'Fighting like a girl' : qualitative analysis of the gendered movement learning in the Spanish Olympic karate team

Turelli, Fabiana Cristina and Vaz, Alexandre Fernandez and Tejero-González, Carlos María and Kirk, David (2022) 'Fighting like a girl' : qualitative analysis of the gendered movement learning in the Spanish Olympic karate team. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy. pp. 1-18. ISSN 1740-8989 (https://doi.org/10.1080/17408989.2022.2125947)

[thumbnail of Turelli-etal-PESP-2023-qualitative-analysis-of-the-gendered-movement-learning-in-the-Spanish-Olympic-karate-team]
Text. Filename: Turelli_etal_PESP_2023_qualitative_analysis_of_the_gendered_movement_learning_in_the_Spanish_Olympic_karate_team.pdf
Accepted Author Manuscript
License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 logo

Download (513kB)| Preview


Background: Female learning of movement in elite combat sports has not been studied enough to date. Literature on movement learning and teaching of complex skills has not, to date, focused on karate, and the scarce literature on the learning of elite karate practitioners mostly does not focus on women. Nevertheless, women fighters participated in karate as an Olympic sport, even if such status was temporary, limited to Tokyo 2020 (2021). Purpose: In an analogy with Iris Marion Young's (1980) publication ‘throwing like a girl’, our aim in this study was to investigate what it means to learn ‘to fight like a girl’ and if there is a feminine learned fighting style. Methods: We have carried out an ethnographic project focusing, due to the unexpected impact of COVID-19, mainly on interviewing the female Spanish karate team in preparation for the Olympic Games. We interviewed 14 women athletes of the team and their four male coaches twice each and analysed 28 videos of women athletes displaying their best athletic performances, according to themselves. In this article we are focusing on the analysis of 20 videos of the kumite modality, then reflecting on this analysis with data from interviews of the four coaches and ten of the athletes, the kumite athletes. We developed a series of criteria in order to carry out the task of observation and analysis of the gendered martial-sportive movement supported by the literature, coaches’ perspectives and athletes’ views. The main concepts derived from the video analysis were the use of space, restricted movements; absence of melee work; and difficulty in carrying out projections/sweeps. Findings: Sports karate is still configured as a (hetero)normative environment, supported in tradition, be that of martial art with its pedagogy and of sport as a male preserve. This context leads to a view of women’s learning to perform as inferior to men’s, perpetually comparing them, in the hierarchical structure established within the field. Concepts of equality and equity are undermined, and by performing differently, or not matching the male model, women have their performance of some complex movements qualified as a natural inability. Conclusion: We conclude that there is a feminine way of learning to fight, but only with generalized characteristics since there is a rich plurality of styles among these elite sporting women. For the field, to fight like a girl means inferior performance in comparison with men’s performance, however, for us, it means really ‘to fight’, not just on the mat, and we see such comparison as untenable.