I’ve been working on starting this blog post over and over. In my mind, self-defense and mental health go hand-in-hand. It’s helped me process my trauma, but what does that mean for day-to-day life? Since this May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to discuss what Krav Maga and self-defense did for me and my mental health over the years.
Now, before I dig in, I want to say that all of my self-defense activities were in conjunction with therapy. I have done talk therapy since I was 14 years old and after my time in the Middle East, I began EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a therapy process developed for veterans to deal with PTSD, but has become a way to help any person who has experienced trauma. I credit both my healing through therapy, as well as my self-defense training.
So how did self-defense help me live my daily life?
It soothed my hypervigilance
After I moved from the Middle East to Minnesota, I feared leaving my apartment. When I gained the courage to leave, I would walk the Minneapolis skyways for hours. Every time that I heard footsteps behind me, I remember my heart beating nearly out of my chest and I would either turn a corner or wait for people to pass me until I could breathe again.
Over time, I realized that I was calmer and was less fearful walking through the skyway and out on the sidewalk. I felt more confidence and that all the things I feared happening to me were manageable, even if they didn’t completely go away.
It calmed my freeze response
Freeze and fawn have always been my body’s natural response to fear and I want to point out that it always will be. Fight is not natural to me. But through training, the freeze that I feel has gotten shorter and shorter over time.
When I first started Krav Maga, for me to get out of the freeze response I needed someone to speak to me and that was scary for me. What if I froze to the point that I was willing to follow someone with ill intent?
It helped me listen to my gut, be less “nice,” and set better boundaries
Oftentimes, I would put myself in somewhat gray situations because I didn’t want to be labeled as “rude” or a “bitch.” I would feel that sinking feeling in my stomach and think, “it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be fine” and continue on. Afterwards, I would berate myself for not listening to myself.
I’ve talked to so many womxn who have said the same thing - they didn’t want to be called a “bitch” or they felt that they had to be “respectful,” even if the person opposite them was making them uncomfortable.
Krav Maga, especially the women’s classes, made it okay to listen to my intuition. If someone is walking up close behind me, I’ll move out of the way so that they can pass me. If my intuition says something isn’t safe, I’ll cross the street, let a person know where I am or what is making me anxious, step into a store even if I don’t need to, or say “no” to a person who is making me uncomfortable.
It gave me realistic expectations
While I’d always felt that I’d always lose if I had to confront someone, Krav Maga helped me realize that I’m never out of the fight. Even if it feels like I’m losing, my goal is always to fight. I may get hurt - and if I ever have to use my Krav Maga, I possibly could be, but it’s important to keep fighting until the end.
I know that I’m not Bruce Lee or some crazy badass and I will never go out looking for a fight. In fact, the first step in Krav Maga is avoiding one. But if somehow I can’t avoid it, I have some muscle memory that could help me, even if it’s just screaming and breaking my freeze response.
It made me more comfortable with my body
I have never had a great relationship with my body. I was a clumsy, slightly overweight child who didn’t fit in and was unathletic. As an adult, I was comfortable with dance, but with anything else, I was incredibly uncoordinated and self-conscious. My first Krav Maga class, I fell flat on my face. I was so embarrassed. But the longer I went, I started to feel like I was in control of my body and movements rather than the other way around. I still have moments of dysmorphia around my body and my size, but Krav Maga has helped me appreciate the things that my body can do instead of just the size of it. If anything, it’s helped me take up more space, rather than allow others to make me small.
It helped me feel powerful when I’d felt so helpless
Part of my trauma was learned helplessness from a figure who controlled my job, my car, my living situation, my entire life. When I got out of that situation I was so angry with myself for allowing that to happen. For awhile, I couldn’t let go of my anger at myself. Therapy helped me get my anger out through words and tears and Krav Maga helped me get my anger out physically. As I’ve grown stronger mentally and physically and more and more confident, I’ve been able to take back my power and my sense of who I am. I can forgive myself and see that none of it was my fault. I know that a lot of this is thanks to therapy, but I know that for me moving through it all physically has helped me immensely. I don’t know if I would be as far in my healing and self-love if I hadn’t been able to work out my emotions in multiple ways.
I started this post with a caveat and I’d like to end it with one too. Before I started my self-defense journey, I ran it by my therapist and she agreed that she thought it could help me. I was in a space in my healing where being touched by others, and especially men, was okay. There have been moments where I thought I was okay and instead found my pulse racing at the sound of slapping focus mitts. I have had students who have had to heal from traumatic reactions to class and while I understand that, it is never our goal to retraumatize anyone. I highly recommend consulting with a mental health professional if you’re still close to your traumatizing situation or make sure that your therapist is willing to work through any feelings that might come up in a self-defense class.
At Valley Self-Defense, our instructors have been trained in trauma-informed care and understand the signals of panic and anxiety. Please feel free to message us for both our group classes or private lessons - everybody deserves to feel safe in their own body, no matter what they’ve experienced, how they express themselves, and no matter their age and ability.
All Valley Self-Defense instructors have been trained in trauma-informed care and how to help those handling trauma in a Krav Maga class. For anyone with anxiety about trying Krav Maga, we are happy to meet with you in person or speak with you over the phone. To connect with us, email us at email@example.com.
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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.