Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Women and Self Defense

According to the US Department of Justice, almost 2.25 million women were victims of violent crimes like robbery, sexual assault and rape in 2005. The DOJ also says that about 100 American women per hour are assaulted by someone they know.

Because there are too many women being victimized, I've been toying with the idea of becoming certified to teach women's self-defense for quite a while. But believe it or not, there aren't as many straight self-defense programs as you may think that actually: 1. inform participants of the very real numbers about women and violent crime 2. don't make participants whack the heck out of a man in a big, padded suit and 3. are taught by women.

For the record, self-defense for women is not just learning physical ways to protect oneself against attack. A good program should also include assault statistics, address confidence and self-esteem building as well as ways to de-escalate a conflict if at all possible. Attacks aren't always about the unknown assailant jumping out from behind the bushes as again, many women are assaulted by people they know. And when the attack is a surprise, women - who generally have less muscle mass than a man the same height - may not be able to effectively use the strength techniques many programs teach. Call me cynical, but I want to see a woman my size - not a burley, martial arts master who's studied for 20 years and was also an Army drill sergeant - take down a big guy who has grabbed her by wrists or throat before I'll believe a technique is do-able for the average Jane.

Unlike men, women don't learn through play how to defend ourselves when we are young. Boys are encouraged to wrestle and rough-house while girls are encouraged to stay clean, avoid the fray, observe or even cheer the boys on. I read a quote a few days ago about what would happen if this were allowed in the world of dog breeding. Imagine separating a litter of puppies by sex and letting the males practice "hunting" by play fighting and chasing toys while discouraging the females from doing the same. Crazy, right? But it seems that's exactly what we do to young humans.

Picture a threatened, cornered animal. The growling and baring of teeth is a warning that said animal will fight with everything they have to protect life, limb and/or babies. Girls who do the same are often called unfeminine tomboys. And we wonder why so many women have no idea how to even try to defend themselves when push comes to shove. How often is the myth about not fighting back so as not to anger an attacker still perpetuated?

You don't have to have years of martial arts training under your belt to know how to use your voice (62% of women who screamed, according to a 1998 FBI criminal victimization survey, escaped from their attackers), run (81% of women who tried to run away escaped) or not be a passive victim (68% of women who used some type of physical force were also able to escape). You also don't need a black belt to listen to that voice in your head telling you that a certain situation just doesn't feel right.

We need to be encouraging women and girls of all ages to not be victims by default. Why we aren't is simply appalling.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Shodan Grading: Oh, What A Night!

Thursday night was THE night: Spring Grading. For my son and I this year, it meant testing for our shodan ranking. The whole night I kept thinking "I can't believe I'm testing for black belt!!" - but I really tried to stay "in the moment."

The warmup was hard - 45 minutes long and lots of cardio with kihon (basic hand and foot techniques) thrown in. They wanted to "empty our cups" and they did. By my son's accounting, we did 183 pushups...

Next came self defense techniques. They matched us up with someone from our school, so I was with my 47-yr-old training partner who was also testing for shodan. The senior dans kept taunting us, saying stuff like "You're testing for Black Belt, right? Well, you better start acting like it!" - just trying to get us to step it up a notch and show some grit. Soon, they switched us around and I was working with someone from another school who did the techniques a little differently than how we do them, so I guess the theory was that we really had to do them properly - as we would with a real attacker - because the new partner had no idea what was coming. That part went well...

Next was tamishiwara. Sensei F. threw me for a loop when he told me not to break as many boards as I had planned (nine total using six different hand and foot strikes; I ended up trying to break six boards). My first break was a wash - my hand just sort of bounced off the pine. Just as I was about to try again, I noticed a piece of my skin clinging to the board, which told me my hand was probably bleeding. Thankfully, the other techniques went like clockwork, including the back kick I'd been worrying about because I'd never broken a board with it before. I got my only injuries of the night with those daggone boards: both knuckles at the first and second fingers are cut and swollen today. Battle scars! My son's boards, however, snapped like twigs! I was soooooo very proud of him!

On to kata. One senior dan sits in front of you with a 4"X6" card judging how you execute your forms, although the katas are done in a group (you bow out when they get to a kata you do not know). Hard to make everyone of them sharp when you are exhausted, but they know that, which is why they do it. By then, my quads were screaming and I'm sure my stances weren't as solid as they normally are/can be, but I was pleased with how I worked them. I really left everything on the dojo floor and did the best I could - even during shime (they hit, push, kick and break boards over your arms and legs during two breathing katas to make sure your body is appropriately tense). Last year, I got two wicked kicks to the gut during those katas; trust me, the boards were MUCH easier to deal with, believe it or not...

Last but not least was sparring. We fought round-robin, first with other kyus (under belts) who were testing for higher rank, then with nice, fresh senior dans who had been sitting on their bottoms for most of the night. They tried their best to tear our heads off (I wear padded head gear with a face shield but still had my "bell rung" a few times). They hit hard! And most of them are fast as lightening! But I held my own and got quite a few good techniques to the head, too. The only other difficulty was that they all expected us to keep charging them, which is exhausting - mainly because you have no idea what's around the next bend/who you will have to battle next and you want to have something left in the tank to be able to face that next opponent. I think I had about 12 fights total. My son, who is very light (maybe 110 lbs on a 5'6" frame) really got shoved around; someone even hit him in the face and made his head gear move so much that his mouth got bumped. But he held his own, too...

When it was all over, they had us sit in rank on the floor while they got the belts, stripes and certificates ready for presentation. I did something I've never done before at a grading: cried like a baby! I kept thinking of my mom who died of breast cancer a year before my son was born and how she didn't live to see his presentation. Then I started thinking about my own journey and how it all started during radiation for BC and I just couldn't stop bawling. A few dans thought I was hurt, but someone did at least bring me a tissue. They called the underbelts up in groups to get their certificates and new belts or stripes, but called the five shodan candidates up one by one, which was really cool. Once a name is called, everyone hoots and hollers and the room erupts with applause while the karateka goes down the black belt line shaking hands, giving hugs and thanking them for their congratulations. I'd finally stopped crying until I got to Sensei F., who took off my brown belt and tied the new, crisp BLACK BELT around my waist - then I completely lost it. Thought the man was going to drown...

Then I showered and changed and headed to the area diner to get a bite with everyone else. Best daggone spinach and feta cheese omelet I've ever eaten, LOL...

So, it's over (or should I say it's just beginning?!?). I do miss my brown belt, but I'm liking this new black one a whole lot, too. Whoo-Hoo!