Written by Rachel

classes     taijiquan     self defence     qigong     tai chi for health     about us     reviews     a-z

The female in history

Most of the worlds philosophical traditions adopt a dismissive attitude towards women. Women are patronised or ignored. The traditions are often sexist in the extreme and consider women to be inferior.
Sadly, this has permeated culture. But change is slowly occurring in the world.

A different attitude

Taoism adopts a very different attitude towards women than other traditions.
Rather than stem from opinion and conjecture, it arose from the observation of nature, from watching existence and considering the principles that operate.
The early Taoists identified the qualities in women that made them equal to men; and this was expressed by the tai chi symbol which contains both elements.
Neither man nor woman was seen as 'better', simply different.

Reverence of the female

Unlike most philosophical traditions, Taoism values women. The attributes of women were carefully watched and examined.
Women are considered to be soft, strong, yielding, flexible and fluid - like water. These same characteristics are to be found in tai chi.

The female in tai chi

In Taoism, women were regarded as being as strong as men, albeit through different means. Tai chi helps women to manifest this in practice...
Instead of using hard, muscular strength and brute force, it adopts another approach.
Your body must be relaxed and pliant, yet retain a strong centre, connected through a framework of soft tissue (fascia, muscles, tendons, ligaments).
You must yield to force and retain a calm demeanour during combat practice. These attributes are seen as yin, or female.


Men and women are different. Keep this simple fact in mind when teaching taijiquan to female students. Men have testosterone, they enjoy using force, being aggressive and competing with one another.
They are usually quite happy being roughed-up and roughing people up in return.
Although only a few of these qualities are of any use in taijiquan, it enables men to feel more comfortable working martially than most women do. Women bring entirely different qualities to taijiquan.
These are actually the very values and sensibilities that taijiquan seeks to cultivate in the male student.
The challenge for the female student is to harness their strengths, to have faith in themselves and the art, and to overcome their conditioned inhibitions.


Men are stronger and heavier above the waist, whilst women are the reverse. All Asian martial arts seek to encourage students to emulate the female body, and drop the weight down.
This is a logical approach; since a firm base promotes stability. Taijiquan teaches all students to rely upon the strength of the legs and the waist, rather than the arms and shoulders.
Again, this favours women.


Men have long perpetuated the myth that women are more emotional than men.
This is actually entirely untrue: men are culturally conditioned to suppress their emotions and to detach themselves from feeling. Which is not entirely helpful.
A woman may admit that she feels fear, whereas a man pretends to be brave. Taoism and Zen seek to cultivate emotional awareness, and asks the student to be honest about how they feel.


Some women think that they can become assertive by dressing and acting like a man. From a Taoist perspective this would be like a cat trying to bark like a dog.
'Te' refers to the idea of being true to what you are. Women are female, and it is this very femaleness that is the source of their strength.
When a woman pretends to be a man in order to gain respect, she betrays her own gender. Te is the character/nature/essence of something. In this case, what makes a woman a woman?
The more true to your nature you are, the stronger you become.

Not all women are submissive.

(Loy Ching-Yuen)

Gender stereotyping

Society has presented an image of women as being helpless.
This may have been replaced (to a small extent) in recent years with media stories of rough girls being arrested for fighting, but the overall perception of women remains the same.
When a woman enters a martial arts class, she is taking a brave step into a male-dominated arena. You will be immediately faced with a whole range of unflattering associations, based purely upon sex
Many men are reluctant to partner with a woman. Women are generally considered to make ineffectual assailants.

Home life

Not all partners are supportive. They may feel threatened by a woman learning combat. Or they think that its cute for a woman to take up martial arts training.
Partners often tend to belittle or intimidate their wives and girlfriends when they learn that you are taking martial arts classes.


Male students will tend to go easy on female students. It is important not to give men a reason to do this. Men may treat you with 'kid gloves' or speak to you in a condescending manner.
In our class, we discourage such behaviour. Many instructors give women a false sense of reassurance. This is offensive and insulting. Truth is essential. You cannot hide the fact of your skill.
It is either present or lacking. There is no ambiguity to it. No real life assailant will cut a woman any slack.

Women in martial arts

Women typically do not fare too well in martial arts classes. Men have all of the natural advantages when it comes to violence:

  1. Aggression

  2. Familiarity with violence

  3. Physical strength

  4. Testosterone

In the external arts, these qualities count for a lot, and women usually flounder. The schools compensate by having weight and gender categories, or by simply patronising female students.
This may work fine in the dojo, but no one in the street will let a woman off because she lacks their own physical strength.


Some male students will deliberately try-it-on with women in order to boost their ego. This approach reflects a confused, insecure, immature mentality.

Valuing the female

Attempting to copy men is pointless. It devalues and betrays your own sex (female). Taijiquan encourages you to be cat-like. Sleek, soft, cunning.


The most important obstacle you face is credibility. You must prove yourself capable.
This is most easily accomplished by addressing the basic qigong strength-building exercises, and then applying your body in a connected, whole-body fashion in actual combat.
If you train the basics, you will become strong. Without that fundamental strength, the taijiquan will not work.


school database

Page created 8 March 2008
Last updated 16 January 2021