Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
Behind every great man there is a great woman.
In a Martial Arts family, this saying could easily be translated to "Behind every great Master, there is a great woman." This holds true for masters of either gender. If you look at many major Martial Arts families, you will find behind the great masters a woman who is there to support him or her. In fact, it is rare that a Martial Arts master will succeed without the support of their mother or wife or some influencing female figure in his or her life. It is through the support and encouragement of this unsung heroine that Martial Arts can flourish.
In my style, we have a special name for the woman that holds this position. She is known as the "Simo". In Chinese, the word literally means “teacher’s wife.” She is responsible for handling much of the auxiliary work that is associated with running a Martial Arts family. This includes keeping everyone connected, organizing and coordinating schedules, and overall ensuring that people truly feel a part of the family.
Her functions are in fact very similar to what the role of a Simo was even back in many ancient Eastern cultures, where much of Martial Arts derive. In ancient China, men would go out into the world to do work and earn money. However, the affairs of the house would be handled by the woman. So when a master took on a new Martial Arts student, it was the woman’s duties to see to their needs outside of the dojo floor. That included feeding, clothing, and maintaining the overall well-being of the students so they would be physically able to train.
Recently, I watched a movie about the famous Wing Chun master, Ip Man. During the movie, it struck me that the limitations and eventual success of this great man was in part driven by his wife's attitudes towards his training. At the start of the movie, she is indifferent, and almost hostile, towards his Martial Arts. This leads him to reframe from training or participating in all that was happening about him. But his nature called to him and at the end he meets success with his wife’s full support of his Martial Arts. If she had not been able to accept his Martial Arts and provide him with her full support, it is likely that after the fateful events of his life captured in the movie, he would not have gone on to teach others and become the renowned teacher he did.
So, if you study Martial Arts, look around you and you will undoubtedly find a supportive woman behind your master. This holds true even if your master is female. Somewhere behind every great Martial Arts master is a woman, a Simo, that is there to support them and ensure the needs of the family are meet so that the Martial Arts may truly flourish.