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The Safety Team Blog

Self Defense is Scary

Oct 22, 2020

Taking a self-defense class is scary. But the confidence that you learn there? It is your superpower. Get it, girl.

By Kate Williams

I first came to martial arts in December 2016. It was my first time participating in a sport, as I spent most of my high school years focused on dance and drama. More than that, it was the first time I participated in something that could be considered “violent.” I was hitting and kicking things; granted, these things were hand-held pads. Still, I couldn’t get my mother’s voice out of my head: we don’t hit. And that was exactly what I was learning how to do: hit, and hit hard.

I think for most of us as women, it is a key refrain that often keeps us from participating in “violent” sports like martial arts. We are taught early on not to hit, not to hurt. We are taught to nurture and care for, not harm. And you know what? These are all good things! We should all strive to care for others, to not harm others. It should be a basic fact of life that every human being innately treats others with respect, dignity, and compassion. 

While it is the reality we each want and strive to make real, it is not the reality in which we live.

Still, it can be overwhelming and scary to walk into a room with a bunch of people you don’t know and then be placed in front of a hand pad and be told to hit it. How? As women, most of us have never been taught the right way to hold our hands in a fist (thumb outside your fingers). We’ve never been told that you use the first two knuckles of your hand to do the hitting, as they’re stronger and more stable. The difference between a roundhouse punch, an uppercut, and a cross-jab aren’t things we were taught. We certainly weren’t told that you should use the momentum from your hips and torso to get a stronger punch. 

It’s all scary, and it’s all overwhelming. We’ve spent our lives being told that women just don’t have good upper body strength. We’re told that having muscles is unattractive. And we’re told that fighting isn’t ladylike. Good girls do not get into brawls on the playground.

I remember being in my first or second martial arts class. I was working with one of the teachers, learning how to hit the pad. At a certain point, I noticed that some of the upper ranks – all men – were absolutely wailing on each other. They weren’t holding back, at all. My first thought was, dear god, don’t let them near me. My second thought was, if they’re not holding back, why am I? Because I’m a girl? Screw that! I resolved in that moment to never hold back on my hits or kicks when I was paired with someone who was well-trained enough to handle the intensity. 

I’ll be honest. Even though I stopped holding back, my hits and kicks were still pretty weak at first. But over the years, they’ve gotten a lot stronger. When the sensei says you have a mean roundhouse punch, it means he doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of it.

I’ve learned something else as I’ve progressed through the ranks at my dojo. Knowing how to defend yourself – heck, knowing you have options – is extremely empowering. I know that not everything I’ve learned will work against every attacker. But what I have learned is there is always something you can do. Always. Even if it’s simply being able to give the police an accurate description after the fact, you can do something.

Learning self-defense is scary, because you have to admit to yourself that someday you may need to use it. Moreover, most of us don’t actually want to hurt anyone. Why would we want to inflict pain on someone else? What kind of terrible person would we be?

It’s a tough thing to wrap your head around. How did I get past it? In the end, I decided that I had the right to exist. I have the right to walk down the street in broad daylight and not be actively followed by a strange guy. Seriously, this happened to me. He was following me home. In broad daylight, on a well-traveled street. Know what I did? I pulled myself up, stood strong and tall, looked directly at him, and said in a very loud voice, “CAN I HELP YOU WITH SOMETHING?” He paused for a moment, decided I wasn’t worth it, and continued off in a different direction.

What I did was self-defense. I didn’t hit or kick anyone, but I defended myself. And my useless beagle, who just stood there the entire time, daydreaming. He was a sweet boy, but no guard dog. 

What my martial art and self-defense classes gave me was confidence. In the end, that is one of the most powerful and nonviolent things a woman can possess. So yes, taking a self-defense class is scary. But the confidence that you learn there? It is your superpower. Get it, girl.