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The Martial Art Sisterhood

There is an unspoken layer of family in martial arts. It is quiet, privileged, and appears more readily in moments of crisis, but can reveal itself in everyday martial art matters, too. Women martial artists of all walks, rank, background and nationalities share it.

“Thank you, sister,” one of them says. “Great photos, sister,” another says.

It is the sisterhood, and it exists because it is linked by femininity, womanhood, and martial arts. Its fibers run deep, like the strongest of ropes.

When a woman martial artist realizes that for the first time another woman has called her “sister,” she suddenly feels a part of something massively important. She is not alone. She has a place to turn, another woman who understands her thoughts and feelings and martial art dreams.

Although overshadowed by masculinity in a martial art world, martial art women dig deep to make their way. In reality, women can sometimes be defensive, bitter, or jealous with each other, but here in the martial art spectrum, their mutual respect parlay all of that and they rarely break the bond of sisterhood.

When worried about something, they turn to each other. When they want to share a topic, they reach out to each other. When one is in trouble, they band together. Even though all of this is done via social media, its significance is that they are a greater force and can push through negativity, despair, and unwanted advances, together. They can contend against difficulties that come their way because the situations feel familiar.

The unspoken sisterhood is not about style or rank. Every woman becomes a part of the sisterhood when she steps foot in the dojang/dojo. Admission is free. There are no dues. And, while there may still be a competitive edge among women in life, in martial arts it becomes a healthy desire to excel in whatever direction is important to them.

Many times, I have made new friends on social media, and instantly we cherish the fact that we are sisters of sorts. My name, “Andrea,” is often replaced with “sister” during the conversation, and I gladly reciprocate. The underlying message is, “Let’s protect each other, if necessary.” By embracing the sisterhood, we confirm that commitment.

This is a family of women who hold a special place in the martial art culture and with each other. Not all that long ago, we had no place in martial arts. We were not even allowed to learn. Times have changed and we now enjoy a solidarity with other women who understand life from a woman’s perspective.

I was pregnant with my second son when I tested for my 2nd degree black belt. No man can ever experience that, but every woman can relate to it. It is not the practice of martial arts, but the womanly perspective that brings us all to the sisterhood.

If you are a man martial artist, you are just as important to me as the women. This is not about some rigid martial art criteria that excludes the importance of men. It is not much unlike the bond that men create with each other through their martial art practice. I’ve seen them call each other, “brother,” too.

When all is said and done, we martial artists are part of one big family. When you think of the family, there are often siblings, sometimes girls, sometimes boys. They each bring valuable insights, behaviors, anecdotes, and creativity to the table. The same happens in martial arts. The sisterhood is simply a part of the whole family.

The “sisterhood” has evolved as a strong component to the family. Once a woman martial artist calls me sister, I know I am home.




My new book, The Martial Arts Woman, is now available. Purchase through my e-commerce store: or on Amazon:

This book shares the stories and insights of more than twenty-five women in the martial arts, and how they apply martial arts to their lives.

Unlike most other martial art books, the reader will catch a glimpse into the brave and empowered woman who dares to be all that she can be. Many of these women had to overcome great societal or personal challenges to break into the men’s world of martial arts. This book will motivate and inspire you to go after your goals in life and to fight through every challenge and defeat every obstacle. The Martial Arts Woman will open your eyes to the power of the human spirit and the martial art mindset that dwells in each of us!
Andrea F. Harkins is a writer, motivator, life coach, martial artist, and public speaker. Her book, The Martial Arts Woman, is now available at

6 thoughts on “The Martial Art Sisterhood

  1. This is a GREAT article PLEASE continue to write them.It is essential that ALL realize the power and strength of Sisterhood as well as Brotherhood.The reality is that 1 cannot exist without the other.Its just like the Yin Yang Princple.Let not the color of your Obi or your style or your gender define you but your character and dedication to the ARTS and to Humanity.Your articles are empowering for ALL to see thank you for sharing.

  2. I love your comments from your book. When I joined my “sisters” in CCW when I joined St. Frances Cabrini Church I felt the same way as you did. I felt like I belonged to a special group of women who bonded with me in my search for a deeper understanding in my search for Christ. I had three sisters growing up and now sadly, I only have one left who is in the last stages on her life. That sisterhood was wonderful growing up. The four of us were different in ages but as we grew up, the ages didn’t matter anymore and we grew tighter. I was blessed with different “sisters” in my life. Love and spiritual. All long lasting and all with God at the front.

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