A Blogger for Self-Defense

This is the introduction to a series of essays on the importance of self-defense and physical power. I am not an expert on self-defense, nor a physical fitness guru. I do not condone violence, but advocate taking whatever action or inaction is needed to survive potentially dangerous situations. Not every situation is defensible through physical force. canstockphoto6758958Last month, I stopped participating in Bloggers for Peace. It is a great concept, but I felt like a hypocrite. I’ve not been feeling peaceful for a long time. The unfortunate side affect of reading blog posts and the news, is that the world starts to become a very ugly place, especially in regards to issues related to being a woman. Disproportionate attention gets paid to the negative and the horrifying, so we read about the Steubenville rape, the murder of a paid escort in Texas, the abuse that many women have received at the hands of a “loved one”, a constant stream of politically and religiously motivated moralizing gone awry, based on the premise that our bodies are the collective property of the state.

I cannot, at this moment in time, advocate peace in the face of all of this. Being a conscientious person, I recognize that I live and feel a strange sort of dichotomy. At what point do I take action and NOT use my words? So, I’m writing about violence this week, in the form of self-defense.

Much of this is going to apply to women, simply because that is my perspective, but I hope male readers find something of value or can contribute their own perspective.

My hesitation on writing about this subject evaporated yesterday. I watched a YouTube video of a Taekwondo spin hook kick. A commenter had written “this would be a good kick to use on a woman who is yapping”. The star of the video, a skilled martial artist, responded “Yeah, that’s true.” Now I know, in my rational mind, that douchebags populate these sites, but most martial arts training advocates respect and discipline. It was disheartening to see, once again, something positive tainted by wankers with no sense of honor.

To clarify, for those who haven’t read this blog before, I’m a 45 year old woman. I spent 4 years of active duty in the US Army, in a military intelligence unit attached to an infantry division, which meant a lot of time out in the field. I am a practicing martial artist, just a short step from my 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo. I run, weight train and do a variety of workouts that support speed, flexibility and strength. I’ve gone through labor and delivery of a child. I’ve had ripped corneas, more bruises than I can count, torn and pulled ligaments and muscles. Last night I dropped a 250lb man in a self-defense move and the night before that, I sparred intensely with a teenager a foot taller than I, taking a kick to the jaw.

This is all to say, I’m not afraid of the pain and I am not afraid to use my power. As a woman in this society, it is considered wholly unnatural to be an advocate of putting the hurt on someone else. We’re encouraged to do flutter kicks to flatten our abs and leg lifts to tighten our butts.  Every time I see the covers of women’s magazines, I cringe. Even the so-called fitness magazines are focused on appearance and not capabilities. I would love to see the title “How to make No mean No: Giving a Beat Down He Won’t Forget” or “Self-Defense for Parking Lots: Keys are for Eyeballs, Knees are for Groins” or “50 Ways to Leave Your Abuser”. Instead we’re told how to organize a shoe closet or how to make ourselves look “hotter” (there’s a word that deserves to be beaten to death).

I’m an average woman who was never particularly coordinated or athletic. My education about violence and physical force started at a young age. Pushes, shoves, punches, slaps, ear twists, hair pulls, belt whippings, threats from behind a gun sight – all from people older and bigger than I, people who I should have been able to trust with my well-being. When I was a four-eyed, awkward, puny and shy 4th grader, a group of girls pushed me off my bike and took it. I did not react, except to cry. My crying matured into a quiet, stony stare when I was attacked, either physically or verbally. I dreamed of being a vigilante, of defending kids like myself, of taking down the bullies. I seethed with rage that had nowhere to go, except inward.

My Army drill sergeant had nothing on me. He could get in my face, scream at me, force me through unceasing pushups, flip my bunk – I did what I was told and stared stonily into the distance (hence being called into the senior drill sergeant’s office for an “attitude problem”). I knew he was a drinker – his eyes had that same red, watery look that my stepfather had the morning after a bender. Been there, done that, dude. I stared him down. 100 pushups later, I still stared him down. He gave up, winded from all the yelling. Probably needing an aspirin.

These days, I’m an advocate of peaceful existence. But becoming a mother to a daughter forced me to re-examine what that means to me and what I want it to mean for her. I began to train, to learn a martial art, to become as strong on the outside as I am on the inside. I’m prepared to defend myself. And not with flutter kicks (unless they’re to the head).  I have begun to believe the world would be a more peaceful place, especially for women, if we each knew our personal power, could walk confidently out into the world, could know what we were capable of and that we have choices.

Tune in Tuesday    

Claiming Public Space: The Power of Posture

50 Comments on “A Blogger for Self-Defense

  1. No reason not for you to start that magazine.
    No reason safety levels out in the world should be different because of gender.

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    • I’ll keep my goals low at this point – just starting with some blog posts!

      And agreed. I think the socialization of women often precludes physical strength and training as one of their core values. There are men, as well, who haven’t pursued it in their lives – maybe as a result of it being overemphasized as part of their socialization. It would be interesting to hear from a male perspective on that count.

      I do think being aware of one’s capabilities shifts the power paradigm significantly.

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  2. I would not consider you a hypocrite. I honestly think this post (and series of posts) have a place in the peace movement. Peace is about acceptance and respect for others: gender shouldn’t matter. While the world has come a bit further than it was in the 50’s as far as respect for women (and men), it has a long way to go. Thanks for being a voice that needs to be heard.
    Looking forward to your next post.

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    • Thanks, Ruth. I just haven’t felt like I could write “Peace” posts, so I wasn’t able to meet the monthly commitment. I’m really, truly fed up and angry about much of what has been happening in our society and in our politics. Like most things, I’m trying to write through it and maybe come up with a better, more reasonable stance. I thought writing about aspects of strength and physicality not related to appearance would exorcise some of my anger!

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  3. Thank you, Michelle. For a long time, I’ve been wanting to take up one of the defensive arts. I don’t feel safe at all. I want to be able to protect myself. This post is particularly timely, given that I’m trying to convince my 89 year old mom that an older man’s manipulative and intrusive attentions at her bridge group should be unwelcome and that she needs to assert herself. Frankly, I’m trying to resist the urge to go over there and knock him down myself. Anyway, you’ve spurred me to investigate taking up some new physical activities. I’m impressed by what you’ve been through.

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    • I’m so glad it’s timely and I’m hoping to cover some topics that are simple changes that can be made without classes. I find much that has been written about women’s self-defense is dated and like CPR, techniques have changed over time.

      Age plays a significant role in many women’s attitudes toward being assertive and/or aggressive when needed – and the types of physical training they engage in. There are a lot more opportunities on offer now, but classes for women are still predominantly appearance versus strength-oriented.

      And don’t go knocking down old men, as tempting as that might be!

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  4. You’re right. The world would be a more peaceful place if we were all aware of our capabilities. And that goes for all the oppressed.

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    • I often think, too, that oppressors are filled with insecurities about their own true, non-bullying abilities, so they turn to whatever is at their disposal – whatever is easiest to gain dominance.

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      • Absolutely agree. That’s why your idea is so great. When they can’t bully or abuse or dominate or intimidate they have no choice but to retreat. It’s not as much fun when someone fights back.

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  5. Oh, this is a button-pusher for me.

    “The socialization of women”… yeah. When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, girls were NOT expected or encouraged to engage in physical-contact sports. Tussling with your siblings or other kids was discouraged as “unladylike.” The end result, too often, was a grown woman who could not even make her manicured hand into a proper fist, much less use it effectively; who was easily intimidated by a physical attack; who had no clue how to even try to fight off an attacker (slapping and scratching do nothing). I also recall a time when pants in public were greatly discouraged, and tight sheath skirts and high heels were “proper attire” for women; that just served to cripple them even more. You can’t run, crawl, climb or kick dressed like that, but of course, what respectable woman would ever need to?

    Fortunately for me… my Dad was the one to “socialize” me on this point, and he was not very sociable! He taught me not to be afraid of physical contact; and his advice, if attacked, was pretty vicious stuff. HOWEVER, I have no illusions that I can “beat down” a man. My goal is surprise and escape and get help.

    Better yet, don’t get attacked in the first place!! Somehow I managed to serve over 20 years in the military and never had a problem with the guys, and somehow I have managed… so far… to travel around some pretty sketchy places at home and abroad, even alone, with no ill results. I do not think it was all a matter of luck.

    Which might be what you will write about for Tuesday… I will be tuning in!

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    • This is exactly what I mean about generational differences, although I still see a lot of women voluntarily running around in clothes, heels and purses that would preclude getting anywhere fast.

      I was being somewhat facetious about the magazine article titles. The first line of defense is always escape, but there are a hundred ways a person can severely cripple or distract an attacker.

      I want to be very careful here about victim blaming. Some events are luck, good or bad. Some things are preventable, some are not. While the onus always seems to lie with the victim to take precautions, the blame is entirely the attacker’s. But we’re talking reality versus the way things should be – there are some steps that can be taken to lower the chance of being a victim of a crime, but there’s no sure-fire prevention.

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  6. To me there is no disconnect btw peace and the ability to defend oneself. I think basic self-defense skills are important to have for all women…and men alike. On a personal level, my skills have already come to pass once in a robbery attempt in the middle of the day in a big city…I walked away in peace and the young man was lying on the sidewalk, more scared than harmed. I hope he’ll think twice before he tries to attack another “granny” …

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    • Wow – I’d be interested (and I think readers would be, too) as to how you handled yourself. Nothing better than “on the ground” experience. I’m glad you walked away safely and appreciate you sharing your experience!

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      • Michelle – I’m happy to tell the story (will try to be short). A few years before this all happened I had been the Training Director for a huge health care company. I discovered that staff in our mental hospitals got hurt by the patients far too often so I worked with a reputable self-defense company to develop a self-defense course and made it mandatory for all staff in these hospitals. Of course they invited me to participate…and then my son (who has belts in several types of MAs) kept sparring me every now and then – he still loves to do it :>) Then one day I was walking on a big city street on my way to meet someone for a late afternoon business lunch. That side of the 6 lane street didn’t have many pedestrians and I didn’t think anything of the two guys in their 20s seemingly discussing something on the right side of the sidewalk. Just when I was passing them, one of them attacked me, going for the small purse hanging on my right shoulder. Instinctively (no thinking there!), I had placed a hard karate hit on the guys arm reaching for my purse and kicked his left foot from under him. He fell hard into the sidewalk and his companion was so surprised he didn’t try to do anything when I ran the two remaining blocks to the restaurant. It’s funny how those skills “sit” in there. I was surprised how it actually worked… in a split second, instinctively from my subconscious mind. All the stuff I had learned and practiced with my son just kicked in – and all was well at the end.

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        • Great story and really an example of what I would emphasize. You don’t know how you’ll react in a situation, but if you have at least imagined, practiced, thought about what it would be like to be attacked, you have a shot of reacting in a way that takes your attacker off guard. It is a split second decision, but if you have never even imagined it, you will be too slow to react. The attacker has had time to plan, but also assumes he or she has the element of surprise over the victim.

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  7. I enjoyed reading this very relevent, to me, post. I am a man who cycle commutes to and from work, I played sports, mainly rugby, and always felt confident out and about. Now in my sixties, I find I feel less confident and, have to say, vulnerable when confronted with the potential of physical violence from strangers, usually driving cars. I, too, am looking forward to your future posts on this subject. Thanks.

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    • You bring up a very good point – we all, regardless of gender and life experience, are going to have points in our lives where we feel more or less vulnerable. I’ll make sure to include information specifically in regards to cycling as well. Thanks for the reminder and for commenting!

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  8. I think peace messages may work for societies or for the slightly non-calm people, but self-defense can build peace inside of you. That said, when I was taken down by an 8 year old (in a martial arts class), I felt drawn back to peace. As a tall man who takes up space, I think I deter some folks … except for that 8 year old sparring partner. Confidence definitely matters!

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    • I like this perspective. It really goes to the question, too, of how one builds confidence. By doing, by practicing, by finding out what a person is capable of – these are necessary steps to feeling peace and confidence that is genuine and self-generated. It changes how a person moves and is perceived in the world.

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  9. Wow – here’s a twist! I’m excited to read your next posts. I could use the pointers. I often think that I would like to learn some basic self-defense before I get any older and become even less physically confident.

    But I don’t want you to resign from Bloggers for Peace…you’re the one who got me involved! Knowing how to take care of yourself leads to inner peace, so I think this counts as a monthly post 🙂 You remind me…it’s the 30th, and I haven’t done mine!

    Thanks for doing this series. And I agree, I’d like to hear “Granny’s” story (above in comments) – maybe you could encourage others to share their successes with you and then include them in your posts.

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    • This is a dichotomy I’ve been arguing about in my head for a long time. It’s hard to go on about peace, when I am so angry and fed up. The more I think about what I’ve learned and how it helps me feel strong and confident, the more I wish it for others.

      I appreciate your kind words. Over the last couple of months, I read others’ blogs about peace and it stopped resonating for me. I have felt the opposite of hugs and nonviolence, especially after reading about so much injustice in the world, specifically violence against women. I feel like kicking some ass. So maybe writing about self-defense is my proverbial way of doing that.

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      • Well, I’m a Jesus follower and the way I read it, the “Prince of Peace” got pretty ticked off about injustice, too, kicking over tables and such.
        There’s such a thing as righteous anger in a peaceful person – it’s the wish for peace that causes the anger…you go, sister! Rage against the machine! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Kylie. I should warn you, I will be doing a post about weapons as well. Not in the use of, but being familiar with how weapons play into defense scenarios. You’ve done a great amount of work in regards to gun control. I feel I’d be remiss in not covering it, but I know it can be a sensitive topic.

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      • Thanks for the heads up. I think they have their place, but that there should be a lot of training, background checks, and safety standards. I don’t think they should be used as a first-line of defense, and that it’s very rare for a situation to call for their use in self-defense. I’m looking forward to reading your perspective.

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        • I will be approaching it as an unarmed person confronted by a weapon. Considering the proliferation of weapons in this country, I’d be intentionally obtuse by not writing about it.

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        • That will be very practical. It’s been on my mind a lot with the Trayvon trial.

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  11. Thank you for doing these. I’m not familiar with Blogging for Peace, but violence and misogyny has been getting to me (more than usual) lately, and I strongly support women’s self-defense and self-empowerment — so much so that I hope my future career involves it somehow. I’m a super tiny and (previously) unathletic person, and my aggression is pretty well buried between sensitivity and uncertainty. Crossfit has helped, and I just started Krav Maga, too — I’m sensing that I’ll be getting to know my aggressive self much better now. 🙂

    Can’t wait for the next post!

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    • That would be awesome to have a career doing that. I’ve thought about a late life career getting certified as a self-defense instructor, but still finding my footing with the writing. I’m like a little kid – so many things to try and do, so I have to force myself to focus on the task at hand!

      I’ll be interested to hear/read how the Krav Maga training goes for you. From what I’ve read about it, it follows along the lines of a lot of self defense systems. Being able to tap into aggression is really critical for self-defense, so your awareness about your level of comfort is a great first step.

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      • Thanks! I’m loving it so far but had to take a break when my introductory membership ran out — I’m a little low on funds. Can’t wait to get back to it. I’ll definitely keep you posted!

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  12. Michelle, let’s write those articles… I picture a blog that have stories of women and (finding, using, achieving) their strength… seriously, brilliant idea, brilliant post.

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    • Thanks, Jess. Just from doing some research, I was overwhelmed by the number of blogs and websites regarding women’s self defense, so I’m likely reinventing the wheel. Still, since it is an interest of mine (and yours, I would bet), I’m glad that I can share some of my own experience and training to get people thinking about their own abilities.

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  13. Hi Michelle,
    I think you’ve tapped into something here with a very intelligent, heart-felt post. So glad you are out here in the blogosphere. The world needs more folks like you. Thanks.

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    • Thank you for the kind words. I was actually a little surprised about the interest and response, so I’ve been digging in to find good resources and make the topic as relevant as possible. Thanks, too, for reading and commenting!

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    • I have a lot of conflicting feelings about the use of force and I think that psychological conflict is important. It’s when we don’t think about it, that it gets overused and sometimes exacerbates a bad situation. I’m still writing posts about avoidance of attacks, but eventually will get to use of physical tactics.

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      • I agree. Force must be viewed as a regrettable last option that is sometimes necessary when other options are exhausted.

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  17. Great blog! After being burglarized while home alone recently, I completely changed my ideas about women and self defense. I now tell every woman I can to learn self defense, get a concealed carry permit, buy a gun and keep it with them. Probably a little extreme but the world is becoming a crazy place.

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