Girly Girly Violence

So I went to an escrima seminar recently.  And it was pretty awesome.  Lots of interesting ideas, lots of very advanced people, fantastic teachers and different techniques and mindsets throughout the hall.  And I could talk about stuff learned and things experienced, but to be honest, there are other people who’ll have more technical things to say on this topic in a forum more suited to the task, and besides, physical memory is hard to express in words, so I figured instead I’d try shoe-horning together two of my favourite things… gender and violence.

Let me clarify: this will not be a sociological debate.  I’m happy to have that debate on demand, but did I mention that I also hurt all over?  Ask me again when my arms aren’t quite so bruised.  See: below.

A friend suggested I just start a blog about being a woman who likes her escrima.  I am incredibly novice, but that, he argued, was a good thing – it could be something of a ten-year diary.  Moreover, while there seem to be a lot of websites dedicated to ‘Kick-Ass-Awesome-Women-Kicking-Ass-.Com!!!’ there isn’t that much (with some honourable exceptions) about how being lighter and weaker than your peers might affect a woman doing martial arts, or indeed about how gender itself redefines expectations of violence.  That sentence felt like a mouthful to write… but blimey, it’s a lot more than a mouthful once you stop and think about it.

But rather than plough straight in, let’s start with something basic – some of the boys in the seminar I attended really didn’t like the idea of hitting a girl.  Bless ’em.  Because I had no problem hitting them.

Two reasons why I had no problem hitting the many, many boys – a lot of them shaven-headed Germans with a significant amount more weight and muscle density than me – at this seminar:

1.  I trust in my fellows to get out of the way.  Simple fact – if they’re good enough, and these guys clearly were, they should be able to move.  I confess, this attitude is… not exactly dented, but judiciously measured when fighting with sticks, as even a suppressed shot off a stick could seriously hurt someone.  Thankfully, one the many things unarmed combat demonstrates its that really, I’m happy to go for the throat.  (Though curiously, not the testicles, despite the several occasions when I found one arm locked behind my back and the other considering its limited tactical options and finding that one exceedingly tempting… I guess the argument is that in training a throat could be merely mildly strangled in the interests of making a tactical point, whereas testicles can only really be severely crushed.)

2.  If the people I train with aren’t okay being hit by a girl, and a fairly chipper one at that, then when someone who actually is determined to hit them, hits them, they’re gonna be in for a right shock.  And visa versa.

To put it another way: it’s really good to train with someone who’s actually prepared to hit you, so long as they have control and awareness.  In my class, the boys are generally all completely fine with hitting me, owing to the fact that they’ve met me.  Although even then, I will occasionally spar with my teachers, and the shock of suddenly finding yourself against someone who’s not only prepared to hit you, but to actually wollop you with power, makes my defense shaky indeed.

Then comes the scary thought: what if I’m training wrong?  What if, without my noticing it, people are deliberately pulling their punches or aiming wide around me, and I’m so used to this now that I don’t even spot it happening?  This would be something of a disaster for me in the long-term, as it essentially means I’m training errors into my brain.

I doubt that this is the case, owing as mentioned before to my classmates having met me, and my teachers (who I love and respect hugely) being excellent.  But attending a seminar where I could feel strangers – boys – (they might prefer the term ‘men’ but to be honest, that’s a weighed word that needs further testing) – pulling their punches at the thought of my feminine wiles, rather than upon testing my actual limited ability – reminded me of this potential gender trap.

Indeed, when talking with a work colleague, he admitted that, despite training extensively in kick-boxing, he can’t bring himself to hit a girl.

“What, even when she’s attacking you?”

“Nah.”

“But… if she’s attacking you?”

“I just can’t do it!  I just can’t!”

In fairness, this individual is both charmingly old-fashioned and just one of the nicest men alive, but I was still astonished that, even when faced with violence from a woman, he couldn’t bring himself to strike back.

And make no mistake!  This is fine.  This is absolutely fine.  I do not learn escrima because I want to beat anyone up, or indeed because I’m too concerned about being attacked myself.  I learn it because it is an incredible and enjoyable skill, and yes, if one day it saves my life then hurrah.  But actually using a martial art to defend myself is right down the bottom of skills I’d use in daily life.  At least a dozen layers of ingrained ‘how to avoid the fight’ lie between me and that moment of conflict, and should I ever find myself using escrima on the street, I’ll account myself something of a loon to have wound up in that predicament.

I wish that more men had the noble instinct of my colleague in refusing to even think about hitting a women.  But then, I also wish for that next step beyond – that having established rule 101 – don’t punch women – or men – or anyone! – we also establish rule 102: that if a woman chooses to fight, chooses to spar, chooses to learn a martial art and engage with you, then gender be damned.  I am no wilting flower that needs a chivalrous man to protect me.  If I am putting myself in the firing line, I do so deliberately, and it is as fellow novice in the realm of martial arts that I will attack you, and you will attack me, and the rest is merely anatomy.  Perhaps, because of my size and strength, you must adapt when you fight with me, but I assure you (large German men with shaven heads, I assure you particularly) I am trying to adapt just as rapidly to fight you.  Do us both a favour: give me proper punches.  We can all learn something from the experience.

15 Comments:

  1. That’s all well and good but do you know how to defend yourself against a man with a banana or perhaps a handful of raspberries???

    Ok I had some long reply to this post written out but screw it, until guys see women as true equals stuff like this will keep happening….women will either be treated as “hands off” or they’ll be put on a pedestal for some ruddy reason….look at Buffy or Xena or Samantha Carter or any other strong female lead in fiction….until it becomes boring and dull to be a strong woman…this stuff will keep cropping up…and women will keep being treated differently.

    ….Also I just had a funny mental image of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles getting lost in London and having to enlist the aide of a local escrima class to thwart the Shredder….and then Miss Piggy shows up…Hiiiyah!

  2. I am not a normal poster of comments but a frequent reader of this blog, and a huge admirer of your writing in general. So I have to say YES, for goodness sakes, YES! I do Krav Maga classes here and because I’m small and female, I cannot get the boys to actually attack me. Thankfully they wear cups, and once I’ve given them a couple of hard hits, they’ll try a bit harder, but there’s so much hesitation.

    To repeat myself, I am a huge, huge fan. Your work has been my refuge through some hard times and continues to serve as inspiration for my own (ceramic) works. You rock.

  3. Hi Kate, I must admit to smiling quietly to myself while reading this, having met you a couple of times. I’m sure most who read this will have a mental image of someone who’s on the petite side; if faced with the Kate I know, wielding sticks with extreme predjudice, I’m damned certain I’d be giving back as good as I get!
    I’d probably end up with bigger bruises than yours, Kate… ☺️

  4. YES to that last paragraph especially. I keep trying to explain said feelings to the men in my life and it’s like talking to a wall. Rule 102 is entirely okay by me.

  5. Kate, you’re awesome; you totally crack me up! And me, I’m 5’4″ and fluctuate between 115-120 pounds, so I’d consider myself to be petit, especially next to my husband who’s six foot and 260 pounds. He’s ‘scrapper’ so to speak, been in plenty of brawls growing up, and he wants me to start martial arts, along with our thirteen year old daughter (who’s in 7th grade and is same size as me already; which is bizarre) just so we know how to defend ourselves, lol. I’ll admit, I grew up watching a lot of anime and martial arts movies, so I’ve always been the tomboy who played with bamboo swords and mock fought w/boys in the neighborhood and whatnot, but I haven’t gotten around to taking my husband’s suggestion quite yet. I will though – one of these days. So, its really cool that you do escrima. By the way, my husband said for me to tell you, that in true self defense – kicking a guy in the nuts is perfectly acceptable for a female, especially after the assailant is already down, to ensure he doesn’t get back up while you make your escape, lol.

    Oh, and I love your line about the “wilting flower” bit, so I hope you don’t mind me using that in my book, hehe. 🙂

  6. I had massive bruises to!!!! Was awesome fun training with you, one of the swedish guys hit me in the face by accident and bless him I thought he was going to self combust with guilt! Hopefully next year they’ll be a bit better about tackling us as they now know how awesome we are!!

  7. I read your books and your blog, and this is the first time commenting because this really hits home. I am about the same age as you and I STILL haven’t learned how to cope with that.

    I am 5’1, so I end up being shorter than most guys (and other gals) in classes. They think “how cute”, “how quaint” and never take me as a serious opponent.

    A lot of them also think “why bother, it’s not gonna count anyways”.
    I was watching the olympics and in the slopestyle “none of the women were as daring and technically achieving as the men”, so sometimes I hear the sentiment that it’s only to appease and that, again, “this is why it doesn’t really count”.

  8. Please don’t be so harsh, we shaven-headed Germans with a lot of muscles and naive ideals of chivalry have feelings also, and all we really want is to be accepted for who we are!

    😉

  9. I feel I must add, to avoid misunderstandings, that when Kate’s stood up, wearing her steel toe-capped work boots, she pretty much looks me straight in the eye.
    I’m six foot, near as dammit.
    Which, I’ll be perfectly honest, came as a bit of a surprise; I had this mental image of Kate as being someone on the petite side.
    Just goes to show…

  10. Its nice to here about someone can keep at it. I think one of my thumbs is still swollen. And its been twenty years . I like the exercises. Tae Kwon Do.

  11. I’m curious as to why you sound like you could never attack a mans testicles to save your life. Maybe I interpreted your article wrong and you just mean that you’d find it extremely uncomfortable to do so.

    When I was very young my grandmother, who server in the armed forces, was always extremely concerned for both my own safety and that of my two sisters. She always used to say to us that if any man ever gave us trouble then we should “always go for the plums”. We didn’t know what she she meant at first until our mother told us that she was of course referring to a mans testicles!

    Women in her time who served within the armed forces used to share information between themselves in how to defeat men in combat. They also sometimes used to host safety classes for girl guides.

    One important thing they taught was to never give in when fighting back, and that includes right up the point where a man is actually committing a rape. For example, we learned that at the point of sex where he “loses control”, we can quickly reach down and grab a testicle or two, and continue to pinch, pull and twist hard, and not let go until the attacker quickly loses all his strength – one of the biggest advantages he has over us. He may end up screaming for you to let go, but don’t! The aim is to rupture either one or both testicles. If he doesn’t pass out from the intense pain then he sure will wish he had. Just make sure to lock your fingers around the top of at least one testicle so that either one or both of them cannot escape your grasp. There are many stories of how very smart women have been literally begged by their much weakened attackers to phone the police for help, once the quick thinking women have managed to obtain a very tight grip of their attackers testicles and refuse to let go of them.

    It can be uncomfortable for us to think and talk in this way as we’re not conditioned that way, but at the same time it’s extremely important that we continue to share safety tips and success stories between ourselves and our daughters. Our lives are worth more than an attackers testicles. Fighting back is not an option – it is a neccessity.

  12. just wanted to say that squeezing a guy’s testicle worked well for me when I was attacked at university. In fact, he was still doubled up in pain when the police arrived nearly 15 mins later. I just don’t understand why they don’t teach us this at school?

  13. Probably for the same reason they don’t teach boys how to angle a kick into a girls crotch just right. That just isn’t on their todo list, with good reason.

    The problem that men will not attack you “properly” in training classes isn’t the mens fault, really. Boys are being taught at a young age already, that they are not to hit anyone. And if they absolutely have to hit someone, it better not be a girl. These lessons, as one-sided as they are, are propagated by just about everybody now, including almost all girls and women as well. To spar at practice is a double taboo break for most boys and men.

    Whenever a person is violent, they naturally see the backlash. Usually also the justice system at work. But when a men is violent towards a woman, they get double the backlash. At least normally. It does not have to be anything related to sexual assault, but statistics will tell you that typically, their lives and careers will see a rather abrupt halt. Shunned by the public, friends and family most likely, if this is widely known.

    To strike a woman – any woman – even in training, can easily go wrong, and the bond and level of trust between you and the person you work with has to be over the roof to get past this. Or the guy has to be really, REALLY chill. Because they usually know this can also be misjudged by bystanders, misconstrued by just about anyone.

    Guys get burned by this. By the dozens. The punishment for mistakes of any kind is harsh, people unforgiving.

    If you ever want to see this changed, then basically, the entire civilisation has to change. Away from the one sided ‘victim culture’ to one that truly does not anyone to get in harms way on an equal level. Men are often not treated with the same level of empathy, and there would be a good start.

    It helps to be really, really good friends.

  14. I read a really good article here http://womendefendyourself.blogspot.co.nz discussing the testicle twist or squeezing them as a defense technique in detail. I found it very helpful.

  15. I think the best way to fight back when a man try to rape a girl is to use 3 main facts.
    1, crushing or twistting or pulling his testicles will make you win. Three at thé same time is thé most efficient. Thé best way is with your fingers but never forget tour teeth during oral sex..,You can literally burst one testicle and inflict major pain and permanent damage.
    2, Men alwayq think about having sex and are very sensitive to female body. Use or this to call him ans even to male him believe you are OK to have sex. Use your sexual attraction to excite him and to acced to his testicles. Wait thé best time to attack rhé glands.
    3. Usually men are not aware that girls can fight back. Use of thé surprising effect. Ne kind. Never show that you will fight back. Never look at his testicles.

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