A friend of mine is trying to find a dojo for her son to take karate. I wished her luck because after my own experiences with dojos in our small town area, I was left wondering whatever happened to the gentle Mr. Miyagi?
For us, it started with a free class offered by one of five local dojos. Joseph was over the moon excited to learn karate. After all, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are making a retro comeback to join forces with LEGO's Ninjago as a martial arts frame of reference for my seven-year-old. No matter how many times I warned him he wouldn't be able to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, he was equally insistent he wanted to join his friends at the sample class.
One class and his excitement level inched closer to nuclear. He loved every moment of it. From the stiff bow to the sensei to the loud "Haa!" he was told to shout with every move, karate was the only thing he could talk about.
So we signed him up.
It lasted a week before his dad pulled him out.
I called, a little irritated he'd made the decision and crushed our child's dreams of being a Blue Ninjago.
"Sorry," my ex told me not sounding the least apologetic, "I don't want him going there."
I pushed for more information from my typically closed-mouthed ex husband when he finally said, "I didn't like the way the sensei taunted the boys."
"Are you sure you're not being overly sensitive?" I asked, knowing it was unlikely even as I said it.
"Well, after the fourth time of him telling the boys to stop acting like little girls, I got fed up."
"What?!" We may live in a small area, but we're coastal people. Things like calling boys girls as an insult just don't happen here. Or so I thought.
"Yeah, one of the kids got hit and yelled because it hurt and the guy said he sounded like a little girl and to man up."
"Wait. Were there any girls in the class?"
"Yeah. A bunch of them."
"Did any of the other parents say anything?"
My ex gave a sound of frustration, "No. I really thought someone would but they all acted like it was normal."
And, apparently, it is normal. After talking to several other moms with children in karate in our area, I discovered this ancient fighting technique is rife with similar stories. From teasing boys who got beaten by a girl in their class to yelling at boys they're acting like girls, it seems karate is a place where things like gender neutrality and equality don't exist.
Call me crazy, but I don't think being a girl is a bad thing. When it's used as a way to demean a boy, what is that teaching the boy? Worse, what is it teaching the little girls in the class? I highly doubt Mr. Miyagi would approve.