I might act tough to businessmen who diss me at icecream parlors, but the fact of the matter is that I just recently got my butt kicked by a housewife in my Tae Kwon Do class.
Martial arts can be broadly classified into two areas: self defense and sport. Of course any technique can be used for either purpose, but some are better than others in each area. For example, Aikido is an excellent self-defense style, but not really suitable for sparring (sport fighting). Tae Kwon Do on the other hand is more a sport than self-defense art, and so well suited for sparring that it is an Olympic sport. Judo, another Olympic sport, is another technique which is more a sport than a defense system (a good wrap-up of the varied martial arts techniques is here).
Since Tae Kwon Do is a sport, if you learn the discipline you will suit up and you will spar. It's mandatory, and you are graded on it for belt advancement. This isn't the case in some martial arts, where people can actually advance quite a ways without going through a full contact fight.
I take class during lunch time. I thought there would be a couple of business guys taking it then as well, but the rest of the students in my class are mostly college students and housewives. All the other business people take the evening class.
For my first sparring bout I got matched with a housewife who was actually quite advanced, just a few belts short of her black belt (purple). She was the only one in class that was my height, and the instructor felt my weight and strength advantage would be a match against her speed and experience.
Wrong. She must have pictured me as her first husband since she came at me like a madwoman. Strength isn't a lot of help in sparring if your opponent is throwing combination kicks you can't keep up with. There was also a mental governor on my kicks since I kept thinking: You're not supposed to hit a woman, even if she's wearing protective padding. So I ended up going probably 75% speed while she held nothing back, doing kiaps (yelling) with each well-placed kick to my head or torso. The result wasn't pretty.
(As a side note, Tae Kwon Do matches are probably 90% kicking. Kicks landed to the head and torso are scored as "points". Punches to the torso are "points" but punches to the head get you a negative point. Since a kick to the torso has a much greater reach than a punch, matches are practically kickboxing tournaments. Grabbing, grappling, throws, and other fighting techniques are not allowed during a match, although we do learn these techniques for self defense purposes during class).
There was no question who won the match. The variety and combination of kicks that come with a year and a half of experience at purple belt are much greater than a lowly yellow belt who has an arsenal of five basic kicks (she knows I am not going to be throwing a spinning hook kick, so doesn't have to defend against it).
I will say that while I might have housewives beating me up, I have lost over 10 lbs. since I started taking the class four months ago, which is the whole reason I started doing this. A few rounds with an intense housewife is certainly preferable to giving up carbs and beer.