Feel powerful. Move boldly. Be loud.
Take up as much space as you can.
— Instructor Wendi at the founding of Martial Arts Uniting Ladies in 2013
Instructor Wendi on women in martial arts and why she founded MAUL taekwondo
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 taekwondo. 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 on 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. 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 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 other women, just as I did.
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 taekwondo. First and foremost, it is an art.
To stay true to that philosophy, the Ori-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 – one 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 both our original club as well as our over-arching group, the Martial Arts Uniting Lives consortium, we endeavour to stay true to our goal of providing a martial arts space for people who tend to be unseen in martial arts. We practice active inclusion.
- For people without money to spare, we ensure our club runs on donations only and provide tailored flyers in multiple languages, including arabic, to ensure potential students know that they are welcome.
- We have lowered our age requirement upon seeing the positive impact our members have had on teenagers who cross over into the Ori-MAUL sessions on occasion. We actively monitor and support the mental health of our organisation’s teenagers, particularly our Ori-MAUL teens. One of our Ori-MAUL instructors is a certified mental health first aider.
- Our students and instructors see adaptation for individual needs as the norm, as we all need extra options at one point or another. Injury, illness, physical or mental disability are part of the individual experience and all MAULers support one another.
- We hope to increase the number of women 60+ in martial arts as well, through targeted recruitment and a taster session through Forever Active and other organisations in the area. We have followed this up with the development of Fiercely Fragile, adaptive sessions for women with chronic joint issues.
- We have connected with refugees in the Cambridgeshire area through the City Council, in order to provide a means for displaced persons to become part of our family and community.
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 families program where children train together equally, and women instructors or belt-buddies are not a novelty but the norm. In May of 2020, we kick ff our Marginalised Genders programme to not just accept but rather promote people of less common genders.
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.
Read more about the MAUL family