In the good old days in China, there wasn't a problem caused by mixed gender classes—as there weren't any. Women learned only from their fathers, brothers or husbands if they were lucky enough to have one who was also an instructor. In more recent years, in government-run martial arts colleges on the Mainland, women experts teach form and qigong to women, but rarely the combative aspects of the art and rarely in a mixed class.
While gender restricted classes are sexist in modern Western terms, these circumstances avoid issues that often come up in Western classes, e.g., those looking for new romantic or sexual partners more than quality instruction, and those men who feel that they can fondle female students under the pretence of having accidentally made contact during the various two-person exercises.
In regards to the latter, both sexes must be prepared for the intimacy of many of the two-person training methods and accidental contact with certain tender parts of each other's anatomy. To make this whole issue more complicated, arousal (as in the emotional and physical intimacy that can develop when training with a partner of the opposite sex) does increase the production of sexual hormones which can be refined through your training into martial or self-healing Qi. It is also just as liable to lead to something a little more intimately mundane.
However, I don't think that gender restricted classes are a valid solution, as this may eliminate some problems but create new ones. For example, some people are not comfortable with being touched by members of the same sex or, conversely, enjoy it very much indeed. In addition, in terms of developing self-defence skills, women are usually going to be at risk from a larger man as, sexual dominance issues aside, aggressors are often compensating for cowardice by looking for smaller victims. At least for some class time, women should practise with men to develop skills that might work against men.
Practitioners must also be prepared to acknowledge that they may well enjoy the intimate contact. Human beings are sensual and tactile by nature, and enjoying the feel of another person's body as you practise is part of the pleasure of training—like dancing with a good partner. It doesn't mean that you are debauched to feel this way; however, you mustn't carry it too far the other way either.
While it is not the only solution, it is an option for a female student to get into the habit of wearing one of the sparring bras that have plastic cups. Although to be frank, I find that very few women want to wear them in the same way that most male students ignore the common sense of wearing an athletic support and protective cup because they are not comfortable to train in.
It is certainly in the best interests of each instructor, from both a liability and ethical point of view, to outline to his or her students what is and is not appropriate when practising in a mixed environment. However, it is difficult to supervise a large group class as to what is too much or is a sexual contact. One person may be completely unaware of contact that might make another extremely uncomfortable.
As in most aspects of trying to adapt traditional methods to modern needs, it is not easy to avoid diluting the martial content of bagua as the easiest way of avoiding controversy. Instructors must be willing to be flexible. In the end, this may mean limiting the techniques practised in a group setting where supervision is spotty due to numbers, or ensuring that women work only with women and men only with men.
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