I signed up for 3 classes of Krav Maga (Israeli military-style self defense) for $20 a few months ago. My ex husband’s behavior had gotten a little too volatile for my tastes, and my internal scale for how much of a physical threat I felt he posed to me had reached an all time high.
I didn’t want to be scared anymore.
I chose the 5:15 a.m. class because that’s literally the only free time I had in that moment, being a single mom of four girls, and I was waiting by the door, in the darkness, when the instructor arrived. The only thing missing from my tremoring body, darting eyes, and hunched posture, to really round out the image, was a lit cigarette in my hand.
My body is athletic, even in my ripe old age, and although I don’t struggle to adapt to any physical activity, I knew this would pose more of a psychological challenge than a physical. I was intimidated. It took some really taxing internal dialogue to convince myself to walk up to that door. And to wait.
Up until that point, I had prided myself on being a pacifist and had never thrown a punch in my life. I didn’t even know how. Mind you, I shot my first gun a month or two before, for the aforementioned reason of feeling unsafe, and that turned out to be a little traumatic. Although I was glad I did it, I didn’t want to do it again.
Everyone filed in over the next 10 minutes and the class consisted of myself and five massive dudes. I felt like the scrawny, little manager of the basketball team so often portrayed in movies. Thankfully, no one threw their uniform or a sweaty towel in my face. Yes, I’m 6'1", but I’m also very thin. The smallest of the group had at least 100lb on me. He would be my sparring partner. I mentally named him, “Tiny”.
The stretching was good. I’m a bendy little thing. The warm up was good. I like to be warm. I got the feeling that my presence had messed with their bro vibe, especially when one of them rushed to the iPhone to skip a blaring song that was pretty…um…we’ll go with ‘crass’, with regards to women. I wish I could remember what the song was…I laughed SO hard on the inside, but I also appreciated the consideration.
We started doing drills and I learned the moves quickly, kept up and adapted. My classmates relaxed a little when they realized I wasn’t a delicate little flower and they wouldn’t have to slow down the pace of the class just for me. Their ability to relax helped me relax.
We paired off for kicking drills. Poor Tiny… he got stuck with me. How it worked was that I held some sort of punching pad/bag and Tiny kicked the shit out of it. Never having been the recipient of a full force blow, I lurched back with every kick, despite my attempts to absorb them. I tried like hell to plant myself and not get knocked over, but it was futile. He wasn’t fucking around and had no intention of doing “Krav-lite” just because I was the new girl.
Good job, Tiny.
Next came punching drills and, I mentioned this before but it bears repeating, this girl had never thrown a punch. It felt so unnatural at first. My hand didn’t feel right. The trajectory of my fist into the bag felt awkward and off kilter. The parts of my arm felt disjointed. The Instructor came over and corrected me probably 3–4 times. My little 5 inch wrist smarted with every slam into the plastic. My knuckles cracked. Tiny shouted, “Harder!” I punched harder.
I punched harder. My shoulder, arm, wrist, and fist finally found alignment. They drove like a piston into the bag.
“That’s it, A.J.! Fucking harder!!!”
I punched harder.
Holy shit…power and liberation.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
I was in the zone.
My eyes were watering. My brow was sweating. My nose was running.
I was on my last two punches when the bag went slack and I threw a punch into the air that almost knocked me over. Tiny’s face had dropped, brow furrowed. He stepped toward me.
“Yeah, I’m fine. We have two more.”
“AJ, your face…”
I looked down at my white tanktop and it was covered in oblong polka dots and blobs of black.
I wiped my face with the back of my hand.
It was warm and wet.
Blood fucking everywhere.
I gasped and the blood gurgled in the back of my throat. I coughed and gagged.
The class ground to a halt. They all turned and stared at me, closing in as the instructor came running over.
“Did she catch a punch???”
“No, it was her turn”, said Tiny.
The blood was pouring into my mouth, over my hand, and down my arm. I had given myself a fucking bloody nose.
The instructor walked me to the bathroom, asked if I was okay (which I was), and then returned to class. By the time I had it under control, there were only 10 minutes left. I got back on the mat and finished the class, sniffing and wiping the residual blood on my shirt, which was well beyond ruined. Or improved.
After class, the instructor came over and told me that he was impressed I had returned to the mat and that he hoped I would be back. I told him I would, indeed, come back and I did. Except … no more bloody noses.
I was disappointed.
The most transformative part of the whole experience was when I shut the bathroom door behind me and got a good look at myself in the mirror. It was a little jarring. Blood smeared on my face…running into my mouth…on my arm…all over my shirt…more spots in the sink every time I looked down. Unlike my shirt where they looked black, they were bright red against the white porcelain. My blue eyes glowed against all of the red.
I didn’t clean up for several minutes. I just stood there, leaning on the sink, staring at myself, letting the blood flow freely out of my face, taking in the visual.
In that mirror, I saw the woman I had gone to the class looking for. I saw a woman who looked like the dragon she had just gotten tattooed on her arm, personified. Sweat…blood… power…strength. No fucking tears.
There had been something deep inside of me that was so ready to come out when I threw those punches. I had broken myself open…the core of my being…and let the fear flow out of my body with my blood. I looked like a goddamn warrior.
And I wasn’t scared anymore.
I wanted to do it again.
I want to give a shout out to my inspiration for this piece, Emma Seager. Go read her scene. She’s a warrior, too.