In response to the #metoo hashtag that a lot of women have posted to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual assault I have suggested girls should learn self defense to be empowered and reduce their risk. Now there have been studies like this one from Canada, that show how self defense can be effective at reducing the incidence of sexual assault. I’m not the only one to feel that empowering women with the skills to be safer is needed, certainly Alice Vitiello, Ph.D. in her article How the #MeToo Movement Must Inspire Women to Action makes this point quite eloquently.
The vast majority of people have felt this was fantastic but I have also been criticized as being insensitive so also wish to make sure people aren’t left with this impression, it certainly isn’t were I am coming from. I’m glad someone raised this as I can see how people might think that but in fact it’s really the opposite. To show this what I would like to do is first share an event that totally changed my view of how much women can be empowered by the message that they can fight back.
This happened around 25 years ago not long before I first got my black belt. At that time I liked to train hard, I felt like everyone should train hard… very hard. My life had actually been turned upside down by a home invasion and complete breakdown leading from it. I had vowed to never be in a situation like that again, and had transformed myself dramatically in the years since, but that’s not the story I want to share. This story is about a young girl who I’ll call Sophie (not her real name), who was 16 or 17 at the time.
Now Sophie was a very friendly girl, who I had gotten to know pretty well, spending every moment I could at the dojo training hard or assisting with classes. She had been training around 8 or 9 months and had graded to yellow belt (6th kyu). This was a big dojo hundreds of students and that was a pretty standard time to get to this level. Now Sophie trained really regularly and pushed herself to the point of nearly breaking a sweat some days… other days she took it a bit easier. As an instructor and having a degree in psychology I now understand how self conscious girls can be at this age, back then I really didn’t. Rather I’d see girls like Sophie and think why are you wasting your time.
Now Sophie’s punches and kicks in class really wouldn’t do much harm if they accidentally hit a 7 year old but she was training and learning. Now I’d always help support and encourage not only Sophie but many others just like her, but in the back of my mind would be thinking ‘Come on just put in some bloody effort’. Now to her credit she had been inspired by her Karate training, was training regularly, had started jogging as well and as a result had lost a considerable amount of weight. She had goals and although I didn’t see it in the dojo was obviously pushing herself and achieving them. She was a young attractive girl, friendly and doing well in school, happy and enjoying life.
Come on just put in some bloody effort
At this time I was training in a Karate style that was what I’d describe as eclectic. Now I gained a huge amount from it, physically, emotionally and spiritually as have many thousands of other people but it’s focus wasn’t self defense. Our instructor was a great martial artist and had a good understanding of self defense but there wasn’t really any focus on this especially at the lower levels like were Sophie was at this time. So here was Sophie, never put in much effort, doing a martial art that didn’t put any emphasis on self defense and hadn’t been training long.
She was out running one morning early before school, she often did this. She lived in a reasonably upper-class part of Geelong, and this morning was running past Geelong College when someone jumped out from some bushes, grabbed her and tried to drag her into were he had been hiding, with the intent of raping her. Now Sophie would have only been perhaps 165cm and 55kg her attacker was much larger. I remember her words to this day, “I just knew I had to kick and punch and kia until he stopped.”
I just knew I had to kick and punch and kia until he stopped.
That is what she did, she told me she kicked and punched harder than she ever had. So here she was facing a large man kicking, punching and screaming. He punched her in the head giving her a black eye but she didn’t stop and eventually he ran off. Now he had already raped one woman and would rape another 2 before the police caught him. Sophie was the only one he attempted to rape and failed. She was also the only one who fought back.
Now this event had a terrible impact on Sophie, although she fought him off, she no longer felt safe. She suffered depression and withdrawal, stopped running but kept doing karate, was still training a few of years later. This incident took a huge toll on her and seeing what she went through in the years following this I can’t imagine how devastating the impact would have been had she been raped. I think the support of myself and many others she trained with helped a lot but still she struggled. This event forever changed my view of martial arts, I came to understand for some people just knowing you can fight back and having a few basic skills can make all the difference.
knowing you can fight back and having a few basic skills can make all the difference
Now I have a lot of compassion for those who are victims and wish they were not. It’s also true that fighting back isn’t always enough or even possible. When I posted a graphic using the #notme hashtag I was trying to convey the idea that in doing Shiryodo Karate and empowering yourself you are taking a step to stand up to the bullies and monsters that are out there. For parents I also want to give them a clear idea of how they can help make their children and especially their daughters to be less at risk. As the #metoo hashtag highlights the incidence of sexual assault is terribly high and rather than leaving parents feeling helpless and fearful, this gives them a way to take action.
Shiryodo actually means ‘the way of compassion’ our philosophy is to consider each person and how we can help them to be the best they can be. How can I help this person is what I ask everyday I’m teaching and empowering young people, not only girls is one way I do this.