met her before that day.  I had known Sensei for 6 months.

My story and those of many other girls and women that I know resonates with an Olympian who swept her division in 2012, Gabby Douglas. What I love about Gabby is that she didn’t allow a lack of role models stop her.  As an African American girl, Gabby had two people, her sister and Olympian Dominique Dawes.  At 4, Gabby went around the house tumbling and jumping off the furniture because she was inspired to be like her big sister, Arielle.  By the time Gabby turned 6, Gabby and her sister had convinced their mom to sign Gabby up for gymnastics too.  She fell in love.  She trained and competed for 10 years before the 2012 Olympic games in London. From her personal biography, “Gabrielle is the first woman of color of any nationality and the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the Individual All-Around Champion.  She is also the first American gymnast to win gold in both the gymnastic individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympic game.”  Me, like the rest of America, was blown away by this talented gymnast.  The thing that left a lasting impression on me when considering how Gabby Douglas relates to the martial arts was she pursuing her dreams because she knew that someone else had gone before her and accomplished great things at the Olympics.  Dominique Dawes had won gold medals as a gymnast in three different Olympic games.  But Dawes didn’t just win, she also inspired Gabby to compete and believe that she too would win, break records, and make history.

Finding female role models as a martial artist has always been a challenge.  To this day I remember training with Mrs. Lynn for my junior black belt and her making me redo something because I didn’t do it well.  She was a karate mom who got tired of sitting on the sidelines and joined.  She was tough in sparring and didn’t let anyone get away with doing something sloppy.  When I moved from Virginia, I didn’t think that it mattered to look for more “Mrs. Lynns”.  However, the times when I recall most vividly of when I wanted to quit or I thought that I simply wasn’t good enough all correlate to when I wasn’t looking for someone to model my life after.  While I have had many wonderful male role models that encouraged me to be tougher or to work harder, none of them were ever able to show me how good a girl could be at throwing a front kick or doing their form or sparring. It was the Mrs. Lynns who always inspired me to make my kicks look like theirs, to hit as hard as they hit, and to be fearless in sparring. I’m grateful for the many role models that I have today.  Nevertheless, it is combination of two things I have found in order to have great role models.  First, you have to choose to find someone.  Second, in the absence of great role models, remember that you never know if there’s a Gabby Douglas watching you.
Here are my references for this post for further reading 🙂