Do You Fight Like A Girl? -
By: Alicia Reitz

Walk away. Carry a whistle. Remain calm. Kick him in the nuts. Don’t fight back.

This is some of the worst self-defence advice on the planet. Truly. Jackson Katz, a social researcher, recently published a chart listing what women do vs. what men do to prevent sexual assault. I’ll let you read the article for details, but what was more striking was the litany of things women do every single day to prevent assault. When men were asked, they most often responded with, “Nothing. I don’t even think about it.”

The reality is that most women, trans people, and some (even though we don’t want to acknowledge it) men are very aware of being vulnerable to sexual assault and violence. It’s like a constant low-level buzz in our brains that can alter what we do, where we go, and with whom. Many people don’t understand what this feels like – but some do.

Comedian Dave Chappelle once said, “I got paid $25K when I was 17 and was scared to walk around with it in a backpack ‘cause I never had something somebody wanted. I know they would kill me if they knew I had this money. Now imagine having a pu*%y.”

Exactly. As a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu purple belt, I spend a lot of time thinking about, and practicing, self-defence. It was originally designed as a defensive art, utilizing leverage, technique, and distance management to allow a smaller, weaker individual to be able to defend themselves against a larger, stronger aggressor.

That was what initially drew me to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. As a woman barely 5ft tall and 100lb, I always felt small and vulnerable. This was something else entirely. My dance background allowed me to use technique, body awareness and timing to render someone unconscious with a triangle choke or break someone’s shoulder with a kimura. Jiu Jitsu was like magic to me, and I fell in love with it.

The longer I trained, the more I began to understand the philosophy of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and the more my mind shifted. In life we are going to be faced with adversity. With situations and events that we have zero control over. There was always a panic phase with everything that would present itself in my life. If you’re a planner like me, you’ll understand this.

When someone is sitting on your torso trying to choke you unconscious, or break your arm, you have no time to panic. You’re done. The only way to survive is to understand immediately the position you’re in, and then make a list of possible responses to said position. In my life, I began seeing situations as not good or bad, rather, just things. Things that are happening. Then I would make a mental list of options of how to deal with it. Like the Terminator movies, where Arnie’s terminator is presented with a problem. His cyborg brain screen displays that along with a list of possible responses; all just as viable as the others. His job? Choose, and execute.

As I became more practiced at this kind of problem solving in my life, something unexpected happened. I became calmer, happier, confident that it didn’t matter what happened in my life, I had options. I could deal with it, and that allowed me to not be a control freak holding on by my fingernails hoping nothing bad would happen. It’s a game changer, let me tell you.

Another thing that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gave me was the ability to set boundaries. So many of us are overwhelmed in our lives because we are bad at this, really bad. We say yes to so many things we shouldn’t because we don’t have the confidence to set boundaries. The power of ‘no’ can’t be understated.

I have two nuggets of wisdom from two different universes that I hear in my head reminding me of that power. The first from the Marvel universe as Tony Stark informs Pepper Potts that “no is a complete answer.” As women, so many of us are fans of the “no because…” like we need to explain our ‘no’. We don’t. The second is from the 90’s sitcom universe. On an early Friends episode, Phoebe is asked to help the guys assemble furniture to which she responds, “Oh, I wish I could, but I don’t want to.” Gold.

Something else I noticed was the way I moved through the world: deliberate, undistracted, comfortable in my body. A couple of years ago, Psychology Today published an article about the science of victim selection. This was not about victim blaming, but rather information gathered from incarcerated rapists and serial killers (Ted Bundy among them) about how they consciously or subconsciously chose their victims. These were individuals that looked easy to overpower, wouldn’t put up a fight, or draw too much attention. The young women that I work with journal about how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu changes how they walk, how they assert themselves, and how they establish boundaries for themselves. Important skills as they move forward in their lives.

So many of us imagine that sexual assault or violence will be perpetrated by some stranger in the street in the dead of night, and some do, absolutely. However, the reality is that most sexual assaults will be committed by someone you know, or even worse, someone you like. Since we are not likely to embarrass someone, we know or like by causing a scene or disfigure them by jamming our car keys in their eyes, we are most likely to do absolutely nothing. We allow ourselves to remain in uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situations because we’ve been socialized to defer to men, and not make anyone else uncomfortable.

Forget that. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu allows you to respond in a scalable manner and physically reinforce any verbal boundaries you set. Setting verbal boundaries is very important, because if someone violates them, if they don’t hear your ‘no’, then you know immediately that person is trying to control you, and that they are ill-intentioned.

There are some who are concerned that the studies that have emerged showing that resistance techniques work to reduce incidence and severity of sexual assaults will only reinforce victim blaming. Self-described “award winning feminist buzzkill” Julie Lalonde echoes what advocacy groups have been saying for years, that if women can take self defense to prevent their rape, and they don’t, then it’s their fault. Firstly, no one can stop rape and sexual assault, except perpetrators, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to reduce the risk. We do this with other crime all the time. People shouldn’t break into our house, but we still lock the door and install cameras and alarm systems. At least no one asks what our house was wearing, or how much alcohol was in the liquor cabinet. Eve Torres Gracie, purple belt and an instrumental figure in the propagation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for women’s self defense has said, “We don’t learn self-defence because it’s our responsibility, we learn it because violence is our reality.”

I opened with a list of the worst self defense advice I’d seen on the internet. I’ll close with my own short list of things we can all do to keep ourselves safe. Look, I’m no security expert, but I have been training for over a decade with people a lot bigger and more skilled than me, and I’ve been told I have an ‘aura’. A way of moving through the world that makes me a poor choice of victim. A bad idea, you could say. So, take this for what it’s worth.

1: Move with intention

When you are out alone, make sure you move with purpose, and you’re not distracted or unaware of your environment. I’ve traveled alone, and I always wanted to make sure I didn’t look like a tourist. I would plan my destination and route before I hit the street, and if there were changes, I would grab a coffee and sit at a table and figure it out. One more thing, do NOT walk around alone with ear buds. It is a clear sign that one of your senses is disabled and makes you an easy target. If I ever see you doing this, I will ninja you from behind. For real.

2: Listen to your gut

Our natural (and incredibly useful) fear instinct has allowed us to survive long enough to be here today. Unfortunately, women have been socialized out of listening and responding to it. We are told from a very young age not to cause a scene, to be impolite, or to embarrass anyone. So, we often place ourselves in dangerous situations, so we won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. If you feel afraid of someone, there’s probably a reason. Stay in your locked car a bit longer before getting out in the parking garage, or park somewhere else. Go into a store you weren’t planning to. Take the most public route you can. Get away from that person, and for fuck’s sake don’t get on an elevator with them. Go all 2020… blame COVID. You’re welcome.

3: Learn to fight

There are strong arguments that weekend self defense courses place women at greater risk because it creates a false sense of security and competence. I wholeheartedly agree. I had a long conversation with a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt who echoed the above opinion. The only women that he felt confident would be able to defend themselves if shit went down were women like me who train consistently every week, and who also engaged in strength and endurance training. We have a saying in jiu jitsu, ‘drillers are killers.’ What does that mean? It means that if an altercation ever takes place, no matter how long you’ve been training, you’re going to be scared shitless. At that point you must trust that your training will take over, break through the fear, and your body will do what it knows to do. My biggest fear is that if they tap, I’ll let go. So, learn to fight. Like really learn, Boxing, kick boxing, Muy Thai, jiu jitsu. Self-defense is just one of so many incredible benefits that combat sports bring to your life. Make it a part of you. Build your own badass ‘aura’.

AssultBoxingBrazilian jiu jitsuFightingHarassmentKick boxingSelf defenseSexismStrength trainingTrainingWomen

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