Martial Arts Nuns From The 1970s?

[content note: mention of child abuse and rape]

The sisters of The Holy Family serve what is perhaps the most crime-ridden part of Philadelphia. Their orphanage is in constant danger of vandalism and burglary. In recent months several of the children have been assaulted and two of the nuns raped. Unwilling to give up after some 80 years of service to the community, the sisters have turned to the Old Testament for a solution: eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Like the oriental monks of the ancient Shaolin monastary, these modern sisters have embraced the martial arts.

Their skills are predominatly protective and defensive. But should human life or chastity be at stake, the good sisters are well-prepared for sterner measures.

Okay, I have no idea what this is. I want to like it because the women in it are actually doing some pretty solid demonstrations of aikido/aikikai/hapkido-style locks and throws.  But it’s just dripping with strange inaccuracies and out of place irreverence.  I don’t even know what to do with it.

I’ve looked all over for some kind of context, but reports conflict and I’m having trouble finding any corroborative details.  So take this with a pillar of salt.  Like, I can’t tell if it’s meant to be a joke? Or some kind of fluff public interest piece? Either way, starting out talking about the assault of children and the rape of nuns is not a good opener for parody.

Here are a bunch of notes:

  • Most sources say it’s from the mid/late 1970s
  • It’s captioned here in Portuguese
  • That poster claims it was filmed at the New York Aikikai dojo (despite the nuns apparently being from Philadelphia).  There is a school of such a name which was founded in the 1960s.
  • The  Sisters of The Holy Family are a real order with a convent in Philadelphia. Their mission includes child care, but I can’t find a mention of an orphanage in Philadelphia.
  • The aikido in this looks pretty good.  Nuns or not, these women are well-trained!
  • It’s not at all suspect to me that nuns would train in martial arts.  The physical and spiritual benefits are many and the message of many martial arts is peace.
  • It is surprising to me that devout Catholics would use rosaries or crucifixes as weapons…
  • ‘Eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (Matthew 5:38) is not a call to violence or self-defense.
  • Uh, and rape has nothing to do with chastity.  Chastity is a choice to abstain from sex.  Rape is violence.  One has not broken a vow of chastity if one has been raped.  So bad job, narrator. Not cool.

One thing that struck me was the diminutive, patronizing tone of the narration that I’ve seen a lot in quaint old-timey videos of ‘little ladies’ teaching those rapscallions a thing or two.  A great deal of effort is made to ensure we believe in the demonstrating martial artists’s femininity, describe what is actually horrific and traumatic situations women face constantly (harassment, rape, etc), have them throw guys around, and then use words like ‘stern’ or ‘make them sorry’.

It’s so…sanitized.  Self-defense is depicted as both required and cute.

But I digress.  Summary: What even is this?


Here is a gif for your reaction gif folder:

aikido nuns

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2 Responses

  1. David Villalobos says:

    It’s from This Is America 2 (1980)

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