It is rare that I hear from former students with stories about needing to use the self-defense techniques I taught them. In the 20 years I’ve been teaching, I could probably count the number of times my phone has rung with a survivor (although I’m relieved and proud to note that those who have called me have recounted powerful stories of success). I have a theory about why so few students contact me, but I’ll get to that later. First, a recent success story.
Last week, a young woman contacted me who first took my class with her Brownie troop when she was seven years old and then did no further training in self-defense until several summers ago when she was 15, when she took my 8-hour training that culminated in fighting a “padded assailant.”
Because this is her story to tell, I am simply pasting (most of) her story here in her words, with her permission.
“I’ve used the assertiveness skills I learned in your classes a lot over the years, but a recent event really changed the way I think about what I’ve learned… A few weeks ago, I had planned to meet up with some friends at a party in Monrovia… When I arrived, I didn’t see my friends around, and as I was walking into the house, I got a text saying that that they had left because it was sketch… I realized that I was now at a party where I knew no one, and as I looked around, I saw that there were mostly guys there who were doing a lot of drinking. I decided I would be safer out in front of the house, so I walked out to text my friends back and find out where they were. As I was walking across the lawn to my car and texting, these four guys came up to me and started making small talk, but I got that ‘creepy feeling’ we talked about in class… I tried to excuse myself politely but assertively and walk to my car, but they were sort of crowded around me, and it was all happening so fast! The next thing I knew, a fifth guy came up behind me and grabbed me around the chest with one arm and around my throat with the other. At the same time, the other guys started to move closer and the only thing I thought of was, ‘Oh, no this is not going to happen.’ I don’t remember thinking anything else. I moved my head to get some air from the chokehold, bent a bit forward, and did a back kick to his knee. He loosened his grip on me, but he was still standing, so I kicked him again. That time I heard a sickening snap, and he fell to the ground. All his friends pushed past me and ran to him to see what happened. When they realized what had happened, they turned to me and said, ‘That bitch is crazy! You f****d him up!’ I was fully in the fight by then, and I was full of rage! I’m a pretty chill person; I don’t even get angry much, but as I looked around, I thought, ‘Yeah, I AM crazy!’ And I got into my ready-stance, looked around at the other four guys and said, ‘If any of you comes near me, I’ll gouge your eyes out!’ They looked confused, mostly, and as they looked back and forth between the guy on the ground and me, I backed away quickly and safely, got in my car, drove a few blocks on sheer adrenaline, pulled over and sat there in shock. I had just averted a gang rape with one technique.”
Many times potentially violent situations can be averted with assertiveness. (Self-defense experts call these social tests “interviews”; don’t worry, there will be more on the “interview” in a future blog.) In a situation like this, however, much of the “interview” is dispensed with; there was a little chatting, and then things rapidly turned violent when the gang believed that they were in a position of power and that there was nothing to stop them. At that point, my student needed to use a physical technique to end the interaction. They didn’t realize that she had something to back up her assertiveness!
These stories both shake me up and build my confidence. I’ll look differently at the young women I teach in my next classes; for awhile, I’ll wonder which one will have to fight. I don’t wonder which one of them might be targeted, for I know that young women are targeted in myriad ways quite regularly, which is why assertiveness is such an integral component in the esteem trainings; the opening line of this young woman’s letter is a testament to all of this. I worry about my teenage students, and hearing this shakes me up; nevertheless, I’m confident, and here’s where my theory comes in.
I’m confident that young women find their assertive, clear voices in esteem’s workshops, and I feel certain that, in less dire circumstances than the one above (say situations at the mall or on first dates or tamer parties) the assertive voice comes forth so effortlessly that they didn’t even realize that they are a success story. I think that most of esteem’s success stories don’t even seem like the work of esteem because we just help “chill” people find self-esteem, and beyond that, their inner strength, and sometimes, thankfully, that strength, that esteem, looks a little “crazy,” and a lot like a survivor.