I was speaking with a fellow high-ranking woman martial artist with significant high-level competition experience over 17 years, and in her experience it was fairly common for women to cry during an intense sparring session.
In her opinion, this was not a show of weakness, but a common and totally acceptable reaction to intensity and didn’t actually diminish the woman’s effectiveness in the ring.
This jives with studies about how and why women cry when they are angry. However, in some male-dominated spaces, crying during sparring can be interpreted as weakness or not being ready or confident.
What are your experiences with crying during martial arts sparring? Have you ever cried when sparing? How did you feel about it? How did others take it?
I was stunned and startled when I started crying during the ultimate test of my Hapkido during my black belt testing in October. Four men came at me with various attacks (pushes, punches, grabs, kicks) and my task was to improvise to use my techniques to neutralize them one by one, over and over and over.
A few seconds in, my ki-yaps turned to screams and sobs. My opponents were confused, but complied as I kept waving them to continue through the tears. In my head, I was mortified. So embarrassed. I just couldn’t believe I was crying during my black belt test - the moment where I had to prove myself as a warrior of control and fluidity, an example of calm and practice, a woman confident.
The judges stopped me and asked if I was alright. I tried to assure them that I absolutely was and that I wanted to continue. They allowed me to and before I knew it, it was over.
I heard second-hand that the judges had no idea what to do with me - only one person spoke out on my behalf concerning the crying. He seemed to understand that martial arts was an expressive experience for me.
Afterwards, to my face, many people who’d observed my testing said things about me being brave, or impressive, and that they were proud. But all I could feel for a long time was that they were being cajoling and pitying, because I was still so embarrassed.
In my head and heart I knew that I did good hapkido, that crying shouldn’t matter, that I didn’t give up, that I absolutely was not afraid, or sad, or hurt. What I felt was ferociousness.
Now that I’ve heard that it’s not all that uncommon, that crying isn’t a bizarre reaction to intensity, I feel like that insecurity is finally leaving.