I've made it no secret that I take self defense very seriously. Give me an opportunity to learn a way or means to defend myself and I will be happy to volunteer. Even if it's just a review of principles already learned, I am appreciative of the chance to review.
So it should surprise no one that when a two hour self defense class for women was offered to members of our local YMCA for only $15 I eagerly signed up.
Despite banged up knees from overworking them a week ago I hobbled my way to the Y this Monday afternoon and limped to the gym where the class was to be held. Knowing this was a general class for all types and experience levels I was not expecting to have to get very physical and therefore not overly worried about my bruised and aching knees. I figured I would listen, halfheartedly go through any maneuvers and then drag my aching legs out of the class at the end theoretically wiser than when I had entered.
Upon arrival I was introduced to two men dressed in standard karate costume, compete with black belts tied around their waists. One man was bald, reaching his sixties and referred to as "Master." The second man was in his mid-thirties, and comfortable enough as an assistant to be the one upon whom the Master demonstrated his defensive moves.
The class began with some thoughts on self defense, statistics and general rules that I had not only heard long ago but embraced. There was talk of brutality and preparing for pain and the sight of blood and pushing through feelings of fear and shock to act. We were instructed to leave behind feelings of violation upon being hit and act instead of taking the time to worry about being hit. I nodded my agreement and the ten of us gals paired up. We practiced basic standing defensive manipulations that I had already learned from my husband and most of the time I found myself explaining the gestures to my partner and allowing her to practice them on me rather than doing any practicing on her.
Every now and then an instructor would come over and perfect a move or provide criticism or a variation.
We did some striking work and as my darling husband has already expertly instructed me on the proper open-palmed strike I was happy to be the one who drove the instructor and his striking pad back a few extra inches.
At least once the younger instructor showed a variation on me that included an elbow to my chin which consequently caused me to bite my lip producing a bit of blood I swallowed and continued on.
When the other instructor followed up with some knee-kicking instruction by kicking me in the knee, however, I was about to ask to sit the rest of the class out, especially when the former instructor decided to show a second variation by kicking my other knee.
Always ready to withstand any pain to learn, I let my knees buckle slightly, widened into a basic warrior stance and stood hunched but ready for whatever else they might bring.
Finally a girl raised her hand and said, "But what do you do if an attacker gets you to the ground?"
"Ah ha," the Master said, "Which transitions us perfectly to the next segment of our class: ground fighting."
At this point the younger of the two instructors took over and asked for a volunteer. I wanted to volunteer but was not sure how my wounded knees would take ground fighting. When no one raised her hand he picked out a young gal to my left and asked her attack him as he lay on his back on a mat on the floor. He laid down and she inched forward and was already wincing before either of them touched.
The Master was explaining some defensive positions and the younger black-belt was demonstrating them but still the girl just crouched there watching.
"Hit me," the younger instructor instructed.
The girl extended her hand but withdrew it before it came a foot from his face.
"Hit him," the Master said.
She reached out her hand again but this time the young instructor raised his own hand and the girl recoiled so fast you would have thought it was his intention to hit her instead of the other way around.
He sighed and excused her, asking instead for a more confident assailant. Once more I wanted to raise my hand but the tenderness in my joints reasoned with me to keep silent. Again, when no one volunteered he chose a woman of athletic build wearing clothes fit for wrestling and limbering herself up on the sidelines. She had thick, toned muscles and I was sure she could do some damage to any human if she was able to apply herself.
First she was to be the attacker and the instructor was to demonstrate the defensive postures we were to learn.
The mock fight started as more of a grand circling while the woman ran around the mat looking for her opportunity to pounce. When she thought she saw an opening she would lung forward only to stop short and cower back.
"I just want to run and jump," she told the Master and his response was, "Then do it!"
Instead she inched her way in and the younger instructor allowed an opening for her to start feigning that she was hitting him.
"Don't pretend to hit me," he said, "Hit me!"
She attempted a few stronger slaps and seeing that was about as much aggression as he was going to get out of her he demonstrated defending himself against her soft blows and some more defensive instruction was given.
It was then time to switch roles. Instead of being the attacker, this time the woman was to be the intended victim and she was to use what she had just learned against her more powerful aggressor.
The young instructor first wrestled her to the ground rather quickly and was immediately upon her. She was quick to curl into a defensive position protecting her face and head but she squeezed her eyes shut and lay there waiting.
The instructor began to slap her around the arms and head, lightly at first. When she did not respond he began to hit her harder. The more aggressive he became the less she did until the Master screamed, "FIGHT BACK!"
The woman shouted back, "I don't know how! Instruct me."
So as the younger instructor continued to slap at her as the elder instructor talked her through certain maneuvers with her knees and elbows. Try though he may he could not seem to get her to open her eyes.
"You need to keep your eyes open and look for opportunities to strike back," he would say.
"I don't want to hurt him," she said.
"Don't worry about that," came the answer, "just fight!"
When the younger instructor let her up you could see the anger and violation in her eyes. She was getting mad and she was ready to go again.
The instructors asked her if she was okay, she said she was. He asked her if she just had a problem being man-handled and if she wanted to stop and she insisted she was ready to try again.
This time the instructor did not progressively attack. He took her down quickly and immediately started his assault with a new level of aggression, all the while explaining that if he were really out to hurt her or rape her he could have hit her harder here or torn her clothes off there or pinned her in this or that position.
He would often pin her in very undesirable positions such as sitting on her belly or even on her stomach from behind but would ease up when her clenched groans of frustration indicated she was angered at herself for not being able to fight him effectively.
The anger radiated from her face and while she put up a decent fight with her knees and with twists she still kept her eyes tightly closed and finally attempted just to crawl away while voicing through clenched teeth, "I am so pissed off."
You could see the fight in her, the want and the desire to unleash on him but something was holding her back. Whether it was a sense of propriety or fear it was unclear but what was clear was that there was a lot of fight in her that she was simple incapable of unleashing at that time.
I could take it no more. I wanted a crack at him.
"Anyone else want to volunteer?"
I was quick to raise my hand. My knees be damned.
"Hold these," I said, giving the Master my glasses.
I took my hair out of its pony-tail shook out my locks and said, "I'm ready."
After that things went really fast.
The instructor hit me hard and fast and I was on the ground but as he rushed me and before he could get on top of me I threw up a knee and kicked him hard in the thigh spinning him off balance.
"GOOD!" the Master said to my right.
Seeing more fight in me the instructor attacked again, hard, and I covered my head, lashing out with my feet. Whenever he would get above me I would bring up a knee to his groin and lash out with a hammer hit or kick.
Again and again he took after me and again and again I kicked him off all while screaming for help at the top of my lungs.
Within me my fight was boiling and I had every intention of letting it spill out.
He finally got through my defensive and started his slapping. I would watch his hands through my arms cradling my head and every time he drew back to hit me I would lash out with a hammer hit to any vital area I could reach, be it the ribs, chest, face or groin.
I hooked my legs around his as they had taught and tried to roll him but he countered and continued hitting me. When I tried again he had to brace himself against a fall and I took the opportunity to reach up and grab his ear, giving it a hard and vicious twist while kicking like a mad woman.
He yelled and was off me but back again in a matter of milliseconds. I was aware that I was screaming but I can't be held accountable for the words coming out of my mouth. I had found that little switch in my head filled with rage and fight, I'd flipped it and there was no turning it off until this fight was over.
I bit him and again he back off but only to hit me more. Again, watching through defensive arms I looked for opportunities to strike or twist away. Finding one I reached up and grabbed at his throat, but being a seasoned fighter he quickly tucked his chin and moved his face away.
I twisted and curled and for the next few moments we rolled on the mat while I screamed and bucked, kicked, punched, kneed and elbowed my way through his slaps and blows.
The noise around us was little more than a hum or cheers and instructions from the Master I tried to listen to through the adrenalin and desire to just wail on the man hitting me.
Later he would tell me that this was when I bit him in the arm pit and gave him a good twist to his left nipple but I don't remember that.
Finally, an opportunity opened up that all the fight in me had to take. After pinning me to the mat by the upper body he rose just enough to get a better angle and I reached between his legs, grabbed his crotch with all my might and gave a strong and mighty twist. He immediately jumped off and I heard the girls around me whistle and cheer.
There was a, "You go girl!" in there somewhere.
He didn't stay off me for long but this time I was able to regroup and when he came back at me it was at the consequence of getting both of my feet to his legs and abdomen.
He practically laid on top of me and I grabbed a fist full of his hair, clenching my fingers and twisting. I countered by grabbing his chin with my other hand and attempting to twist his head. When he lifted off of me to break my grip I elbowed him in the groin. As he tried to grab me again I clawed my way around his body until I was digging my nails into his thigh
"Whoa! I think that's enough," the Master said and the girls cheered and clapped as we both crawled off the mat gasping.
His shirt was thrown up and rustled, his hair was a mess and his face was flush with heat and sweat. I glared at him until I could calm down and then I smiled. He smiled back.
"Wow," he said. "She's tiny and she was kicking my ass. What can you learn from this?"
"To never give up," one lady said.
Another said, "To keep fighting."
While another said, "Fight dirty." And the room laughed.
I said through a hoarse voice and panting breaths, "To be ruthless."
The Master nodded, "She fought with no rules and there were several times, if he had not been wearing protection, that it's very likely she would have made the perfect debilitating blow that would have allowed her to escape... Remember, from this moment on, there are no rules."
When he asked if anyone had any questions I raised my hand, looked at the younger instructor still catching his breath and said "Did I hurt you?"
He smiled again and said, "Thank God I was wearing a cup or you would have. I think you invented a few moves in there too."
While I understood that he could have whipped me up and down and sideways if he had really wanted to it was enough for me to know that I wore him out and got in a few surprising shots.
I collected my glasses and limped out to the car, my knees battered but proud. I saw the smile on my husband's face broaden as I told him of my ground fight.
As we were pulling out of the parking lot a gal in our class stopped the car and when my husband rolled down the window she said, "You need to be careful with this one. She can fight."
He just smiled and said, "Where do you think she learned most of it from?"
When he asked me why I took my hair out I told him that a pony-tail makes for a perfect and completely controlling hand hold. While loose hair can also be grabbed it's easier to pull your head away and let an attacker rip out just a small handful of hair and get back to the fight than have your whole head controlled with all of your hair.
He smiled. "I'm so proud of you. My kick-ass princess."