This article is an excerpt from Jessie Funk's The Lost Art of Ladyhood.
In this [article], we will chat about keeping yourself safe, setting concrete personal boundaries, and becoming more aware of the power you have to protect your body.
Just repeat after me: I AM WORTH PROTECTING! I AM WORTH PROTECTING!
One night, at about 11:30 p.m., I pulled into a self-serve car wash. As soon as I got out of the car, I had an overwhelming feeling to get out of there. Since I’m already scared of the dark (totally true—not ashamed ), I decided not to question that feeling. I jumped in my car and sped off as fast as I could. As I was driving away with my heart still pounding in my chest, I started to think, if I was a predator, where would I go to find my prey? And the answer was pretty clear—I would go to a self-serve car wash at 11:30 at night! Cement walls and a lot of shadows . . . perfect hunting grounds. That was a profound moment for me because I remember thinking, Wow, I am actually connected to my intuition.
We have been given a wonderful gift, ladies; we can be in tune with ourselves if we take the time to listen and to follow that quiet compass—our own personal Jiminy Cricket. I believe we can be led OUT of the wrong direction and be led IN the right direction if we listen to that intuition.
Now, onto the topic at hand—SELF-DEFENSE! When it comes to self-defense, I am one of those fanatical, crazy ladies! I’m telling you, someday I am going to Washington, DC, to lobby on Capitol Hill for self-defense education to be standard in public school. It’s amazing to me that we are taught calculus, a skill that 98.9 percent of people will never use in their lifetime, but we aren’t taught how to defend our bodies! The US Department of Justice tells us that 16- to 19-year-old teens were “3.5 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.”1 It is shocking to me that statistics like this are still not enough to make us take this epidemic seriously as a society.
Education is readily available, and it could literally mean life or death. In my home, I tell my children that there are three things that are not optional: college, piano, and karate. My daughter and I started karate at the same time. She was seven years old; I was twenty-eight. It’s been such an incredible experience to learn how to defend ourselves . . . together. Now, obviously, you first start out taking karate because you want to learn self-defense, but it’s amazing how much MORE you learn. You learn self-control, respect, discipline, and my favorite . . . confidence! I have learned things that I didn’t know I would learn. I thought I would learn skills I could use in case I was attacked by some darkly cloaked man at midnight in a self-serve car wash, but I’ve also learned how to control my strength, value my safety, and believe in myself.
Self-Defense is so important, especially for girls. We must be strong enough to protect ourselves. The coolest thing I have learned from my education in Chun Kuk Do (the martial arts system designed by Chuck Norris himself!) is that if you walk with confidence, you are much less likely to be attacked in the first place. A predator looks for someone who carries themselves in a way that subliminally says, I won’t fight back. So if you are walking tall, your shoulders back, a smile on your face, and with strength in your stride, you’re already much less likely to be a victim. That fact is very powerful. (Sounds a lot like something we just talked about, right?). Exercise that confidence muscle, girls!
Now, I want to be clear. No one who has been a victim of violence or abuse is to blame for the incident—confidence or no, training or no. Terrible things can happen to anyone; that’s just a sad fact of life. We can’t control other people’s actions, but we can prepare ourselves. I just want you to be as prepared as you possibly can be to face what may or may not come. And remember, it’s not just for your physical safety, either. Being prepared is also for your long term emotional and mental happiness.
If you’re thinking, I wish I could take karate lessons, but I don’t have any money, Jessie!, I would suggest calling every single karate studio in your county and offering to trade your time for lessons. That’s how seriously I recommend this. You could offer to wash their windows, mop their floors, and take out the trash in exchange for the confidence and priceless knowledge of how to protect yourself in an emergency. That is a very unequal trade in your favor.
Put yourself in the shoes of a person that you know has experienced some kind of violence or abuse. I’m positive you know someone. This affects so many people all over the world—guys and girls! Think about their experience, and think about the aftermath. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself this question: If those people could go back, do you think they would do whatever it took to prepare themselves to fight and defend themselves if they could? The answer is, yes, of course! I know that not all acts of violence can be prevented by knowing how to do a proper jab or solar plexus punch, but if there was even a chance, don’t you think your friend would happily take out the trash of a karate studio so that they could learn the skills they needed to avoid that one moment in time when all of their power was taken away? I bet my parakeet they would.
Let me ask the same question in a different way. If you knew that, sometime in your life, you would have to defend yourself, you just knew that was in the deck of cards you were going to be dealt, would you prepare as best you could? Well, since we can’t predict our future, all we can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Karate lessons are worth every penny and every minute because YOU are worth protecting.
Watch the video for this chapter to see self-defense techniques in action! In addition to the video, here are a few tips to help get you thinking.
• Many people think of self-defense as a karate kick to the groin or jab in the eyes of an attacker. But self-defense actually means doing everything possible to AVOID fighting someone who threatens or attacks you.
• Self-defense is all about using your smarts—not your fists.
• Most attackers are someone you KNOW! It’s rare for some stranger to jump out of the shadows. Statistics show that 82 percent of the women who are raped are victimized by someone they know.2 Keep this in mind.
• Trust your instincts, and be smart! Avoid being out by yourself at night in places that could compromise your safety. If your Spidey sense starts tingling and you feel like something is wrong, listen to that feeling, and get out of there!
• If you’re getting robbed and the person is asking for your purse, give it to him! You are much more valuable than anything in your wallet. Again, you want to avoid a fight. You just never know if he has a gun, or if he’s high on something. Don’t risk it unless you absolutely have to!
• Stay calm and breathe. The second you get into a scary situation, your body immediately starts pumping adrenaline throughout your system. Consciously telling yourself to stay calm and breathe will help you think more clearly.
• Make sure you communicate with your family and friends about where you will be at all times.
• SCREAM! Just by throwing a full-on, two-year-old tantrum and making a lot of noise, an attacker will think twice. Say things like, “Police!” “Get away!” “Fire!” “Stop!”
• Brute force is generally not the smartest option. Doing the unexpected is! In other words, HURT HIM! Kick him as hard as you can in the groin, gouge his eyes, bite his arm, stomp on the top of his foot, break his nose, kick his knee, poke his throat, scratch and claw like a wild tiger, pinch his inner thigh (very sensitive)! Do whatever you have to do to save your life! Throw all the “ladylike” ideas out of your head when it comes to protecting yourself.
• Your elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you get close enough, use it. If you end up on the ground, use your legs to kick free from your attacker.
• “No.” is a complete sentence. You always have the right to say “No” to someone who is making you uncomfortable.
• Take protective measures: lock your car doors, lock your front door in your home, don’t give your cell number out to strangers, and don’t ever meet up with a stranger you met in a chat room. You’ve Got Mail is a movie, not reality.
• If you’re under sixteen, invest in a whistle to carry with you at all times. When you turn sixteen, talk to your parents about some Mace spray. (I have a cute pink one on my keychain at all times.) You must be sixteen and have a note from your parent allowing you to carry Mace. When you’re eighteen, you can look into a Taser. Carrying one may seem pretty scary, but it also may save your life. As with any self-defense weapon, be sure to get training and know how to carry and use it. Talk with your parents about their stance on self-defense weapons and begin to form your own opinions.
• Have a code word with your parents and friends. If you call or text them with the code word, they know you need help. Maybe your code word, “Schnitzel with noodles,” simply means, “Mom, come get me from this stupid party.”
• Learn self-defense techniques, including how to get out of a wrist grab, choke hold, bear hug (being held from behind), being pinned to the ground, etc. I can’t explain how to get out of those; you have to see it. Watch the video for this chapter AND invest in yourself by taking time to watch some awesome videos on YouTube about women’s self-defense.
Here are some awesome websites with more tips:
Again, I recommend getting on YouTube and searching “women’s self-defense.” There are a ton of great videos with glorious knowledge to be learned. There are even videos on how to handle an attacker with a knife or a gun. It’s awesomely empowering!
Here’s another story about a time when I wish I would have known a few self-defense skills. During the summer after my freshman year of high school, I went to a week-long summer camp with a ton of kids from my school. T’was a fiesta! Toward the end of the week, I was sitting in a circle with a bunch of kids doing a game of some sort when, all of a sudden, I felt a cement bicep wrap tightly around my neck. My “friend”—we shall call him, Mo—thought it would be really funny to choke me.
Maybe I’m just gifted or overly creative, but I can think of a lot of things that could be considered more fun than choking a friend. But that’s just me . . . These are the moments when you have to ask yourself, Is this person really the kind of “friend” I want to hang out with? Maybe I should choose friends with less muscle mass and bigger brains.
So he’s literally choking me. I was pulling on his arm, hitting him with my hands; I even tried scooting back to try to push him off balance. I couldn’t breathe. I started seeing stars, and then . . . BLACK! I woke up lying on my back with a bunch of kids staring down at me and a camp leader right in my face yelling at me to wake up. It caused quite a commotion.
When I finally got my wits about me, I looked around for Mo. I found him in a different part of the camp laughing with some other guys. I went up to him and punched him as hard as I could in the arm. “What the crap, Mo? Why did you do that?” I screamed at him, trying to hold back tears.
“Calm down, Jessie, I was just having fun. Lighten up!”
I stared back at him in awe. Lighten up? Are you kidding me? He could have seriously hurt me, and to him it was just no big deal. I made sure he learned a lesson by telling the camp leaders how much that freaked me out. Mo got sent home. We didn’t hang out again after that. There’s nothing wrong with reporting when something serious happens, girls. Reporting dangerous activities is different than being a tattle tale. Talk to a trusted adult when there’s a problem in your life. Adults want to help you!
There’s also nothing wrong with distancing yourself from “friends” like Mo. You know who I’m talking about. The “friends” that make you feel horrible about yourself or the “friends” that scare you. You can always be kind and tactful, but you don’t ever have to continue hanging out with someone who hurts you—emotionally or physically.
I’m happy to say I know exactly how to get out of a choke hold now, thanks to karate—that’s valuable stuff.
Some naysayers might tell you that even if you spend a ton of time learning self-defense techniques, you wouldn’t actually be able to use them in a real-life situation. They might tell you that when you are in the moment, your heart is racing, that you won’t be able to think clearly enough to remember your self-defense training. This is absolutely NOT TRUE!
Sue Wharton is an amazing woman who worked hard to get a black belt in her later years. She says:
With repetitive training of a required skill, the necessary motor units in the muscles are recruited, neurons and synapses are created to control these motor units, and a memory map becomes laid down in the brain which enables the required movement to be evoked quickly and accurately when a stimulus is received. For example, you see a punch coming towards your head (stimulus), and before you know it, you have evaded and blocked it. You didn’t think about it; it just seemed to happen automatically! Well, it probably did happen automatically because it’s a technique you’ve practiced over and over again. Your brain just executed the move below your conscious control.
So, if you’re in a real-life situation and your adrenaline is pumping, your heart is pounding, and you’re totally freaking out, the likelihood of being able to actually defend yourself is so much higher if you have had some self-defense training than if you had no self-defense training at all. Besides, like I said, just having the confidence that self-defense instills can possibly prevent the incident in the first place.
Lisa Raleigh, from the University of Oregon, says:
The empowerment philosophy of self-defense assumes that even when physical defense isn’t called for—when women are faced with obnoxious or harassing behavior that may not be imminently dangerous—they can also learn to set clear boundaries.
If a boy is taunting or bugging you in any way, have enough confidence to say, “Stop!” or “Don’t touch me!”—even if you don’t have to use any self-defense moves. This is how we set boundaries. By having a strong confidence muscle and standing up for yourself with powerful words, you can make it clear that you value yourself.
Setting Physical Boundaries
Boundaries are limits that you set for yourself and others. They can be emotional, physical, spiritual, or mental. It is a line in the sand that you decide on and feel comfortable with. A line that no one is allowed to cross. A boundary should be very specific, that way you don’t wonder if it’s being crossed. Here are a few examples.
Personal Space Boundary: If someone is looking over your shoulder as you text a friend, turn around and look at them with a quizzical expression. That’s all it will take to send the message to give you some space.
Hugging boundary: You could hug someone from the side instead of straight on.
Joking Boundary: If you are around someone who constantly says something rude or obnoxious, followed by a “just kidding,” you can let him or her know that you don’t like that.
Get the idea?
Now take a minute and write some boundaries of your own. Fuzzy, feather-topped pens at the ready, please.
If someone is getting close to or crossing a boundary, state how you FEEL strongly. If someone is bugging you by hugging you too tightly, or poking you, or even looking at you inappropriately, firmly but calmly say, “I don’t like that.” Use “I” words when explaining how you feel. First of all, you don’t have to ever explain the reason, but if you find yourself in a situation where it would be appropriate, tell the person what makes you feel the way you do. No one can argue with how you feel. “I feel uncomfortable when you do that,” is something that no one can fight you on because it is YOUR feeling.
Say “NO!” I know we have already talked about this one, but I’m just going to keep saying it. You can always be kind, tactful, and compassionate, but firmly state it when you feel a boundary being crossed.
Here are some of the benefits of learning self-defense and/or getting a black belt in some form of martial arts:
• You learn how to defend your body if you were ever in a violent situation.
Write some phrases, and practice them in the mirror so you don’t have to think about what to say if that boundary is crossed.
• You feel empowered and confident because you know you carry this valuable knowledge.
• Everyone at school thinks you’re freaking awesome because they know you could kick their trash.
• Your family and friends respect you.
• You respect yourself.
• You learn to be disciplined.
• You gain a great work ethic.
• You are much less of a target for a predator simply because of the way you carry yourself. (Again, it’s a fact that predators look for girls who come across as weak and timid. They look for girls who they think won’t fight back.)
• You learn self-control. Controlling your strength is vital in karate.
• You set a priceless example for the girls around you. You become a leader.
The most important statistic that supports my belief of the importance of self-defense comes from a study by the Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This study found that one in six women reported being assaulted, and 52 percent of these assaults occurred with girls under the age of eighteen.5 These are frightening facts that should really make you think about how you would handle a situation where you may have to fight for your life.
Please remember, you are worth protecting!