16 December 2004
Filipino Woman in Tae Kwon Do
Over the past four hundred years, Filipinos have developed a form of martial arts, and after perfecting this art, called Arnis. In 1565 A.D., when Spain took control of the Philippines, Filipinos fought hard, modifying their fighting systems to mimic the Spanish's sword and dagger method, however they were no match for the Spanish’s military capability. (Spanish Colony) In order to preserve their art, Arnis, the art of stick fighting, Filipinos practiced in secret.
Annette Dancel, a first generation American Filipino woman born in California, shared a passion for martial arts, the way many Filipinos do. However, she took the fervor she has for martial arts in a direction most Filipinos do not; she mastered the Korean martial art. Motivated to make a difference in her own life and an impact on others, Dancel dedicated herself to the art of Tae Kwon Do. In an interview with Annette Dancel, many issues were questioned that explain how she fits in the continuum of Filipino American history including the following:
1. What motivated Dancel to take Tae Kwon Do rather than Arnis?
2. What discriminations were faced as a Filipino woman in a Korean art?
3. What is it like going back to the Philippines?
4. How do you fit into our American society as a Filipino American with your accomplishments in Tae Kwon Do?
This dissertation of how tae kwon do changed Dancel’s life focuses on these four questions.
What motivated Dancel to take
Tae Kwon Do rather than Arnis?
The Korean martial art of Tae Kwon Do is ninety percent kicks and ten percent hands. (Dancel, Personal Interview, Oct. 2004) Tae Kwon Do is an extremely physical male dominant sport that unlike many other forms of martial arts focuses on the power of their various styles of kicks. While Arnis does contain a few kicks, this art focuses on fighting with weapons, especially sticks, while Tae Kwon Do focuses on ostentatious kicks while fighting with bare hands and feet.
When Dancel was only fifteen years of age, she would like any other teenage girl, go out with the boys everyday after school. Her best friend however, would head over to a Tae Kwon Do dojo and dedicate herself to practicing tae kwon do every day. One day, Dancel wondering where her best friend would disappear to after school, went with her best friend to one of her classes. Ever since she watched that one class, Net knew she wanted to train hard like her best friend and practice the art of Tae Kwon Do. At first sight, the variety of flashy kicks and different self-defense drills caught her attention, and she knew she would too join the class. Being a high school student however, she felt she was “too cool” to do so. It took about a good two years for Dancel to get the courage to get out onto the tae kwon do floor and start training.
Discrimination as a Filipino American
woman practicing a Korean art?
With Tae Kwon Do being a male dominant sport, Net faced many different types of discrimination. The men in her class picked on her as well as the other women in the class because they knew that they were stronger, and that they had a slight advantage over the women. However, on a positive outcome, Dancel also benefited from this experience because she was never treated differently than the men in the class. Dancel’s instructor never treated her any different than the other students in the class, regardless of race and gender. Dancel was instructed to do the same amount of exercises, the same warm-ups, the same amount of pushups and pull-ups in the same amount of time and no different than the men would. Because of this impartial training from her instructor, Dancel has not only herself but also her instructor to thank, for the strong motivated fighter she is today.
Even more so discriminatory than being a female, was being a Filipino American Koreans take a large amount of pride in Tae Kwon Do; the Korean art. In Dancel’s class, Korean students felt the need to pick on the students that were not Korean, because Tae Kwon Do was not their origin martial art. The Korean students felt that they had first priority to practice time, the teacher’s attention, and that they were better than the other students. Being a woman in a martial art made her an even larger target to pick on. Dancel however, did not let any of these prejudice attacks stop her from training hard and earning her respect while mastering the ranks. Determined to achieve her black belt, and motivated to keep training, she dedicated herself, trained hard, and earned the respect of her classmates and instructors. Her exceptional training and dedication also showed when she was offered the position on choreographing demonstrations for the demo team and the S.W.A.T, the Special Winning
Dancel takes a lot of pride in being a woman in a martial art and feels it necessary for more women to take these leadership roles. In the Philippines, gender roles are very significant and apparent. Women play a large role in the family, making household decisions, working, taking care of the children and family, and maintaining the house. Unlike the United States, women and men are equally seen as the breadwinner of the family. In the Philippines, when Filipino families immigrate to the United States, it is usually the woman that comes to the United States first, contrasting gender roles with the wife and the husband. (Espiritu 132) Even though equality is becoming more and more apparent in gender roles, men are still seen as the family breadwinner. (Espiritu 141) This is why Dancel feels it so important for women to take pride in what they do, and to take leadership roles in our society.
What is it like going back
to the Philippines?
In the Philippines, America is portrayed as the land of wealth, opportunity, and a place that provides a chance for a better life. Filipinos living in the Philippines look up to those who do come to the United States, and see these people as “those who have made it.” (Brainard and Litton 167) Even those who have blue-collared jobs or that contain odd jobs, such as being a custodian or a manager at McDonalds, are praised and looked up to as wealthy in the Philippines. For many migrants, the trip home is a chance for public validation and recognition in their own country of origin. (Espiritu 86)
However, some of the Filipinos who do make it to the United States do not like their experience in the states. Some Filipinos face discrimination they would not have expected in America, and most come to the United States to find the wealth that they never grasp because of the uneven distribution of wealth amongst the affluent and the less fortunate. Some of these Filipinos that return home also expose the truths about the promise of America, even it if does diminish their own status in the process. (Espiritu 92)
Dancel has been to the Philippines to visit families and friends once before in her life, and she plans to go again next year. In the Philippines, the respect she receives from her family and friends are phenomenal. Being a Filipino American born in the United States gives her a high status when she returns home to visit family and friends. Not only do family and friends in the Philippines look up to Dancel for being successful in the United States, but they also praise for being a successful woman in a male dominant sport. Dancel takes an enormous amount of pride in the respect that she is given through family and friends back in the Philippines, and hopes to make a difference in their lives the way she impacts the lives of her students here in the United States through her training and her wise words.
Filipinos in the United States try to visit their homeland as often as possible. However, with the hectic schedule most Americans endure, that does not permit a whole lot of time to visit family and friends in the Philippines often. The Filipinos who do come to the United States, the land of wealth, feel obligated to send money or balikbayan boxes home, filled with goods and items from the United States, periodically, to help their less fortunate family on the islands. (Espiritu 97) This gesture of sending valuables home to family back in the Philippines stresses the close bond the Filipino community holds, even when separated by the states.
How do you fit into our American society as a
Filipino American with your accomplishments
in Tae Kwon Do?
As a Filipino American that has mastered Tae Kwon Do, and still training, Dancel feels that she fits into our American society just fine. She takes great pride in having accomplished her goal of becoming an instructor in the martial arts. Dancel feels fitting into our American society was not as difficult for her as it may have been for a Filipino person not born here in America.
As an American born Filipino, Dancel feels that she fits into Filipino history as a rarity, because of the accomplishments she has succeeded as a black belt instructor in Tae Kwon Do. Dancel feels that she is a rarity because not many women are able to master a male dominant sport, let alone, a Filipino woman in a Korean art.
Although Dancel has always lived the life of an American woman, she still and has always upheld the traditions of her Filipino culture. Dancel celebrated her eighteenth birthday and had a debut, a large party celebrating the transition of a young Filipino girl into womanhood, she cooks and eats Filipino food often, and she believes in many Filipino superstitions such as not being able to give shoes as a gift without receiving change, because if change is not given back, the person would walk right out of your life. Dancel goes out to Filipino clubs where her Filipino friends and herself could enjoy themselves outside work. The Filipino community bond for Dancel, even as an American, is very apparent in Dancel’s everyday life and routines. Dancel is Filipino, and upholds her family origins, as well as she is an American. However, she would not be represented correctly if not titled as both, a true “Filipino American.”
Brainard Manguerra C and Litton, Edmundo F. Journey of 100 Years: Reflections on the Centennial of Philippine Independence. Michigan. 1999
Dancel, Annette. Personal Interview. 18 October 2004.
Espiritu, Yen Le. Home Bound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities, and Countries. London, England, 2003
Kombat Instruments Limited. A Short History of Filipino Martial Arts. November 2000. http://www.bloodsport.com/history.htm
Spanish Colony. University of Alberta. December 1999. http://www.ualberta.ca/~vmitchel/fw2.html.