Warning: I hate the phrase “trigger warning” but this is one. This post deals with violence and rape and fighting. And me, kicking ASS.
So, I want to tell you this. I’m a badass.
Once, many years ago, I attended an Impact self-defense graduation ceremony (back then it went by the strange name of Model Mugging). I was young (in my early twenties) and I was terrified of everything. I was scared to talk to people, scared to walk down the street, scared to go to sleep at night. The reason for this was multi-layered and I don’t feel like getting into exactly how my young psyche had been damaged, but one of the reasons I was scared was that I’d been raped. It was date rape (and oh, how I hate how that phrase can take the barb out of the word RAPE. Date rape, to me and many others, implied for many years that it was my fault. That it was a minor deal. It was neither).
To be honest, I didn’t even know I was going to write this part of this post until I started typing. I’ve told very few people this over the years. My mother knew. A few friends.
Until the Jian Ghomeshi shitstorm, I’d never admitted this online or in print, anywhere. The shame that’s internalized around rape is astonishing. You know me and admitting things. I LOVE to admit my deepest, darkest secrets and bring them into the light, but I’ve never admitted this. My stomach is in knots and I’m scared right now as I peck at the keys. I twittered a very little bit about my experience a few weeks ago while people were talking about Ghomeshi, and then I threw up and shook for the rest of the morning. But you know what? We have to talk about this. Among my women friends, more of them have been sexually assaulted than haven’t. This is true.
And this is so fucked up.
(No, before you ask (not like YOU would, YOU know better), this is not why I’m gay-married. I’m bisexual. I love (good) men, and I love (good) women. I just happen to be in love with my wife.)
So years and years ago, I went to that Impact graduation. I watched women fight their way away from men who were literally holding them down, picking them up, throwing them around. I wasn’t alone in crying my way through the graduation, and I vowed I would take the class someday. I vowed I would learn to be as strong as they were.
The problem was that the class wasn’t cheap. I was a broke college student for a long time, and then I was just a broke, indebted American for a long time.
Then I could afford it.
I signed up for the Basics course earlier this year, and I swear to you, I’ve never been more terrified to do something in my whole life. It’s a four day course, and by the time we were ten minutes into the class, I wanted to run. I fantasized about doing it so clearly I was surprised to find myself still standing in place.
First, with the help of our inspiring whistle instructor (the female teacher who’s literally right next to you during every fight, coaching you, blowing the whistle when you’ve won), we learned how to say No.
See, as women, we often don’t know how to say this effectively. And we certainly don’t know how to yell it. Our first group “No” was timid. Almost polite. A questioning, “No?” Am I doing this right?
Then, with the help of the amazing suited instructors (the men who wear the full-body suits which allow them to absorb our punches and kicks), we learned how to fight. I have to admit, I had some doubt about the men. What kind of guy would sign up to come at women menacingly? Now I know. The best kind of men. The men who want women to be safe in this world. They’re kind and generous and—honestly—pretty awe inspiring in their dedication to the cause of halting violence against women. I can’t say enough about them.
Now, in my whole life I had never hit a person who wasn’t a sister (and even when I was a kid, I was always better with words than fists). The first twenty or so times I hit a suited instructor, I apologized. I APOLOGIZED. We all did.
You know what? By the end of the class, I could take a man out. In order to graduate, we had to land several knock-out blows. Guess who managed to do this? Everyone in the class, including the ones who were much skinnier or much heavier than I was, including the ones who were twenty years younger or older than I am.
After that class, I was so much less scared. I didn’t know how much fear I carried walking in the BART parking lot at night, going out our front door in the dark, walking through the city, until that fear was lifted off. Not coincidentally, the next week, I got a bike. I wasn’t scared anymore to be knocked off it. No, I sure as heck don’t want to be knocked off my bike. I don’t want to be robbed. But now I know how to take care of myself, of my body, and I wasn’t scared for the first time in my life.
I loved Basics so much I signed up for Multiple Assailants, which I took last weekend. In this class, you’re not going so much for the knock-out blows (but those are nice to land, sure). Instead, you’re trying to land incapacitating blows, one after another; you line them up, and knock them down so you can get away and call help.
And I have to tell you, this class was even more terrifying to me than the Basics had been (with as much as I’d loved Basics, I didn’t expect this). A two-day class, I didn’t want to go either day. I literally prayed for a migraine. The first time three guys came at me, I almost lost control of my bladder.
Then, because I knew how, I fought.
I’m posting a video here of one of my fights in class.
It’s scary. If you’re tense right now, if you feel like crying while reading this, please don’t watch. Or at least don’t want alone. Watch with someone who can talk to you afterward, who can give you a hug if you need it. (This is me hugging you.) The instructors use language that’s street-real. You can tell I’m scared in this video.
But I’m also exhilarated. Those punches and kicks I’m landing might look like much, but they’re using all my strength, all my muscle, and I’m a strong woman. A normal guy who wasn’t wearing that suit would not get back up. Period. They would either be unconscious or vomiting from pain.
I don’t expect to ever have to use these skills. If mugged, I’ll give up my backpack. You can have my bike. But try to touch me? I’ll lay you OUT, motherfucker.
And that makes me feel like I can fly.