Most uncomfortable moment: Making it clear to my own (male) teacher that he needed to leave the dojo before we started class. I'd made it clear to the women there would be no men, no husbands, no children in the dojo at all.
Most awesome moment: When everyone walked out the door saying, "See you next class!"
Once upon a time, I was uncomfortable with offering a women-only class. I'm a staunch believer in men and women training together, and see huge benefits come from that. Then I chose to listen to the women who expressed a passing interest in karate, but never actually took a class.
Body image. Fear of judgment. Fear of failing. Fear of being the worst one in class. Discomfort with a physical sport. Discomfort with being seen enjoying an aggressive sport. All those reasons and more, I heard over and over from women who murmured their interest in karate to me when no one else would hear them.
I pride myself in creating a safe and supportive environment for new students who are, more often than not, nervous stepping on the mat. I've had kids cry crocodile tears at the start of class, and beg to come back for more by the end of class. I've had adults hesitant at the beginning because of physical limitations realized at the end that I'll work with them to reach their goals. But whatever atmosphere my methods and personality create, it wasn't safe and supportive for a subset of women who wanted karate training enough to mention it, but feared it enough to never try.
So I set out to create that environment. No men. No witnesses. That was a big deal for all of the women who committed to showing up. Then we talked about the physical stuff, and I shared my Ultimate Karate Dork stories as well as the problems my hip dysplasia caused. We talked about things women don't often discuss with men: boobs that get in the way, post-pregnancy body problems, hitting other people.
On the mat, we not only worked hard on technique, but we laughed. Laughed and shared and enjoyed everyone's company. We started on the basics of dojo etiquette, chatted about the boundaries of Sensei-In-Dojo and Blair-In-Supermarket, and acknowledged that it feels very strange to say "Yes, Ma'am/Yes, Sir" at first. We worked up enough of a sweat that everyone was at least a little sore the next day. And we spent time listening to one woman sharing an issue she'd been struggling with all day, and we offered support.
Unlike six or seven years ago, when most women I spoke with wanted "self-defense" without all that "karate stuff," these women want the whole thing. They want to earn the black belt. They are working hard, asking questions, making mistakes and corrections.
Three to six months from now, I suspect they'll all be ready to transition into the standard classes at least once a week. By then, all those preliminary fears will have been encountered. Best of all, this group of women is helping me refine these ideas by giving me honest feedback.
...and I have to back up, because my hopes are running away with me. :) The true test will be how many of those seven women commit to a longer-term program. The decision point will be this coming Thursday.
In the meantime, I am thrilled with the two classes we've had so far. I come home happy, energized, and grinning. It feels like the beginning of a community.
And in the writing news, I suddenly wondered if I should end Sand of Bone 20K words deeper into the larger story. This is not all that helpful to my stress level, alas.