I was at a seminar once working on a technique. I was having some difficulty with the way it was presented due to my size and strength vs the size and strength of my training partner, so I was modifying it to work for me. One of the higher ranking black belts informed me that I should be able to perform the technique as demonstrated. His reasoning was that since our style is from Okinawa, and the average height of an Okinawan man is shorter that the average American (5’2″ vs 5’10”) that as a 5’4″ woman, I should have no problem. While I was capable of performing the technique in and of itself, it wasn’t the right technique for me, for my size, for my upper body strength. What he failed to take into account is that while height and weight are factors, there are other factors to take into account. As a woman, my center of balance is lower. My hips are wider, but my shoulders are narrower. The pelvic girdle is deeper front to back and tilted with the head of the femur going deeper into the hip socket on a woman, making rotation and movement slightly different. Our natural hand grip is slightly different as well as subtle differences in tendon structure. While a man’s chest is broader, I doubt that he has to deal with breasts getting in the way of a technique. Men are also generally more muscular than women. There are some unbelievably strong women out there! However, with all other things being equal, amount of workout time, calorie intake and output, height and weight, etc. the male will be stronger in the upper body. That is just how we are made, it’s our biology. There is another part of our training that needs to be taken into account – bruises. It may sound strange. It’s a martial art, we’re going to get bruises. Most women are not martial artists by trade. They have jobs and families that may not be as supportive of her training as you might think. A man can have bruises, even a black eye, and while he may be questioned on it, it will not be too intrusive. Maybe some off handed comment about “what the other guy look like?” If a woman has bruises on her body or some other visible injury, it’s “OH MY GOD! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!?” Or worse yet, people don’t even ask and assume she’s been beaten and they just gossip about it behind her back.
The average female in the United States is about 5’4″ and 140 – 150 pounds and wears a size 12 – 14. The average female karateka is not the average female, but her body often is average. She is smart and intuitive and knows when something isn’t working for her, but she may not argue with you about it. She will more likely think she’s doing it wrong and feel badly about it. She is not a small man, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t fight and win, it just means she doesn’t have to do it the same as her male counterpart.