Saturday, 22 March 2014

Dear Self-Defence Instructor. 22.03.14

Dear Self-Defence Instructor, you are an imposing sight.  You are bigger and stronger than me, more vibrant, and you got all those mad ninja skills.  You have got more black belts than I’ve ever had trousers.  You are just an all-round more impressive human being than me, and I’m eager to see what you can teach me.  We all are.  And we are all smaller or weaker or older than you, and none of us can do what you can.  We are all in awe of your knowledge.  But then you start talking and I feel as if I am falling down a rabbit hole, into an alternative reality where nothing makes sense.

You are showing us stuff that I have never needed to do, that I have never seen a woman need to do.  And I ask why we are doing this drill and you whisper conspiratorially that “women find it empowering”.  I think I’m a woman, I know I’m a woman, and I don’t find it empowering.  I find it pointless and depressing because it’s stupid and I know I don’t need it and I still can’t do it.  I can’t do it because my hands and arms are half the size of yours – but it works against another girl whose hands and arms are my size, who will never attack me, and if she does I could just push her over and run because she is not bigger or stronger or faster than me.  But you are, and most men are, and with you I can’t do it.  But you tell me now to worry.  And this is empowering?  Maybe I am not a woman?

But I am; we all are, all of us here today.  And some of us are whispering “are we going to learn how women really get attacked?”  And I breathe a sigh of relief because, ok, it’s not just me.  But some of us are getting into it, because it’s fun, because it works (on a person unlikely to attack you and you could beat with no skills).  And I don’t know if I feel cheated or useless, but I carry on, because maybe I’m missing the point.

Then the woman in her seventies with the fingers like talons because of arthritis says that she feels threatened coming back from the theatre at night, because it’s a long, dark, deserted way to her car, and I’m thinking you’ll tell her she’s right, that she should call a cab instead, because she is old and frail and looks like money.  But no, you teach her knife disarms – knife disarms!  With fingers that ache and stumble every time she tries to grab anything, but if she does them slow enough they work – it works!  The system works, so she smiles and is proud of herself, but all I can think is that you just taught her to get stabbed.  Because she does not look like pussy or a fun fight, she looks like money, she’s a goddamn walking ATM and she will be attacked by people who see her like that, because just tussling with someone will hurt her, and all she ought to do is stay calm, shut the fuck up, hand over her stuff and stay safe.  But no, now she might try to disarm her attacker.  And she won’t win, she can’t win, because her body cannot obey her, and even in a one-to-one situation she’s outnumbered.

And I’m thinking ok, if you told this to my mum I would gut you myself (well I’d like to, but I’d fail because of the ninja skills disparity).  I would gut you for putting her in danger, for teaching her to try and win a fight she just can’t win instead of minimising damage.  But that concept – accepting you’ve lost, minimising damage – just doesn’t seem to fit your head.  There’s my friend who got raped by her partner who had her in a double wrist lock.  She thought both her wrists were going to snap, so she stopped struggling and found the place where the pain was minimal at both ends, and she kept together through it and when he was done and got off she got his ass hauled out of her house by the cops .  For over a decade I’ve been trying to find a better ending, the magic bullet that could have got her out with less damage, and I haven’t been able to.  And I think she did so well to stay as safe as she could, with nothing broken or permanently damaged, but you shake your head and tell me the story of that UFC fight where the guy got his arm dislocated, and kept fighting, and won.  And you say “this sort of determination has to be trained!”  Determination?  But the fight had a referee who was going to stop it if things got too bad.  And you get angry because “you know the difference between self-defence and sport”, and lecture me about the psychological damage from not resisting.  And I think to myself of the psychological damage from hearing your bones snap, of not being able to wipe your own ass for a few weeks, and still getting raped - but I keep quiet.

And you ask if I have been attacked, and I have, but I can’t tell you how many times.  I haven’t kept count; I don’t know which ones would count.  I haven’t died or got badly hurt so maybe none do?  But you say they all do, because it shouldn’t happen.  I must have been "giving out really bad victim vibes".  And I try to explain that no, that’s how it was in that time and that place, that was the life we were living and to be me was to be a target – not a victim, but a target.  You can take the “victim” word and shove it up your ass.  I couldn’t change what I was; I couldn’t be a tall, strapping male like you.  All I could do was keep my ass as safe as I could and accept some mishaps as the price of my freedom.  If you wanted the freedom you accepted the risks.  But you shake your head because no, it’s all about assertiveness and empowerment and I’m missing the point.

And I’d like to tell you about the bus to our school that no girl ever took, because that man was on that bus, the man with the wandering hands who stood too close and whispered things.  So we walked a bit further and got on the other bus, because it saved a lot of trouble.  That’s how it was, and if you tried to report it you’d get asked what had happened, and you’d have to say nothing, because in that place, in that time, if you didn’t get hurt it was nothing.  Even if they tried to hurt you but didn’t manage, it was nothing.  Something bad had to happen for it to count.  You couldn’t get someone arrested over failing to hurt you; I know because I tried.  And I’d tell you my story and that of my friend who reported that flasher, and the policeman asked what he was wearing, and she said “white socks” and was thrown out of the station for making fun of them, even though it was true.

But you are saying that we must report, that it is our responsibility.  That if we don’t report something, even an attempt, then we are partly to blame for any future attacks.  We are partly to blame because we could have stopped him but didn’t.  And I want to hit you so hard that those words will be sucked back in your throat and never come out again, because you don’t know who you may be talking to, because you could be telling a victim that she is guilty of causing more victims.  And I know that’s not how it works anyway, because it’s hard to make it stick, and if you can’t make it stick they’ll just put you through the mincer and spit you back out shaking their heads.  Do you know what it’s like, to be poked and prodded by well-meaning strangers when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and die, die yesterday, die before, and then be told that there’s nothing they can do, that they can’t help you, that he will get away with it?  And even if it’s so bad that you can make it stick and you go through the process they can refuse to prosecute if they believe you won’t be able to “withstand the rigours of the trial”, that you will collapse and so will their case.  Do you know this?  Do you know that they can give up on you, not to waste time and money, and leave you just a little more damaged, with your faith in the system shattered – the system that is your only strength, because you’re smaller and weaker than him and you always will be.

But you say that’s not true, that we can prevail, and you’re teaching us stuff that we ought to be able to work, stuff that some of us can do here and now.  And I think that’s great, but here there are no consequences to messing it up.  If I fumble my joint lock or don’t punch hard enough it won’t mean the difference between life and death.  You are telling us nothing about risk avoidance or damage control.  You are telling us nothing about how to pick our battles and when to admit defeat.  With you it’s just fighting until victory or death. 

I’d rather get robbed than get stabbed.  I’d rather get hurt than get killed.  (I’d rather get raped than get killed – can I think that out loud?)  I’d rather not get either, but if I have to pick I choose not to die; I choose to limp my way out of there.  But your goal is to win, and to teach us that we all can win, and I just can’t buy it.  I can’t buy the likelihood of my victory at all times and in all circumstances.    I am not willing to sign up to victory at all cost. 

I need you to tell me that there are things I won’t be able to do, that it’s just how it is, that I have to play the hand I’m dealt.  I don’t see the realism in this “reality-based” system – maybe my realism is your fatalism, but look at me: I am half your size, twice your age, and a woman.  The type of violence and conflict I am likely to be exposed to is completely different from yours, and the best solutions for dealing with it are likely to be just as different.  I could tell you how it is for someone like me, if only you would listen; but you don’t.  There is no acceptance of my reality here, the reality of all these other women looking at you, looking up to you.

Your reality is based on years of training and experience.  My reality is only based on being me, living my life.  There is no theory behind it.  And this is starting to feel crazy-making, because your reality is so strong that it’s obliterating mine, that all the things I have seen and have done and I know in my bones start to fade into impossibilities, misapprehensions or mistakes. 

And then it’s over, and I go home.  And I know that I should feel stronger, safer, more able, but I just feel confused and disappointed that I can’t be like you, that I can’t play the game by the same rules and with the same strategies.  And in a few weeks’ time I might try this all over again, because maybe I’m crazy but I still hope that there is someone out there who can teach me, teach us as we are, rather than just endlessly teach himself in public.  Someone who can listen to our stories, see things from our point of view, enter our reality, accept our limitations and challenges, give us skills we can use to live to fight another day, and deliver us from evil.  Amen.


This isn’t a blog; it’s a rant, and it’s grossly unfair.  There are plenty of brilliant self-defence instructors of all sizes and shapes and genders.  However, I haven’t made any of this up.  I haven’t heard and seen all this from a single idiot; it is a composite of various idiots who yanked my chain at various times.  This shit really is out there.  It is being sold for good money to people who may not have the knowledge and skills required to analyse it for what it is: unrealistic and dangerous.  Considering we’re dealing with a life-changing issue, potentially with life-and-death situations, I think it’s just not good enough.


philip lehrer said...

This is probably very true.
However, the only way to teach is by repetition. Better to teach 3 techniques so well, that they come automatically, than 30 which your pupils can`t master.
Teach your pupils to:use them.THEN RUN.As fast as they can.

God's Bastard said...

Philip, Amen to that.

Lise Steenerson said...

men!!! Women need to first learn about violence (what where why how) and the kind they are most likely to face. You cannot give an answer unless you know the question.

Anonymous said...

some really good points here, especially the part about a 70 year old womans ability to defend against knife attack. "I’d rather get robbed than get stabbed. I’d rather get hurt than get killed. (I’d rather get raped than get killed – can I think that out loud?) I’d rather not get either, but if I have to pick I choose not to die;" I agree as distasteful as this concept is, survival is the true goal.

infobits said...

I was went to an "anti-assault class" my employer arranged.
The first rule was don't be there - if you know an area is risky, avoid it. You mentioned that. It makes sense to me.
The second rule was get out of there - if you can run, hide, whatever, do it.
The third rule was if there is only going to be 1 survivor (ie, death was a real possibility) do whatever you have to do to make it your survival.

I did discover that if you don't practice any of the things you could do, they won't be a reflex, so you'll lose that time to make a getaway.
I got jumped in Akron and was fortunate enough to get away, only because he was rather out of it.
It took at least 2 days before I could sleep.
It was months before I didn't jump at every shadow or being startled by something trivial.

Pat said...

Great read. As a self defence instructor I try to listen to people as much as possible and I believe I have to adapt to their circumstances. As you say: teach people as they are.

I also abide by the three rules Infobits mentioned, with the most important point being "survive".

Empowering people is great, helping them getting or reclaiming confidence is really a rewarding part of my job but as I tell my 2.5 yrs old son: "don't be scared but be careful".

Anonymous said...

After my father died when I was 11 years old, I've been following all the self-defense basics. But your brilliant writing (ranting) clearly points out that there is damage done just by having to live defensively as a woman, regardless of any physical assault.

God's Bastard said...

Anonymous - I don't know. Men are exposed to more violence than women. Regardless of what some extremists say, we are lucky to benefit from a taboo against men hurting women. I know that as a woman I can get away with shooting at the mouth far more than any man. Being tiny also helps, as there is even more of a taboo against beating up weaklings. As I get older, I'm finding that helps too. As a society, we can actually be incredibly caring towards physical weaknesses.

Unfortunately the same weaknesses also make us more likely to be attacked by certain types of predators. They also make a lot of self-defence techniques utterly useless, which is why I'm driven demented by the one-size-fits-all, magic-bullet approach of some bullshit merchants.

JKD Portugal said...

Very good! Mind if I print it and give it to my recent students, mostly women, that seem not to feel confortable when I tell them "there are no techniques, only options, possible solutions or damage control tactics, and you have to find, by training with them, against resisting partners of all sizes and strenghts, what are the best for you?"

God's Bastard said...

JKD Portugal - of course not :-). But I will probably steal the "damage control tactics" line for future use...

Anonymous said...

Please look at Model
I analyzed 3,000 assaults against women in the US in 1971, to determine patterns of attack. I interviewed rapists in prison to study the enemy. I combined my martial arts training with the best learning theories of Stanford and Harvard. We teach with female and male instructor teams and continue to evolve. We trained over 60,000 women over the past 43 years. Dead students can't report back so we don't know what we don't know but less than 1100 reported back that they had been assaulted, either a 67% or 90% reduction in the incidence of assault. Over 800 students prevented assaults with just their voice and stance, the art of winning without fighting. Of the 216 known physical fights, our students won 209. The 7 students who "lost", still survived, which to me is a victory of sorts. We teach martial science, because the lives our students depend on the validity of what we teach. Truth in action, not of our instructors in the dojo but of our students on the street!

stayingsafeselfdefense said...

You have brought up a lot of good points in this post, most are concerns of mine as well. It's very important for a self defense instructor to lose the ego and make training completely about the students. Before I start training anyone I ask them "What are your concerns?" As an instructor, I need to take their concerns into consideration as I develope a curriculum for the individual. With this in mind, I focus on the Pre-Attack and Post-Attack phases. Unfortunatley, most self defense courses only breeze over important concepts by saying things like "look around" or be "pay attention to your surroundings" instead of teaching pre-attack indicators and behavioral cues. It's very frustrating for me to see so many people claiming to be "masters" or "experts" teaching people "self defense" when in reality what's being taught will probably do more harm then good, just like the example of the elderly lady in your post.