Martial Arts

Ascent of a woman: Shelia Haddad


15th Dan Shelia Haddad has been training in marital arts since 1989. Her insights into budo come from a unique combination of study in psychology, work in energy medicine, and teaching for over 20 years.

I stole a few minutes with her at the Kunoichi Taikai, to talk about self-defense, being tested, and what being a warrior means to her.

“When I started training I had a lot of feminine strengths; being a mother, being involved in the healing arts and working in psychology. I needed to develop my more masculine side, the ‘warrior spirit’.

My definition of a warrior is that part of myself that steps forward to take care of the rest of me, like the mother, the sister, the wife etc. That’s what martial arts training has done for me.

Sheila Haddad
Sheila Hadded pictured in the Budokan, Tokyo, Japan

Healing and martial arts complement each other. A lot of the masters started off tough and hard, and as they got older they became interested in the healing aspect of the body. I think that’s a natural function of ageing and after years of hard training, the body can’t do what it could when younger.As the joints ache, and muscles hurt, the quest becomes, ‘how can we be well and keep training’.

Of course psychology touches on our martial art training too. You’ve got to be able to read people, read into situations and know appropriate responses, and not always physical ones.

When I teach self-defense courses, I teach the women a lot of psychology. It’s important to know oneself first. I explain the difference between being powerful, powerless and empowered. If you’re feeling powerful, power comes from outside you, and if you lose whatever it is that gives you that sense of being powerful, you feel powerless. No one likes that feeling and we will find a way to get away from it, usually by control or domination, once again to be in the “powerful” position. That puts us back in the never-ending cycle. But being empowered is you being the source of power, so you can’t lose it.

The self-defense courses can be short, but the women are not the same walking out the door afterwards, as when they walked in. It is lasting transformation, because it isn’t in the head. We spend time moving from the intellect to the body. Once in the body, it’s yours, you own it. I think in Bujinkan training this process happens slowly and over a long period of time, and if you stick with it you can’t help but feel that sense of being empowered.

Through my training I’ve developed more awareness of danger or an awareness of being “tested” or “checked out”. I travel often to other countries, and I can trust my intuition. When I look around, I look around in a way that if somebody is watching me, they sense that I’m not someone they want to pick on.

I have been tested as woman instructor, no question. When I sense that, I drop my soft nature and I have to be very hard, very direct and very painful. That is because that’s what they want to see, and sometimes you have to do that to demand respect. But there are times (most times), when it’s not worth the trouble, when it’s not worth my time to prove myself. They get it or they don’t, and I don’t need to care. One advantage to my getting older, it happens much less often now, this need of someone to test me.

Martial arts is a very unique field and takes a unique woman to even be interested in it. I would only encourage a woman if she were clear on what was she wanted to get out of being there. So many women I worked with came in the dojo because they want to learn to defend themselves. I say that’s a good start, but it’s a long road through martial art training. If you want just self-defense, then take some self-defense classes.

If you want something that’s really a path that you can walk for your lifetime, achieve and discover many things along the way, then martial arts could be it.”

Find out more about Shelia Haddad’s seminars and photography. 

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