I got a smile the other day when I read a news story yesterday about a teen girl who fought off an attacker using her karate skills. I will bet that was a surprise for Mr. Attacker.
It makes me wonder, though - if one in ten (or eight or four) women is going to be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, why the hell isn't effective self-defense taught to every junior high school girl?
It's not like we dont know how to teach effective self-defense. I know because 15 years ago I took a powerful, fabulous, life-changing class. Even after all these years, I still feel I could defend myself in many situations.
The program I went through asks all its grads to follow up with them forever if they become involved in rape or assault situations. The stats are pretty good. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the women were able to use their skills to leave the situation without harm. In some cases, the women fought back and won. In a very tiny fraction, the women made a choice to let the assailant rape them because they felt that was the best decision to preserve their lives. But even then, the women felt like they maintained some power because they had a choice.
I took the class because of my friend "Tessa". She had been incested as a child and raped as an adult. She was a nice, funny, smart person. She was also a deeply hurt person. She had the wary look of a dog that is used to being kicked and beaten. Even when everything seemed to be going ok, she expected it not to be.
She told me that she had flashbacks and recurring nightmares and night terrors about all the things that had been done to her. She had been in therapy forever. She was a recovering alcoholic and addict.
When she told me she was taking the class, I figured it was another step in her healing, like therapy and AA and NA were. I listened politely about her training, but there was nothing that made me think I would ever participate.
Then she invited me to her graduation and I went to support her. Graduation was actually the last class of the series, where all of the women in class took turns getting attacked and defeating their attackers.
I thought these attacks would be like a karate demo, with someone doing a few standing punches and kicks, no big deal.
I was so wrong. First of all, the muggers – the male teachers in the class – wore these huge padded outfits with a giant mushroom helmet that made them all look like scary undefeatable supersized space aliens.
The simulations were full-strength, full-volume rape scenarios with the muggers screaming obscenities and threatening the women. Often the women got knocked to the ground or started out lying down as if they were in bed and had awakened with someone already sitting on top of them.
Sitting in the audience, I felt like I was going to faint. The monstrous, looming, threatening muggers. The women, who looked tiny by comparison, bravely facing them, kicking and hitting not stopping until the muggers were knocked out, then bouncing up off the mat, happy and smiling. Deafening cheering from the graduates and the audience. It all made my head spin.
My face got hot and blotchy, my vision got blurred, and I burst into hard sobs a couple times when it was Tessa's turn because I knew they were re-creating scenarios that she had already lived through - except this time she got to fight back and win.
Somehow, in the midst of all that, I decided that this was something I had to do even though I didn't think I could afford it. The instructors set up a long, generous, interest-free payment plan for me.
Six weeks later, I was lying on a gym mat in my sweats on a Thursday night, my pulse racing about 160 beats per minute as I learned to elbow my attacker in the face.
The class met for the next four Saturdays and those weeks were some of the craziest and best of my life. I would get up early, cut off my fingernails so I wouldn't break them fighting. Then I would head to the dojo for hard, sweaty, emotional training.
We were taught to reach way deep inside ourselves for strength that we didn't know we had. We yelled as hard as we could, kicked as hard as we could, got knocked down and pinned down and still kept fighting.
The dozen women in my class heard each others secrets. Most had been molested or raped. One had been stalked for over five years and was so paralyzed by fear that her face muscles were immobile as a statue. We came together and supported each other, cried, sweated and fought proudly together.
It wasn't easy. It was hard. We had two serious injuries. One student dropped out from an injury. The other tore a ligament in her arm and learned to fight one-handed. I learned to fight blind, since I didn't have contacts and for safety's sake, couldn't wear glasses. I can't see my own toes without my glasses on. Fortunately, muggers are big.
But I did it. And it changed my life in so many ways. The best was that I learned to say "No," something many women never learn. Want to trample my boundaries? No. Want to keep me in a situation where I feel I am being disrespected? No. Want to sexually harass me? No, no, no.
I HIGHLY recommend Impact or Model Mugging style courses. They are expensive but WORTH IT. They teach full-contact, full-speed self-defense - they are designed to defend against the most common rape/attack scenarios. NO!