Tag Archives: self-defense

The Purpose of Kata

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If you talk about martial arts long enough, someone will eventually say, “What’s the point of kata? You can’t use it in a real fight. The only thing kata is good for is tournaments.”

I mightily disagree.

Kata is, in simple terms, a series of choreographed movements — punches and kicks, stances and turns, blocks and attacks and evasions. From the outside, it looks as if one fighter is taking on multiple attackers coming at her, one at a time, from different directions. Many martial arts use them as a training tool, with some arts and schools putting greater emphasis on them than others.

A friend recently asked me about the purpose of kata. I gave a short answer, then realized how different today’s answer was from the answer I might have given ten years ago, or even five years ago. My understanding has changed — not only because of my training, but because of my teaching experience.

At first, kata serves to instill rudimentary body awareness and muscle function. We’re talking very rudimentary here. The student must learn, at the bare minimum, to be aware of and in control of what her body and all its parts are doing at any given moment. Most people can stand up and throw a punch with their left hand, but will not be able to say what the right hand was doing without looking at their right hand. Ask if the knees were bent or straight, or if the chin was lifted or tucked, and she will have no clue. Ask her to keep track of all those things while moving from one technique to the next with at least a smidgeon of intensity, and things quickly fall apart.

Continue reading The Purpose of Kata

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Just Us Women

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After a stumble-start last fall, my experiment with a women-only karate class is off to a fantastic new start.  The first class was on Tuesday, with seven women in attendance.

Most uncomfortable moment: Making it clear to my own (male) teacher that he needed to leave the dojo before we started class.  I’d made it clear to the women there would be no men, no husbands, no children in the dojo at all.

Most awesome moment: When everyone walked out the door saying, “See you next class!”

Once upon a time, I was uncomfortable with offering a women-only class.  I’m a staunch believer in men and women training together, and see huge benefits come from that.  Then I chose to listen to the women who expressed a passing interest in karate, but never actually took a class.

Body image.  Fear of judgment.  Fear of failing.  Fear of being the worst one in class.  Discomfort with a physical sport.  Discomfort with being seen enjoying an aggressive sport.  All those reasons and more, I heard over and over from women who murmured their interest in karate to me when no one else would hear them.

I pride myself in creating a safe and supportive environment for new students who are, more often than not, nervous stepping on the mat.  I’ve had kids cry crocodile tears at the start of class, and beg to come back for more by the end of class.  I’ve had adults hesitant at the beginning because of physical limitations realized at the end that I’ll work with them to reach their goals.  But whatever atmosphere my methods and personality create, it wasn’t safe and supportive for a subset of women who wanted karate training enough to mention it, but feared it enough to never try.

So I set out to create that environment.  No men.  No witnesses.  That was a big deal for all of the women who committed to showing up.  Then we talked about the physical stuff, and I shared my Ultimate Karate Dork stories as well as the problems my hip dysplasia caused.  We talked about things women don’t often discuss with men: boobs that get in the way, post-pregnancy body problems, hitting other people.

On the mat, we not only worked hard on technique, but we laughed.  Laughed and shared and enjoyed everyone’s company.  We started on the basics of dojo etiquette, chatted about the boundaries of Sensei-In-Dojo and Blair-In-Supermarket, and acknowledged that it feels very strange to say “Yes, Ma’am/Yes, Sir” at first.  We worked up enough of a sweat that everyone was at least a little sore the next day.  And we spent time listening to one woman sharing an issue she’d been struggling with all day, and we offered support.

Unlike six or seven years ago, when most women I spoke with wanted “self-defense” without all that “karate stuff,” these women want the whole thing.  They want to earn the black belt.  They are working hard, asking questions, making mistakes and corrections.

Three to six months from now, I suspect they’ll all be ready to transition into the standard classes at least once a week.  By then, all those preliminary fears will have been encountered. Best of all, this group of women is helping me refine these ideas by giving me honest feedback.

…and I have to back up, because my hopes are running away with me. 🙂  The true test will be how many of those seven women commit to a longer-term program.  The decision point will be this coming Thursday.

In the meantime, I am thrilled with the two classes we’ve had so far.  I come home happy, energized, and grinning.  It feels like the beginning of a community.

And in the writing news, I suddenly wondered if I should end Sand of Bone 20K words deeper into the larger story.  This is not all that helpful to my stress level, alas.

Fighting Isn’t A Failure

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True or false: “If you have to fight, you’ve already done something wrong.”

If you’re male, or female but educated in self-defense primarily by males, you will say True.  If you’re female, aware of the dynamics that most commonly lead to real self-defense situations, you will say False.  If you teach self-defense, and want your students to understand those dynamics, you will say, It’s a pile of crap, and believing it could get you killed.

The whole, “If you have to fight” notion has its place.  When you’re teaching and training aggressive young men who believe physical strength is the measure of their worth—and are itching for the chance to prove themselves worthy—getting them to control their impulse to fight is necessary.  It’s also valuable for teaching the basic principle of self-defense: avoiding a confrontation, by reading the situation and/or removing oneself from it, is an excellent protection technique.

But in the real world, it’s of little practical use, and believing its absolute truth can indeed get you killed.

I imagine the originator of the quote assumed most fights would be between two men—likely an escalation of a disagreement, or perhaps an interruption of a criminal act, or even a war undertaken when negotiations went sour.  So sure, your first step should be to deescalate the situation and avoid violence.  Maybe the quote is meant to imply folks who don’t want to be attacked should avoid attack-rich environments–the clichéd dark alleys and isolated parking garages.  Okay, fine.

But it ignores the fact the majority of “fights” women will face in life don’t happen in dark alleys and scary places.  A woman is most likely to be attacked in her own home, without warning, by someone she knows.

And if you teach self-defense or martial arts, and you don’t know that fact, you are putting your female students in danger.

By telling a woman she should always avoid a fight, you encourage her to let dangerous situations escalate beyond what she might be able to counter.  By telling a woman the fight is an indication of failure, you insult the woman who decides to fight when attacked in her own room, in her own bed, by a man who has deliberately earned her trust.

And if you believe having to fight means you’ve done something wrong, I don’t want you on my side should a fight ever come around.  I want the partner who knows it takes both parties to resolve a conflict, but only one to decide violence is a better idea.  I want a partner who knows from experience that life and people are unpredictable, the bad guys don’t let you choose when an attack happens, and you don’t always get a heads-up before someone takes a swing.

Fighting back is a choice, not a failure.

 

Coming next: We Already Knew That on the odd habit men have of discovering sparring techniques aren’t effective in a real fight, and the assumption they should tell the women-folk (as if women weren’t already acutely aware of it).

 

“I Thought He Was Taller”

I’ve been blown away by the spread of, and positive response to, my last post.  It freaked me out a little at first, seeing the views here and at BMB keep rising.  My hope is the folks who read it will find not only something interesting, but reason to look ahead with positive hope.

As much as we (using “we” in the most general sense) like to believe we are empathetic creatures at heart, even the best of us have blind spots. It’s difficult to understand how one person’s experience feels on a visceral level unless we have a similar experience to which we can compare it.

By coincidence, researchers at UCLA recently released the results of their studies, “Bound to Lose: Physical Incapacitation Increases the Conceptualized Size of an Antagonist in Men.”  Researchers found men tied to a chair or standing on an unsteady surface (a balance board) overestimated the antagonist’s size and underestimated their own size.

The results are utterly unsurprising, though I’m sure it’s abstractly a good thing that science has now confirmed the experiences of anyone who has been on the lower end of a power disparity.

If nothing else, it’s something to point as a means to explain why a person will read “threat” into a situation that, to an outsider, doesn’t look threatening.  Where an observer might think, “That nice guy was just talking to her over there,” the woman in question might be thinking, “I can’t get out of this corner because the Huge Man is blocking me.”

Considering how balance affected perception, I’d be interested to see what would result from participants wearing stilettoes.

Seeing Is Understanding

This is about speaking up, creepers, and what good men don’t always see.  Names have been changed.

Some time ago, I was having lunch with a group of friends—four men, one woman, and me.  I’ve known most of the group for five or six years.  We were talking about shared past experiences when one of the men mentioned that he missed Larry.  “Gotta like a man who can make a good cup of coffee,” he said.

“No, I don’t,” I blurted out, and described how that man knew precisely where the lines of “inappropriate” behavior were drawn, and had spent the last couple of years nudging those lines whenever he came across a woman he considered “available.”  I mentioned he’d been called out for failing to heed polite turn-downs, that he got offended when the turn-down became less polite.  I mentioned how women who weren’t even the focus of his attention breathed a sigh of relief when he left the room.

None of the men discounted my experience or my descriptions.  But every one of them said they hadn’t seen or noticed anything like that.  I do want to be clear that their responses were not in the spirit, tone, or words of dismissal.  Instead, they were genuinely puzzled that their observations had missed something they assumed would be obvious.  One said he felt bad he hadn’t realized what was going on.

So I pushed the issue.

Without explaining what I was going to do, I got up and stood behind one of the men.  I put my hands on his shoulders, then stretched my fingers as far down his chest as possible while still seeming to give a platonic shoulder rub.*  I pulled him back against my chest, digging my fingers in when he resisted.  That action alone let him know I acknowledged he didn’t want me to be pulling on and touching him, and I didn’t care.

“You look so tense,” I said in a nice, soft voice.  Not sexy, not husky, but more intimate than standard conversation.  Not intimate enough to be “inappropriate,” though.  “You just let me give you a rub and I’ll make you feel better.  I can tell you need that.”

Then, while he sat immobile with surprise, I leaned past him to pick up his coffee cup, keeping my chest close to his face and my other hand firmly on his shoulder.  To the others, it likely looked as if I was just resting my hand there.  That man, though, could feel the pressure I exerted to keep him pressed close to me.  He would have had to make an obvious, rude-looking push to get away.  “I’ll get you some more coffee, too.  You just let me take care of that.”

I gave the man a sweet smile in answer to his shocked stare, then returned to my seat, put my napkin back on my lap, and said, “That’s what Larry does.”

The man I’d touched totally understood in that moment.  He’d experienced how it felt—even at the hands of a friend—to have your personal boundaries violated and your “polite” signals of resistance ignored.  The other men had that slack expression that comes when surprising facts suddenly jolt long-held assumptions.  “Creepy” was uttered, as was “awful” and “scary.”

Their words held a tone of… almost fear?  As if they were suddenly running through all sorts of past interactions in search of similar behaviors, and finding some.

Now they are able to see it.

*The “long-fingered” shoulder rub is a common tactic used by creepers who want to look like they’re being so tender and nurturing while actually making the woman fear he’s going to grab a breast at any moment.

See also:

Where the Boundaries Are Drawn

Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense

It’s the Same Advice

Edited 08/09/2013 11:20 to correct word-choice mistake pointed out by a kind reader. 🙂

More On That Self-Defense Stuff

I was sent a link to a women’s magazine article giving five tips for self-defense that were credited to a woman with an advanced rank in karate.

Look: I respect any woman who has trained so long—particularly a woman who began at a time when women weren’t much wanted or expected to be in a dojo. That’s a woman like one of my own primary instructors, whose courage and determination made the mat a safer and more welcoming place for me to be in more recent years. But I can’t help pointing out when advice can be not all the useful, or useful only to those who have a lifetime of good physical agility and ability.

Before I say more, I’ll share a couple points.

Continue reading More On That Self-Defense Stuff

Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense

1.  People who haven’t fought at speed have no idea how fast a fight moves. In the time it takes to count one-Mississippi, you can be struck quite a few times.  You can be maimed.  You can be killed.  There is no moment to come up with a plan. The advantage goes to the one who doesn’t need to think about what should be done next. (Critical consideration, since the average 911 response time can be around seven to eight minutes.)

2.  The instinct to duck is incredibly hard to overcome, even though it results in losing sight of one’s attacker. The ancillary to ducking–closing one’s eyes–has the same result. Truth is, it hurts as much to get hit with your eyes closed as it does when they’re open. Alas, effective blocking is a difficult skill to acquire, and practice often involves accidentally blocking with one’s face at first.

3.  Folks learning to fight have a seemingly irresistible urge to explain at length why and how what they’re being told to do will never, ever work.  We’re so accustomed to processing everything through language that we assume an idea isn’t valid if we can’t.  It takes awhile for folks to trust the mind will follow the body’s lead.

4.  It’s easier to teach hunters of fast-moving game than it is to teach non-hunters.  It has nothing to do with the psychology of hunting, or gun-carrying, or aggression.  It has everything to do with experience.  Someone who hunts is used to judging, in an instant, things like speed, distance, and trajectory.  That’s an incredible asset in a fight–for both offense and defense.

5.  “I’m afraid I’ll be too aggressive” usually means, “I’m afraid of what the attacker will do if I’m aggressive.”  I hear this often from folks with violence in their past, where fighting back resulted in more severe abuse.  But it’s easier to say we fear our own power than our own weakness, and keeping a clamp on aggression keeps a lid on the fear, too.  In those cases, I’ll often be the person’s partner, or partner them with a student I trust to communicate openly about intensity, force, and such.