In 2013, I moved halfway across the world to a country I'd never been to where they spoke a language I could not read, write, or speak, that was not only full of war, but a turmoil I had never experienced before.
While there was societal trauma, I was trying to navigate illness and surgery in a foreign country, my mother's diagnosis with cancer, and toxic co-workers who tried to fire me from my job while pretending to provide pastoral care.
When I moved to Minnesota, I was more than a mess. Culture shock, dealing with learned helplessness, and a complete loss of confidence reinforced by the organization I had worked for, I didn't leave my apartment for two weeks. Living in Minneapolis, I walked the skyway for the next two weeks after that. Every time I heard footsteps behind me, I jumped. I could feel my heart rate rising. I was scared in a way that I couldn't explain to those I knew, let alone those I didn't.
But I couldn't handle it anymore. I found a therapist, I started leaving my apartment. I went to the gym. I tried to find ways to cope with all the things I'd felt and seen and couldn't recon with. And in that time, something was pulling at me to learn self-defense. After speaking with my therapist, she encouraged me to learn. I started researching self-defense in the Twin Cities.
When Googling, I found Krav Maga Minneapolis. Anxious, I asked a friend of mine if she knew of anyone. She told me that her bike group had taken a self-defense class and she would find out who it was. Turned out...it was Krav Maga Minneapolis. During a visit to the YMCA, I asked the front desk if they held self-defense classes. They said they didn't, but they were aware of one place that did. Can you guess? Krav Maga Minneapolis.
I was terrified my first class. I had chosen a class that had a female instructor so that I could feel more calm. Instead, I walked in by myself to a room full of men - there was a male subbing for the evening. In the end, one other woman showed up, but I remember how uncomfortable I felt. My coordination was terrible - I fell on my face almost immediately. I cried and fought back tears as we worked through class. But I said to myself, "this will only be a few weeks, I'll get some confidence back, and I'll be done."
That was in 2015. It's 2020 and I've not only become an instructor, but also a gym owner. What Krav Maga has done for me has been more than I can put into words.
It has given me confidence - more confidence then I've had in my life. It's allowed me to feel like I have some control, more control then I felt when my co-workers were trying to poison my company and my friends against me. More control then I felt when my daily fear was that my home, my livelihood, my visa, and my life were going to be taken from me and there was nothing I could do about it.
In The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel van der Kolk discusses the importance of feeling like a person can defend themselves - that fighting back against whatever your trauma is can help lessen in. If a person is assaulted, if they feel that they fought back in some way, it can help with the trauma work they experience later on. It's when you feel helpless, like everything was so out of your control, that's when your trauma buries itself deep into your body.
Learning Krav Maga felt like a way that I could gain control of my body while I worked so hard to gain control of my mind through therapy and mindfulness. I started to walk taller, to be more sure of myself. As my mind began to settle, my body began to move more fluidly. All my fear and anxiety was still there, but it started to get quieter.
In my old home, I would freeze completely at situations, needing a person who cared about me nearby to speak me out of danger. It was horrifying to think what could have happened to me had the wrong person been whispering in my ear. But with every month and year of Krav Maga the freeze got shorter.
There are still moments when I stop and can feel my heart in my mouth - and it's always around sounds: someone hitting the pads so loudly I fall to my knees, an unexpected scream. In those moments, I know that my work to feel safe will be a years-long process. But I am so incredibly grateful that I found a place that helps me walk in the world in a way I've never been able to do so before.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are a number of great books regarding trauma in the body and the use of self-defense. The Body Keeps the Score, The Gift of Fear, and Unbreakable Woman all have something to say about trauma, self-defense, and moving forward.
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.