Friday, February 24, 2012

Something in Common

About a month ago, I got a PM on FaceBook from a karate friend I'd known for a few years. I'd seen her at a few seminars and workshops when I was an underbelt because her current sensei and my former sensei are brothers. Although I don't remember working with her at those outtings, because she was another female on the mat - and one who was many ranks my senior - I had lots of respect for her. Her husband - also an instructor and dan at their school - was never too far away.

The FaceBook message I got from her summed up why he was never that far away: she told me he had been physically and verbally abusive, the latter of which had actually gotten worse now that they are separated and she is filing for divorce.

She and I had had a pretty intense conversation via email once when I revealed that one of my son's high school friends was being abused by her boyfriend and she was really struggling with putting the nastiness of the physical abuse, the forced sex, the order of protection and the upheaval it all caused behind her. That email exchange was when I revealed to my karate friend that I had also been down a similar road with my ex - and that once upon a time, I also had to file an order of protection against him.

The first time he tried to hurt me, I was five months pregnant. It manifested itself as a very hostile, very hard, angry and mean-spirited push that sent me flying over a small piece of furniture - all because I had the audacity to disagree with him. I left the house we shared immediately and only came back many hours later after he apologietically swore it would never happen again. And yes, I believed him - and even almost managed to forget it ever happened - until five years later when he pushed me again, knocked me onto my back and straddled me while his hands wrapped around my throat. Once the shock and the tunnel vision wore off, all I could see over my ex's shoulder was my then four-year-old's tear-streamed face as he watched the entire 30-second spectacle.

A year later, my son and I were living in a small apartment on the other side of town. My ex came to that apartment one Sunday as we were heading out the door for church, ranting about wanting his son and attempting to rip him from my arms. In retrospect, it's probably a good thing that I hadn't started training yet as I went right into "Mama Bear" mode and ended up scratching him pretty good in an attempt to keep him away. I quite possibly might have broken a limb of his had I had more of a clue how to focus the chi that was swirling inside, who knows? Under the advice of the local police, I drove to the county courthouse the next day to file an order of protection. It took two more trips to the courthouse over two days get it done, but I did.

My karate friend's new order of protection presents a real problem in her dojo as she and her soon-to-be-ex can't be there to teach or learn at the same time. Suffering from PTSD and battling anorexia as a result of all she's been through, she said she'd only recently returned to training, but although she was still working on her stamina, she wasn't ready to give up karate altogether. After speaking with my sensei about it and receiving the go-ahead, I invited her to our class - an invite she took me up on last night. Still very thin, she had not been cleared to spar yet (her doc wants her to gain a few more pounds first) - but she was able to join us for warm-up, stretching and self-defense. She told us later that watching us spar really made her miss it and a little more anxious to return.

If you would have seen either of us in gi last night, you probably would not have had a clue about the crap we've been through with our significant others. Both of us are teachers of young, female karateka and instruct our students on escaping violence and fighting back intelligently if necessary, yet we both have been in "how the heck do I get out of this?" situations with people we loved. It may be automatically assumed that the person we may need to get away from is a stranger marking us from afar as a potential target/victim, but as my karate friend and I can attest to, acquaintances, friends and/or family members can be the perpitrators of violence, too. Just check out these statistics from the US Department of Justice:

* In 1992 and 1993, women were the victims of more than 4.5 million violent crimes, including approximately 500,000 rapes or other sexual assaults. In 29 percent of the violent crimes against women by lone offenders the perpetrators were intimates - husbands, former husbands, boyfriends or former boyfriends. The victims' friends or acquaintances committed more than half of the rapes and sexual assaults, intimates committed 26 percent, and strangers were responsible for about one in five.

* Forty-five percent of all violent attacks against female victims 12 years old and older by multiple offenders also involved offenders they knew.

*During 1992, approximately 28 percent of female homicide victims (1,414 women) were known to have been killed by their husbands, former husbands or boyfriends. In contrast, just over 3 percent of male homicide victims (637) were known to have been killed by their wives, former wives or girlfriends.

Nastiness comes in all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, if you are a woman, chances are that nastiness might be shaped like someone you know. It might even wear a karate gi.


  1. OSU, thank YOU for being open and posting about this.

    I've lived through a couple of abusive relationships myself. What people don't realize, on the outside looking in, is the "reality bubble" someone living with abuse is trapped in.

    Their abuser will often do everything they can to isolate their victim. They'll do their best to turn the victim's friends and family against her (or him) and to turn their victim against their friends and families as well. They'll use any kind of manipulation to prevent them from going out on their own, making them more and more dependent on the abuser.

    They will turn everything around on the victim. Make everything out to be their fault. This constant assault on their reality can make the victim start to doubt themself. Maybe it's me, she'll say. Maybe I'm just not X Y Z enough. She will start to censor her thoughts, even because she knows her abuser would not approve.

    And like a crayfish in cold water, slowly heated up, it creeps and creeps, and you don't see it coming right away. One day you might realize how bad it is, and feel like you don't have any way out. Love and duty are used as weapons against you. The safety of kids or pets, too.

    And then there are all the people who want to deny that the abuse is happening, rather than face the ugly truth. "I don't want to listen to your DRAMA," they say, invalidating all of the feelings of the abused. "It's wrong to talk behind his back when he can't defend himself- I'm telling him what you've been saying," thus endangering the life and safety of the victim because she dared to reach out to get help. "Oh, you just want attention." "It's not that bad, you know you aren't the only person with problems." "Well you must have done something wrong, for him to act like that!"

    I don't think people realize how hard it is to get out. How terrifying it is to try.

    You know, I think I'm going to post an old old piece of writing of mine on my own karate blog. It's not about martial arts, but I think it's important enough to post anyway.


  2. "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" book series is a must in this case.

  3. With all due respect, Mr. James, ther comes a point where a book on de-escalation - which I've read, BTW - will only come in handy when it is being used to block a blow or to throw at the attacker. This would be one of those times.

    People who can and do use the techniques described are not getting their asses kicked by significant others on a regular. Folks who stay with their abusers - whether physical or verbal - or who keep involving themselves with new abusers often have self-esteem so eatten away by the pattern that they really, truly do believe something is wrong with them. Therapy/counseling - yes. A self-help book - probably not so much, IMHO...

  4. There comes a time when a woman, or anyone, has to be strong, not passive.

  5. An important and powerful article...

    Thank you for sharing your story.