I am a woman. I am disabled. I am 4’9’’. And I can kick your ass.
This is why self-defense matters.
Growing up, I knew nothing about fighting, except that you should always punch with your thumb outside your fist, and that crotch was a good place where to aim. I adored pretty much any “strong heroine ” like a lot of little girls, and I wanted to be as strong as them. But I thought, heartbroken, that I was too small and petite, fragile, to be able to fight.
Later in my life, I lost an eye, and gained a chronic disease. Being a teenager is never nice, but being a disabled, ill at ease girl is pure hell. I looked at myself, and saw nothing but a body which would not cooperate, which I had trouble controlling, and which was transforming into someone I was not ready to be – or so I thought. At some point I had so much anger and so much fear that I decided to do something with it.
I took an intensive self-defense class. Four months of bruises, sweat, red knuckles (no, it’s not just a cliché!) and four months to becoming fucking proud of myself.
Of course, the point of self-defense is to bring you safety (to a certain extent): I know how to kill someone with my bare hands, I learnt how to get out of a knife fight and I have six techniques in mind to react to a sexual assault.
I am by no means stating that this is easy, or that I could actually react perfectly in any given situation, but I definitely feel different in the streets. I lacked this self-confidence for so long, and I see so many girls and women (including me) looking for safety apps, buying pepper spray, that I can’t help thinking it’d be smarter to give people the tools they need. I mean, the smartest thing would be to deal with violence against women, but it needs time, so…
Physically, it strengthens you, and mentally, it changes you. I am more self-assured: if I can block my instructor’s attack, why should I be afraid to tell a man he shouldn’t talk to me like that?
I see myself as a strong person, and I know my physical appearance doesn’t change anything… trust me, you look very ugly when you’ve been kick-boxing, red-faced and sweaty, but it does not stop you from kicking ass!
The other main advantage of self-defense (and I think it is very underrated) is that, with time, it changes the way you look at the world and how it deals with violence, abuse of women, strong women representation…
For example, I love Black Widow and her fighting style, and I already knew it was choreographed, but watching her fight with the knowledge I have, I just thought that it was a misrepresentation, because fights are rarely that clean or that long – I know, I know, it’s fiction, but I preferred Ghostbusters’ female casting’s fighting style: falling, thinking, running… It was accurate, and fast, and cool to watch, like Black Widow, except it was relatable, and as realistic as possible (I mean, they’re still fighting ghosts).
The last thing, and it’s not the least, is how it changes the way you behave towards men.
My instructor taught me lots of physical stuff, but one of the things that marked me the most is the “rape training session” we had – the school gave us the “opportunity” to learn how to get out of a rape situation. I was nauseous and scared before the session, because I knew how I could react while dealing with anything like that because I had heard too many stories about rape and sexual assault, because I was afraid of enough sexual harassers weekly.
But before we did anything, my instructor apologized. He explained to us that he knew how problematic it was to teach us a way to get out of a situation he could do nothing to prevent, that he knew (from his personal experience) how terrible these situations could be, and that, this being said, he wanted us to escape from them as quickly as possible.
The moment, in training, when you feel a man’s weight on you (he is 6’2’’), even though you know he respects you and is absolutely not trying to harm you in any way, you understand two things:
1) How normal and logical and understandable it is for a rape/sexual assault victim to panic, freeze, “give up”, or not react, and
2) How criminal it is, not only not to act on rape culture, but also, not to give young girls (and boys) the tools to deal with this. We learned to react to rape, how to literally kill someone with one punch if we were going down with a knife to our throats, to notice the few elements in a man that should be like fire alarms, and I know that, still, I can be endangered by any passer-by.
Now, I can kick ass. But I can kick ass because my parents were rich enough to pay for the classes, because my instructor accepted to train a disabled kid, because I was never beaten up before I could find my own strength – not for my skin color, not for my gender, not for my sexual orientation. I know I was damn lucky to get this far and to find out how to protect myself before I had to deal with direct, physical violence.
Looking back, I regret that no one ever taught me (and my friends, classmates…) how to fight, how to protect myself, how to react when attacked. Because, to be completely honest, if you wanna be efficient, you have to have fight-back instincts, and if you are not prepared, you won’t be good at it.
Given how quickly anyone can learn, and how useful it is, I now think that self-defense should be taught to everyone from a young age, and that your self-defense classes should be like your feminism: intersectional, patient, respectful of boundaries… and sharp as hell.
Louise is a French college-level student, proudly bisexual and sadly missing an eye. Her TV-show addiction can only be compared to her books obsession. Probably too sarcastic for her own good, she’s always ready to fight anyone about pretty much anything even though deep down she is calm and quite shy. You can find her on her tumblr.