My entry point to Krav Maga was a Women’s Self-Defense seminar: Winterized Edition. We learned how to disarm assailants, shout loudly, recover from disorientation, kick and hit attackers, and – most importantly – to run, all in winter weather gear. All of these are standard to most martial arts or self-defense classes, but what felt different was how the instructors intentionally gave me permission to fight back. And by intentionally, I mean they said it out loud. Repeatedly.
You see, women are typically never given permission – verbally or otherwise – to defend their person even if they are threatened.
As a female-identified person, I was raised to be polite, demure, charming, and laugh off discomfort. Most of us were. We were taught to always go new places in pairs, to never let our drink out of sight, to cross the street if someone was following us, to pretend to know the name of a strange girl to get away from creepy guys, or to laugh uncomfortably at someone’s insulting rape joke. Never was I given permission to fight back. Ironic, given that in any sexual assault investigation the first question to the victim is almost always, “What did you do to prevent this?” instead of asking the assailant if they understand that sexually assaulting someone – regardless of what they are wearing or how they are acting – is a crime. How am I supposed to know I can fight back if the world has only ever instructed me to be smaller, quieter, and go with the flow – even in dangerous situations?
Instead, at VSD instructors encouraged me to be my most vicious and paranoid:
- If you think you’re being followed, stop and look back. Do it again. Be aware of your environment in case you need to react quickly.
- If someone grabs you, start kicking with the toe of your boot and hitting with the flat of your palm. Most assailants don’t expect their victims to fight back. (This fact will always make me sad).
- Scream. Scream loudly and often. Yell “FIRE!” so someone will come; “HELP!” doesn’t always yield the same response.
- If they want your money, throw your wallet to one side, then sprint to the opposite. RUN.
- When in doubt, crush their knee. They can’t chase after you.
Now let’s pause for a moment and remember that no one had ever given me permission or tactics to fight back until December 2019. How awful is that?
From there, it was an easy love affair. Weekly classes turned to three months of virtual instruction as the pandemic began. And, then, a surprise: my left arm gave out. Dang it.
In 2018, I had been in a nasty car accident that required surgery and lots of physical therapy. After 18 months of intense compensation, my opposite arm had decided that was enough. No more Krav Maga for me, at least for a little while.
I took a break because I had to and, interestingly enough, it’s only made me more committed to return to the mat. These days, I’m pining after Krav and slowly building up my physical strength and endurance following 6 more months of physical therapy. But like giving me permission to fight for myself, my dignity, and my body, practicing Krav Maga also gave me permission to have a sports goal that wasn’t necessarily about the scale, PRs, or sprint times. This time, I am dedicated to my recovery regimen for myself. What a novel concept.
Women in particular were taught for a long time that any physical engagement had to be for a NUMBER, a MEDAL, or a PR. My goals around fitness these days are more mindful. Do I like what I eat? Is this movement good for my body? How can I modify this exercise? Do I feel strong? Do I need a rest day instead? How much water did I drink? Have I been outside? Did I meditate to manage my anxiety? Did I learn something new? While I look forward to working my way up to a deadlift PR someday, it’s not the only piece of the equation that makes me feel whole.
For those short introductory months, krav maga gave me a glimpse of what feeling whole might look like.
It confirmed that I want to be physically capable of being in a kick-ass environment that honors strength at many levels and intensity. I want to be in a space that allows for growth, sweat, and tears as I level up.
I want to be fit enough to nail Peter every time (sorry, Peter!) I want to hit the punching bags and not worry if I’ll end up in PT again. I want my body to feel good before, during, and after I get off the mat. I want to fall, get up, and start over again. I want to feel like no one can touch me without my permission, and internalize that I have permission to protect myself.
In the end, I think practicing Krav Maga – and make no mistake, it is a practice — is a space for women (and for me) to empower and affirm that we are, in fact, in control. That we set the terms. It may be a fantasy on a global scale, but I am grateful there is one tiny sphere of my world that lets me live into the world I hope to see.
Here’s to recovery, and getting back on the mat with ladies I admire, and better yet, who can kick my ass!
For International Women's Day and Women's History Month, we asked our female Krav Maga students: how did you find Krav Maga and why did you stay?
If we say that exercise helps our mental health, we can't disconnect our feelings from it. This is why owner and instructor Danae Hudson cries on the mat during Krav Maga.
Krav Maga is about more than just kicking butt - the best way to win a fight is to avoid one. But often times women feel like we can't defend ourselves until we're in danger. When are we allowed to defend our boundaries?
Krav Maga near me? There is! If you're looking for a Krav Maga class near you, Valley Self-Defense is a proud member of the International Krav Maga Federation with schools located across the United States. To find a school near you, visit the IKMF USA website.