What Brought You to the Martial Path?
“How did you get into teaching self-defense — did something happen to you?” Happen to me? It’s a question I’ve been asked untold times. Frankly, it’s an annoying and telling question because it assumes something terrible must have happened. Why else would I — an educated woman and selfconfessed bleeding heart — encourage women to nurture their killer instinct and teach them how to refashion their bodies into weapons?
Then again, given my enthusiasm (see above), it’s a reasonable question. And yes, I have my happening stories. I can easily rattle them off — from manhandling and violent groping to being trapped in a train car by a group of predatory men; from nearrape attacks, which I fended off, to a home invasion by a knife-wielding would-be rapist and maybe killer. They’re all true and very good reasons to take up self-defense. But … There are the stories we tell, and there is the story behind the stories. The one that often lives in the shadow of grander lore and can be traced back to childhood. To “that moment in childhood,” wrote Graham Greene, “when the door opens and lets the future in.” I KNOW MY MOMENT. The memory came back to me one day during a radio interview, greeting me like a bell in the distance waiting to be rung. “It” was born on a frosty winter’s night in the ashes of fear, fueled by a young girl’s desire to save herself, her friend and her friend’s hat.
This memory has become a touchstone for my teaching. It happened like this:
I was 7, and it was a brisk winter’s day. The snow-covered earth crunched underfoot, but the sun was out, shining across its slick white surface. My friend Jennifer and I decided to walk to a creek in a wooded area near my home. When we arrived, two boys, bigger and older, maybe 9 or 10, approached and then ϐ Ǥ ǡ " ϐ Ǥ Ǥ The air between us turned bitterly cold and still. I knew we were in trouble.
One of them brandished a knife, threatening to cut us. I remember the blade, how it gleaned in the afternoon sun as he waved it. The second boy grabbed me, pulling us apart. “I’m ϐ ǡǳ before clutching a hunk of my dirty blond hair.
Flick! Whoosh! It was the sound of his boxy silver lighter set to the highest ϐ ǡ Ǥ my hair sizzle and burn, and I couldn’t escape his grasp. Blow, blow, blow was all l could think to do. Each time the ϐ Ȅ ǡ from blowing and panting — was fol ϐ Ǥ ǲ it!” I pleaded. Each time I tried to pull away, he pulled me closer, charring more hair, singeing my scalp.
I don’t remember a word he said. I just remember the look on his face as he toyed with me in a cruel game of cat and mouse. I was lightheaded, growing dizzier by the moment, and I wanted desperately to be home. Maybe it was that thought that enabled me to break free and scramble to a clearing. THAT’S WHEN I spotted Jennifer, the pompom on her long winter stocking hat bouncing up and down as she wrestled with the bigger boy in the creek. I remember standing there like a marble statue, frozen in fear, watching my best friend get roughed up, ϐ the icy stream.
Then without warning, our young terrorists-in-training took off like a couple of wild critters who’d had their ϐ Ȅ Ǥ big avenue and ran down the street. I " Ǥ - boy, not me, but that was one homestretch where my chunky little legs hit the pavement as fast as hers.
Later that night after things at home calmed down, I sat in a warm bubbleϐ Ǥ happened and why. I didn’t have the words for it, but I knew I’d been initiated, as if I’d crossed some threshold. “Welcome to fear!” I imagined it saying, as if I knew it would be a given, a natural part of the female landscape. Like the eventual menses and breasts, so too there would be fear. First it will be of boys, and then it will be of men. THE TRUTH of this would wax and wane over the years. And I would come to know fear and terror intimately again, each incident propelling me further down this path and into the heart of self-defense.
Adult passions often can be traced to early beginnings, to an incident or desire deposited into a fertile young mind. That day in 1963 would prove to be such a fateful beginning: The young boy who scared the bejesus out of me had unknowingly lit something far more than my tresses.
That night while trying to scrub away what had happened, a new thought and yearning arose from my fear: Why ǯ ϐ ǫ kicked his scrawny ass and rescued myself, my friend and her beloved hat?
That was the image that put a smile on my face. In essence, I had stolen his ϐ Ǥ ǯ Ǥ It wasn’t until decades later when I was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame that I realized I’d become a ϐ Ǥ THIS STORY is a palpable, heartfelt reminder. It serves me when teaching women to defend themselves, so I visit it often.
Like me, you no doubt have stories ϐ Ǥ to recall, while others may have been dismissed or just plain forgotten. To stay connected with the spirit and the truth of what brought you to the martial path, think back and inquire within. You may be surprised.
“I’m gonna set you on fire,” he growled before clutching a hunk of my dirty blond hair.