Why should sexuality be a barrier to martial arts?

Anna Lamche caught up with the LGBT+ club thriving after the Covid lockdown

Friday, 4th February — By Anna Lamche

sandy 2015 - credit Ishigaki Jujitsu

Sandy Mackay

A MARTIAL arts club for LGBT+ people has bounced back after a Covid slump, with new membership levels leaving the president “amazed.”

Sandy Mackay is the President of the Ishigaki Jujitsu Club, a “gay-run” martial arts club operating from Finsbury Leisure Centre.

“We now have 93 members, we’re a bit amazed because membership had fallen over the pandemic – everyone’s had elapsed,” he said.

Within the first month of reopening after the lockdown, more than 50 people had rejoined the club, with “significant” numbers of new people joining too.

“We get people who already know martial arts and are in the LGBT+ community, but for the biggest group, the appeal is having an awareness of how to defend yourself on the street or indoors – because violence doesn’t always happen on the street,” he said.

New joiners are asked why they want to learn Jujitsu.

“People bond because they’re describing similar things – their motivation is that they were attacked, or something nearly got physical,” Mr Mackay said.

But he stressed that this is not unique to members of the LGBT+ community.

“From speaking to other Jujitsu clubs, lots of people join because they feel [learning a martial art] would give them more confidence they would be able to defend themselves,” he said.

Ishigaki Jujitsu was formed in 1994 by four people hoping to create an environment in which sexuality did not feel like a barrier to training.

Mr Mackay joined the club within a year of its formation; he had been training in Judo Dojo, but experienced “a few instances of words and attitudes towards gay people” that he “wasn’t very comfortable with.”

“In a class where I was training, a new person arrived, but he left after 20 minutes. The instructor said: ‘We don’t need anyone like that in our club’. I didn’t get what he meant but later, I was told the new person had been gay,” Mr Mackay said.

“I suspect the instructor made him feel uncomfortable, so he left. I wasn’t out at the time, but I wasn’t consciously hiding it either.

“I decided I wanted an environment I could train in comfortably.”

He added: “There was no internet then, so I found [Ishigaki Jujitsu] in the back of the LGBT Time Out listings – and I’ve been here ever since.

“The four people who formed the club had very similar experiences to me: nothing that was offensively in-your-face-homophobic, but something that doesn’t make you feel comfortable.”

The club provides training for all levels and abilities, from beginners to blackbelts.

Mr Mackay said he would encourage anyone to try a “new joiners” session.

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