One of the first things that I tell female students, especially those I can tell are uncomfortable, is that I cried my first Krav Maga class. And that I cried at my first (okay, all) instructor training. I tell them that it's okay to cry. But what I don't tell them is that it took me years to show others my tears on the mat.
Being the only female on the mat can, at times, be overwhelming. And I have to admit that I often try to keep up, whether that be in running or getting hit. In a sport where being tough is prized and you have to work twice as hard as men, how do you gain respect on the mat while you cry?
I had run into a few situations in the gym - I was hit in the face and it was spontaneous, but I wasn't allowed to take care of my emotions. I found myself crying on the mat, embarrassed and frustrated by my tears, and feeling like I had no outlet for my feelings except to take it out on others as anger. And that just wasn't going to work long term.
I decided after nearly dying during my first instructor training that I would get a trainer and get in better shape. I'm told that my first free session is with Elis. And she is incredible - she's a Muay Thai coach, she's been in martial arts for years. I'm excited and, honestly, intimidated. I told her what my goals were, why I was there, and what I was hoping to gain. And then we started to talk about the challenges, how hard it can be as a woman in a combat sport.
I wish I could remember the words she said to me or how we even got there, but it was something along the lines of:
"You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to be tough. You can just be yourself."
And I lost it. I started to sob and there was just something about feeling so completely seen in that moment. I apologized profusely, over and over, for my tears. And then she said something that has changed how I view myself and how I process emotions as I fight:
"You are allowed to cry here, you are allowed to cry on the mat. You are allowed to process in whatever way you need to and everyone else will just have to figure out how to handle it."
And that feeling, like you've been pushed, just came over me. All the cliches - the light above my head, an epiphany, that sudden realization that she was right. Maybe it was having a female who I know is a complete badass telling me that I was allowed to be myself and that I was allowed to cry that made the difference. Maybe it was getting older and realizing that people's perception of me didn't matter. Or maybe it was wanting to just be myself.
No matter what it was, I've found power in my vulnerability.
Tears are no reason for embarrassment and they hurt no one. They help me process my feelings. They allow others to feel comfortable being themselves around me. And, in the end, I'd rather cry than have to bottle up my emotions in a place that's so important to me and my well-being. If we say that exercise helps our mental health, we can't disconnect our feelings from it.
So know that you're welcome, tears and all, on our mat.
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.
If you've experienced trauma before stepping on the mat, you aren't alone. I discuss the experiences that brought me to Krav Maga and the reason I not only stayed, but became an instructor and school owner.
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.