In defense of self-defense.

For some reason, I have always had the notion that if I ever took a self-defense course, I would be a natural at fighting off an attacker. I am not coordinated nor athletically gifted; I am short and prone to clumsiness especially when attention is focused on me. While I do workout fairly regularly, anything requiring me to pay attention to both my feet and hands at the same time (like a Zumba class for example) makes me so flustered, I just end up jumping and flailing more than anything. And yet despite the physical evidence, when I read about women like the badass Kelly Herron – who in the middle of a marathon, fought off an attacker in a restroom using self-defense techniques she had just learned – some part of my brain nods and thinks that is exactly how I would react if I were ever in such a scary situation.

This delusions may be derived from the fact that I have seen every, single episode of Law and Order: SVU and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and to some part of my brain this meant that I was going to be extra adept at self-defense. Basically, from all the episodes of SVU I now assume that anyone can be a potential predator, and try to be careful and more alert around people I’m not that familiar with. From Buffy, I think WWBD? There’s one episode of Buffy where she tells new slayer Kendra, “A good fighter needs to know how to improvise, to go with the flow.” So whenever I’m entering a room or walking somewhere at night, I’m always thinking of what I can use as a weapon if I find myself suddenly threatened and needing to flee.

This all might sound incredibly paranoid, but that is how my brain is wired. As a woman, I’ve grown up my entire life being told that I need to be careful, and stay safe. I feel a pressure to take my own safety in my hands, like I have to do everything I can to avoid being assaulted and murdered by someone else. And while I can plan what I’ll use as a weapon and be cautious around every stranger to walk by me, that still doesn’t mean I’ll be able to actually physically execute the imagined scene in my head where I use a Nalgene bottle to break my assailant’s nose and make a successful escape.

So when a conference I was attending offered a session on Self-Defense, I eagerly signed up. I was ready to learn some badass techniques that would save my life. I had taken Tae Kwon Do when I was in second grade for two weeks so I felt like I had a head start on everyone else who could possibly be going. I wore pants so if I needed to practice kicking something I’d have more flexibility. I filled up my Nalgene just in case.

So I was completely wrong. The instructors quickly informed us that the whole point of the session was to get away from our attackers without “waking them up.” I was immediately confused because if someone is looking for a victim, I feel like they’re pretty awake, filled with adrenaline and excited. I can’t imagine committing crime, especially assault, casually. Like nonchalantly grabbing someone’s wrist, and if they yank it away, you just shrug and decide you’ll try the next person jogging by?

The techniques were a series of complicated wrist turns and placing your fingers in certain positions to force the assailant to release you. I was paired up with the cutest woman who was a mother of two, and had that inexplicable mom strength. Even though I was probably a few inches taller than her and lift regularly, I COULD NOT GET AWAY FROM THIS WOMAN. I started over-thinking the hand placement and which way I was supposed to step. We were supposed to step toward the attacker in every scenario except one, and it felt so counter-intuitive I kept bumbling through the motions.

The instructors also demonstrated some throat punches, which I felt comfortable with until they said you had to be careful because if you seriously hurt your assailant, they could always sue you for damages. I didn’t even know a person was supposed to worry about hurting their attacker. I didn’t even want to practice this on my partner because what if I accidentally connected with her and she sued me, and then I was poor forever for trying to learn how not to end up as a true life episode of SVU?

By the end, I was convinced that I would end up being murdered because I couldn’t remember if it was one finger or two that was supposed to squeeze the tendon, of if that throat punch would have too much strength or too little. I felt like I was more likely to get out of a bad situation by talking about my cats until the other person was so bored they let me go for the sake of their own sanity, than successfully implement any of these techniques.

So my first self-defense course was not a success, but I don’t think this means self-defense isn’t important. Shortly after I had shared this story on Facebook a friend posted an article about the importance of choosing the right self-defense course and going more than once, and I completely agree. This was not the right course for me, but there are so many out there, and clearly as evidenced by Kelly Herron, they can save your life. I plan on finding one to take over the summer, but until then I am using my mom and her mom strength as a bodyguard.

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