Sophie Francois

“It doesn’t have to be do or die. It doesn’t have to be five sessions a week. If it makes you feel ANYTHING, give it a little more time.”

Sophie Francois

As a kid I loved watching Martial Arts on TV, and whilst these days it’s much more acceptable and even encouraged for women to pursue their passion beyond the limits of gender-stereotypes, the options in my hometown were few and far between. As a girl, it wasn’t clear that “fighting” was something available to me and it wasn’t until I was 13 that I took a kickboxing class. 

I think originally the idea was to get myself and my brother out of the house and stop us from fighting with each other, but whilst he stuck with it, I became more interested in other things, and riding my bike around was the extent of my exercise. 

Fast forward to about 6 years ago. I was doing general strength training with a wonderful female PT when a friend from work asked me if I’d go to a recreational boxing class with her for moral support. I had some experience with padwork so of course I said yes. Going to this class reminded me of what I’d been interested in as a kid, and so I decided to find somewhere to do Kickboxing. The gym closest to me actually trained Muay Thai as well as K-1, so I signed up and wandered in. 

In my first class I was paired with a man a foot taller than me who knew even less than I did. He wasn’t unkind, but it was a struggle. It was exhausting and I was anxious. I went home and cried, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault – I felt welcome at the gym and there were other women there who had obviously been going for a while. I knew that if they could reach that level of comfort, I would too, so I went back. I made a mental note of the people I liked being partnered with and who respectfully corrected me. The people that I didn’t gel with I just stayed away from. I controlled my social experience as best I could and focused on getting what I needed from the class. 

Sophie Francois Fighting
Sophie Francois Fighting

My original fears of inadequacy, low fitness and social awkwardness disappeared. I was and still am lucky to have a coach who encourages questions and discussion of techniques. From the angle of your foot to the practical application of box jump burpees (I’m still not entirely convinced…) it was all up for debate, and the atmosphere this created alleviated my anxieties; of being thrust into a room full of strangers and being encouraged to kick them.

Since I began training 6 years ago, the amount of women I know who have been inspired to try a Martial Art has grown and I try to make sure that they get the support they need to be involved. 

I’ve been lucky for the most part, being surrounded by men who want to see me thrive, and respect me as a training partner, but it isn’t always like that and negative experiences can be extremely off putting. You don’t have to pull your bottom lip in and get on with it. Saying you don’t want to be punched full power by someone a lot larger than you in a recreational class isn’t a weakness. Likewise for men, admitting you’re not sure how to approach training with a woman would probably solve a lot of the issues that put women off.

I didn’t fall in love with it straight away and I need anyone reading this to understand that. In a culture of communication that makes comparison of people’s physical ability, passion and drive very easy and potentially toxic, it’s important to dispel the myth that if you don’t walk away head over heels after your first session, that it isn’t for you. It doesn’t have to be do or die. It doesn’t have to be five sessions a week. If it makes you feel ANYTHING, give it a little more time. Some people do fall in love instantly, and that’s great! It isn’t a criticism, but for a person who still gets nervous in a new gym full of strangers and questions their worth when they’re in a room of stone cold killers, (most of whom are not female and don’t share your socially anxious concerns), the joy starts to come from other places. From consistency. From feeling strong. From feeling safer. From making connections with others. I now work in the gym where I started my training and try to take people on that same journey, and I wouldn’t have built the confidence to do that without Muay Thai. 

Sophie Francois Fighting

The ultimate reward, for me, came from seeing what you’ll do when you start to care about the outcome of your class. I stretch every day, so I can be better at Muay Thai. I haven’t had a match against anyone or sparred for almost a year due to the pandemic; but I still do that. I still stay on top of my cardio, my hip strength, I still do rehab for the little injuries I’ve picked up (from a variety of different activities!), when there’s no telling when I’ll be able to train it again regularly or in the same way I’m used to. That’s what Muay Thai has done for me in a year when I wasn’t even able to train it. If you pick something up, a Martial Art, or any other physical practice, and it causes you to make changes to stay consistently ENJOYING it, regardless of ability – that’s real love, and it doesn’t matter if it comes immediately or not.

Photocredit in order:
1. @lucydearing_
3. @amandafordycephoto