Andrea Pfefer Solow has been a student of Bob White and Kenpo Karate for over 30 years. Ms. Pfefer-Solow is currently a 5th Degree Black Belt. She has been the International champion six times and has won more than 100 1st place trophies in her tournament career.
Andrea had her own karate school in Telluride, Colorado for 12 years. She instructed several hundred people over the years, having many advanced students, and bringing 6 people to the rank of black belt. She is now proud to be an instructor and student at Bob White’s Karate Studio.
Q & A
How long have you been in Kenpo?
Why did you begin?
I started Kenpo at 8 years old when my father insisted that my sister and I learn self-defense.
What is your driving force to continue to grow in Martial arts?
There are still plenty of forms and techniques to learn. Additionally, my instructor (Mr. White) can take a technique that I was introduced to 30 years ago, and teach me nuances of it that I never knew. Also, because our system is based on logic, techniques are always evolving.
I also love to teach. I love helping students come up through the ranks and watching them change as martial artists and become better people.
What types of double standards have you experienced or seen in the world of Kenpo in terms of gender?
I really didn’t knowingly experience double standards while coming up through the ranks in my studio. There were always strong woman role models at Bob White’s and it never occurred to me that women in karate would be treated differently.
Men on the outside frequently have some wise crack to say when they find out I’m into karate. I’ve probably heard “I better not mess with you” at least 500 times. Men are certainly threatened by a woman who can fight and I have found that EVERY man has to believe that you can’t kick their ass, period. It just hurts their psyche too much.
As an instructor I have found that there are men out there who aren’t comfortable learning from a woman and even more uncomfortable telling people that their instructor is a woman. It took me a long time to realize this because it seems so ridiculous but unfortunately it’s true.
What is some advice you’d give to girls and women starting out in martial arts?
Give it all you’ve got. Don’t be completely focused on earning your next belt, that will come, just keep showing up and give your all when you’re training. Your focus should be on learning to defend yourself and improving your confidence so that you don’t get attacked. Have Fun!! Your karate is a personal journey! Don’t compare yourself to others.
What is your thought that because men in general are stronger, that they have a tendency to want to hold back in partner work, training or sparring out of fear that they might hurt you. Has this happened to you?
I also hold back when training or sparring because I don’t want to hurt anyone. Everyone should try not to hurt their training partner regardless of their gender.
This is kenpo karate and not grappling or boxing. I think it would be much more difficult to train in those sports with a man. We are physically different beings.
Did you have any role models who you admire?
My instructor, Bob White, is my biggest role model in karate. His skills are awe-inspiring and his teaching ability is second to none. When I was a kid, Barbara (Marez) White was an extremely focused and tough woman role model for me. Our studio has always had great women fighters for me to look up to. Diane Roffie and Pam Wheeler were two women I used to watch spar a lot. Kathy Long is a bad ass and I used to love reading about her and her accomplishments. Everyone used to say she was “as tough as a man”.
What are some of the obstacles you had to overcome related to being a woman in a male dominated art?
I was lucky enough to be in a school where I didn’t have obstacles. I have heard that it is not the case at some other schools.
Did you feel you had to compensate for “less” physical strength?
Men are naturally physically stronger than women. Not much we can do about that. Luckily, we practice point fighting and not full contact in the studio. Obviously, a street situation would be different. There would be no exchange of punches with a man. Luckily with most of our kenpo techniques, you don’t have to rely on strength. Also, you attack their vulnerable targets like eyeballs, throat, nose, and testicles … Easy!
What advantages do you think being a woman gives you as it relates to martial arts?
I think the men in the studio are more eager to help a woman with techniques than they are a man.
Are there things you would have done differently?
Have you experience sexual harassment in the martial arts?