100% of women and girls agree that Wanstead Karate Club fosters an environment of safety and inclusivity for women and girls in the sport and 69% feel more able to defend themselves after beginning Karate.

Karate is a sport with many benefits for female members. Its numerous health benefits range from improved cardiovascular health and reduced stress to improved bone strength – which is crucial for menopausal women whose decreased oestrogen production puts them at risk of osteoporosis.

In order to gain a better understanding of their experiences practicing Karate, I conducted a survey of the female members at Wanstead Karate Club.

Prior to beginning their Karate journeys, many had doubts. ‘I expected it to be too physically challenging’ says Hena Vijayan. ‘I thought it would be very male dominated. I didn’t expect the variety in shapes, sizes and even cultures at the dojo. It’s wonderful to see’ says Sana Gaunt.

Wanstead Karate Club has around a 40% female membership rate, Gary James – sensei at the dojo – is extremely proud of his diverse cohort of students, claiming that ‘Karate is for everyone, no matter what age or gender’. Shotokan Karate England – the wider organisation under which the Wanstead Club falls - has 5 female instructors that each run their own clubs. ‘We are setting the bar.’

When asked why they do Karate, participants offered a variety of responses from ‘Quality time with my daughter’ (Biji Sathyaseelam) to ‘all my stress goes away when I’m in the dojo’ (Mina Gonciarova).  

Being a part of a Dojo community is also a highlight for many respondents who boasted improved confidence, new friendships, a second family and a sense of pride.

I also spoke to Advika Jalan, head of research at MMC Ventures (a venture capital fund) about how doing Karate growing up has transformed her life. She says, ‘My school in India made Karate compulsory for girls between the ages of 9 and 12. It’s so important for girls to be able to defend themselves.’ She also claimed that Karate has given her greater confidence in her ability to tackle unfavourable circumstances both physically but in the challenges she faces in her career too and attributes her focus and discipline to practicing the sport in her youth.

Nonetheless, there are still barriers, especially when it comes to higher grades – brown and black belts. ‘The ratio of boys to girls at a higher level is quite noticeable’ says Tessa Holder-Reyes a brown belt Karateka.  Female Karate instructor Zaara Maria Ayub has found herself to be the only girl in the advanced class on many occasions and attributes the fall in female Karatekas at this high level to the intimidation women and girls feel when going up against men, ‘it can feel really scary’ and also a systemic belief that women have an innate lack of strength which ultimately renders martial arts useless in a real fight. Sensei Gary James aims to challenge this stereotype claiming ‘Karate has many moves for protecting yourself, but self-defence isn’t just fighting, self-defence is about being aware. Karate teaches you to have an alert state of mind, this will help enormously in confrontation’ adding ‘we have girls and women in our dojo that are just as good as the male members, if not better.’