In fiction, in fantasy, and in real life, men and women should train together. Equally. If we can share a planet, we can share interests. Asgarda, a women’s martial arts commune in Eastern Europe, is a well-intentioned vision of what NOT to do.
A few weeks ago I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine that read, “FIERCE LADIES DOING FIERCE THINGS, have you heard of this?!?!?!?” which brought me to this site: Asgarda | PLANET°
“Photography by Guillaume Herbaut In the Ukraine, a country where females are victims of sexual trafficking and gender oppression, a new tribe of empowered women is emerging.”
The web-site goes on to describe the feminist lifestyle these women have adopted in the isolation of the Carpathian Mountains. Their leader is a woman named Katerina Tarnouska. Tarnouska was inspired by Ukrainian politician Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko; who served two terms as Prime Minister, lead the “Fatherland” party and co-led the Orange Revolution. I don’t know that calling them amazons is appropriate because their warriorship seems to be more about hype for a summer-camp rather than a mental/physical practice.
Guillaume Herbaut’s photos looked strange. The girls are model-thin. The women I trained with in China were thin also, but they were built for speed and had lots of visible muscle mass. The Asgarda girls are bony. They’re a little limp-wristed when they hold the weapons. Their martial arts instructor, Volodymyr Stepanovytch, is a man. There’s no evidence that they get their food and other supplies from women’s groups so the claim of “autonomy from men” is hazy at best.
As far as shots of a martial arts camp, there’s a massive difference between this:
There’s a big difference between training and a pose, re-enforced by what they chose to wear. Martial arts poses should demonstrate balance, strength and flexibility — the results of training, not the fantasy of training.
As I flipped through the rest of the photos, and I’m disappointed to say that this whole thing seems bogus. In a country where sex-trafficking is still a problem, a shaved head, boxing gloves and a glower won’t cut it as self defense. Martial arts are all well and good, but if slavers really want to take you, they’ll have guns.
Context is important. As we already discussed, warriors need the right tools for the right job. The pleather halter top and skirt numbers make it more likely you’ll end up on a Russian Brides web site.
Coilhouse featured a video of the girls performing, and I must say their technique is sloppy. Even if it were just dance. I did find it interesting that their teacher practices “Combat Hopak,” which is a blend of Japanese Karate and Ukranian traditional dance. Capoiera (Brazillian dance + music + martial arts) and Tricking (martial arts + gymnastics) are two examples of martial arts that integrated dancing, so maybe Hopak is going in that direction.
The purpose of traditional martial arts training is to fine-tune yourself, and dance can accomplish the same goal. Training shows you all of the tools in your toolbox on physical, mental, and spiritual levels. When you’re physically strong enough, and your hand is steady enough, you can start building your inner self with those tools. Exercise engages your mind and body, while discipline and ritual engage your soul.
It’s more likely that Asgarda was geared toward that kind of personal development rather than the hardcore discipline I saw in other places. Coilhouse pointed out that many of the girls were college students enjoying a summer camp to promote feminist values. The Telegraph interviewed Tymoshenko, who expressed a passion for encouraging young women on this path of empowerment and self-determination. After digging around Asgarda’s Russian web site with the help of a translator, it confirmed that the program is aimed at feminist and female-empowerment workshops. One particularly lighthearted example was this:
“23 2008 – Freckles April 27 Amazons with gopakivtsyami Shevchenko celebrated the freckles in the grove. First, circle dances, singing freckles, amused themselves in the game, followed by another exhibition.”
Back in 2009 there were over 150 members. Today, I think it’s been shut down. The Sensationalist PR may have contributed to that, just as it has backfired with the Iran Ninjitsu Club. The best way to support feminist goals is to transform them into humanist goals like training men and women side-by-side. We’re stronger when we stand together.