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Finding Safety in an Unsafe World [The Four Steps of Self-Defense You Need to Know.]

Posted Jan 09 2011 9:56pm
This picture is simply too awesome to caption.

I spent my Saturday night getting my aggression on: gouging people in the eyes, yelling "I'll rip your larynx out!" and watching my best girlfriends get cornered by a bunch of threatening men. Makes your screening of Tron, The Legacy seems pretty lame now, huh? No, we weren't road-testing The Great Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Experiment. (Although now that I type that I have a hankering to try cage fighting. Hmm.) Gym Buddies, Megan, Allison, Michelle, Jeni, Meghan, Becca and I were getting tutored in the art of pain by Megan's husband, Sensei Don (of Karate Experiment fame, for those of you that have read my book or have been around this site for 3+ years) during a Women's Self Defense seminar.

My history with self-defense classes is, as you may recall, not good. And while this one started out better - Sensei Don is a heck of a teacher (he managed to hide a pretend gun in his pants and then casually point it at someone without us even noticing until Jeni's husband was staring down the barrel - self-defense and magic, it's a twofer!) - my past experiences started me out at I-lost-my-weight-gloves panicky and elevated to I-missed-the-bus-to-the-airport-for-my-study-abroad-trip hysterical by 10 minutes in.

Thankfully Gym Buddy Megan was my partner and she knows me well enough to understand when I need to be pushed and when pushing will just end up with me sobbing piteously on her shoulder for the next two hours while I vent incoherently. I'm like a sad drunk but without the drunk. Plus it helped to have all my girls to giggle with me when Sensei Don said with a totally straight face, "Anything that penetrates at least an inch and a half is a lethal weapon." (Jeni had that one turned into a stand-up routine by the end of the night.)

Don is showing us the technique where you flip your attacker over and bang their head on the ground. He explained it thusly (and no I'm not making this up), "You bang. And you bang hard. And you just keep banging and banging." He and Bill really need to take this show on the road.

Sensei Don started out by telling us that most of self-defense is a head game, that we need to not automatically assume the victim role. I started to get a little frustrated because of course he's right and I hate it when he tells me things about myself I don't like. Well shucks, being a victim is practically what I do best ! As he moved on to talking about how to avoid dangerous situations by being prepared and aware, my mind started flashing back to various situations where I have felt unsafe . Did I mention I had nightmares all night the night before?

I think the faces say it all. (l-r) Jeni's biting her nails while her husband is enjoying the floor show. I'm a nervous wreck and can't stop pacing or hugging myself. Megan's ready to jump in if the fighting gets ugly. Becca is wincing and Michelle is... running away? Getting a better view? Catchphrase of the night from, yes, Don: "I love you but don't f*ck with me."

Environmental awareness is not my strong suit - it's hard to notice anything else when I'm laser focused on doing a head-count of my children and chronically coming up at least one short. (True story: We always tell our kids that if they get lost to find a policeman or worker and tell them their name. So what does my second son do when he got lost at a local store? Finds a clerk and tells him his name is Batman. Yeah, that was helpful. Although it was entertaining to hear them announce over the loudspeaker, "Will the mom of a 4-year-old Batman please come to the service desk? Batman needs rescuing.")

By the time he got to step two, escaping the situation by being decisive and in control, I was feeling pretty raw. Everything he said, my mind immediately reacted with that would not have worked for me. Step three, overcoming an attacker with combat tactics and neutralization techniques, was the biggie. Up until this point we were just listening but now we were going to get all up in each other's grilles. The first move, because Sensei Don does not mess around, is to rip the attacker's larynx out. You don't grab my throat. Megan took one look at me and figured that right out. I didn't try it on Megan either because I just couldn't envision a situation in which I would ever find that appropriate. Sensei Don told me that was a mistake. He's probably right.

This is me telling Megan if she touches my throat I'm going to break her thumbs. You can see how very frightened she is.

But it wasn't until I was watching my cute little pregnant friend Becca during the gang-bang exercise that I had my epiphany. (Wow, that last sentence has to be the strangest I have ever written. I do not even want to see the google search results that are going to land people on this page.) Some of the Gym Buddies had brought their husbands to the class - mine was at home taking care of our poor sick Jelly Bean! - for us to practice with so Sensei Don gave all the men pads and had them surround a girl. Her only instruction was to fight her way out.

Honestly I think Megan's the only one of us that might have actually made it out of that circle alive. Girl was fierce!

It was very frightening watching it.

Even knowing that it was just an exercise. Even knowing that the men were friends. Even then my heart rate was through the roof and I felt dizzy. I had to keep crouching down to hug my knees - something about assuming the turtle position makes me feel safer, plus it helps bring the blood back to my head (important since we all know I'm a fainter). After finishing, Jeni gasped, "That was really scary!" I couldn't do it.

See how cute and tiny Becca is? She moves quick for being preggo too!

But Becca, she reminded me of the number one thing I hate about being pregnant: how very vulnerable it makes you. Being a girl is already compromising but being pregnant is downright debilitating. Not to mention you have the safety of the baby to worry about. I once burst into hysterical tears when a homeless man approached me at night in a parking lot for money when I was 9-months pregnant.

I hate being vulnerable.

I went to the class wanting Sensei Don to teach me how to never be vulnerable again. I wanted him to tell me the trick that would have saved me from all the uncomfortable and scary situations I've been in in the past. And yet I also wanted him to tell me that there was nothing I could have done, that none of it was my fault. Could I have done something differently in the past that would have saved me from years of pain? Sure. Knowing what I know now I absolutely would have avoided that situation and stopped the chain of events before they started. But that's in the past. Trying to rewrite history and argue with my 19-year-old self is unproductive.

I wanted the secret to never being afraid. I thought that if I could somehow become the ultimate fighter, I'd never have to be vulnerable again but I realized that I was trying to heal myself from the outside in. Being scared is part and parcel of the human condition. It's okay that I was scared stupid then. It's okay that a totally harmless self-defense class scared the crap out of me now. Some situations are scary. But just because I'm scared doesn't mean I can't do anything about it.

Nothing says "Date Night!" like an elbow to the groin! (Incidentally, according to Don, contrary to popular belief you should NOT go for the groin first - it's not a kill move. Go for the throat or the eyes.)

Sensei Don concluded by telling us that military personnel, cops, and other trained responders are not taught how to never be scared but rather how to keep functioning even when they are. Safety isn't found in an external condition, it's a place you create inside yourself. He then taught us a technique called "warrior breathing" as a way to calm yourself during a crisis. (Dear Don, please teach that first next time. Would have saved me an hour of hyperventilating. Thank you, Charlotte.)

Step four, if you have not been able to avoid, escape or overcome the situation, is simply to survive. And I did. I may not be a warrior - yet - but I can breathe. I can do that.

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt very unsafe? What was your instinct? Have you ever taken a self-defense class? How did you feel in it? And if you've seen Tron: The Legacy, was it just me or was the soundtrack seriously lacking?!

Best pic of the night: Meghan and Michelle demonstrate what to do when the zombies attack.

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!
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