How Self-Defense Training Changed My Life
“Reality Bites – in your own words.”
The course not only freed me from old nightmares, it helped protect me from new ones.
All kinds of people take defense courses, for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is to learn how to fend off a mugger in a dark alley. But as I learned firsthand, these courses offer side benefits beyond the merely physical.
At the age of five I was sexually assaulted at knife-point by a 17-year-old male neighbor who used death threats to secure my silence. As an adult, on my travels as a journalist, I’ve also had a knife or gun at my throat on more than one occasion. As a result of these violent episodes, I’d been unable to sleep for more than three hours at a time. I also had a chronic “tension-related” upper-back pain and I’d gained 30 pounds in three years.
Like so many others in these stressed-out times, I needed a self-defense course for my mind as well as my body. The program I chose, Model Mugging (so named because a female instructor “models” what to do in various life-threatening situations), is an intensive, 20-hour weekend workshop not for the faint of heart.
As a standard part of the training, we learned various physical techniques to fend off the attacks of a highly trained mugger stand-in. For those of us who had been victims of assault, the course also offered customized muggings — carefully scripted repeat performances of a traumatizing attack — only this time the ending is changed and you come out the winner. By physically reliving the experience, but with a happy ending, the hope is you’ll become free of it. For my “mugging” I rehearsed the details of that childhood assault with my mugger stand-in so he would know what to say and do to replicate the experience.
When my time came, I had to summon all the courage I’ve ever known, and then some. I lay on my stomach and heard a demonic voice shouting and felt a knife (a rubber one) at my neck. I had to fight back to save my life. Which I did. I grabbed his wrist, trying to get the knife out of his hand, and positioned my right leg to throw him off. He held on to the knife, so I kicked as we were taught to do, with a power I had never known enough to knock him out if he hadn’t been wearing padding.
During those five minutes I reclaimed something vital that had been stolen from me long ago. A sudden sense of peace and wholeness and safeness in the world engulfed me.
Much to my amazement, the chronic back pain disappeared immediately. That night, for the first time in years, I slept through the night. I awoke the next morning to a spontaneous, loud voice, announcing deep from my subconscious: “I can be beautiful again; I am safe.” Since then I have started to shed the weight I’d gained.
Other class members report similar positive changes in their lives. All of them feel safer, and the confidence they’ve gained has extended to their professional and social lives. One woman who was assaulted says she is finally free of the guilt that had plagued her for years.
I enrolled in a simple self- defense course, and it changed my life. Learning to overpower someone who is overpowering’ you is one secret of empowering yourself. I stand taller now, more confident, knowing I am worth defending — and that I can do it myself — no longer frightened, no longer the victim.
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Expert Advice: Considering enrolling in a self-defense course? Be aware that some law enforcement officials and therapists have reservations about them. While often beneficial, a course can prompt some students to visit places they really shouldn’t, says Sergeant Jim Henderson of the North Side Crime Prevention Unit in Chicago. And many psychologists don’t endorse the reenactment of a victim’s earlier violent encounter as a therapeutic tool. So it makes sense to check with a therapist about your particular situation before signing up.
FITNESS Magazine – March/April 1995
Original article in Fitness Magazine March-April 1995, page 131; download file size is 1.48 MB.
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