Andrea Harkins a.k.a. The Martial Arts Woman uses her martial arts experience and blog to shed light on a sometimes negative world.
- How does Andrea Harkins use martial arts to inspire people to become better version of themselves
- How did “The Martial Arts Woman” concept come into existence
- Andrea Harkins’ ultimate “mission” in life
- Details about her two books
- Advice to women who are having second thoughts about trying martial arts
- And more
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When we look at the world today, there's going to be a lot of unhappy people and there's got to be a lot of people who just have no idea that they have any sense of worth anymore, because of all the strife and the things that we’re seeing. So I think if we start with each one of us bettering ourselves, whether it's our mindset, mind, body, spirit kind of thing, we can better ourselves. We’re going to change the world a little bit because we're all striving to do something better, and striving starts with yourself.
GEORGE: Good day, this is George Fourie and welcome to another Martial Arts Media Business podcast episode. Today, I am with Andrea Harkins. And I had to practice that, just to make sure I got the pronunciation the American way. How are you today Andrea?
ANDREA: I'm doing great, how are you?
GEORGE: I'm doing awesome. Cool, so we’re going to talk about a lot of inspirational topics and Andrea has got a wealth of knowledge in the martial arts base and she's on a quite a mission to make a positive impact in the world, positive impact in the world. So we’re going to have a good conversation and as always, just see where this goes. So, Andrea, the first question would be of course, who is Andrea Harkins?
ANDREA: Well, thanks for asking that. I am also known out there as The Martial Arts Woman, which is the title of my first book, but really just something I've evolved into and my mission in what I do, which includes writing books, writing for magazines, outreach, teaching martial arts, practicing martial arts, really is to make the world a better place. And I use martial arts as my sort of symbol, or my metaphor for living an empowered life and reminding people that they can strive for more, that they can reach their goals and their dreams.
They just have to work for them and so I really reach out as much as I can in different ways, whether it's through a podcast, or writing and appearances, or whatever I can do to really remind people that, even if they're not a martial artist, they can have that martial art mindset, which is so powerful and so important in today's world, where everything is negative. We have to remind ourselves that we are positive and we can make a difference in the world and that's sort of what I try to do.
GEORGE: So where did this all began? From… I mean, obviously there was a big transition, your martial arts career and then going on this mission. Let’s start with the martial arts background, foundation.
ANDREA: Sure. I began martial arts in 1989 with my husband, who sort of dragged me to my first class. I wasn't really interested in going, I went for him and hated it in the beginning. It was just a little too crazy for me, the kicks and punches and throws, it was a Tang Soo Do system. So after not too long though, I really started to like it, and I thought, hey, I like this and I was pretty good at it and I've never been athletic. I was 26 when I started and realizing that I had some kind of potential as far as being an athlete, or doing something like this was really a great thing for me to learn. I ended up loving martial arts and I just continued and received my black belt, 2nd-degree black belt back in the 90s, I think. And I've just been practicing and teaching ever since. And so that's how the story began and it just continued.
And about 5 years ago, 6 years ago, I had written one article for the Martial Art Industry magazine and another blogger on Facebook contacted me, his name is Ando Mierzwa. And he contacted me, he's known as Sensei Ando on Facebook. And he said, I looked on the internet to find out about you and I couldn't find anything, how come? And I said, well, I'm not out there, why would I be out there? He said, well, you're a writer and you're a martial artist – why don't you put the two together? And he convinced me to start my blog, which is called The Martial Arts Woman. And I started this blog and it just was a nice little popular happy blog that people ended up liking. So I started making the transition there, although I had previously written for martial arts industry magazine that kind of put me out there a little bit.
And then from there, other magazines just started asking me to write for them, different topics. I write for Martial Art Illustrated UK, I write for Martial Art Business in Australia, I write for the Martial Art Guardian in the UK and I write for several magazines here in the States. And it was just, they all had different perspectives and invited me to write columns for them. I started writing for my local newspaper, a positivity martial art column, so it just kind of blossomed much more than I ever expected. And then, of course, I started speaking more, I started reaching out on social media more, so I have a big presence there. And I just found that it was a good niche for me.
GEORGE: OK, cool. Before going to the mission part, I want to ask you something on the actual blogging, because we wrote a program called the Martial Arts Media Academy and in that, a big component that I see that's missing in the martial arts face is content creation. For marketing, there's a big focus on ad creation, which is very, very important and you need to obviously have ads up there and good offers to get students in all the time. A big problem with that I find is that when you only focus on that and you don't focus on the giving aspect and the content creation aspect, then you are always just chasing the next ad and you are one ad away from not having leads, or students coming through your door.
Whereas, with the content creation, and I’m sure you would have found this, having a blog over the years, it's a really slow earn because at the beginning, you put content up and it's like, nobody responds and it… it slowly gets traction, but once it does, it's got that snowball down the mountain effect. And you can't stop it, it's just got this own audience, without being so dependent on all the social factors. So that's a bit of a background to my actual question.
So my question is – and I'm always trying to motivate school owners to get in front of the camera… I guess to get in front of the camera mostly, for the content creation. Blogging of course being… you do the writing and that's a written format, but any form or way of expressing and creating valuable content. So the actual question is: how did you sort of formulate a good way to really express your experience and thoughts and your mission through your blog and through writing?
ANDREA: Well, for me, I use everyday situations in my own life as a way to reach out to people. And my blog has no ads on it, I don't use it to make money. I use it so people get to know me, so when I have a book, or when I have something I want to talk about, they're ready to listen. Because they trust me and they know what to expect. But the blog content I use is, look, I had sort of a difficult time getting through a situation. And this is how I fixed that and I usually have a little martial arts story to tell.
So a lot of my inspirational, motivational content is simply from my life and that makes it very easy for me to have something to say all the time because we all go through good and bad, ups and downs constantly. And I can just pluck one of those situations out and say, you know, I had trouble doing this, or I was sick and I couldn't work out and I felt down about myself, I wasn't sure when I would get better. But martial arts reminded me that as long as I push through, I will be OK.
As long as I just, if I can break a board, if I can learn a new skill that I've never learned before in martial arts, well, I can certainly break through little barriers in my life. I can certainly learn new skills in life. And so I constantly have this sort of play between what we all face, each and every day and how martial arts has reminded me in some way that I'm a capable person, that I need to stop worrying and just push through like I always do.
So for me, content, I have so much content, because there's so much going on in my life all the time. And sometimes I use other people's lives. Somebody will talk to me about a problem or a situation, and I usually have a solution thanks to martial arts and what I've learned. So I just apply the two together. And sometimes I also do talk about being an instructor or being a martial artist and what to expect, or if you want to try it, that kind of thing. But often, my content is really about life.
GEORGE: So it comes down to from what I gather, from what you're saying, just honesty, not trying to portray a situation for the way people might want to perceive it, but really just: this is me, this is my situation and this is how I overcame it.
GEORGE: So, did you find that hard, to really get to that point where you actually… and I'm not sure if this is every martial arts, for what I was referring to the program of, that's the exact way to go. But there is a big element to it because you've got to really put yourself out there and not be afraid of opinions and critique.
GEORGE: So is that sort of how you started? Just from the get-go, you were just comfortable expressing yourself, or did you start the blog and then did it slowly evolve to a raw honesty, where you can just express what's on your mind?
ANDREA: No, I think I started it that way. But I always knew in the beginning, that there was a risk of people criticizing me, not liking what I was saying or doing, because that's going to happen in social media, it's going to happen in blogging. And I was a little uncomfortable at first, but then I thought, you know what: I have nothing to hide, I'm just a genuine person and I want to remind people out there that I'm not one of those people way up here, who just pretends that they relate to what you're doing, or whatever. No, I just believe in being honest and truthful.
Of course, I'm not sharing every detail of my personal life, a lot of times it's just a concept or an idea, you know? How do you get to be more positive? How can you learn how to overcome your fears? And that kind of things, where I can just answer with little bits of stories about myself. And funny things that have happened to me, or what my fears were and how I was able to overcome them. Certainly, in martial arts, you face a lot of fears when you have to break your first board or do your first flip, or whatever it might be. And so again, I just apply that.
So it was not a difficult thing for me and I did expect some people not to like it. But really, I haven't had that much negativity about it in the past few years since I started. Here and there, being a woman in the martial arts, another topic to address is when you put yourself out there as a woman in martial arts – you're going to get some backlash from people and you're also going to be treated a certain way sometimes. There is still discrimination, there are still men who treat you in a sexual way because you're a martial artist, or whatever it might be. So that really has been the bigger burden from all of this and the backlash, where somebody is not caring about what I had to say.
So I think the blogging for any business though, is really important as long as you're genuine. Nobody really wants that kind of stock stuff, you know? They want to know a little bit about your school or tell me what happened with one of your students today and why that's important, or meaningful. And I think if you can focus on those kinds of genuine things in martial arts, or in your school, your program, whatever you're doing, that that's going to capture the attention of your potential fans, or your potential students, or that kind of thing. So I hope I answered your question, I think I went in five different directions on that one.
GEORGE: That's awesome. I do want to ask – and this is not to go on a negative track, because obviously as a male, I want to understand the different dynamics that a lady would go through in a martial arts journey. And I had Jess Fraser on the show, second-time last week and the first episode, she was talking about – because she was a bit of a digital Jiu Jitsu nomad. She was just travelling the world and her life was going to all the different schools. And she addressed a few of the topics that…
I wouldn't say discrimination, but it was just very different for her as a female. And getting a bit of backlash from a few instructors, where perhaps she didn't feel that welcome. So in the male-dominated sport, how different is it for a lady to go through the martial arts journey? Do you find that there's… I mean, for the most part, is it all good, or is it just sort of the negatives are just sort of a little bit from here, a little bit from here if that makes sense.
ANDREA: That makes sense. And in all honesty, my experiences have generally been very good. Martial art training, I haven't had any issues really. When I started in the 80s, of course, there were a lot more men than women, there were only a couple of women in classes and things like that. And I think what I noticed more were really just the men showing off more than any kind of discrimination, or difficulty with me being there.
GEORGE: Men don't do that, ever.
ANDREA: No, I know that. This was a long time ago.
GEORGE: I know, we've evolved as a species.
ANDREA: So, I think other than that I really never had negative experiences in my training, but what I can say is that negativity came out more in my presence on social media. Because there are not a lot of women out there and I'm really not negative about men, I love training with men. I don't have any issues with that at all. What happens on social media, where my problems came in, were just keyboard warrior kind of people, who were either insinuating I didn't know anything or trying to ask me out on a date, or you know, just weird stuff. It was really more from that and I had to block a lot of people and block a lot of men.
But I don't want to put all men in that bucket because really, most of my experiences have been very positive. We as women have to just face the fact that we are women and we try to be beautiful, we try to be happy, we try to be all of those things that we feel like society wants us to be. And in doing that, we have to kind of face those situations and figure out a good way to handle it.
And I certainly have heard different stories from different women, who have had both good and bad experiences with being out there in the martial arts. I think what we have to remember is that men and women are different and this is just my perspective. And this is one of those things that I sometimes get backlashes on saying, but we are different. So we practice differently, we have a different mindset. We may learn the same things from the same instructors, but we see things a little differently. We’re mothers, we’re sisters, and we’re daughters. We have a different mindset overall. Yes, we can take all that away and go into a tournament, or go into a situation, a self-defense situation, really strip ourselves of those things for those moments. But in reality, that's who we are.
And I always say, if there’s a husband and a wife, you don't expect them to be the same. They're both spouses, they're both married to each other, but they are not the same. They have different roles and they have different personalities and different ways of seeing the world. Or a brother and a sister, any opposite like that. We’re going to be different, so I think being in a male-dominated activity is challenging sometimes, but it really is about you as a woman, or you as a practitioner and to do it, you're on your way. And as long as you follow your own passion, your own calling, your own training, and then that's all you need to worry about.
GEORGE: Awesome. So, I want to get to the mission part. But I have one more question, just on this topic: what would you say to – because I might replay this section to my partner, who I try to push into martial arts, but it didn't work. What would you… how do I phrase this question: what would you tell ladies who are thinking about trying martial arts, but they are hesitant because it's a male-dominated sport?
ANDREA: Well, I would tell ladies that first of all, nowadays, I don't know that I would call it male-dominated. A lot of classes have half women, half men, or half girls, half boys. It's really come a long way from when I started. And it really… You take a martial art because you have an interest in it, not because there are men or women there. You just… if you're interested in it, that's what you do. And I would just tell them that, if I can do it – and this is something I say all the time: if I can do it, you can do it. I was just 26 years old woman when I started and just discovered that I enjoyed it. So like anything in life, you have to try what you're interested in.
It doesn't mean you'll stick with it forever – maybe you'll like it, maybe you won’t, but try it. It's just like trying a new food, or trying a new movie, or trying on a new pair of shoes. If it's something you're interested in, you give it a try and see what happens, there's no harm done.
In fact, I'm starting right now a new program, I actually moved from where I was living in the states to across the country. And I'm starting a program now called Martial Art Concepts, which is geared for people who have an interest in martial arts, but never knew what to expect. And it's going to have just a very simple martial art program, I guess you might say, where you're going to stretch, you're going to warm up, you're going to learn kicks, you're going to learn punches, you're going to learn blocks and drills. And self-defense and some breathing techniques and you're going to have a taste of martial arts, and a workout all in one. So sometimes, there are things like that that you can try. Also, self-defense is very important for women, so I would highly recommend. It could save your life, so I think that makes it worth it.
GEORGE: Awesome – so why not do it?
ANDREA: That's right.
GEORGE: Cool, so Andrea, tell me about your, just expand a bit more on your mission. You've reached this point where you really want to make a positive impact in the world and you're using martial arts as your metaphor. Big task, so how do you go about that? Where do you start and where do you see it going?
ANDREA: Well, I started just through the blog. And then for me, I started taking baby steps, because I wrote the first book and I knew that in order to sell a book nowadays, you really need a social media presence, you need to be out there. And I decided that I would try to really market myself on social media. And I didn't know really what to expect. And in fact, I hated posting photos of myself doing martial arts on any social media, because I thought, somebody, is always going to look at it and say, your foot is not right, your knee is not up, you're not standing the right way, your arms should be straight, not bent. I just really didn't want to do it.
But I thought OK, well this is how I'm supposed to do it. So I started posting pictures of myself doing kicks and putting little, certain little inspirational quotes or reminders on them. Here's me kicking, but you know, kicks are your fears, or whatever it might be. Or little blog type things to go with the photos. And it was again genuine, and it was again showing that this middle-aged woman can still do this – if I can do it, you can do it. So these are some of the places where I started to really push my mission a little bit more.
And between the blogging and the writing and the photos and the social media, I started to get a little bit of a following, people saying, I'm so glad you said that, you know? I was having a down day today and I just felt like I couldn't get through it today. I felt like I couldn't reach my goals and you reminded me that it's OK if you have a bad day every now and again, you just have to keep pushing through. So it was these little messages that people started taking to heart. When they read something, a lot of them comment, say, thank you so much for this, or I'm so happy that you understand how I'm feeling and that kind of thing. So it's almost like a little bit of a therapy session for us all, right? I get the chance to share and people get the chance to vent or read something inspirational and positive for them.
And when we look at the world today, there's got to be a lot of unhappy people in it. There's got to be a lot of people who just have no idea that they have any sense of worth anymore, because of all the strife and the things that we’re seeing. So I think if we start with each one of us bettering ourselves, whether it's our mindset, mind, body, spirit kind of thing, we can better ourselves. We’re going to change the world a little bit, because we're all striving to do something better, and striving starts with yourself, to better yourself, before you can make change around you. But if I can be happy and positive, somebody around me might start to feel happy and positive too. Why are you feeling so good about yourself, or so good about life? And I can share with them.
So that's sort of how the mission works for me. It's just the more I can spread it, the more I can tell people that they are important, they are worthy of reaching their dreams and goals. They are special, they're unique and when I can do that and people start feeling good about themselves, then we’re starting to change the dynamic of the negativity. And so that's really, it's a lofty goal and maybe I'll only touch a few people’s lives, but I figure that's better than nothing.
GEORGE: That's a very good way to put it. It's a topic that it's come up before, Bogdan Rosu is another person I interviewed from Romania. And his whole philosophy is personal development with martial arts. So to combine the two, and for me, as I mentioned to him, the reason I really got hooked on martial arts is because that's what put it together for me. I’ve always been on this personal development mission, but it was only when I started doing martial arts that it became physical and not just mental. And it was the change in body and focus that really, I guess as a person that likes to learn and try and better himself all the time, that's what was a big hook for me.
And obviously, it's different for everyone, some people go for self-defense and go for this, but ultimately, I mean, you're doing martial arts to better yourself. If you break it down to that, you're taking the step in this direction to become a better you. No matter what the reasoning is. So having, I guess for a martial arts instructor to really have that in mind, and I'm probably preaching to the choir because I'm talking to martial arts school owners for the most part. But I mean, I think it's just so important to have that in mind that that's really what it's about. It's all about the personal development and positive impact that you can make beyond the kicking and the punches of course.
ANDREA: Right, and if we can take that – and what I try to do is take exactly what you just said, about myself, my students, my peers and present it to people who are not martial artists. Present that concept, that mindset, that if you better yourself in some way – and of course, I say martial arts is a great way to do that, but if you better yourself in some way, whether it's a more positive attitude, whether it's working out, you need to start applying these things to your life. And you'll see a change.
So my mission goes even beyond who we are as martial artists, out into the public. The general public of people, because everybody loves martial arts. And if you say you're a martial artist and they're not, they go, oh, that's so cool! You can kick up here, you can do this… yes, I can, I can do that. And you can do that too. I think that's a great way to look at it and that's what we should all be striving for as martial artists or instructors. To better ourselves, to better the people around us, present a positive outlook on life, let people know that they are brave and that they can reach their goals. And I think we’re doing a fantastic job if we can do all of that.
GEORGE: Fantastic. So, Andrea, what's the ultimate outcome for you of your mission?
ANDREA: I think just every single day to make a positive change. Every single day. So, what's the final outcome – I don't know what the final one is. I just know that every day I strive to make a positive impact in some way, whether it's talking to someone like you, or just smiling to someone as I walk by, or reminding people how great martial arts are, or whatever it could be. Every day, I try to do that and I think in the end, if I can just know that I did my best to change the world in some positive way, then that really is my goal in itself. It's just really to keep going, to keep writing, to keep sharing. And I'll do that as long as I can.
GEORGE: Awesome. Fantastic, really inspiring to speak to you Andrea.
ANDREA: Thank you.
GEORGE: Andrea or Andrea?
ANDREA: Anything's fine.
GEORGE: I think I've gone to my default pronunciation. So you've got a fantastic blog and books – do you mind just sharing that, a couple of minutes, for anybody that wants to learn more about you, support your mission and have a read of all your awesome content and everything: how can people get in touch with you and find out more about you?
ANDREA: All right. Well, thank you so much for the opportunity. My blog is called the martial arts woman. So it’s, themartialartswoman.com, it's free, it's just got all kinds of different content on there. My book, The Martial arts Woman, which had more than 30 contributors, all over the world, women all over the world, who wrote about what it means to be a woman in the martial arts, or what they had to do just to learn martial arts, or how they applied martial arts to a self defense situation.
There are really amazing stories that you would never hear. When I started getting these stories in, I started to realize there's a whole chapter of life out there that people have never heard about, because they've never heard these stories that are amazing and inspirational. And I also wrote in the book a lot about my experiences, being in the martial arts. It's a book for everybody, it's a very motivational book. And that is on Amazon, the martial arts woman.
And my second book, Martial Art Inspirations for Everyone is also on Amazon and that really explains my mission and the name of it I guess. It is daily reflections that you can read, page long, that do exactly what I was talking about earlier: taking some of life's challenges and putting them together with a martial art kind of solution that we can all use and it's just inspirational.
And the third book that I'm working on right now is, How to Start Your Own Martial Art Program and this is a book about not starting a big dojo or a big school; this is for the people who want to teach on the side, you know, while they're working their full-time job or are in retirement or whatnot. So that will be coming out hopefully sometime this year.
So please give one of them a read and let me know what you think and you can contact me through the blog, themartialartswoman.com. There is a place there to contact me, so I hope to hear from some of your audience and even if we just chat for a few minutes – that would be awesome.
GEORGE: Awesome. Fantastic Andrea, thank you very much and we’ll link all the books and the blog in the transcript. Thank you very much.
ANDREA: Thank you, I had a wonderful time and thanks so much for having me.
GEORGE: You're welcome – speak soon!
Awesome – thanks for listening. Hope you enjoyed the show with Andrea, it's pure coincidence that I actually got four ladies lined up to interview after each other. So if you're enjoying getting a different perspective from the martial arts place, we generally speak to a lot of men, because – hey, most men own martial arts schools. But it's just by pure coincidence that I've got four ladies lined up after each other, which ads a different touch to the podcasts. And as Andrea was mentioning, just seeing it from a different perspective as well.
So I hope you're getting great value out of it. If you are enjoying our show, please, do us a huge favor: the best thing you can do for us is give us that super five-star rating in iTunes. If you do have an iPhone, you can go directly through the podcast app. You can click here and just follow the section to reviews. Give us a five-star review – that would be awesome. If not an iPhone, just wherever you're watching, give us a good thumbs up. Much, much appreciated, and if there any help that you need with your schools’ marketing, perhaps your website, want to chat just about strategy, or get some help, visit us at martialartsmedia.com. We’re happy to help and see if we can help you grow your martial arts school.
Awesome – that's it for this week, I will speak to you soon – cheers!
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.