Male/female relationships don’t have to be sexual to be meaningful and enlightening. Kai Morgan shares the story of discovering herself through a trusted teacher.
Until now, my closest relationships have always been with family members, female friends, and male partners – nothing groundbreaking there. But over the last couple of years, my luminous, warm relationship with my wise and trusted male martial arts instructor has opened up a whole new understanding of just what and who I can become . . .
What does a woman want and need from a man?
It’s a very common question. But when we normally look to answer it, it always seems to be in terms of what a woman wants from her lover or husband.
What about if we rephrase the question?
What does a woman want and need from men in general–or from this specific man–which she might not be able to get from her partner, other family members or female friends at this point in time?
In my case, it’s learning martial arts. I’m sure that learning from a female sensei would also be awesome, but I don’t have access to one right now. So this post is about a male sensei who has absolutely changed my life.
The women in your life will each have their own answers to this question too. And you may not even realize how well you are meeting those needs! I don’t think my sensei knows anything like the full range of my emotions, in relation to all I’ve learned from him.
So this article is just to get you thinking, about how your power to change a woman’s life—without being in love with each other—may run deeper than you think. Here’s my story, and six ways in which my sensei has transformed my world for the better . . .
It’s opened up new ways of seeing the world.
One of the reasons I love training in a male-dominated dojo, is because I get to enter and explore what feels like a completely different world. Some of what goes on is not at all interesting or appealing in my view (obsessing over arcane Japanese weapons; analyzing violent cult martial arts movies and so on).
But other aspects are incredible—and I don’t believe I would ever have discovered them by myself.
In terms of books, my sensei has introduced me (for example) to reading translations of old Ninja training manuals. Which previously I wouldn’t even have known existed; or if I had, I would instantly have dismissed them, as not my kind of book.
My favorite so far is the Shoninki, which opens up a mysterious world of subterfuge, bravery, mysticism, practical strategies and techniques still relevant to life in the 21st century—and dark, intense emotion I never would have dreamed of.
Thanks to my sensei too, I’ve read classic Samurai texts, and deeply absorbed (for example) the idea of Bunbu Ryodo—the twofold path of warriorship and scholarship—as an incredibly helpful principle for personal growth and integration. I’ve also read a lot of excellent books on violence, such as those by Rory Miller to name just one writer—and these have helped (in a positive way) to completely destabilize certain beliefs and assumptions about conflict and assault, which I never would have questioned otherwise.
In terms of experiences, I’ve met and visited various of Sensei’s friends from other martial arts styles; as he likes us all to explore, and broaden our experience. Having come from a fairly traditional background (Aikido) before I joined my current dojo, sometimes I’ve been scared and felt out of my depth within these mysterious all-male places. I’ve sometimes encountered there a level of intensity and fierce intent in their training, which I never before knew existed.
Yet, I’m learning that these people who seem so dark and formidable in one light, tend to be kind, wise, balanced; and possess some rare quality of presence and strength which I don’t come across in my day-to-day life.
I’d like to take on some of those qualities myself; to integrate elements of this different way of being, into who I already am.
In terms of mentoring, again I’ve learned new perspectives from my sensei. I’ve always been comfortable with more conventional feminine ways of seeing and being in the world. But now my head and heart are also becoming suffused with metaphors about avoiding battle through preparation and strategy; or about maintaining my kamae (stance) under threat of attack; and protecting myself through proper ma’ai (combative distance).
In this way, I’m changing as a result—becoming more open and rounded as a person, as well as more confident. My body language has changed noticeably, and I’m less scared of things, or likely to hold back from new experiences.
I’ve experienced a close relationship with a man without ever wondering “where things are going.”
I think that women can often make mistakes in their relationships with men, if we lose sight of enjoying what’s simply happening in the moment, and start worrying about where things are going. (I should know, having of course done this myself.) Either because we so badly want things to “work out” with him; or because we don’t want anything to happen with a good friend, but are anxious that he may end up wanting “something more”.
I’m sure I’ve seen advice on this in magazines or wherever, advising women to just calm down, go with the flow, see what unfolds and forget about chasing or otherwise trying to control outcomes. But in reality, can anyone really keep their emotions in check and do this?
Well yes you can, when all the right boundaries are firmly in place. Dating someone from your dojo can so often be such a bad idea, that many people (women especially in my experience) will be very wary of it. As one female martial artist says,
I made a promise when I came in here that I wouldn’t ever get involved romantically with anyone in the club and it’s the best decision I could’ve made… I know I’ve got much more respect through never having been involved with anyone. (Helen) 
In my case, I have an additional layer of security, in that my sensei is married—and his wife and kids are part of the dojo. In a sense, I take his wife as my barometer. Basically, all the time she’s clearly pleased to see me and we have a lovely time together (sometimes without him), I have assurance that nothing’s amiss, and no boundaries are being threatened. So let’s keep it that way!
So I’ve had this strange experience of growing close to a man over time, but never suffering any of the stress that often goes with either dating, or so-called “friend-zoning” and wondering about where this is going or what he might be after. This relationship is all in the immediate present, and it’s completely pain and stress-free. If only all of life could be this simple!
He’s taught me how to feel and express aggression in a positive, constructive way
Many women grow up believing that they shouldn’t feel or show aggression. But a good martial arts instructor (male or female) teaches you to get in touch with your fighting spirit—and openly express it.
This is more important than we might always realize. The child psychologist D.W. Winnicot believed that all babies absolutely need to experience expressing their own aggression—and having their mother survive their aggressive behavior—in order to progress with healthy human development. But, as Leah Hager Cohen says,
By the time they are one or two, girls are receiving the opposite message: that the world will not withstand their attacks. Sharon Lamb [writes]: ‘Girls and women fear that their anger could destroy others . . . that to express anger threatens annihilation’ […] Study after study shows that parents and teachers, wittingly or not, stifle aggression in girls and encourage it in boys”. 
Cohen also explores the ways in which women and girls redirect their aggression as a result. Because it doesn’t actually disappear, and can often show up as gossiping and bitchiness, anorexia, self-harm or depression.
For this reason, I believe that the role of martial arts in liberating healthy forms of aggression in women can be wonderful indeed. Personally, I find it the most empowering feeling, to physically unleash yourself on a sensei or any other training partner, who can take care of themselves and safely absorb the attacks you launch at them.
Although this might be hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it, it really does give you the most overwhelming sense of security.
If my aggression goes bad, I know he can handle it—like a kind of later-life surrogate father figure
This relates to the point above.
All my life I’ve found it hard to express negative feelings, especially anger. So I’ve tended to shy away from it, and be gentle by default.
But one day I arrived at class in an inexplicable (to me) bad mood, and lashed out verbally at Sensei. It was the weirdest experience ever though. Every time I tried to be aggressive, there seemed to be nothing there to attack.
All he did was model unwavering calmness and kindness; and I felt so sorry and ashamed afterwards, that I never did it again. And because he wouldn’t give me any foothold at all for that anger, it just kept slipping around, unable to take hold, until even I knew it didn’t make any sense, and gave up trying.
It was a new, and very meaningful experience. No one in my life (including my own parents as a child) would ever have been able to handle me being angry like that; and so I’ve just never really done it. But somehow it felt wonderfully safe to be spiky and irrational like that around Sensei, knowing that he was able to absorb and neutralize it safely; would not hurt me back; and would not let me destroy either myself or him with my anger.
I believe that getting angry wouldn’t be safe like that with many people, as they could very quickly get sucked in to the viciousness too, and start to hurt you back.
Later I asked him what had actually happened. Because I would love to be like that—to have someone sniping at you, but to let their attacks just keep sliding off until they give up. Here’s an extract from the email he wrote:
[…] You did nothing to make me fear you and so there was no need to react.
The second is to know your enemy (in this case you), this is metaphorically speaking, I do not see you as my enemy but here you attack with your words, I understand why you are attacking and I can use one of the elements to react, in this case void.  So you attack but there is nothing there to attack and so as you say you cannot get a foothold, and so in the end the attack will subside as there is less power to attack.
Finally it is understanding what is driving the attacks, in this case it is the realization that it is Valentine’s Day and certain times in the year will trigger memories and that you need to somehow manage these emotions that come unwanted. In this case you were the same around Christmas, I would suspect you will be the same around your and [name]’s birthday and certain other days that have meaning. Time will heal these.
[When under attack like this] you have two options:
- Allow the waves to beat upon you knowing that the storm will eventually die out and the sea does not mean to harm you it just is.
- Get involved deeply and drown in the depths of the sea..
You need to realize two things:
- There is a need to let out the anger of the emotion at someone
- There is no malice in what is done and little understanding but just a need to get it out.
Hope this helps, and do not worry I understand what is going on 🙂
He isn’t threatened if I chase my dreams and grow—in fact he helps me do it
Towards the end of last year, I started to blog about martial arts. I tried to share it with a few close family members and friends, but no one was really interested. So I soon gave up even mentioning it.
I now understand that this is a pretty common experience for people who start writing. Dan Blank (and others too) suggest that this can often be because the people close to you feel threatened in a way, as it brings them face to face with their own unlived dreams. Also, these people have you categorized in a certain way, and it can feel unpleasant and scary for them when you start to change. 
So it’s nothing personal; it’s more about their own pain and fears. I accept that.
But Sensei thinks all my blogging aspirations are great! I first mentioned it to him in 2014 as an impossible dream, and he never let it drop until I finally took the plunge. To date he is the only person in my inner circle who has properly read and given feedback on any of the posts I’ve written.
He’s also been very open to learning from reading things I’ve written, and has made changes to the way he teaches women and girls as a result.
Because even though we’re so close, he’s obviously not family, and not even quite a friend as such. So I guess he has no reason to feel personally threatened by my chasing my dreams. In fact, he actively WANTS his students to go out and chase their dreams; and WANTS us to change as people. Nothing makes him happier! And this is not just in terms of our training, but in every aspect of our lives.
So again, this is a different type of relationship to anything else I have with anyone else; and it feels incredibly rare, precious and empowering.
And above all—he’s teaching me how to fight!
Let’s not forget this point, as this is the title of the article, and in many ways this is the heart of it all.
First of all, the literal fighting. After all, I am learning a martial art from him! I can’t even tell you what this has done for me, in terms of physical, mental and emotional control and confidence. It feels like changing and growing and becoming happier and stronger every single day of my life.
He also helps me fight and win off the mat too. To give a tough example, a couple of years ago I was due to give evidence in a court case; and I was absolutely terrified. In this case, my wise and wonderful girlfriends did everything they could to support, but it just wasn’t enough. Because all their love and care, and telling me I’d be great and deserved to do well was doing nothing at all to actually release the source of my stress and fear.
This was not their fault in the slightest. All of us were just out of our depth.
Then I asked Sensei for help. He got straight on the phone to one of his many martial arts friends—a police officer who does tons of supporting witnesses in court—and called me right back with a fantastic list of practical tips on body language, eye contact and general mindset and demeanor. I eagerly wrote down every word he said, trusting his friend’s advice completely although I’d never met the guy.
I was still very scared, but the most paralysing aspect of the fear had subsided, and I felt far better equipped now to handle this daunting situation.
A final thought
So to conclude, if you’re reading this and you already mentor or otherwise guide a woman or indeed a man—thank you so much! And it may just be the case that their gratitude to you runs as deep as mine does to Sensei, even if they have never explicitly told you.
If coaching or mentoring is something you’re not yet doing, but you’d like to do—just go for it! It doesn’t actually matter if you’re a man or woman reading this; or whether you want to coach or mentor a man or a woman, girl or a boy. It’s all great for changing lives.
But in my case, I’ve specifically benefitted such a lot by being taught and mentored by a man; and that’s the life-changing relationship I am sharing and celebrating with you in this story . . .
 Dr Alex Channon. (2012). Way of the discourse; mixed-sex martial arts and the subversion of gender. Available at: https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/bitstream/2134/9756/2/Thesis-2012-Channon – Page 184
 Leah Hager Cohen. (2005). Without Apology: Girls, Women and the Desire to Fight. Pages 67-8
 He is referring to the mystical Godai or five elements: Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Void: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_elements_(Japanese_philosophy)
 Dan Blank. (2012). Why Many Writers Get Little Support From Friends and Family. Available at: http://wegrowmedia.com/why-many-writers-get-little-support-from-friends-and-family/
Photo: Getty Images