DISCOVERING PASSION: BEVERLY PRATKA
I’d like to share with you a story of a girl who started martial arts at a very young age. She grew up knowing that it was her calling and she never doubted that she would one day make it her career. Unfortunately that story is not mine. If I could travel back in time and tell my younger self that in the future I would become a professional martial artist, she would think I was completely insane.
Growing up I was a tomboy. I would rather play outside in the mud than inside with Barbies, but I never felt like I could truly be myself because I felt like I was supposed to want to be a princess and play tea party. So instead of finding something that I loved, I grew up going to ballet classes and doing things that little girls are “supposed to do”. I never even knew that martial arts was a possibility for me.
Not long after I turned eighteen I met my future husband, Clay Pratka, and he brought me to see his gym that he had just opened, Texas Jeet Kune Do. This was the very first time I had ever even stepped foot in a martial arts school and I was excited about the thought of trying something new. However, I was also pretty nervous seeing as I had never even taken a self-defense class before so I decided to just sit and watch the last few minutes of a class to see what I was getting myself into. It was a Jeet Kune Do class. I watched as the boys all put on gloves and headgear and start punching and kicking each other in the face. Then my husband erupted into a series of lighting fast short punches (a straight blast) that sent his partner flying through the air, across the room, where his head went through the drywall. I decided instantly that this wasn’t for me. Because even though I had grown up a tomboy, I had also grown up with almost zero violence in my life.
I was the oldest child, so I never had any older siblings to beat up on me or teach me about fighting in any way. So you could say seeing it to this extreme for the first time caught me a little off guard. Little did I know, at that moment a seed was planted. The next class came onto the matts, it was a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. As I watched the class get on the ground and playfully roll around I thought, “Okay, I’ll try this first”. But after a few weeks I was bored and I started to think about the first class I had watched.
The concept of Jeet Kune Do intrigued me so I decided to try a class. This one was nothing like the class I had witnessed before (which I later realized was an advanced class on sparring day) and I soon realized the beautiful complexity of it all. They were doing EVERYTHING. We moved seamlessly from kickboxing to the ground then back up to a mass attack scenario and then fighting with weapons. I was in love. It’s hard for me to explain why but it just clicked and I felt as if I had finally found the thing that had been missing from my life. This is what I was meant to do and who I was meant to be.
Over the next 10 years I experienced things that I never could’ve imagined in my wildest dreams of, what I lovingly call, my past life. I trained with some of the most elite martial artists on the planet, including one of the most important people in my life my teacher and mentor, Sifu Singh. I have been lucky enough to assist him with seminars and demonstrations all over the country, travelled to China for training, was featured in several DVD shoots and competed at (and won) a World Championship at Disney World.
On top of it all, I have been blessed with the most miraculous relationship with the man who started this chain of events and introduced me to this world, my amazing husband.
Through training I’ve experienced not only personal growth as an individual martial artist but we’ve also seen growth as a couple. And I realized that a hug is not always a hug… most of the time it’s a choke. (Just a heads up for all you new or aspiring martial arts couples out there!) And if I hadn’t decided to brave that day and try, I would’ve never experienced all those remarkable things. It’s that thought that has driven me to make a change in the martial arts community. I thought, who knows how many women and young girls are out there just like me and have no idea that marital arts is not only a possibility for them but could change their lives.
So the question I started to ask myself is why is martial arts and fighting in general more common or acceptable for men as opposed to women? Most people would say that it’s more in a man’s nature to be more aggressive than a woman. But in all reality it should be just as natural for women to be aggressive as it is for a man.
If you ask any hunter or anyone who knows anything about animals they will tell you the thing you should be the most cautious around is a mother protecting her young. There is nothing scarier than a momma bear or a lioness protecting her cub. All women are all born with that God given animal instinct inside of us but it’s been drilled out of so many because we are made to feel like we should want to be princesses and damsels in distress and being told “Don’t do that! It’s not lady like!” I think if we went back to the time of the cave people the women would be just as ferocious as the men. The cavemen might been bigger and stronger but the cavewomen were just as fierce, especially when protecting their children. And then there’s my personal favorite, the shield maidens, who fought right alongside the Viking men in battle. I realized how empowering it is to hear these stories and think about how strong we can truly be.
Furthermore, I realized how empowering it was take things into my own hands and to learn martial arts. Because to be completely honest I think that what most people consider to be empowerment is complete crap. Women are fighting so hard for respect and equality and they are searching everywhere for some kind of empowerment. They work as hard as they can so they can get paid more and have the nicest house and the fanciest car to make themselves feel superior and they complain about being wronged. But that job, nice house and fancy car means absolutely nothing when you’re on your back being beaten to death, or raped, or your children are being dragged away from you. And you’re never going to truly be respected unless you do something to earn it. Real empowerment doesn’t come from playing the victim, it comes from becoming stronger and more confident and what better way to do that than learning how to protect yourself through martial arts. I felt it was time for women to learn to be their own hero instead of just complaining about being mistreated.
So then I wondered, why aren’t more women training? And even deeper, what are the problems that women who have decided to train are having? I found the biggest problem is that women are being told and taught to fight like men in programs and arts and systems that were created for men by men. Think about a 6’5 250lb man teaching a tiny 5’4 100lb woman combat tactics and strategies. It would be like a bear trying to teach a crane how to fight. It just wouldn’t work. The man is never going to truly understand how the woman has to handle an attack because he has never and will never experience it himself. Now I’m not trying to bash men who want to teach women, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that and I applaud them for it, however for women to truly reach their potential they need to understand how their bodies were designed to fight by learning something that is combat tested and specifically designed for them by women.
After sharing my thoughts with other women, I found their response was, “Well what are we supposed to do? There’s nothing like that out there.” And while it is definitely more rare, it is most certainly out there. One of the most famous people in the world to this day is the legendary martial artist and film star, Bruce Lee. One of the main arts that Bruce trained in was Wing Chun and Wing Chun was, believe it or not, developed by a Shaolin Buddhist nun named Ng Mui. After fleeing the Siu Lam temple she met a young girl by the name of Yim Wing Chun who was being forced into marriage by a warlord. Ng Mui developed an art specifically designed for the small girl to beat the large man. She then named the art after her student. That’s about as significant of a role in martial arts as you can get! No Ng Mui, no Wing Chun, no Bruce Lee. Another famous martial artist, Floro Villabrille, was one of the most feared Kali masters of all time and had over 120 death matches. He was taught not only by a woman, but a blind princess. It is said that when Floro learned from Princess Josephine he was so amazed by her skill and had so much respect for her that even in a time when women were not equal, he was proud to call her his teacher. I found after hearing these immensely inspiring stories that there are some people who deem them incorrect and claim that they are just myths. And my response to them is “Who cares?!?” I believe with my whole heart that these stories are true but even if they weren’t, if it can inspire women all over the world what is it hurting besides your ego?
The other problem I found was the overly girly self-defense programs. I saw women strap on their pink gloves and their pink belts and prance around thinking they were cute. I watched people taking something as serious as learning how to protect yourself or your family and turning it into a novelty. I honestly didn’t know whether I was watching martial arts or a Zumba class. I watched as guys snickered in the corner at how ridiculous it all was and I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed for these women and I was embarrassed that I was being lumped in to the same category as this crap.
I realized that what women needed is a balance. To not be made to feel like they have to fight like a man but still to be taken seriously as strong independent women. It’s about being aware of our strengths and our weaknesses and finding what works best for us. Because at the end of the day it’s not about being better or worse than men. We should be trying to surpass that kind of thinking and transcend gender. One of the most incredible complements that I’ve ever heard my teacher give was “Wow, when you watch her you don’t see a man or a woman, you just see a martial artist, an athlete.”
All these realizations ultimately led to the creation of Lady Cobra JKD. Under the guidance of my teacher Sifu Singh, we have developed the first ever martial art specifically designed for women. It combines the best and most efficient parts of Wing Chun and Kali as well as Savate, a French boot fighting art and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on the ground with a heavy insertion of Kinamotay, the art of uninterrupted biting and gouging. Lady Cobra is not only an art it’s a sisterhood, a community where women can come together in a safe environment and train to bring out their inner lioness. An art that is strong enough for a man and made by a women. And for all the female masters, black belts and instructors, it is a program that you can implement into your own schools and arts. Join us in this revolution of women’s martial arts and become a part of our mission to change the game forever.