Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

One thing I’ve learned since starting this blog is that if you decide to venture out of your comfort zone, choose your traveling companions wisely. I think this was especially true last week as I tried something so very unlike me. I recruited some brave souls to join me on my journey to become a tigress.

When I married, I not only got a husband, but also wonderful parents-, grandparents-, sisters-, brothers-, aunts-, uncles- cousins-, and friends-in-law. It was a package deal. They are some of my favorite people and I was dying to get them to join me on a blog challenge, especially before one of them moves halfway around the world (sadface).

I found out there’s a free class offered every other week in Provo and Sandy called Tigress Women’s Self-Defense. Me, a tigress? Hardly! But I figured if I could never imagine myself ever trying it, I should definitely try it. It would be hilarious to see how ridiculous I looked and no one would appreciate it more than this particular group of friends. And lucky me, they actually agreed to it. Did you know that, although they are usually solitary creatures, a group of tigers is called a streak? I kinda like that.

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Our group included my sister-in-law Michelle (the champion of our trivia match), my cousin-in-law Kami  (a resting-nice-faced librarian), Kami’s sister Keri (who helped me with my attempt at crafting and was definitely not interested in becoming a tigress but was willing to come anyway to watch and photograph along with my mother-in-law), and Ali, my husband’s good friend ever since second grade. The first time I met Ali she was working at the zoo and we stopped by to visit. As we walked toward her, when we were about fifty feet away, she saw us and shouted, “Look! I’m fulfilling my lifelong dream. I’m a cashier AND I have my nails done!” My other friend-in-law Carol couldn’t come but she did contribute this picture, which makes her every bit as valuable, in my opinion.

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I’m not sure what I was expecting from the class. Something like this?

Or this?

Or even a little of this?

I wore my stretchy pants to be prepared but the rest of them didn’t because, as Ali pointed out, we could be attacked at any moment, not just when we’re dressed for it.

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We also all prepared for the class by arriving right after eating large quantities of Indian food, which we soon learned was not such a good idea. Try doing this on a full stomach:

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Or this:

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Instead of the punches and kicks I had imagined, we were placed in different positions and taught how to get out of them using leverage to knock our attacker off balance enough to injure him and run away. Most of the moves they taught us were counterintuitive to what we would naturally do but they made a lot of sense, and, more importantly, they worked. I found myself saying, “Oh, duh!” over and over. Also, as you can see, many of the positions were slightly awkward. Kami thought it would have been easier to do with strangers but I was much more comfortable practicing on a friend.

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Even though we laughed a lot, we still took it more seriously than I thought we would. Early on in the class we seemed to shift from “Isn’t this silly that we’re doing this?” to “Let’s try to get this right and hope we never have to use it in real life.”

Did we become tigresses? Well, we got pretty good at the moves we learned, although the instructor said we still need to work on speed. We also need to work on being more fierce because I’m pretty sure an attacker would not be as accomodating as we were to each other. That’s not to say I made it home unscathed. Here’s what happened when I practiced escaping Ali’s choke hold (20+ years later and she still has amazing fingernails):

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Even though I’m not as tough as I could be, I left the class feeling very powerful. I wanted to go right home to show off everything I had learned and I made plans to return for the next class. It’s something I never would have tried but I’m so glad I did, and I’m pleased as punch that my fellow streak of tigresses came along.

It was an exciting evening and I was pumped for several hours after I got home. But then early the next morning I woke up with a start as I realized that most women don’t take a self-defense class because they want to try something different. They probably do it because they’ve experienced some trauma or because they don’t feel safe in their daily lives. I replayed in my mind all the different positions we learned to escape, this time from the perspective of someone feeling real fear or someone who may have lived through similar experiences, and I felt sick to my stomach. The moments we thought were so funny when practicing with trusted friends didn’t seem so funny anymore.

I remembered the instructor of the class asked us not to practice the moves with our spouse, hinting but not stating outright that it was safer for us not to disclose what we’ve learned. I laughed about it at the time – we all laughed at the thought of my husband being the slightest bit dangerous. But why did I think that was something to laugh about? The statistics about domestic abuse aren’t funny at all. They’re sickening, actually.

Then when I remembered that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month all those slightly uncomfortable positions we practiced escaping while we giggled awkwardly didn’t seem funny anymore. I realized that I come from a place of privilege. I don’t fear for my safety when I walk late at night in my neighborhood. I’ve never been abused by a parent or spouse. I don’t know what it’s like to feel powerless just because I’m a woman.

I realized just what a service these self-defense courses are to the community, offered free of charge on a regular basis to empower women and give them the skills they may need to survive. I hope I never find myself needing to use any of those skills, but having some common sense tools at my disposal is reassuring. I think I’d like to return for more practice and instruction, this time with more awareness than I had the first time around.

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