Fight Like a Girl

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‘He punched me in the face! What the hell!’

My peripheral vision fades away and all I can see is the massive chest of the Terminator Sensei in front of me. I hear the squeak of bare feet on the wood floor. I smell sweat in the heavy air. Finally I hear the bell ring.

‘I did it.’ I can take a breath.

“Just 2 more rounds,” says the Terminator.

‘What?’ I had lost count. I thought I was done. My legs turn to water.

I float over to the chairs in front of the mirrored wall and sit, spitting out my mouth guard. I can’t get my gloves off to open my water bottle. Obi Won Kenobi Sensei who has been watching, comes to sit next to me, opening my water bottle and pouring some into my mouth like I’m a baby bird. I start to cry.

I know, no tears in the dojo.

But I can’t do two more rounds. I am physically and emotionally exhausted.

Obi Won wipes my face with a threadbare white towel. The Terminator walks over and seeing my tears says, “Oh,” in a kind way.

He wants me to spar with him again the next round. Getting back up on the proverbial horse. He thinks the tears are due to getting hit in the nose, which makes sense, but they’re actually because I don’t think I can finish this. I really don’t.

I slowly stand and head back out to the floor. I start a mantra. ‘Two more rounds. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.’

I really don’t think I can do it.

The bell rings. I will myself to throw a punch, to land a kick, to keep my feet moving. Mostly I just try to keep my hands up to protect myself and not fall down.

Somehow I make it through two more rounds.

Finally I’m finished. I hear clapping as I walk in circles to cool off and then sit down to stretch. My lip is bleeding a little. The Terminator and Obi Won are smiling and proud of me. I don’t feel proud at that moment. I don’t know how I feel.

Like many women, I didn’t really grow up being physically aggressive. I didn’t wrestle with my friends or play contact sports. So this self-defense class has pushed me beyond, way beyond, my comfort level.

I yell, I punch, I kick. I practice ground fighting. I learn to defend myself from a knife. I suppose the physical exhaustion is the same for everyone but I wonder if the emotional exertion is different for women than it is for men.

I have spoken to other women who have taken this first-level fighting test and many felt the same wrung out, empty feeling that I did. One went home, took her dog for a walk and sat under a tree in the park and just cried.

Later, when I saw other people taking this test and when I saw pictures of myself I finally felt proud. I pushed myself beyond what I thought I could do. I might look quiet and unassuming but watch out! I can fight like a girl!

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