Feel powerful. Move boldly. Be loud.
Take up as much space as you can.
— Written by Instructor Wendi in 2013 at the beginning of Martial Arts Uniting Ladies
My grandmother is a 3rd Dan blackbelt, having begun training when she was in her 60’s after her sons took up the art of Tae-Kwon-Do. When my father opened up his own club, my sister and I were his top two students. Nearly a decade later, I met Master Tina and the many black-belts, predominantly female, at her school.
For me, women in martial arts was the norm.
Imagine my surprise, then, when in my travels I tried to find a new school to join. Lo and behold, I was often the ‘only’ or the ‘other’ woman in the room – and worse still, those women who were at the top were often treated almost as second-class citizens, as if their belts weren’t the equal of the belts of their male counterparts; as if there was a ‘male standard’ and a ‘female standard’.
Thus began my dreams of the original MAUL – Martial Arts Uniting Ladies. I wanted to build a place where women could reach their potential alongside fellow women, just as I had.
In starting up this program, a number of women, while interested, were also quite intimidated by training in martial arts, a side-effect, perhaps, of the ill-gotten reputation of martial arts for being hard-hitting, strength-based, and aggressive. To me, that description completely eliminates the most important part of Tae-Kwon-Do. First and foremost, it is an art.
To stay true to that philosophy, the Origi-MAUL program adheres to the traditional values of a martial art – the theory, the passion, and the mental strength engendered by training. We create a place that women of all levels and abilities can train, because you are not graded from where you start, but how far you go.
This program is inspired by my first female instructor. She taught that traditional martial arts should be open to everyone with a philosophy of self-discipline and empowerment, and that it should remain enjoyable rather than grinding. We follow, then, the teachings of Master Tina Felice of Geneva, New York – 1 of 13 female 7th Dan black-belts in the entire United States of America, and owner of her own Do-Jang, Geneva Martial Arts.
As we grow into part of the MAULives organisation, we aim to extend this ethos to actively include other martial arts minorities. One MAULer has worked to provide access to people without homes. Another MAUL-TKD alum is aiming to start a club in Saudi Arabia, providing martial arts tutelage for young women and girls. One affiliate is aiming to create a program in a socioeconomically deprived region in Michigan.
Here in Cambridge, our MiNi-MAUL club is planning to provide martial arts experiences for the elderly, whilst our Origi-MAUL club is looking to offer up a program in the future for non-binary, open-gender, LGBT-Q, and other minorities in martial arts.
What unites all our MAUL-TKD organisations, and ultimately what unites martial artists, is our philosophy: individualised teaching, teamwork, and artistry. We have built a family’s program where children train together equally, and women instructors or belt-buddies are not a novelty but the norm.
What began as one small women’s program is becoming an organisation dedicated to uniting diverse communities through martial arts, both in the now and in the training of the next generation. We are excited to see the future of MAUL.