Self-defense classes bring freedom and fun
by Jolene Friesen
Chivalry might not be dead, but it has been knocked on its back and kicked around the block enough that it is down for the count. As a woman in a society who values individualism and independence, what are my personal responsibilities? The days of relying on others when a damsel is in distress are fading. So, when I saw an ad for a local gym offering self-defense for women, and for free, I signed up with enthusiasm.
Entering the gym for the first lesson, I was surprised to see approximately 80 women, ranging from pre-teens to elderly. Co-owner of Revolution Martial Arts and Fitness in Langley, Jared Revel rallied the women together to a matted area, where we received verbal teaching, and practiced the techniques of self-defense repeatedly over the next four weeks.
Revel taught us many skills – how to fall then quickly rise into a “strong” stance being the most fundamental. Other lessons involved freeing oneself from chokeholds and then dropping the attacker to the ground. We also practiced being held down in a prone position, arms pinned to the ground or being choked, and flipping the attacker off our torsos onto his back, then delivering the “hit” to a sensitive area of his body.
Revel taught us there is no point using our physical strength, as most of the time we will not be as strong as the person making the assault. Rather, the concepts are to use leverage, to make space between ourselves and an attacker, by using the strong points of our body, and to know where the exits are.
There were quite a few surprises during the course. When I had to fall to my back for the very first time, I was extremely intimidated. Instinct is to brace a fall, but this is actually where injury arises. After the first successful fall, I felt thrilled and began falling more exuberantly, not relying on gravity but actually throwing myself to the ground, using the techniques without becoming winded or hitting the back of my head on the ground. This was downright fun!
Something unexpected happened in week two: I was emotionally triggered. After warm-up and a few trial falls, Revel demonstrated being pinned to the ground, another trainer sitting on his torso, then flipping the attacker onto his back. The “fun” I was expecting to have was quickly replaced by a sense of panic. As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, this scenario was all-too real. My urge was to leave the gym and never return. However, I reminded myself this was an opportunity to further heal by changing the outcome of a previously traumatic experience.
Trauma is stored in the body differently from other memories. Traumatic memories are often broken apart, so the memory is no longer fluid and whole, but becomes fragmented. At later times any one of these pieces, such as a smell or sound, can trigger a reaction in the body and mind, causing the person to feel as if they are back in the original trauma. This can cause the survivor to enter the “Fight-Flight-Freeze” mode. Trauma therapists have found that gently facing the traumatic experience again, but making the outcome different is how the survivor is able to re-wire their brain out of this loop.
Director and therapist at Brookswood Counseling in Langley, Dr. Mike Dadson, specializes in trauma therapy, working with a wide variety of survivors. Dadson says: “Traumatic incidences and events laden with powerful emotion are not simply stored in the brain, they become memories in the body as well. When a person acts in a therapeutic way on an emotion, it can reconcile previously unresolved painful events. Take for example a person who has been attacked and held down. Therapists can co-create a therapeutic space where a person envisions the traumatic event, and physically performs an action like a pushing movement while remembering the event, helping move a person from a frozen response to an anger response which facilitates a resolution of the frozen response.”
In the gym, we paired up, woman against woman and practiced the different techniques shown to release ourselves, along with variations that included being choked and having our arms pinned to the ground. Each time I lay on the ground, my sense of fear and loss of control diminished. While I left the gym in a somber mood, I also left knowing that I had spent an hour not only learning a way in which to keep myself safer, but also healing a deep wound in a new way.
Revel has several reasons he offers the free self-defense course three times a year. Firstly to change the image of the gym, as it had been a fight club of sorts for an unscrupulous group. As he talks, his passion ignites. Revel shares about his life-dream of improving himself by helping others improve, and the personal benefits of discipline and practice. His motto is “Improving Self-Confidence through Self-Defense”. He says some of the benefits of self-defense or other types of martial arts, include improved self-esteem, greater awareness of one’s surroundings, and confidence in different situations.
Leaving the gym after week four, I felt accomplished. I had learned something completely new, had practiced each step successfully, and had more fun than I expected. The knowledge that in doing these simple activities I am actively healing my brain. And knowing that I am just a little more able to keep myself safe causes me to take pride in meeting one of my personal responsibilities as a woman.
To learn more about this free self-defense course, check out Revolution Martial Arts at rftmma.com.