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Reproduced with permission from the Martial Arts E-Zine.
I was walking down a dimly lit street late one evening when I heard muffled screams coming from behind a clump of bushes. Alarmed, I slowed down to listen and panicked when I realized that what I was hearing was the unmistakable sounds of a struggle: heavy grunting, frantic scuffling and tearing of fabric.
Only yards from where I stood, a woman was being attacked. Should I get involved? I was frightened for my own safety and cursed myself for having suddenly decided to take a new route home that night.
What if I became another statistic? Shouldn't I just run to the nearest phone and call the police? Although it seemed an eternity, the deliberations in my head had taken only seconds, but already the cries were growing weaker. I knew I had to act fast. How could I walk away from this? No, I finally resolved, I could not turn my back on the fate of this unknown woman, even if it meant risking my own life!!
I am not a brave man, nor am I athletic, I do not want to get involved. Will my Martial Arts training I had years ago help even though I have never used it? I don't know where I found the moral courage and physical strength---but once I had finally resolved to help the girl, I became strangely transformed.
I ran behind the bushes and pulled the assailant off the woman. Grappling, we fell to the ground, where we wrestled for a few minutes until the attacker jumped up and escaped. Panting hard, I scrambled upright and approached the girl, who was crouched behind a tree, sobbing. In the darkness, I could barely see her outline, but I could certainly sense her trembling shock. Not wanting to frighten her further, I at first spoke to her from a distance. "It's OK," I said soothingly. "The man ran away. You're safe now." There was a long pause and then I heard the words, uttered in wonder, in amazement.
"Daddy, is that you?" And then, from behind the tree, stepped my youngest daughter, Katherine! Do all you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.
Reproduced with permission from the Martial Arts E-Zine.
Changes that studying Aikido have brought to me have been a welcome addition to my life and have given me back who I know myself to be in many ways. The lessons have not come simply or quickly and were not expected, but are worth every ounce of effort, fear, and tears that they have cost for the hope and life they have brought me thus far. Emotional and verbal control became overt once there was a legally binding relationship. The change was slow enough that I was blind to the implications I would see later. Accepting the controlling behavior and the evaluation of who I was through his eyes set the stage for not valuing my own thoughts, and worth. I accepted the violence as a consequence of my actions or thoughts and felt that nothing I could do would make any difference to end the direction in the short or long term in this marriage. I learned to react, or respond to protect myself or fight back would prolong the aggression and escalate it. Standing quietly and relaxed as I could muster ended the aggressive or violent episodes quicker and with less soreness the next day. It was a silent death while living which I participated in for more than a decade.
It took a decade of gradual immersion in a controlling relationship to make me immune to the violence and feel that nothing I could do would make any difference. Talking my way out of unexpected violence in my home worked for awhile and for a season life was quieter. Later when I moved to block a blow or leave the room the violence got worse. Enough of my life was controlled that I couldn't find way to leave. I found it was safer to take a little of the punishment than to further aggravate him and bring on more violence. That is a learned victim behavior that is self protection when there is no good way out seen and you have given up.
Realizing I was going to die anyway to awakened me to the fact that to do anything while their was breath was to fight for my life so just move and do until I could not breath. The four times I took that attitude though I had no training I ended up with sloppy successful throws that knocked him out on the wood floor. He went down cold and I walked and returned later thinking this would not recur, but it did three more times. I was lucky, didn't know how I was defending myself, and needed to find a way out as I had found a way to temporarily end the violence. It gave me confidence to start planning to leave and I left shortly thereafter with no notice. The fourth time was the last. I didn't know what was changing or why it worked. I wanted life, and not to find it while fighting for it. Deciding to fight for it was the first small step that set me on a mew path of discovery.
Studying aikido has given me the opportunity to reframe acting in self-defense when I had identified myself as violent because I violently reacted to physical assault in the end of the relationship. Learning that I am a part of the universe, connected to it, and its power as is everyone was a challenging concept. Becoming aware that my attitude, posture, awareness and ability to acknowledge other's presence while not giving ground rather than being invisible, and vulnerable is invaluable. Gaining the physical skills has been the path for learning this as a whole instead of being left with the intellectual acknowledgement of the history and not having the skills to build the attitudinal and body language changes into who I am, how I speak and how I move.
Learning that physical aggression does not have to equal violence and doesn't have to be emotional based has been important. That in any circumstance I am worth defending whether removing myself, verbally defusing things or having to act physically. It also gave me the courage and awareness to thwart a gas station car jacking without engaging in a physical altercation which was not stacked in my odds. It's helped me regain myself and my life again and that's invaluable.
Before I began exploring aikido I thought being centered meant having integrity and choosing actions in line with your principles instead of reacting to the environment or emotions. It seems to have taken a primarily physical definition now like having a string pull you up from the crown of your head with the rest of the body following. Picture a straight back, relaxed hips, shoulders and arms being fundamental to being centered. What I am beginning to see is that the physical centering around a plumb line is an embodiment of the mental attitude. The same off balancing occurs when on the physical or mental plane. It I concentrate on learning to center or find my stability on the physical level the other levels are slowly developing core strengths as well.
I can notice my body language now when I am out of balance and see where I am leaning and what I am trying to shy a way from and how that reflects in my thoughts, feelings, and actions. It's been a real wake up call. Only just beginning to see it and recognize this in short snatches, but it is enlightening to me to notice the changes.
From my past I was left with the knee jerk reactions to sounds, body language, noise, cues in the environment which left me raw and ready to run or do harm when the reaction was out of proportion to the present. A experience from my job showed me some hope for my learning curve in aikido. I came from the back into front of the office and there were two very loud aggressive sales people that had employees baffled and upset. Within a few moments we had spoken, had an understanding, they were quiet and thanking me and left smiling. The others had tried to have them leave and they just got more riled up. Funny the office mates asked me what I did to them to make them be so polite and subdued and thank me upon leaving.
I realized later that I did what our teacher says is owning the mat. That it is my space and controlling my space, getting out of the line of attack, and controlling how close someone is to me...that is my job. That to accept the attack and see it from their point of view while diffusing it is really powerful.
Reproduced with permission from the Martial Arts E-Zine.
Most of the people that have been through some form of self defense class state that just the added information they had opened their eyes and the realized more than not the danger in certain situations and therefore avoided those situations in the first place. And isn't that what we try to teach first? Avoid the situation and only after you can't get away, fight?
My wife, has been raped once and attempted on two time since. The first time was before we started dating, It was a Date rape situation on her birthday, in college. She didn't fight back because she never had to before. She never realized that she was "allowed" to punch or kick. She was taught from childhood just like a majority of women that "good girls don't raise there voice," And it got her attacked. Second time was after we started dating. She was attacked at an ATM on Christmas. She fought and the rapist dragged her to his car. He punched her in the face and told her he would kill her if she didn't stop fighting. My wife had had only Kickboxing classes with my school. She wanted to be a professional kick boxer. She never did one of my Jiu-Jitsu Classes, nor my UPC training for law enforcement. She got away and later ID'd the perpetrator. She said that even though she didn't feel like she could knock out a man, she was able to keep her wits about her and was able to fight back. Due to that, my wife started in on my harder training. Third time my wife was attacked, she was back at college doing a dissertation to her old school while working on her master's. I got a call from my dispatch telling me that she was in the hospital. Apparently, she was sleeping and a man climbed in the house form a tree outside my wife's window. He jumped from the window, onto my wife's bed. Since she was already practically naked, he decided that it would be a good thing I got to the hospital My wife was sitting in the same torn night gown she had fallen asleep in. Blood covered her from neck down. One of her fingers was broken, and she had a black eye, and a few scratches. She told the detectives and now me that he jumped in the window and on to her. He hit her in the face with a lamp and pulled a knife on her. He told her that he would kill her if she screamed She fought back and ended up stabbing the rapist with his own knife. He lived, but he will always carry the scar, and last year, he was still in jail serving 17 yrs for multiple serial rapes. Now, I submit to you, all this started because of one little Kickboxing class 8 yrs ago.
How many possible rapes has my wife avoided because she had a little training? Who knows, but I do know that if one woman is able to take those lessons and apply them, maybe she will be a success story too.
For about a year ago I was sitting in a bus at 4 p.m. when I had a very frightning but also very eye-opening experience. In some Danish buses some of the seats are turned around, so you sit with your back towards the direction the bus is going. I was sitting in one of those seats just in front of the exit door in the back of the bus. The bus had just stopped so some people could get off and the doors were about to be closed when some beer suddenly splashed all over my T-shirt. It was a guy sitting at the back seat who had thrown a beer can out the back door. In itself that is pretty dangerous as he could have hit a pedestrian or a cyclist. The guy was about the same age as I (24 years old) and he was ignoring me as if nothing had happened. I remained in my seat and told him in a firm voice (no shouting) that it was a stupid thing to do. This escalated the situation.
Even though we were only 1½ meters away from each other he shouted back that I should mind my own business and just shut up because he didn't hit me on purpose. I had expected an apology and instead I got further insulted. To be frank I got angry. I told him that he had no reason for throwing the beer can out of the door when he could use the trash can in the bus. He shouted that at the next stop we could step out of the bus and deal with the problem outside. I told him that I was not at all interested at fighting him. We continued to argue and he was about to get on his feet several times and come at me but he didn't. I think that the reason why he didn't get up right away was because I stared right into his eyes all the time and I didn't seem nervous. I must admit that I was very nervous. The adrenaline rushed through my body and I could feel my legs tremble. By not seeming to be scared of him I think he didn't see me as an easy target.
It was a very stressful situation and I didn't know what to do. Suddenly he got up with the clear intent to finish our little conversation. He quickly pulled something out of his pocket with his right hand and hid it behind his thigh. The word "knife" popped up in my head. I knew that my position wasn't the best for fighting someone let alone defending myself against someone with a knife. If I stayed in my seat I wouldn't stand a chance. I backed down the gangway keeping approximately 1½ meter between us. We stood in front of each other and he shouted at me that we could settle the matter right now. I noticed that it wasn't a knife he had in his hand but some kind of small metal object. He held it like you hold a corkscrew if you want to use it like a weapon with the metal pointing out between the middle finger and the ring finger. Instead of being pointy and sharp like a corkscrew it was blunt. It would do some serious damage if he hit me in my face (or any other place for that matter).
I told him that I didn't want to fight him - especially when he had a weapon. I kept my eyes on his weapon and tried to decide what to do if he attacked. He said that if I didn't want to fight I should sit down and shut up. He pointed at the seat where I had been sitting indicating that he wanted me to sit down again. The problem was that he was standing right beside that seat, so I had to walk right in front of him and he would have no problem hitting me. I told him that I wouldn't walk up to him and sit down and thereby give him the opportunity to bash my teeth in. I didn't like the direction the situation had taken and I was in serious doubt I would get out of it unharmed when the bus stopped and opened the doors. The guy gave me the finger insulted me verbally and got off the bus. I don't know why he did that. Perhaps he thought that I was not worth the risk or there were too many witnesses. Or perhaps he was smarter than me and ended the confrontation before it got really ugly. Or perhaps it was just his stop. Nevertheless I sat down and kept my eyes on him as the bus drove past him. I tried to relax but it was difficult. I still had a lot of adrenaline in my body.
What have I learned from the experience? A great deal, I must say. It was actually the first time I had been that close to get in a real fight. A fight where you can't count on your adversary not to jump on your head after he has knocked you out - and I mean that literally.
When all this is said I have to admit that my martial art training of course hasn't been in vain. I was able to analyse the situation and what kind of person my opponent was, what the surroundings were like and how I could get out of the situation without getting my head bashed in. I had a better chance to deal with the situation when things heated up. I could have used the Jujitsu I learned. The style I practice is a mixture of Shotokan Karate, Aikido and Judo, and the Judo part could have been useful too. If I could get close to him and control him I would perhaps be able to get him on the ground and use some locks. Or perhaps I could get close at him and throw him to the ground (Tomoe Nage would be useful). There is no doubt that I would be better suited to get out of the situation compared to a guy with no martial art experience.