It’s a familiar feeling; nervousness mixed with fear and a little self-doubt. It’s after hours and you’re walking to your car but you could swear you hear footsteps that are not yours. You grip your purse a little tighter and step a little quicker to your car.
You’re in the hotel elevator, alone, heading up to your room. The elevator dings to a stop and in steps a big guy. He glances at you but you avoid eye contact. He presses the button to his floor. You make a mental note of the floor number while the hairs on the back of your neck stiffen and you shift your weight from foot to foot. The elevator starts heading upwards again.
These are the type of stories I hear from the women in my self-defense workshop. For them, training in martial arts is as much about developing self-confidence and self-esteem as self-defense. These women don’t want to be black belts; they just want feel more prepared and less vulnerable in certain situations. One of these women is my wife.
My wife is petite and never had much interest in martial arts though she’s always had the need to feel protected. She never demonstrated any desire to train the way I train despite my encouragement. Achieving a black belt is not easy and she has never viewed herself as a physical type of person. She is often content to avoid confrontation than provoke it. However, she’s in this workshop on the promise that she won’t have to beat anyone up; she hates to be a cause of pain.
The first lesson in the workshop is designed to set the stage. I ask for a volunteer and tell her to stand with her back to me. I tell her that I’m going to attack her and that she should fend me off as best she can. Within seconds, she is face down on the mat, arms locked and helpless. I let her up and ask for the next volunteer. After the second woman goes down, the realization begins to dawn on each face that each one will go through this and they have no chance of fighting back. The reactions range from fear to tears, as each believes she is completely helpless.
Of course, the problem is not that they are helpless but that they believe they are. I encourage them by revealing that they are more than they realize and they will see it over the next few weekends. Most black belts will tell you that the belt itself is a stylized piece of cloth that signifies a rank. Being a black belt is about attitude, a way of viewing oneself that comes from a deep understanding of the principles behind self-defense. It’s much more than techniques and kicks and punches. It’s about a type of confidence that comes from knowing what you can do as well as what you cannot do.
Many women have a persistent inner voice that reinforces the belief they are both inadequate and afraid at least some of time. In terms of physical danger, women feel less prepared and unsure of what they can do. Most women don’t realize their own strength when it comes physical confrontation, as they are typically unused to this type of activity. Once they have a better idea of their strengths and their limits, self-confidence begins to grow.
Over the next few weekends, the ladies in the workshop learn how to be aware of their surroundings, how to reasonably fight back for the purpose of escaping and to be aware of what they can and should do. For example, in most movies when someone is being choked, the victim’s hands almost always grip the attacker’s hands to relieve the pressure. For women, there are far better targets that can relieve the pressure, enough to escape. These are the targets on which they should focus. It means that these ladies need to look at the situation a little differently.
One milestone of the workshop is the flipping class. Most women understand the principles of leverage but have never actually used them to flip someone; most believe that a 120-lb woman cannot flip a 280-lb man. It is an eye opening class for each woman and, in one case, for an unsuspecting husband who wanted to know what his wife learned in class that day.
The last class is like the first class; it’s designed to set the stage. I ask for a volunteer and tell her to stand with her back to me. I tell her that I’m going to attack her and that should fend me off as best she can. I managed to get her down but not without a few kicks to my shins. I always hate that part. I can’t lock her up and she rolls out of my reach. She stands and runs. Well done. I remind the ladies of the first day and their fear. I ask for another volunteer. Confident hands go up; they are eager to see what they can do.
Months later, I saw my wife looking out the back door at the kids playing in the backyard. I snuck up behind her (in typical black belt fashion) and grabbed her shoulder. She gasped, spun around with elbows up and nicely introduced her elbow to my chin. On the outside, I was hurting but on the inside I was more than a little proud. My wife is still her very sweet self but not as fearful as she once was. However, she still hates being the cause of pain – even if he deserves it for sneaking up on her.