athletes · martial arts

Grooming, Coaching, and Toxic Relationships: Some (Guest) Conversations

In the last few years, there have been some high profile sexual assault and abuse cases in American sports. Larry Nassar, former US Gymnastics team doctor, was convicted earlier this year of sexually abusing many girls and young women in his role as a physician for the team. The Lopez brothers, Steven and Jean, a three-time Olympic medalist and US Olympic coach, respectively, are accused of sexually abusing and assaulting several girls and young women. While the former is still under investigation, the latter has been permanently banned from Olympic activities as a result of findings by SafeSport. USA Swimming has also had several people speak out about what has been called a “culture of sexual abuse.”

Sexual abuse is obviously a feminist issue. It’s actually something I write about in my day job as a feminist philosopher. But given that philosophy is my professional training, not journalism, I’m going to leave discussion of the details of individual cases to people who report such things for a living.

Instead, I want to do something a bit different, and think about the background conditions and relationships that make abusive situations possible. To help me do that, I’m going to have several conversations with people who have had a variety of experiences with taekwondo coaching and competition. That’s not because I think it’s more important than other cases, but it’s my sport, and I feel much better positioned to talk about it. But just so you know, I’m not going to ask anyone to weigh in on particular cases, individuals or allegations. It’s just that in order to get a better understanding of the stakes and context of some of these cases, I think it’s important to understand the nature of the relationships in question.

So just keep an eye out for an occasional series with me and guest views. I’m going to talk to people about their gendered experiences in sports, as well as their views about power and mentorship, and how it works in these kinds of contexts.  A coach, after all, will get you to do a lot of things you don’t want to do. They’ll get you to push through a hard training session when you’re tired or don’t feel like working out. And over time, you’ll do a lot of things that might feel counterintuitive because you trust them to know what’s best for you – sometimes more than you trust yourself. Make that happen in the context of a sport whose traditional roots value discipline and deference to authority, and it seems as though the potential for abuse is high.

Also, I think that a lot of people who haven’t been competitive athletes can easily underestimate the power that someone highly positioned in the sport can have over you – especially when you’re still young and trying to find your place. So hopefully one thing that we’ll get out of these conversations are some useful ideas about how to understand power and relationships better, so we can work to make ourselves better and improve the situation of future generations of athletes.

martial arts · motivation · training

A Challenge Not a Chore: Christine Delays Her 3rd Degree Test

I recently decided to delay taking my 3rd degree black belt test.

 

Phrasing it like that makes it sound like a simple decision but it took a lot of emotionally-fraught consideration on my part, and a consultation with my instructors to come to that conclusion.*

 

It is really hard for me to back down (or at least sidestep) an important plan I had made for myself – especially when there is a established timeline to follow. However, as Master D reminded me this week, for black belt testing the suggested timeline is a minimum, not a maximum. With that in mind, taking an extra 6-8 months (depending on scheduling) is not a big deal.

 

Here’s my thought process that led to my decision…

 

My wrist, broken or not, has been troublesome.

 

Even though I practiced in a modified way while my wrist was in a brace, the restrictions on my movements prevented me from learning the flow of my new patterns. I order to maintain my balance,  I wasn’t even supposed to do any kicking while I had my brace on. 

Since ‘TaeKwonDo’ essentially means ‘the art of kicking and punching’, you can imagine how much of my patterns I had to just make a mental note for instead of doing the movement.

 This video is of someone demonstrating ‘Juche’ one of my newest patterns. Imagine trying to learn this without being able to move your right hand, and without being able to kick or jump. It was tricky, to say the least.

Also, I wasn’t expecting that my movements would still be somewhat restricted when my brace came off. I had sort of thought I could throw myself back into everything once I was brace-free. Instead, I had to take a break from sparring, or any movements where my wrist might strike something.

So, I have spent the past three months being extremely conscious of every movement, which puts me in the overthinking zone. That’s not a good place for me to learn effectively and definitely not a good place for me to build confidence in my movements.

 

My time has not felt like my own.

 

In the past few months, I have had a variety of new obligations – a new freelance gig, some family-related things, and some time-consuming volunteer work- that have resulted in a new schedule every week.

 

All of those things have been fun and worthwhile, but the changing schedules have wreaked havoc on my ADHD brain. My sense of time has gone right out the window.

 

That means that I haven’t always had the focus I needed for the other aspects of test preparation – studying theory, ensuring that I understood the purpose and methods behind the movements, and practicing my board breaks.

 

It’s not that I didn’t have the time to do those things, it’s that my perception of my time has been inaccurate.

 

My heart was not in it.

 

Normally, the time before a belt test is nerve-wracking, but exciting. Even when the work ahead of me has been hard, I still felt drawn to it. This time, it felt like I was preparing to test just for the sake of taking the test. It seemed like I was doing it because I said I would.

 

That’s not how I want to approach my tests. I want them to feel like a challenge, not a chore.

 

I want to feel up to the challenge, I want to feel ready for the work.

 

Instead, I just felt kind of tired. I knew that I *could* do the work in time, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to. And I didn’t feel prepared to sacrifice other things to make more room for the extra work I needed to do.

 

It was my own attitude that made me decide that I didn’t want to test in June. I wasn’t in the right headspace for meeting a challenge. I wasn’t feeling any joy in the process.

 

Once I had acknowledged where I was, I began thinking about what it would be like to test at another time. That’s when I realized that delaying my test meant I would have all summer to practice (I love practicing outside) and I would get to train and test with some of the highest ranking students in my school.

 

Something clicked for me then.

The author's tools for preparing for her test - a yellow rectangular plastic board for kicking, a gold notebook for recording her progress, and two white books printed with black type that include training theory and lists of patterns.
Some of my resources for the next six months – my theory book, my patterns book, my shiny gold notebook for recording my training notes, and my rebreakable board for practicing.

 

I felt excited about that future testing. I felt a power in the idea of training with that group, of being challenged to match their skill levels.

 

I could see the next six months or so laid out in front of me, training in one area and then another. It didn’t feel like I had to know everything at once. And it wasn’t just that the time had expanded that gave me that feeling, it was knowing who would be with me on that journey.  I could clearly imagine that test day and I smiled at the thought.

 

And since I made that decision, every exercise I have done has a type of ease in it.

 

KIYA!

 

*Just to be clear, even if I had decided that I was ready, my instructors have the final word. I don’t know what their final word would have been but I know they were concerned about whether I was ready.

 

athletes · injury · martial arts

Pennington vs Nunes vs Protecting Athletes (Guest Post)

At UFC 224 on Saturday, bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes defended her title yet again, this time against Raquel Pennington, whose biggest claim to fame was probably a decisive victory over her former Ultimate Fighter coach Miesha Tate in 2016. Pennington was clearly the underdog going into Saturday’s fight, and, while she remained in the game until her TKO in the fifth round, Nunes was obviously dominant.

two women wearing sports bras and shorts in a mixed martial arts match. The woman on the right is throwing a punch with her left hand at the woman on the right, who is facing her.
Nunes (left) throws a punch at Pennington (right) during Saturday’s UFC 224.

The controversy here came when, after taking some extremely effective knees during the fourth round, probably breaking her nose, Pennington told her corner that she wanted to be done. Instead of throwing in the towel, her corner told her to push through and throw everything she had at the match. While she stayed active through the beginning of the round, some strikes midway through reopened her bloodied nose. After she went to her knees, the referee stopped the match, giving the TKO victory to Nunes.

The MMA world is extremely divided over the corner’s decision to put Pennington back in the cage. Nunes, Pennington’s opponent, but also her friend, spoke out against the decision, saying that her coach had failed her. On the other hand, Miesha Tate (who has fought both of them) defended the corner, saying that it had allowed Pennington to lose with dignity. Pennington’s fiancee Tecia Torres, said more recently that both of them agreed with the corner’s choice as well. I admit that I, personally, feel some force from both sides of the debate. As a former athlete, I can appreciate being pushed not to quit, even when I might want to. But as a current coach, I don’t think I would be able to send an athlete back out if they really wanted to quit and were at risk of being seriously injured. Now, I don’t coach at nearly these levels, so that makes a difference. But in my experience, an athlete who doesn’t want to fight any more is at serious risk of being hurt or knocked out.

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#Forever I am extremely proud of my lady. You are a warrior babe. Fought every second you possibly could. You continue to amaze me daily. You motivate me to work hard and one day too receive the same opportunity to fight for a UFC championship. We are the 1%ers. Very few will ever know what we go thru as fighters and an even smaller percentage will ever earn the chance to fight on such a big stage and for a world title. #RideOrDie #AlwaysProud PS: Both us and our coaches agree with the decision made to go into the 5th round. We know Raquel more than anyone else and know if we let her give up on herself going into the last round she would have always regretted it. She fought with heart and grit until the end. PSS: Exactly one year ago today you asked me to marry you, I can't freaking wait to wife you! 💍 @raquel_pennington

A post shared by Tecia Torres (@teciatorres) on

One thing I haven’t seen talked about that much, though, are the gender dynamics of what happened. Now, it is not at all unusual for fighters to be injured in the course of a match, and for decisions to be made about whether or not they can continue. Nor would it be the first time in which a fighter or coach has wanted a fight to be stopped midway through in order to concede. And I genuinely appreciate how well the UFC handles having a women’s division, without excessively sexualizing or patronizing the athletes, and with women headliners being a typical occurrence. But I think that bloodied and bruised women affect us more than bloodied and bruised men. I also think we are much more likely to automatically frame injured women as victims. So I wonder how much that gender dynamic and the idea that we need to protect women (even from other women) shapes the discussion of whether Pennington’s corner should have stopped the fight.

Noticing that the discussion might be gendered doesn’t really tell us what should have been done, though. Maybe as a sport, MMA needs to do a better job of protecting athletes, even from themselves. There are plenty of long time veteran fighters still active in competition who might be at risk of serious brain damage from knockouts. Maybe if we notice that our protective inclinations kick in more when we see women with bloodied faces, we should wonder why we don’t feel more protective of men in similar conditions.

It should be obvious at this point that I’m very much in favour of women competing in traditionally masculine sports, like combat sports. But maybe one side effect of that could be to question some of the taken-for-granted aspects of masculinity associated with these sports, and whether they’re really good for anyone. Persevering is good, but likely not when it causes major bodily harm. Do we want to treat going out on your shield (so to speak) as virtuous?

Readers, what do you think?

martial arts · training

Update: The Saga of Christine’s Wrist

On April 16, when the doctor came into the room and reached to shake my right hand, I thought it was a test. I gripped his hand firmly and shook, expecting him to make some comment about strength or whatever but instead he said ‘So, which wrist do I need to look at?’

The author's right wrist/hand with her thumb in the 'thumb's up' position.
My first moments of wrist freedom.

Obviously, that was a good sign. I don’t need physio, I can drive and do just about anything I want to, my only restriction is that I can’t do contact sports for another few months.

My wrist aches and my hand swells from time to time, but that’s all part of the process. I am just easing back into my regular activities and taking it easy when I need to.

I have almost full range of motion and I am doing anything I can to get the rest back. I can feel that it is a muscle/ligament issue at this point, rather than any damage per se. It feels like the kind of stiffness that happens after over-strenuous exercise rather than a warning not to move.

Perhaps a better way to put it would be to say that the discomfort I feel when I move my wrist in certain ways is annoying but it doesn’t cause me any distress. When I first injured it, my internal distress was a real signal for me that this was a serious issue.

 

Report on the Fitness Front:

An ink drawing on white paper. Two people in white martial arts uniforms with black belts. They are sparring and the person on the right is jumping in the air to deliver a left handed punch.
When I couldn’t *do* TKD, I did some related drawings. Personally, I think the drawing/writing/typing I did while my hand was in the brace helped with my recovery.

The short version: I didn’t do as much exercise as I had hoped I would.

The longer version: I kept going to TKD and I did as much as I could to learn my new patterns and do some strength training.

I couldn’t easily go for walks because the paths and roads around my house were snow and ice covered and felt really risky.

Things like dancing or using my old aerobics step usually resulted in too much arm movement and caused me discomfort or pain.

I did some yoga but I couldn’t do most of my favourite poses because my brace felt heavy with my arm extended and because I couldn’t rest any weight on my arm/hand.

And, mostly, the effort of getting through my day with one hand, with the weight of the brace and the position of my wrist, just made me extra tired. And accommodating the brace made me move my right shoulder differently which caused me tension in my upper back that was hard to stretch out.

So, while I did what I could, on some days, that wasn’t very much.*

 

Next Steps:

 

Since my brace has been off, I have been doing all kinds of bits and pieces of exercise. A little yoga, some walking, some body weight exercises and the like.

I have been adding more movements into the scaled-down patterns I was learning. Being able to use BOTH arms makes it a lot easier to learn and perform my patterns. (I know, surprising, hey?)

I’m finding TKD a little strange, even six weeks without jumping and turning makes for some uncertainty. I feel unsure of my capacity and nervous about my balance but I think that my confidence will return with practice.

My TKD instructor, Master D, has told me that it is likely I can still test for my 3rd degree belt in June. However, I have to do my hand-technique board breaking with my left hand.

That is going to make things interesting. The technique I am using is new to me (a jumping double punch – two boards one after another to be broken with one hand) and I was a bit uncertain about it with my right hand. Using my left adds a different element. However, I wonder if my lowered expectations for my non-dominant side will actually help me not to overthink the process.

I guess practice will tell!


*This led to a tangle of fitness bewilderment but I’ll get into that in a separate post soon.

fitness · illness · injury · martial arts · motivation · running · training

Getting back to it after illness or injury (Group post)

Image description: Single flower on the end of a circular branch with two more green buds, more flowers, branches, and greenery blurred in the background. Photo credit: Tracy (China trip)
Image description: Single flower on the end of a circular branch with two more green buds, more flowers, branches, and greenery blurred in the background. Photo credit: Tracy (China trip)

I went running yesterday morning for the first time in what seemed like ages. True, I went for about three runs in March, but each was forced and uncomfortable. I spent most of the month with a relentless cough that sometimes felt as if it was edging into something worse. I could hardly make it to work many days, never mind go for a run.

That all followed on the heels of my trip to India, where running was pretty much out of the question for logistical reasons. And then at the very end of March I went to China, where I think running would have been possible (great sidewalks) but our schedule was super tight (six day whirlwind).

So it’s basically been two months since I did any sort of endurance training. I stuck with my personal training throughout the cough, so I haven’t completely let all of my workouts go. That’s a relief because it was not easy to get myself out the door this morning.

This is a group post that includes paragraphs from me, Christine, Martha, and Sam about getting back into routine after injury or illness.

Tracy — Travel and Illness and More Travel…

As I said, I went for a run yesterday. It was hard — not that I ran hard, but that it was hard to get out the door, hard to run while I was out there, and hard to feel good about having gone because I realized how I’d lost my endurance. But I do have some tips for getting back out there after a hiatus for whatever reason, and here they are (for myself as much as for anyone else).

  1. Call in support. One reason I got out there was that I messaged Anita when I woke up and said I want to go running but I don’t feel like it (if that makes sense). She said, why don’t you go for 20 minutes? Then I posted to our blog author Facebook page group that I was going to go running and a few people said basically “go you!” That was all I needed to get out the door.
  2. Ease into it. Anita suggested 20 minutes, not 45 minutes. 20 minutes is so totally do-able. I know that lots of people think that if you’ve missed a lot you need to make up for lost time. That has never been my approach. I’m always for easing into it in a way that makes it more attractive and less of a chore. I know that eventually I will look forward to long runs again because when I’ve got the conditioning I actually enjoy getting out there for an hour or more. But that’s not now. And this morning showed me that. I had to take some walk breaks. But I did the 20 minutes.
  3. Make yourself accountable to kind people. I told Anita I would check back in after the run. And I did. I also checked back in with the blog group–more pats on the back. And finally I checked in with Linda, my running coach whose training plans I’ve not stuck with over the winter. She has asked me to send her a message whenever I go for a run, just to let her know what I did and how it went. She always comes back with encouragement, even if I send her a message like today’s: “I had to force myself out the door but I did manage the slowest 20 minutes of my life this morning. It was hard. I’ll need to build my endurance back up over the next couple of weeks.”
  4. Have a goal. I can go both ways on goals — sometimes they’re motivating and sometimes they’re oppressive. You need to know yourself on this one. I do have a goal this summer, which is to do what’s left of the local MEC race series, sticking to the 10K distance. That means races on April 21, May 26, September 8, and October 29. April 21 seems a bit close but my goal can be modest (like a continuous run) and then I can ramp it up to improve my times in subsequent events.

Those are the four suggestions I’m offering — to you and to me — to anyone who may have had to take a break and now wants to get back into it. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun. So if it feels like a dreaded chore, something’s not right.

Christine – Recovery from a broken wrist
I broke my wrist on February 27 but since I wasn’t in a lot of pain, I wanted to keep up some form of training in Taekwondo. I’ve been going to my classes and doing my own modified workouts at the back of the room. That includes learning my newest patterns with my right arm in a sling to keep it immobile. I figure that practicing which way to turn, and noting any movement that I can’t do right now will help me get up to speed quickly once my brace comes off on April 16 (fingers crossed).
I’m at the point where I am doing a few rehab exercises and it’s a bit scary how stiff my wrist is but I’m hoping to have a steady improvement with that. I am a bit worried about when the brace comes off – I don’t want to be timid or overly concerned about falling but I’m not sure how to avoid that. Perhaps I am just going to have to accept that worry as part of the healing process.
Martha–Cautious optimism after a popped joint
Back in 2014, my left hip decided to misbehave. The joint popped out several times after that, but in 2016 and again in 2017, I almost went a full year without an issue. I’m heading into my 15th month post-relapse, and I am feeling cautiously optimistic. I’ve blogged about coping with setbacks before. I’ve thought about what’s different this year. I’m stronger for one. I have done a lot of work on my core and whenever I think I might slip, I haul out my sheet of exercises and giv’er.
I’m also very fortunate to work with a trainer who understands my fear of popping the joint when I start lifting heavier weights. Her eagle eye and focus on my form means we have been pushing upwards more slowly than might be considered usual. No matter; it works for me. I also found another form of movement — swimming — to complement the lifting, and it has helped enormously in keeping me loose and relaxed. The one consistent thing is keeping myself open to new movement and practice while ratcheting back the fear. It’s not easy, but it’s working.

Sam’s left knee and what will it stop her doing?

So as readers of the blog know very well I’ve had very serious knee issues for years which came to a head last November. I’ve basically got severe cartilage degradation and a lot of knee pain. The joint isn’t that mobile. Often it’s stiff and sore. I meet the criteria for knee replacement but, in the surgeon’s words, I’m too young and way too active for that to be the best choice. I’m also fierce and determined and I’m doing a ton of physio.

I’ll never run again. I’m done. But there’s an expectation that I’ll be okay riding my bike. But thinking about it makes me tearfully nervous. Baby steps. I’m riding to work and running errands on my bike. I’m taking spin classes. I’ve gone from not being able to stand on the spin bikes to finding that easy and natural. I can put big gears on again. No pain.

So I’m going to be thoughtful and deliberate this year about spring bike training. I’m going to gradually increase my mileage. I’m not going to panic about being out of cardio shape. My first long ride is more likely to be 40 km than 80. No hammering and sprinting right away. Instead, I’m going to enjoy the spring days and week by week put more miles in on the bike. I’m going to keep doing physio.

My physiotherapist reminded me last night that my knee might never be pain free again. Some pain is going to be my new normal. What we’re hoping for is that I can take on an expanded range of activity. For me, the things I care about are long bike rides and dog hikes. It’s a long road ahead but I’m getting there. I’m looking forward to warm summer days outside on my bike.

fitness · martial arts · training

On the Other Hand: Christine’s Plans Go Awry

In my last February post,  I had great plans for how I was going to advance my Taekwondo training in the next month. I was working hard on my patterns and I had a 15-minute a day plan. The emphasis here is on ‘had.’

 

I did 4 days of great practice, Eui Am really came together and the first part of Juche was starting to seem feasible. Then this happened.

The author's right arm in a white plaster cast. There is a tile floor in the background.
Not getting your first cast until age 45 (and after 9 years of TKD) is a victory of sorts, right?

 

On Tuesday February 27th, I took three TKD classes in a row.  In the middle of the third class, while evading someone during a sparring  drill, my foot stuck on something on the floor and I fell backward and broke one of the bones in my wrist.

 

My right wrist. I’m right handed.

 

I had the above cast for a few days until I saw a specialist and now I have a brace until April 16 (at least).

 

I am not supposed to lift anything heavy with my right hand, and I am not allowed to drive. Those things are inconvenient but given that I work from home and I can use voice dictation, they are not a crisis.

 

I’m also not supposed to rotate my wrist which makes it a challenge to open cans, use a key to get into my house, and it prevents me from fully practicing my patterns. I can do the stances and left handed arm movements but nothing with my right arm at all.

The author's right arm in a black cloth brace with lacing up the inner side. There is an orange wall and white window frame in the background. She is giving a thumbs up.
The brace is a bit more badass.

And the fact that I am supposed to take care not to lose my balance* means that I cannot do  the complicated jumps in my patterns. It also means that many of my other kinds of TKD practice are off limits, too. Kicks, footwork, punches, drills, all out of the question.

Needless to say, that put a cramp in my plans for 15 minutes a day.

 

It’s annoying and frustrating but I am trying to focus on the things I *can* do instead of the things I can’t.

 

So, for the last few weeks, I have been focusing on exercises for my legs and my abs. And the narrowing of my activity choices is actually making it a bit easier to do that work.

 

Often, when exercising, I find myself wondering if I should be doing some other exercise instead. Having fewer options right now limits that type of thinking so I can just do what I’m doing instead of overthinking it.

 

I’m still going to TKD but instead of practicing myself, I do some exercises and then I help other students to figure out their patterns. Going through the mental exercise of explaining movements I can’t currently demonstrate has been interesting to say the least.

 

I recently read the following tweet and felt oddly inspired by it. I am hoping that my willingness to focus on what I can do will help me be a ‘fitter’ version of myself by the time this brace comes off. (Yes, I know the context is different but I’ll take inspiration where I can.) I am adapting to this temporary change the best way I know how. 

I’ll let you know how it works out. KIYA!

A screen capture of a tweet from Alex Flis that reads "That's the thing people get confused a lot about evolution. Survival of the fittest is a very misleading statement. Nature doesn't care if you're the smartest or the toughest, it cares how quickly you are to adapt to a changing environment."
Yes, I know my injury has nothing to do with survival per se but I liked this reminder about the importance of adapting to change.

 

I would like to note that I realize that being able to approach this recovery period with this attitude is a mark of my privilege.  My livelihood isn’t threatened by this. My family life isn’t greatly altered. I have health insurance so there is no huge financial impact. I am not suggesting that anyone else who gets injured *must* approach their recovery period in the same way, I am only writing about my own circumstances.

And, I fully recognize that this temporary injury is not at all comparable to a disability and I hope I avoided implying that it was. I do not intend to be ableist but, as a non-disabled person in our ableist society, I realize that I run that risk (and that my ‘intentions’ are largely irrelevant.)  I am prepared to change any inadvertently offensive language I have used in this post, please just let me know.

 

*This is to prevent a fall.  The small break in my radius will currently heal without surgery but, if I were to fall on it, an operation would be inevitable.

equality · martial arts · training

The Limits of Self-Defense Training

I have been in several conversations about the nature of self-defense training in the past few months and as a result I have been puzzling about how to address women’s real needs when it comes to self-defense.

(Please note: I have not included any self-defense photos in this post so I could avoid potential triggers for people. There is a video from 1933 posted at the end but the still image is staged so it seems unlikely to be a trigger. Proceed with caution.)

With my second degree black belt in Taekwondo I feel pretty confident about my ability to defend myself in a fight. I have a fair amount of self-defense training and I’m a pretty skilled kicker and puncher. If someone outright attacked me, I could likely deal with it.

The problem is, of course, that for most women, the ‘stranger in a dark alley’ is the dangerous scenario they are least likely to encounter. We’re much more likely to have to deal with someone we know or sort-of-know in a situation that goes from normal to needing-a-defense-strategy all of a sudden.

If my life was in actual danger, I know I could act.  If the situation was unclear? I’m not sure that my instincts would be sharp enough. I fear that my social conditioning to ‘be nice’ would override my instincts, especially if it was someone I know. And I would be reluctant to cause them any real harm until I was sure they meant to hurt me, and then it might be too late to use what I know.

The author, a white woman in your mid-forties with dark blonde hair, is wearing a martial arts uniform and holding a sign that says 'the push for equality takes many hands #WhyIMarch' She is wearing glasses. The background is grey cloth.
I included this because I am in my dobok and because I think the push for equality – in this case, equality in personal safety – will take a lot of us working together. Yes, I often smirk in selfies.

I know that the big picture solution involves the social change all of us fit feminists are working toward but what’s the solution for while that change is in development?

How do we help women deal with the people who take advantage of the fact that we are trained to be ‘nice’ and agreeable? How do we get them past the fear of hurting someone they know but who is willing to hurt them?

It’s a huge issue, I realize that. In thinking about it, though, I have been tying together bits and pieces of my experiences and conversations with experts so I can start working on at least a piece of the problem.

 

A few years before I started Taekwondo my friends and I took this one time only self-defense class offered by a local martial arts school (not my current one). I learned lots of great moves and I enjoyed practicing them on people in full body armor. I felt like something was missing though.

 

The instructors gave us good skills but there was little or no mention of when and how to tap into our instincts. And the instructor did not seem to understand that as women in their thirties and forties we couldn’t necessarily follow the same rules for walking down the street safely as as he could as an advanced black belt male in his 50s. Basically, the class was great but limited. The instructor was missing the cultural and social context of when and how most women would need to use these skills.

 

The author, a white woman in her mid forties, wearing sunglasses and a red tshirt that reads 'patriarchy got me drove' Grey siding is visible in the background.
My local women’s centre was selling these great shirts this past summer. I think ‘patriarchy got me drove’ sums up the basic issue here.

One of my TKD instructors is working on this issue already. She has lots of great self defense skills to teach but it is really hard to teach women to defend themselves in the sort of situation they’re most likely to encounter. It gets into that grey area where you need to teach skills beyond the physical.

After all, how do you learn to defend yourself against someone whose nose you don’t want to break or against someone that you’re going to see again (and probably not in a court of law)?

Last week I was talking to a friend of mine who teaches women’s self-defense and again she was concerned with that same gap. Her practice is able to address it a little more directly but since every student has individual things to overcome, it’s tricky to address in a wholesale way.

 

This is one of those situations where physical fitness and training will help. After all, both of those things bring confidence and give you physical leverage. However, the problem is broader than being confident and physically capable.

 

How do we teach women to further develop their instincts, to trust them and to act on them?

 

How do we find ways for women to defend themselves when causing physical harm will have additional social repercussions? (I know that defending yourself should be your first priority and the repercussions should be your last concern but that social conditioning to be a ‘good girl’ will get in the way.)

 

How do we help other women (and ourselves) to recognize that a threat is a threat, no matter who it comes from? That the harm that comes from someone we know is as bad as harm from a stranger? To recognize that we should be allowed to protect ourselves,  no matter who is hurting us?

 

It’s hard enough to learn that it is okay to say no.  And to understand, on a fundamental level, that we have the right not to be harmed in anyway. How do we help women to reinforce that no without creating further danger for them?

 

How do we address the fundamental changes in thinking (and in social  indoctrination) that all of this requires?

 

I know that the answer lies in the social change we talked about. I know that it is really men that need the lesson about doing no harm and taking responsibility for their actions. And there are tons of changes above needed above and beyond that.

But those are long-term changes and waiting for things to get better is not a viable option.

I want women to be equipped to deal with the things they have to face now. I want them to have the skills they need and the confidence to use them. I know a lot of people are working on it, I just want to be part of that working group, too.

 

 

 

The embedded video below shows a Women’s Self-Defence Tutorial from 1933. It is in black and white and features May Whitley demonstrating jiu-jitsu.