Why I'm glad I got less squeamish about violence.
We’re potentially opening up a can of worms here, but let’s dive right in ;)
A bit over a year ago, I had to run up to Woolworths to grab a few groceries while Matt was finishing up at the gym. It was just a quick dash in for the usual culprits at about 7:30pm. When I was coming out of the store with a green bag in either hand, I noticed a guy standing at the stairwell that led down to the carpark. He was leaning on the railing mouthing off at someone in the distance and seemed more than a little … unhinged? As I walked past him, he directed his attention at me and said something charming like “What the f**k are you looking at?”
I ignored him and continued to walk down the flight of stairs to the carpark, my spidey-senses tingling a little. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I did a scan of the area and quickly realised that I was the only person in the carpark. Immediately, my brain started running through the following:
"Turn your ears on, listen for footsteps."
"Get ready to drop your bags and turn and face."
"Remember your elbows and your knees - you know how to throw them."
"Don’t be too polite to play dirty - use your keys, nails, teeth, whatever."
"The car is about 10 metres away. When you get there face the stairwell while you’re finding your keys."
"Lock the doors as soon as you’re in the car."
All of these thoughts ran through my head simultaneously, and the whole incident from “What the eff are you looking at?” to being inside the car with doors locked was probably about 15 seconds in total. But I remember those 15 seconds in vivid detail. Not because I felt scared or vulnerable, not because I’ve since lamented the state of society and not because that experience confronted my (perhaps misplaced) assumption of safety.
I remember those 15 seconds because it was the first time IN MY LIFE where I felt confident
I had a potential self-defence situation covered.
And in realising that I had a potential self-defence situation under control, I was also forced to acknowledge just how fragile and helpless I would have been had a similar situation escalated in the past. A few years prior, my reaction would have looked something like:
Feeling scared or intimidated and nervously making my way to the car;
Maybe sped up my walk, or even run to the car;
Faked some confidence but secretly had all my fingers and toes crossed that it didn’t escalate any further;
Maybe made a quick call to someone so at least help wouldn’t be too far away if the proverbial hit the fan;
Or (the worst reaction), not noticed the guy at all and be taken completely by surprise if something happened.
In none of those possibilities would I have actually prepared myself mentally for the possibility of having to defend myself. My reactions used to involve basically just keeping all my fingers crossed that nothing would happen, and if I was unlucky enough that it did escalate, I'd hope that someone else would be around to save the day. Which is pretty much the grown up equivalent of turning off the lights after a scary movie and running to hide under the bedcovers. (When really, what axe murderer / boogie man is going to be deterred by the bedcovers anyway?)
So what’s changed in the last few years? Why, instead of just hoping against hope that nothing would happen, did I prepare to fight? That confidence that I felt in the Woolworths incident didn’t come from participating in a self-defence class or two, or watching a YouTube tutorial. I also didn’t instinctively just snap into action like so many people hope or think they would. That confidence came through my husband frequently familiarising and exposing me to combat and violence.
Before you freak out, I’m not talking about being on the end of a backhand because I burnt the toast. I’m talking about watching Matt coach and train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, kick boxing and other martial arts; participating in regular striking, boxing and self-defence sessions; listening to and joining in conversations about the psychology of fighting and violence with people who actually train and understand it; discussing scenarios (some hypothetical and some real experiences); play fighting, rough housing and just generally getting comfortable and familiar with concepts that were previously incredibly uncomfortable.
And I mean really uncomfortable. Like a lot of people I was scared and intimidated by what I didn’t know and I was resistant to learning about it - even though I had a wealth of knowledge and practical experience at my fingertips in the form of my trainer/husband. It’s bright and overwhelming when you first take your head out of the sand and the temptation to just bury your head back in there is strong.
However with time, practice, a flipping excellent coach and a supportive environment/community, I felt safe to explore the concepts, ask lots of questions, really suck at the beginning, and then slowly but surely gain skills and confidence.
I’ve come to learn that people who say things like “Violence is never the answer” or “Women should be able to walk around wherever the hell they want” are often the people who are either most afraid/incompetent when it comes to combat/self-defence or just really ignorant or unhappy with the reality of the world we live in.
Sure, in a textbook perfect, utopian society it would be great to think that no harm would ever befall us at the hands of another human being. And striving for the best kind of society is something that we should all be actively pursuing. The problem with thinking that we’re somehow immune to any kind of violent attack just by virtue of “it SHOULDN’T happen” is that we’re relying on everyone else to be playing by those exact same rules all of the time - regardless of stress, alcohol, drugs, mental health, everyone having the same level of basic human decency etc. And on top of that, we’re also outsourcing our safety - to society; to the police; to government; to the wider community or to the white knight who (hopefully, maybe, fingers-crossed) will come to our rescue.
The reality is that YOU are the only person who’s got YOUR back,
ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF THE TIME.
Of course I’d still prefer to never be in a situation where I need to defend myself, but feeling confident that I stand a chance? Having something more up my sleeve than "Just kick him in the balls."? Knowing that through training and familiarity I'm probably not going to just freeze up or go to water?
A timely post - starting next week we're adding a second Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Fundamentals Class to the timetable. So if you're keen to learn some BJJ/Grappling basics (awesome for self-defence), come along on Wednesday and/or Friday afternoons at 5:30pm.