Feminists have long acknowledged that gendered divisions in access to spaces of leisure, and how women and men physically take up that space, reproduces gender inequality. This article will explore how karate practitioners participate in the space of mixed-sex karate practice and how such uses of space de/construct gendered embodiments and a gender hierarchy. Data presented is drawn from nine months of ethnographic emersion within three karate clubs and fifteen photo-elicitation interviews with karate participants from the three clubs. The findings of this paper suggest that whilst women often occupied spaces of expertise within the karate hall, gendered distinctions in uses of space emerged in the more subtle ways in which women and men used their voice, responded to the tacit and smelt dilemmas of sweat, and moved their bodies across physical space. This research highlights both the potential of physical leisure practice to ‘undo’ conventional gendered embodiments that particularly restrict women’s intentionality in the world (Young, 1980), and the power of spatially-attuned research to illuminate the minute ways in which unequal gender relations are naturalised, legitimised and done.
- Combat sport