Monday, August 9, 2010

Facing Fear Head On: Self Defense Seminar Empowers Women to Go from Victim to Survivor

Somewhere in this country a woman is walking through an isolated parking lot late at night unaware that watchful eyes are fixated on her, waiting for a moment of weakness to take her down. Suddenly, that someone tackles her from behind and she crashes into the ground. She feels the dead weight of his hips mounted on her back and the blows behind her head are taking a toll on her state of consciousness. In another part of the country a woman walks into the comfort and security of her own apartment, ready for what she thinks is a night of peaceful slumber. After slipping into her nightgown she crawls into bed out of sheer exhaustion and lays in total darkness. Someone rushes toward her and mounts over her hips. Strong hands vicegrip around her neck and she has only seconds to react before that sleep becomes permanent. Sometime just about now, an abusive husband is slapping and beating his defenseless wife. She can only place hands in front of her face to try and cushion the blows. No, I'm not making this up, and this isn't the workings of a fiction writer's overactive and paranoid imagination. Incidences like these happen on a daily basis every minute of every hour. It's easy to disconnect ourselves from the reality of such violence. We all seem to fall for the old personal fable that something like that could never happen to us, but the reality of such a possiblity becomes probable when you come face-to-face with a victim who actually lived it.

I recently assisted a women's only self-defense seminar at the center where I train at San Antonio, Texas, Krav Maga Worldwide. The owner, First Degree Black Belt, Pete Hardy, whom I can best describe as a tough-talking, Full Metal Jacket, Sgt. Hartman type figure, but with a good heart and a soft spot for empowering women, holds these seminars every couple of months. I walked in thinking that I was physically prepared for this, afterall, I write to empower women, and this was just another avenue in which I was contributing to what I love to do. I was wrong!

What I wasn't expecting was the emotional toll it was going to take on me when we ran the self-defense drills: defense from guard position laying down; defense from a mounted position, laying face up with a choke; and defense from a mounted position with a choke laying face down. Assisting with demonstrating the assault defenses went smoothly. We were low in female instructors due to a training they had to attend, so one of the instructors asked me to step up and help. I did so willingly and loved every moment I saw the ladies gain in their confidence when they performed moves that were simple and easy to learn. As part of the last drill, Mr. Hardy gathered the instructors and assistants in the biggest room so the men could suit up in padded gear. I was to be one of my husband's spotters and my job was to ensure that both victim and attacker were safe. As soon as the first round of women came in, the air grew tense. I felt weird but shook it off as a bad case of nerves for my husband who was about to get the beating of his life, over and over (what a trooper!).

Realizing what was happening overwhelmed me. Certain women were reliving violent experiences and the tension was coming from the look of fear in their faces as they stood in front of their attacker, once again, and were asked to FIGHT-- fight for their lives. This moment was not just a simulated drill to them. This was real. My husband's hand on their necks was real, his weight on their bodies, was not just pretend, IT was happening-- all over again. I had to use every ounce I had to keep my cool, suck back the tears, swallow the lump that was forming in my throat. Memories of an experience I had with a family member who attacked me many years ago were triggered and it was tough to handle, but I had to put a brave face for their sake, because this wasn't about me. This was about getting them to free themselves from the prison of their own mind imprinting self-defeating thoughts that told them throughout the years that they were helpless--weak--and that they deserved to get what happened to them. They needed to face that demon and as Mr. Hardy pointed out at the training he gave us the day before: "Help free them from captivity!"

One woman broke down and froze right next to me. I held back tears as one of the counselors from VASA (an organization based in San Antonio that stands for Voices Against Sexual Assault) gathered round and asked, "Were you raped?" She could only nod. I had to think of a happy place, focus on my group and keep going. Another woman came to our group from a counselor who coached her and said, "We're going to do this again, and this time you're gonna fight. You can DO this!" I could only watch as her lips quivered and her closed eyelids twitched, awaiting my husband's chokehold from a standing position. I saw that woman open her eyes and unleash a firestorm on him as she kicked, kneed and battled her way out of my husband's grip. It was amazing to watch what the simple techniques of Krav Maga did to this fearsome lady. Yet, my excitement was bittersweet since it was my husband who was taking a beating.

After it was over, we cheered for her and high-fived. She let out a deep breath of relief. I couldn't have been prouder for her at that moment. I didn't know what she experienced, but I could only imagine that it must've been something violent and tragic, but she faced fear in the face, head-on that day and won. This happened over and over throughout the drills, and when the last one was done, I think I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I felt honored and inspired to have been part of this moment, and thankful, ever so grateful that I found a fighting system that did so much for victims of sexual assault. I think I learned much more from these women than what I was able to teach them about Krav Maga. They showed me that you can look fear in the face and say, "VICTIM, NO MORE!" Surviving is the only option when you're willing to learn the skills you need to defend against an assault. If you have been a victim of such an attack, are you, dear reader, willing to look fear in the face and say, "NO MORE!"? The choice is yours.


  1. Wow! What an empowering and inspirational piece! I wish we had some kind of self-defense class for women in our small community.

    Wait! ... you've inspired me to instigate such a class. I'll start the process and let you know what happens.

    I appreciate life-altering, life-strengthening posts. Thanks, Jax!