The first rule of self-defense: Stand-up for yourself

Women start training in martial arts for many reasons, but perhaps the most popular is "self defense". We sign up because we want to learn skills and techniques that we can apply if we should ever end up in a physical altercation or potentially dangerous situation. We hope to develop the mental toughness necessary to be prepared to act in a time of physiological stress; and if you have great coaches and teammates, they will help you develop that. If you train long enough, you should be gaining a sense of self-empowerment, learning your strengths, and overcoming challenges with every training session.

Recently, I’ve had a few concerning conversations with other female jiu jitsu practitioners, many of which do not live locally and train at other gyms. They have confided in me, and are expressing emotional stress about IF and how to turn down other people who ask them to train. (specifically males). They say that they feel relatively pressured, either internal pressure or direct pressure from the other person. A good friend of mine even stated that she received unwanted physical contact from a training partner that ultimately left her to question whether or not, she should talk about the incident or eat the negative emotions just to avoid any “drama”. Now, I’ve got a few thoughts about this that I think need to really be said and shared, because I know other women have experienced this.

First, just the idea that "something" took place that resulted in you feeling uncomfortable (regardless if this was on purpose OR not) is problematic.  The very fact that you are struggling with the idea of deciding if you should say something is the beginning of the problem. Women who are sexually assaulted, harassed, raped, or victimized aren’t done so on the very first encounter. They may not have recognized the subtle signs that led up to it, but they were there. Maybe they chose to eat the feelings of uncomfortableness and pure awkward to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings or making something “a big deal”. But, by not saying something to the other person that caused the feelings of uncomfortableness or awkwardness, you continue to practice the exact same habits that can lead straight into the heart of rape culture.

In terms of self-defense, not addressing the uncomfortableness is even more problematic.  You walk through those doors of your gym to get better, to get stronger, to practice “self-defense”. If you succumb to peer pressure when being asked to roll or train, then you can’t expect yourself to be able to withstand the emotional and physical pressure during moments leading up to a potentially dangerous situation. By allowing the old patterns of not sticking up for yourself and how you feel in those moments on the training mat, you are setting yourself up to fail. You don’t have to be an asshole, you don’t have to create drama, but you have the right to speak up for yourself. Take advantage of those moments to practice sticking up for yourself.  You owe it to yourself to acknowledge those emotions and appropriately deal with them; not ENDURE them. 

Second, training partners are vital and essential to your experience and growth in jit jitsu. It takes two people to roll, so you better be damn sure that who you are rolling with is someone you LIKE to train with. Don’t feel obligated to roll with every single person that asks you and especially if you don’t enjoy training with that person. BJJ is a long game, and you should aim to have years of training ahead of you. Pick your partners. Don’t be afraid to say “ Hey, No thanks I am going to sit this one out”. Train with people who challenge you appropriately and according to your skill level. Train with people who make you comfortable; don’t give a shit about belt ranking or gym status. You are just as responsible for your training, as your coaches and teachers.

Below is an excerpt from Gavin de Becker’s book that is worth throwing into this blog because it truly embodies what happens in those subtle, tine moments that most people ignore in the beginning of any dangerous or potentially dangerous situations. This illustrates the very reason that you should practice listening to yourself:

“Every day, people engaged in the clever defiance of their own intuition become, in mid-thought, victims of violence and accidents. So when we wonder why we are victims so often, the answer is clear: It is because we are so good at it. A woman could offer no greater cooperation to her soon-to-be attacker than to spend her time telling herself, “But he seems like such a nice man.” Yet this is exactly what many people do. A woman is waiting for an elevator, and when the doors open she sees a man inside who causes her apprehension. Since she is not usually afraid, it may be the late hour, his size, the way he looks at her, the rate of attacks in the neighborhood, an article she read a year ago—it doesn’t matter why. The point is, she gets a feeling of fear. How does she respond to nature’s strongest survival signal? She suppresses it, telling herself: “I’m not going to live like that, I’m not going to insult this guy by letting the door close in his face.” When the fear doesn’t go away, she tells herself not to be so silly, and she gets into the elevator. Now, which is sillier: waiting a moment for the next elevator, or getting into a soundproofed steel chamber with a stranger she is afraid of? The inner voice is wise, and part of my purpose in writing this book is to give people permission to listen to it.”

― Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

Ladies, you shouldn’t just be coming to the mats with intentions on only drilling your side control escapes, or your arm bar attacks.  Repetitions are crucial to be able to apply a skill under duress whether it be in a competition or in an alley.  Therefore, you should also practice executing true self defense; believing that you are worth defending.

Advocate for yourself, speak up.