Martial Arts: For Everyman! (and Everywoman!)

As mentioned in the beginning section, the increasing popularity of martial arts in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s played a central role in discussions surrounding self-defense at OSU. Over the decades, people gave many reasons that often overlapped as to why they choose to learn martial arts. Some reasons that were given were that it was to improve their health, study a new art form, and/or learn to defend themselves. Throughout this research, it was clear that although martial arts was promoted as an activity that could benefit anyone – martial arts was specifically marketed toward women as a way to prevent sexual violence.

Martial arts schools and workshops did not explicitly target men; however, articles that highlight women’s participation as exceptional can be seen as evidence that women’s participation in martial arts was often looked at as a novelty. A 1969 article titled “Coed Tries Karate” interviews Karann Getters, a sophomore art major who held a black belt in karate. Fetters said she thought of Karate as a sport and an art form. She did not have to use it as self-defense but says she could. 1969 was also the year that the Shorin-Rye Karate Club became co-ed. In 1971, Ohio State’s Physical Education Department reported a new spring course offering – Karate – taught by karate expert Jay T. Will. Will states that the purpose of the course is “for the students to learn a functional means of self-defense” since “A person’s ability to defend himself can change his whole outlook on life. Knowing self-defense bolsters self-confidence and this confidence causes the changes.” By using the word “himself,” Will’s quote clearly (albeit perhaps inadvertently) frames men as the primary benefactors of learning self-defense. Greer Golden, the Chief Instructor of the Ohio State Karate Club is quoted in 1971 to have said that “karate is for ‘Mr. Everyman’” and that women should learn karate because even though “Females don’t have the physical power of males . . . karate is not a muscle sport.” At the time the Ohio State Karate Club had around 90 members, 12 of which were women.

As the anti-rape activism movement began to grow on OSU’s campus in the early 1970s, attitudes surrounding women’s participation in martial arts shifted from novelty to necessity. In 1972, a judo clinic was hosted by Black Belt Bonita Hudak from Toledo University to teach women the fundamentals of judo. Hudak says that “most women enter judo to learn self defense, but continue to learn to love it as a sport.” From Hudak we can gather that women were seeking out martial arts skills to protect themselves foremost. Martial arts’ instructors and schools targeted women in their advertisements by emphasizing how martial arts can help them learn self-defense. Kung Fu instructor Dick Greenlee argued that Kung Fu is better for women to learn than other martial arts because “most karate and other self-defense courses offered are not effective, especially for women, because they teach only moves that will slightly injure the assailant and make him more likely to physically harm his victim in retaliation.” A 1987 advertisement for Tomiki Akido states that their class will teach “defense against grabs, chokes, knives. Classes work on relaxation and self confidence. Excellent for women.” Multiple OSU martial arts clubs like The Ohio State Shotokan Karate Club, Shorin-Rye Karate Club, Judo Club, Kung Fu Club, TaeKwonDo Club, Isshin Ryu Karate Club, and the Ju-Jutsu Club will all promote themselves by emphasizing how they can teach self-defense to women in addition to improving general fitness and mindfulness. While all of the aforementioned clubs use self-defense as a selling point, the OSU Women's Self Defense & Martial Arts Club (founded in the mid-1980s and operational until ~2003) was the only one that was explicitly “designed to help women deal with a situation where a rape, theft or robbery might occur.”

There is a noticeable decline in martial arts being mentioned in The Lantern online archives in the context of self-defense and sexual violence after 2003 up until 2017. It is difficult to say if the downturn is due to a general decline in martial arts’ popularity, decline in general self-defense programing, or something else. Nevertheless, martial arts continues to be invoked in discussions of self-defense and sexual violence. On February 8, 2017, OSU student Reagan Tokes was abducted and murdered. In response, a scholarship in her name was created and money for her family was raised by local donations. Additionally, an anonymous donor offered to pay for 50 women to take a self-defense class at the Ronin Training Center. The self defense class was especially “encouraged for female students.” Ronin Training Center Manager and class instructor Laurah Hallock describes her jiujitsu style as “specifically for women to use against potential sexual assault or rape” since she focuses a lot on groundwork.