Fighting Stereotypes in Combat Sports, with Janay Harding

Fighting Stereotypes in Combat Sports, with Janay Harding

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re taking this week to chat with some inspiring women in our combat community and hear about their experience in the sport from a female perspective. In this article, we hear from professional MMA fighter Janay Harding.

About Janay

My name is Janay Harding and I'm a 26 year old Professional Mixed Martial Artist fighting for the Bellator promotion. I also work in social media and sometimes teach martial arts. With MMA being the main focus, my week consists of training 2-3 times a day and working in between sessions. This forces my habits to be fairly health conscious as I need the correct fuel, sleep and rest to maintain the busy schedule. In any spare time I love to game on Playstation and enjoy social events.

What got you into combat sports and what do you love about it?

It took a while to find combat sports after I tried almost every hobby under the sun, I eventually found Shodican Karate and then progressed on to MMA. Once I started in my first MMA gym, the comradery and community really drew me in. Eventually the constant evolution and tests that combat sport provides had me hooked and after having my first fight, I fell in love with the rush of adrenaline and the whole experience.

Do you believe that training in combat sports is heavily male-dominated? How do you feel being a woman in the sport?

I do believe training in combat sports is heavily male-dominated as it is quite a masculine sport but ever evolving and increasing in popularity with females. I feel as though I challenge stereotypes in the sport, which is exciting for me to change others' opinions on combat and the type of person it suits. At times it has its challenges, but it's extremely rewarding to convince others that 'fighting' is more than a man's sport and it can be just as interesting with female competitors involved.

Would you recommend combat sports for other women? Why or why not?

I would highly recommend combat sports for other women as I believe it breeds integrity and confidence in not only defending yourself but in high-risk situations on your own. Unfortunately the world is a scary place, so I do think it's beneficial to learn some kind of combat sport even if there is no intention of competing. Alongside self-defence, the physical and health benefits of martial arts are always appealing and great for anyone needing some confidence or outlet.

What advice would you give to other women who have reservations about trying combat sports?

To any females that are hesitant to try combat sports, I would say to just give it a go. Much easier said than done, but the rewards of starting will far outweigh the intimidating notion of trying it in the first place. As long as you choose a respectable spot that has a good ethos, you should be safe and able to enjoy combat for all its benefits.

What is some direct advice you could give men to help women become more comfortable training in combat sports?

Don't patronise females getting involved in combat sports! One of the things that irritates me the most is male training partners dropping comments such as 'try not to beat me up' or 'go easy on me'. Most of the time the intention is pure, although it is extremely deterring to train in an environment where you're getting undercut before you've proven yourself. A lot of the time it comes down to: if you're not going to pass that same comment to a male, then don't reserve it for the females in the gym trying their best to get the same respect. 

To support Janay and follow her MMA career, follow her on Instagram @janayharding.