Women in Martial Arts: A Roundtable


    Violence against women and girls is a worldwide problem, even if the question of whether the level of violence is increasing is debatable. By some estimates, one out of three women will experience some form of domestic violence. Martial arts has a unique role to play in giving women and girls essential tools for stemming violence on personal, social, and cultural levels. This prompts the question: Why does martial arts teaching and practice continue to be dominated by men? Why aren’t more girls and women studying martial arts?  

     The search for answers to these questions led me to convene a roundtable of highly experienced and accomplished female martial artists in the fall of 2012. All these women have practiced and taught martial arts for more than two decades with cumulative experience of more than 150 years. All have advanced black belt degrees, and they include owners of martial arts schools, practitioners of multiple martial arts, and, in at least two cases, developers of self-defense curricula focused on women. Their insights draw on a wide range of martial arts, including Ninjutsu, To-Shin Do, Ninpo, Kempo Karate, Tae Kwan Do, Tai Chi, Tang Soo Do, Hapkido, and Escrima as well as boxing and kick-boxing. Thus, the insights and lessons learned are applicable to the self-defense and martial arts communities more generally. 

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About the Forum Participants

Rumiko Hayes

 Rumiko Hayes is a native of Japan and co-founder with Stephen K. Hayes of the martial art of To-Shin Do ( Their affiliated schools have graduated more than 1,000 black belts since its founding in 1997. A long-time student of Ninjutsu Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi, she is also the mother of two grown children, both female, who have earned black belts.   

Tori Eldridge

 Tori Eldridge ( is a practitioner of To-Shin Do (5th Degree black belt) and author of Empowered Living: A Guide to Physical and Emotional Protection among other works. She has a rich and varied career as an entrepreneur, teacher, actress/singer/dancer on Broadway, TV and film, a screenwriter and novelist.   

Theresa Murphy

 Theresa Murphy is co-owner of Shinobi Martial Arts Center ( in Plaistow, New Hampshire and has earned black belts in To-Shin Do (3rd Degree), Bujinkan Ninjutsu, and Kempo Karate (where she also served as chief instructor in her dojo). She has also studied Tae Kwon Do, Tai Chi, and Shotokan Karate. Theresa is the co-founder of the self-defense curriculum Lessons In Violence Evasion (LIVE).   

Laura Giancarlo

 Laura Giancarlo has been training for the last 27 years in the various Ninja arts as well as other martial arts. She has earned black belts in To-Shin Do (5th degree), Bujinkan Ninjutsu, Okinawan Shorin ryu, and Tae Kwon Do. An athlete all her life, Laura has participated in a variety of sports including gymnastics, dance, yoga, softball, collegiate cheerleading. She has also served as an instructor of martial arts and fitness classes. She lives with her husband in West Chapel, Florida with her husband where she enjoys teaching science to middle school students.   

Mary Stevens

 Mary Stevens  is the owner of the Quest Center for Martial Arts ( in Boulder, Colorado, and earned her black belt in To-Shin Do (4th Degree).   

Kriss Hurdle

 Kriss Hurdle co-owns Newbury Park Martial Arts Center ( where she holds the title of head kunoichi. She is a 4th Dan in To-Shin Do and holds Black Belts in Tang Soo Do, Hapkido and Escrima. Her degree is in Marketing Management with additional background in Communications, personal training, spinning and group exercise instruction. She is a Reiki Master and specializes in self-protection and self-development and energy work for women, men and children. She is a proud Mom of two and happily married for almost 18 years.