Tag Archives: self-defense

Don’t Be Where the Blow Lands

My partner has trained in Aikido, and he relates hearing the above advice years ago from his teacher. Ever since he repeated it to me, I’ve been turning it over in my mind.

We lately found a Tai Chi teacher and joined a class. I’ve wanted to do Tai Chi for a long time, and it’s every bit as much fun as I always imagined it would be. I practice it every day, and part of my practice is meditating on that wonderful piece of subtle Eastern wisdom: Don’t be where the blow lands.

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Tai Chi  is a Chinese martial art focusing on energy manipulation, practiced for defense and health. Many of the people in the class we joined are there to address balance and strength. I’m happy to support both my balance and my strength, but I’m learning Tai Chi primarily as a grounding and centering tool.

We’re learning a series of specific slow, repetitive movements that flow into one another. Each movement is called a form, and each form has its own, often poetic name: The bow, the crane, windmills, the lute. Tai Chi emphasizes locating and moving from one’s center, and it’s interesting how difficult I find that.

Learning the forms and stringing them together is no problem for me. It takes a lot of repetition to get arms and legs coordinated and figure out proper positioning, but I like repetition and want to practice. What I notice, though, is how easily I lose my center. I reach or step too far. I find myself up on one toe or another when I’m not supposed to be. I put one foot directly in front of another, like a model on a catwalk, instead of maintaining a more stable, wider-based stance. My ankles are weak and unsteady. If I’m doing one form at a time in isolation, I can tighten my core and be solid, but Tai Chi is flowing movement, albeit slow, and after a few different forms my center is gone.

Losing my balance in this way is a perfect metaphor for the way I’ve lived my life until recently. My energy and attention were always directed outward. I had very little ability to support myself; I relied on external support and I didn’t distinguish toxic inputs from healthy ones. I was too hungry and had too many unmet needs; I took a lot of poisoned bait. Not only did I stand where blows landed and bullets sped, I made a camp there and called it home. I believed I needed those blows and bullets, that they meant love, that it was my responsibility to endure them, and that I deserved them.

We can’t avoid life. Harsh words, verbal attacks, physical violence and unexpected events like fire, flood, riots and sudden public violence are going to happen. Even so, there are ways in which to meet life’s blows with all the grace and elegance of Tai Chi, and as I practice the forms and movements, I think about the skills that allow me to absorb the blow, to flow with it, and to step away from where it landed before it can be repeated.

I’m a big proponent of self-defense and I always carry a knife. I’m not afraid to fight. One day soon I’m going to learn to shoot and buy myself a gun, which I will carry. That kind of self-defense is a separate thing from my practice of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is not about any kind of an aggressor lurking in an alley or a parking lot; it’s about emotional and energetic safety.

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

Tai Chi, along with swimming, dancing, ritual work, walking and writing, is a way to call myself home, back to the center, back to my bones and the source of myself. Maintaining my center absolutely requires my undivided presence. I can’t center properly if I refuse to know all of who I am. I can’t maintain balance if I refuse to love all of who I am. The minute I try to amputate bits and pieces of myself, deny my thoughts and feelings or start tearing myself down in any way, I’m standing (again) where blows are guaranteed to land. When I catch myself justifying; pleading; waiting for external validation; trying to please; choice-making out of fear, denial and self-doubt, I know that I’m standing on the shooting range with a target pasted over my heart and head.

I’ve spent too much of my life staggering under loads of other people’s shit, carrying vampires and dragging chains. Confusion, fear, perfectionism, disempowerment and constipated unacknowledged feelings have all kept me standing where the blows land. Arguing with what is has cemented me in the path of bullets. Clarity, self-confidence, making friends with my feelings and reclaiming my power allow me to deflect, block or better absorb the blows that come my way.

I’m intentional about living with the wisdom of choosing not to be where the blow lands. Reclaiming my center and moving mindfully from danger, not only physically but creatively and emotionally, all but eliminates my fear and anxiety. Concentrating on grounding leaves no room for anything but strength and rootedness. The meaning of my life is not out there, in the noise and chaos of what others think, say and do. The meaning of my life is in here, centered within the container of my body, expressed by what I think, say and do.

Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see if I can remember the windmills and the lute from yesterday’s class.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Poisoned Bait

A good thing happened recently. I declined to take poisoned bait.

The bait arrived in the form of a terse email from an individual with whom I’ve recently done business. I’ve never met them in person. I approached our business transaction with a willingness to negotiate, share power, cooperate and communicate directly, thoroughly and clearly. I saved all documents, contracts and emails regarding our business, and upon successfully (in my view) concluding our interaction, I moved on with a sense of gratitude, satisfaction and relief.

More than a month later, I had an email expressing frustration and blame.

It felt like a slap in the face, and it was unexpected and hurtful.

My immediate impulse was to strike back, followed quickly by the thought that I hadn’t communicated well and I could fix things by explaining myself (again). Obviously, I had been misunderstood.

Then I decided to pause for a day or so and think carefully about this.

The fact is, I have a longstanding deeply-rooted pattern of believing I’ve been misunderstood due to my inept communication. This belief keeps me firmly locked in escalating attempts to explain and be heard and understood. What I’ve failed to perceive, over and over again through the years, is that I’ve frequently been in relationships with people who had no interest in explanations. They were deliberately fostering misunderstanding, drama and conflict because it fed them in some way.

This, by the way, is a very common strategy of narcissists, psychopaths and borderline personality disordered people. I’ve written previously about projection and gaslighting , two tools frequently used to control others.

Deliberately keeping another in confusion and on the defensive, constantly changing the goalposts and passive aggressive tactics like the silent treatment are all baited hooks I’ve eagerly swallowed and writhed on for years. Words can’t convey the anguish and erosion of self that occurs in the context of this kind of long-term abuse. I’ve crept away from relationships like this as nothing more than a cracked shell of woman, my sexuality and femininity withered, my emotions torn to shreds, my body impoverished and barren, and firmly convinced of my own worthlessness, ugliness and inadequacy.

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

A perfect set-up to fall for it all over again.

And again.

And again.

But not this time!

This time I had hard evidence. Over and over again, I checked the timing of contract and closing, emails sent and received, all the fine print. It was all right there, the date my responsibility ended and the date after that of a sudden dissatisfaction I was expected to fix.

I concluded I’d done nothing wrong. On the contrary, I’d consistently demonstrated the kind of integrity I aspire to in every interaction. I went above and beyond. I provided explanation, suggestions for resolution and alternate options, along with names and numbers.

That email was bait.

So, a couple of days later I took a deep breath, opened my email and replied with sincere wishes for happiness and success. One sentence. Then I signed off and hit “send.”

This happened about three weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s a small thing, but it reveals to me how very far I’ve come in healing, growth and wisdom. I now know that I have the power to decline an invitation to struggle. I recognize poisoned bait for what it is, and I know it conceals a hook, and that hook no longer tempts me. I don’t need to waste any energy in defense or repeated explanations. I don’t choose to revisit old bones of contention and chaos. I accept that people think what they think, make up and believe the stories they make up and believe, carry the assumptions they carry, and none of it has anything to do with me.

Misunderstanding certainly occurs, but it’s not that difficult to clear up, given two adults who intend to. The trick is to identify as quickly and accurately as possible if the person I’m interacting with is an adult who to intends to clear up misunderstanding. In the case of my email, that person was only peripherally in my life and we’ll probably never interact again, so I didn’t bother. However, we all have people in our lives with whom we have ongoing connection. In those cases, I use a single question to clarify “misunderstanding.”

“Is there anything I can say or do to clear this up and repair our relationship?”

This direct, simple question seems to encourage surprisingly honest answers, albeit answers I haven’t wanted to accept or believe. However, if the answer is some variation of “no,” then everything immediately becomes blessedly clear. I want to repair. They don’t. Continuing to engage is a waste of our mutual time and energy, and if any kind of a hook remains dangling, I know it’s a manipulation. They’ve made up their mind, and I have no power there.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

The words on the screen fail to convey the annihilating heartbreak attendant on understanding that someone you care about and even love doesn’t value your relationship enough to make repairs, but arguing with what is has never worked for me, and I think we owe it to ourselves and others to pay attention when people tell us who they are, no matter how devastated we might feel or how much we want to deny.

I don’t think of this as a too-sweet maiden, politically correct, starry-eyed liberal ideology. Neither is it a religious thing for me, or some kind of higher moral ground tactic. It’s not about making nice and giving others the benefit of a doubt, turning the other cheek, or making excuses for why people do the things they do. It’s also not a blanket rejection. I’m perfectly prepared to turn aside into another conversation, activity or form of connection. I’m also perfectly prepared to walk away.

No. This is about dignity. It’s about wisdom. It’s about self-defense and self-care. Explaining oneself once, apologizing if warranted, taking responsibility if appropriate, is healthy, adult behavior. Distortions, refusing to hear or accept explanations, verbal or physical threats or violence, scenes, emotional meltdowns and shame and blame games are signs and symptoms of a dangerously abusive relationship and I’m no longer available.

I’ve changed my diet and I don’t take that poisoned bait anymore.

I’ve had a bellyful of it already.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Self-Defense

I went to a self-defense class last weekend, and it changed everything.

I’ve been thinking about self-defense a lot lately.  In the past month or two I came across a book by Kelly McCann titled Combatives For Street Survival, illustrated throughout with photographs. That book opened up a whole new world to me. Not only is McCann direct and clear, he has a no-bullshit approach to the techniques and skills of self-defense. He knows what he’s talking about, as he’s an ex-Marine and has a wide variety of experience all over the world. He’s not interested in ideology. The only thing he’s interested in is what works to discourage or disable (note I did NOT say kill) an attacker, and he makes the point, over and over again, that if you’re forced into a fight in spite of good situational awareness and avoidance tactics (preferably running like a rabbit), you’re more likely to live if you learn a small set of flexible techniques and practice them.

What struck me most forcibly about McCann’s book was that it represents permission to defend oneself. No one ever gave me that before. On the contrary, it seems to me all I’ve ever learned is that self-defense is not allowed. Self-defense is disloyal, a betrayal, dramatic, hysterical, disobedient, shameful, embarrassing, disruptive and makes others uncomfortable. For God’s sake, don’t make a scene!

I wrote about boundaries a few weeks ago (Boundaries 1: Strawberry Jam was the first of a series), and I think a lot about them. Self-defense is maintenance of boundaries. So, according to what I’ve learned in the world, maintaining boundaries is inappropriate. In fact, self-defense is violence, an act of aggression.

This is complete nonsense. Self-defense is not offense. Self-defense doesn’t come first. Self-defense is a response to threat or violence. Self-defense is not entering a building with guns blazing. It’s not swaggering down the street picking fights. It’s not bullying, machismo, unprovoked hostility or aggression. Self-defense is not a power grab.

Self-defense is a willingness to protect a boundary. It’s the right to say yes or no. The point of it is not whether others respond or respect our boundaries (although that would be nice). The point is not whether others come to our assistance when we’re under attack. The point is we have a right to protect ourselves.

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

So, with all these thoughts jostling around in my head, I went to a free self-defense class at the local community center.

The class consisted of about fifteen women, age range high school to 50s. The instructor was a local martial arts teacher and he had female and male students with him to assist. It was a three-hour class.

Two things happened there that I’ll never forget.

The first was learning how to punch. This is not a thing I’ve ever wanted to learn. I don’t have much upper body strength, I know it’s easy to break your hand punching people or things, and I’ve no desire to punch anyone, ever. However, it was part of the class, so I learned. Then the instructor and male assistants filtered through the class, coming to each of us and asking us to punch them in the abdomen.

A large young man, over six feet tall, solid, strong, with hair dyed strawberry red, came and stood toe to toe with me, grinned, and said, “Hit me.”

I looked up into his face. “I don’t want to do this.” (Variations of this statement could be heard all over the room.)

“Go ahead. You won’t hurt me.”

This, I reflected, was probably true. Even if I’d known how to punch, I doubt I could have really hurt him. That wasn’t the thing holding me back.

I was being asked to deliberately, in cold blood, hit a nice young man who might have been my sons’ age or even younger, a stranger, in the stomach with my fist.

In that moment, I began to see the enormity of the disempowerment of women around self-defense and boundaries.

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

I said to him, “I’ve been hit before, but I’ve never hit anyone else.”

His face darkened. “Then here’s your chance.”

“But it wasn’t you!” I said, on the edge of tears.

He stood there, waiting. I doubled up my fist and hit him.

“Again,” he said.

I did it again.

“Harder! Put your shoulder into it!”

I did it harder. Not as hard as I could, but harder.

“Good.” He stepped in front of the woman next to me.

This was happening all over the room. I saw women in tears. I saw women “hitting” with force that wouldn’t have knocked over a kitten and then apologizing abjectly. Eventually, with a lot of coaxing, most of us tried with at least moderate strength at least once. This single exercise took a large chunk of the total class time and was the hardest part of the whole class for me.

We knew, at the end of the class, there would be an opportunity to role play with one of the assistants or the instructor and demonstrate some of the techniques we’d learned. The instructor spent a lot of time talking to us about situational awareness, body language and the psychology of violent attack, and emphasized making noise in order to create an audience and discourage an attacker. He gave us language to use (WHAT DO YOU WANT?), and demonstrated. It was very clear, and the easiest part of the training—no new moves needed.

When it came time to role play, the instructor asked for volunteers. The nervousness in the room was palpable. Nobody wanted to do it, though there was an agreed upon safe word that would immediately end the role play and the situation was completely contained and controlled.

This is not the sort of thing that intimidates me, so I volunteered first and chose as my attacker the strawberry-haired gentlemen who so kindly encouraged me to hit him! Everyone laughed at this, because he was the biggest assailant I could have chosen. He was very pleased. He’d thought no one would pick him for this part of the class.

I strolled along in the middle of the classroom and he came up behind me and grabbed my shoulder. I turned around and asked him, loudly and aggressively, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

He grinned and transferred his grip to my upper arm.

I faced him, got my hands up and yelled into his face, “BACK OFF!”

It wasn’t him I was yelling at, though. It was a whole crowd of other faces, both male and female, people who have hurt me with fists and words, people who have shut me down, shut me up and taught me to be small and silent. I felt like a snarling wolf, a cornered tiger. With those two words, I reclaimed my willingness to self-protect and the power to do so.

I surprised him. He flinched back a little and his grip loosened. The instructor wanted the role play to continue until he felt that each woman had done something that gave her a chance to run. In less than a minute I was back against the wall with the rest of the audience.

One by one, with a lot of encouragement, every woman got up and tried the role play.

Not a single woman was able to use more than a moderately loud voice or any kind of an aggressive tone. They sounded terrified. They sounded weak. Their tone of voice was begging and pleading.  The ones who did manage a puny blow or an evasive maneuver apologized to their pseudo attacker even as the attack continued. The instructor prompted, over and over again, “Louder! Shout out! Let us hear you!”

They couldn’t do it. Some even said, “I can’t!”

This assortment of ordinary women with a wide span of ages couldn’t be verbally aggressive with an attacker, even though they had full permission, were encouraged, supported, totally safe, and had my example paving the way.

Are you understanding this? These women couldn’t defend themselves, even verbally. All the guns and knives and skills in the world wouldn’t have helped them.

It boggled my mind.

Ever since that day I’ve been thinking about the power I felt when I yelled, “Back off!”

Ever since that day I’ve been thinking about a culture that silences, shames and disempowers women to the point that so many are unable to protect themselves.

Self-defense. Another daily crime. Count on it.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted