Black-belt instructor Sandra Coffey believes in the benefits of karate: it teaches discipline, self-assurance and physical strength. But for many years she saw her classes filled almost exclusively with boys.
Figuring that perhaps girls and women were intimidated by training with boys, she launched Yoshukan Karate Excellence, an all-girls’ dojo, in January 2013.
She feels that girls thrive on the challenge of learning the precise, complex moves and routines of karate.
"It's a huge confidence builder for them," she said. "They start out thinking that they can't do it, but as they start training and moving up the levels, they really come alive."
Coffey says that while many boys enjoy a military approach to karate instruction, girls prefer a more cerebral approach. They excel at Kata, or mastering choreographed routines of blocks, kicks and punches, rather than heavy sparring or pad work.
"Girls are often stimulated by learning to refine the techniques, and understanding the reasons behind them," Coffey said. "They're more detail-oriented than boys."
Coffey offers Yoshukan karate classes for girls and women of all ages and all levels in her N.D.G. school. All of her classes contain a self-defence component, designed to help girls release themselves if they are grabbed or accosted.
Karate is a challenging sport to learn, Coffey said. Moving up to each new belt requires mastering increasingly complex moves and demonstrating them in front of a panel of judges – a test of poise and physical and mental strength. But Coffey believes that it allows girls and women to push their limits and discover new reserves of strength within themselves.
"Karate is a voyage of self-discovery," she said. "And it translates into better schoolwork, perseverance, and confidence in other areas of life."