Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thinking hard about self-defense

A warning to all you readers: I've just re-read this post (I wrote it last night) and finally decided to publish it to my blog. But it's long and it's intense, so if you're looking for something cheery and light, you might want to wait until another day!

Master Hughes: "I know it's fun to do self-defense moves . . . "

Brian: "We should practice self-defense more often."

I'm thinking: It gives me the creeps.

OK. I've said it before. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I am just not getting it. But of all the things we practice in Tae Kwon Do, self-defense is my least favorite. More than that. It makes me physically and psychologically uncomfortable to do self-defense moves.

Monday night it wasn't too bad at first. We were in our long lines for combination kicking practice and I was across from Zachary, a boy about 11. Master Hughes had us practice the "breakaway" move: escaping from someone who's got your wrist. The trick is, as you martial artists know, to rotate your wrist and pull against their thumb, not their fingers.

(Master Hughes: "Do you want to fight one, or fight four?" Us: "One, sir!" Master Hughes: "Right! Unless you're crazy!")

Apparently Mr. Miyaki taught this to Daniel-san as "wax on, wax off" in the movie Karate Kid. I don't remember the movie that well!

So we practice these escapes--Stephanie joins me and Zach, and it's fun! We take turns being the "bad guy," grabbing our victim in different ways so he or she has to quickly figure out which way to turn the wrist.

Maybe it's especially fun--and not creepy--because these are kids I'm working with. They have the right attitude, and maybe not the kinds of fears an adult might have. I don't know.

Master Hughes then gets our attention.

"OK. Now let's work on what you do if someone grabs you by the shirt. Chelsea, come on up and help."

Chelsea goes up to help demonstrate. Black belts need to know these simple self-defense moves as well as the ritualized moves of TKD. Though she's just 15 or so, she's a 2nd degree BB, and Chelsea really knows her stuff. She's demonstrated various activities before, and she's always being willing to work with lower belts.

Master Hughes lets Chelsea choose the kind of self-defense moves she wants to show at first, but then he wants to show us not just how to escape, but also how to harm your captor. So they switch roles, and Chelsea is the attacker. Master Hughes shows how we don't have to just run away. We can put our attacker in a wrist hold. He demonstrates on Chelsea, bending her arm back around and holding her wrist. Her eyes widen.

"Does that hurt?" he asks.

Chelsea hesitates.

So what do you answer when your instructor asks if something hurts?

In most cases, you're supposed to say "no, sir!" As in when you've tried over and over to break and you finally do it. He asks "did that hurt?" and you're supposed to say "no, sir!" He asks, after a battery of push-ups and sit ups or slow side kicks, "Are you tired?" and you're supposed to say "No, sir!" You're dripping with sweat and the instructor asks "Do we need the AC?" And you're supposed to say "No, ma'am."

Is this a sports thing? A macho thing? A martial thing? I don't know and I don't really like it. I always (quietly) say "yes" if I hurt or am tired, but would not say it to an instructor's face. I know it's probably supposed to build character or to keep group morale high . . but at what expense?

Chelsea does not say anything, and Master Hughes jokingly pushes a bit harder. "Does it hurt now?" And he lets up. She still has not said anything.

They begin to go on, but it becomes slowly apparent that those are tears that Chelsea is brushign from the corners of her eyes. Master Hughes notices immediately, and puts his arms around her in a rough hug. "Chelsea! I didn't mean to hurt you. You need to tell me if it hurts." He demonstrates by slapping his thigh. He immediatly gives her something to do--he has her throw him to the ground.

I am proud that nobody gives her too much sympathy, "oh poor Chelsea!" That would be wrong. She recovers her equilibrium quickly. Still, something tightens in my chest.

We go on. It's time to practice the wrist lock. Zach, Stephanie, and I try twisting each others' hands off the lapels of our uniforms. None of us seem to be able to get it right. We turn and watch Brian and Brittany, the pair next to us. Brian, of course, can do any self-defense maneuver quickly and effectively. He's giving Brittany pointers.

"I can't get this one," I say.

"Here. Grab my shirt." I grab Brian's shirt, and quicker than I can possibly imagine, he has me in a wrist lock, twisting my arm so I'm corkscrewing under his arm.

"And I can do this, too." With one finger, Brian presses down on my thumb. It doesn't hurt much, but I can see that it could. It could, if he wanted it to. I feel myself gasp and I let out a squeak: "hey!" Brian lets go. I back away.

We don't have a chance for me to try it on him.

Master Hughes claps. Class is over.

"We need to practice this more often," Brian says. Now I realize what he means. He means I need to practice this more often. I bet he can tell I'm getting freaked out.

I realize later that he must have sensed my unease, as usual. Or why else would he deliver a short article about a woman using self-defense against an attacker in the woods along with my test form. Still. I don't think he realizes the exact nature of my discomfort. I don't think our class ever address the nature of my discomfort.

Of all the women I've known in my lifetime, I know none who've been attacked by a stranger.

Of the women I've known who've been attacked, hurt, raped, (a small handful of friends and acquaintances, but still too many) it's been someone she's known. A father. An uncle. A husband. A friend. I'd like to say this would never happen to me--I pride myself on having good intuition about who to trust and who not to trust . . . but how do I know for sure?

Like Chelsea, if it did ever happen to me, I know my first reaction would be disbelief. I'll just do what's expected of me. I wouldn't believe that this person would really harm me.

But I'll have to learn to know the difference. I'll have to know when what they're doing isn't not friendly anymore, even if it's someone I'd trusted, or thought I'd trusted. Because maybe they won't even know they're hurting me (Master Hughes would never hurt a student intentionally.)

And that's much harder than kicking a bad guy in the nuts and running.

And for all the emphasis on self-defense in martial arts, this never gets talked about.

Talk about it to me, here on this blog, if you have something to say.

1 comment:

TKD Rocker said...

Hi! I really enjoyed this post; it made me think about my own opinions of self-defense. To address the incident of Master Hughes hurting Chelsea, it was an accident and could have happened to anyone. Sometimes my master gets so involved in demonstrating a move that he jerks me around a little too hard or too fast, but it doesn't happen often, and when it does, he takes the same approach as Master Hughes (which is good). We also tap our thigh when a move is causing pain, so our partner knows that they have the move. However, I think its important as a Taekwondo student to experience a little pain and know how to deal with it. My school uses pressure points for this purpose. They hurt when they are applied, but the pain immediately goes away once the pressure is lifted. They also work in real-life situations (a few weeks ago I was "play sparring" with a friend, and I took him down using just one pressure point). My philosophy is that if we are somewhat used to and comfortable with a little bit of pain, then it won't come as so much of a surprise if/when we are actually attacked.
To answer your question, "how do I know for sure who I can and can't trust", you really can't know for certain until its to the point where using self-defense is vital. For example, what if someone's husband, who is usually as meek as a kitten, comes home drunk and mad one night and decides to take it out on his wife? She would never have expected him to act this way, but she has enough common sense to "disable" him and get out of there. That's not to say that you should be paranoid of everyone around you (you deserve the right to feel safe among family and friends), but always be aware of who is around you and how they are acting. Also, (my master says this a lot), listen to your "spider sense", that prickly feeling on the back of your neck. It is one of our primal instincts that we ignore most of the time, but it is usually pretty accurate when it comes to predicting danger.
Lastly, if you feel that strongly about this subject, I think you should talk to Master Hughes about it (he seems like a pretty understanding guy). Perhaps he could address the issue for the whole class the next time you do self-defense. Wow! Thanks for making me think tonight! :D