By Kristy Hitchens
Pink Belt Project

Truly horrifying statistics around the rate and scale of violence against women in Australia right now is being regularly referred to as a ‘national crisis’.

In addition to pleas for Government action and long-term cultural change, women are being urged to arm themselves against the rising threat by taking self defence classes.

Learn to block, strike soft targets, disarm and take-down say the martial arts experts!

But we ain’t listening. In fact, less than 1% of Australian women are participating in a “combative sport” (or form of martial arts), according to a survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Too busy to learn to save your life or that of another?

Or maybe we’re struggling with the idea that real women can swoon over a cute handbag or potted succulent and know how to break someone’s jaw when our back’s against the wall?

No doubt some just plain think they shouldn’t have to.  They’d be right. Men need to change their behaviour, not women.

But right won’t help in the here and now as the number of women dying continues to rise.

Those badass few who do sign up to learn self defence, understandably, expect they’ll learn how to protect themselves in the event of a random attack by a stranger.

Forget it.

I mean, yes you will learn that. But really, it’ll be the least important thing you’ll walk away with after learning self defence.

And this is why we need more women doing it. Waaaaaaay more.

Photo: David Porter

Enter Sensei Rose

A bold new Australian documentary by an independent filmmaker and Sydney Jujitsu instructor of 25 years hopes to strong-arm change on attitudes toward women learning self defence and participating in martial arts.

In Striking Distance, Sensei Rose Smith tells the inspiring story of a group of teenage girls who over four years develop their martial arts skills, ultimately rising to the challenge of national competitions.

The documentary delivers a loud roar of grrrrrl power right up in the face of gender stereotyping.

It grapples with myths and misconceptions around martial arts while boldly illustrating the way it empowers girls to feel confident and safe in the world.

What becomes evident as the story unfolds, is it’s not the mastery of the self defence skills themselves which empower the girls, but the change that occurs inside during the process of learning those skills.

A collection of blocks, strikes and take-downs under your belt is pretty confidence-building for sure but the real shield of personal protection delivered through learning self defence and participating in martial arts is the empowered new attitude that comes with it.

Therein lies the real magic.

How martial arts can help

This unconscious internal shift in the girls during their training is what Sensei Rose sees as a partial answer at least, to changing the violent tide and what Our Watch Chair Natasha Stott Despoja describes in her book On Violence as a national crisis.

Research into self defence outcomes has shown the learning challenges the belief that women’s bodies are inherently vulnerable to attack and that men’s bodies are unstoppable.

Learning self defence is empowering for women, and changes their beliefs about what they are capable of and what they are entitled to. They come to know with conviction: ‘I deserve better’.

It’s an important distinction to make since the majority of violent acts towards women are committed by her current or former partner.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.1

Despite this, that tiny percentage of women who actually make it to a self defence course are often driven there by fear of random attack by a stranger.

It’s time entirely well spent since women who fight back during an attack are 86% more likely to avoid rape or sustain further injury.

But what Sensei Rose believes can occur with more girls participating in martial arts, is a gradual suffocating of gender stereotypes which fuel violence against women. And while we endure the frustrating wait for that change to occur, women will at least be armed with usable skills for self protection and harm reduction.

The ‘Striking Distance’ Story

The documentary features moving scenes of friendship, learning, comradery, role-modelling, empowerment, support and respect, and in the unique and non-stereotypical environment of combat sports.

Photo: David Porter

Watch as a fierce tiger glare focused on landing a kick or punch on an opponent during a unique all girls/all styles competition, suddenly gives way to a flinch, a smile and giggling hug when a strike actually connects.

Participants speak openly about their fears around competing, the difficulties they have had to overcome in a sporting world steeped in ancient male-dominated tradition and the life lessons learned. 

Mastery over your own body gives you mastery over your own destiny.”

says Sensei Rose who hopes to ignite a revolution through her documentary where a growing army of empowered female martial artists stand strong in their demands for more from a society struggling to deal with escalating violence against women.

But no revolution occurs without waging an all out war first. Which is exactly what Sensei Rose feels like she’s been doing over the past four years to gather the funding necessary to launch her dream.

So far she’s raised $115,000 and admits she’s taken some heavy hits along the way.

But she refuses to tap out on her dream and is busy scraping together the last $30,000 to complete a final edit.