Katerina Tarnovska is a Ukrainian preschool teacher, a kickboxing world champion and a self-proclaimed descendent of the legendary warrior women of the Amazon. In 2002 she founded the Asgarda, a martial art exclusively for women that is inspired by the tribal traditions of the Scythian Amazons. In the past decade, more than 1,000 ladies have been entrusted with the teachings of the Asgarda, which Katerina says is the only fighting style specifically tailored to the female form.
Katerina’s influence extends well beyond teaching women how to turn their bodies into deadly weapons. She has written instructional Asgarda books, composed countless Amazon-themed folk songs, and produced aerobics videos in which the 34-year-old looks like a cross between Jane Fonda and Tank Girl, boxercising to what sounds like a Ukrainian version of Rammstein.
I recently joined one of the Asgarda’s training sessions in the Carpathian Mountains, which was a bit like an all-girl summer camp but instead of arts and crafts classes the ladies learned how to hack attackers with sabres, axes and scythes. Before meeting Katerina I imagined that we would mostly be discussing things like what it’s like to be a woman in Ukraine’s patriarchal society—the country’s parliament is more than 90 percent male, and domestic violence is a major problem. But she was more inclined to talk about how to win a warrior man’s heart in order to realise her eerie nationalistic plan to breed a new generation of Ukrainian warriors.
VICE: How did the Asgarda first begin?
Katerina Tarnovska: When I learned that Amazon women once existed on our territory, I came to the conclusion that their spirit has been genetically passed on to the Ukrainian women. It was the spirit I was born with. Ukraine’s warrior caste was destroyed, very little of it is left. The rebirth of this caste depends on women’s capability of raising boys to become warrior men. That’s what brought about the whole idea of forming the Asgarda. As a person who is professionally involved in martial arts, this is my warrior path.
But didn’t Amazons hate men and want to kill them?
No. Men who were afraid, specifically ancient Greeks, wrote those myths about cruel women because Amazons often fought them, and there are even myths of the Greeks losing. If you research the historical sources, you’ll find that the Amazons loved men and got married and had children with the Scythians. I can, with confidence, say that I am an Amazon woman and that doesn’t interfere with me falling in love and having children.
Would you say that the Asgarda is a movement to empower women?
Yes. It’s important for men and women to accept each other on an equal basis, but that doesn’t mean that we are the same. The Asgarda is a platform for developing girls harmoniously through martial arts
and strengthening their position within society so they can realise themselves within their families or within politics or business; however, at home with her husband, a woman has to be a woman.
What do you mean by that?
In society you conquer things for yourself, whereas in the family, the challenge is finding your strength in tolerance and love.In relationships, the woman takes on a very important role. When she’s with her husband, she has to make him feel like a man. Then there will be no problems.
How do you make a guy feel like a man?
At first you enchant them and they want to be with you because they see a queen. But just like true knights, men want to conquer, to win. You need to make a man feel that he has conquered you. So, firstly, you have to give him that feeling, and keep giving him that feeling from time to time. Secondly, you can’t let a man get too comfortable, because as soon as he starts taking you for granted he will want to conquer another queen. So a woman should always stay a queen and consistently enchant her man and remind him that he has conquered her. Only the woman can uphold this balance, a man is unable to do this.
Isn’t that basically putting all the responsibility of having a healthy relationship on the woman?
Listen, this is how strong women like us will land a warrior man. This balance works. Women today often get it wrong. They want to impress their partners and sometimes even compete with them, but that will make the man feel weak. Obviously there are men who don’t want to conquer, but they will want a grey mouse, not a warrior woman.
Many women might find this sort of dynamic to be old-fashioned and unfair.
Since ancient times the man has been the hunter, the warrior who conquers and provides for the home, and a woman has been the defender of the family and in charge of the house. She creates all the love in the family so that the children can develop and the man can progress and bring back all the trophies he conquers out in the world. That gives her the opportunity to develop herself. Because when a man goes to hunt she doesn’t have to think about how to feed the family. The world is created that way and you have to live with the laws of nature. If we go against the laws, we will suffer.
But now we have shops and don’t live in caves anymore…
Every strong woman is nevertheless a woman, and this is something you should never forget. It’s something to cherish and develop with your strengths. It took me a long time to understand the phrase, “The strength of a woman is in her weakness.” Yes, I am a strong woman. Yes, I train. Yes, I fight. I’m an excellent organiser. I’m a good leader, a well-read person. But in a relationship, I will show my weaknesses.
Do you have a husband?
I used to, but we got divorced. He couldn’t deal with my aspirations to become a world champion in kickboxing. But it was my dream since childhood, so I had to do it. You must find a man who is stronger than you because then he will be able to deal with your ambitions. I need a very strong man, which is difficult to find. But I am confident love will come my way again.
If you had a boyfriend and you two had a fight, who would win?
I would win. If he loves me, he would let me win.
Does it bother you that there is such high unemployment among women in Ukraine?
The reason for the high female unemployment is because many manufacturers have closed and the jobs that exist require physical strength, so it’s easier for men to find work. Still, I think that if women want to realise their potential, they always have the ability to do that. All my female friends work.
Ukraine also has a terrifying record of abuse against women. Is that why you teach girls self-defence?
When men cannot self-realise, they drink a lot, which leads to domestic abuse. Mass alcoholism is a big problem in Ukraine. Yes, defending yourself in the street or at home against aggressive acts is important. Once my Asgarda girls have reached the age of 14, we talk about how men should be, train them to see whether the boy they like is a man or just a person of the male gender.
How can you tell if a man is a real man?
A person of the male gender is egotistical and can’t fulfil the masculine mission apart from sex. A real man has a mission; he has to know how to earn money to provide for his family and defend the family’s honour. Most importantly, he has to follow a healthy lifestyle. When the girls have reached 18 and they fancy a guy, I ask them one simple question: do you just want to have sex with him for physical satisfaction or do you want your children to have this guy’s genes? Once they answer, everything becomes simple. The Asgarda trains warrior women to restore the caste of warriors in Ukraine, so the girls need to know what kind of man they should marry and bring up their children with.
Why is restoring the caste of warriors so important to you?
If you don’t love and wish to defend your country, the next generation won’t feel proud of their origins and will want to leave, instead of staying and making this country flourish. The love for one’s country is handed down through the mother’s milk.
Would you call yourself a feminist?
Here I have to ask you what you mean by feminism, because in our country, our understanding of feminism is that women are completely independent and that the influence of men is negative.
To me feminism means that men and women should have equal rights. What you are describing is what I would call radical feminism.
If feminism is looked at from the viewpoint of standing up for women’s position in society, then I am a feminist. But if feminism means women are the strongest beings and against men, then no, I am not a feminist. I believe in the natural order of things. A woman’s mission is to have children.
But what if you don’t want to be a mother? What if there are a lot of other things that are important to you, like a career and personal freedom?
To lead a healthy and happy life, a woman must achieve something for herself first, of course. Self-realisation is important. Only when she feels satisfied with her personal development will she be ready for family life and able to pass on her wisdom to her children.
If you liked that, you'll probably like the film too – The Warrier Women of Asgarda