06/07/2007 10:18 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Harmony... or Else: The Physical Feminism of Women's Self Defense

The headline admittedly made my bosom heave. In case you missed it, last September, when Susan Kuhnhausen, a 51 year old nurse, returned home from work she encountered an intruder wielding a claw-hammer. He attacked, striking her in the head and face. Our girl gave as good as she got: she attacked back and wrested his weapon away. In the throws of what became a deadly ground fight, she strangled him... to death... with her bare hands. Police found the 59 year-old intruder heaped on the floor. (Right about then my body let loose an irrepressible yess.) Good thing: this guy was no mere intruder but a hit man with a lengthy rap sheet who'd been hired by her hubby to kill her. When my fists stopped pumping the air, I printed out the story and filed it into my folder -- Deadly Dames.

It's a professional matter.

My beloved trade name is Dr. Ruthless. For the past 20 years I've been teaching, preaching, and writing about the gospel of self defense for women. Not for sport or exercise -- don't even get me started -- but how to save your pretty ass. When all else fails how to shed your civilized skin, hit the on switch and effectively go primal, refashioning your body into a heat seeking missile in search of targets. It's the ultimate reversal.

Some call this the dark side but I call it home -- literally. At my house, an overnight guest might find a push dagger and chocolates under her pillow and discover books on Close Quarters Combat sharing coveted bathroom space with Buddhism Today and Bon Appetite.

But it's the totems on my nightstand that speak directly to our fierce, female endowment. First are photos of my beloved nephews: One glance at their faces and -- pardon the gush -- I am beaming with luminescence that outshines my most expensive haute couture sheen. At the base of their photos lies another love -- my trusty Afghan knife, which I bought 32 years ago in the old Kabul market. It's a small knife, seven inches from its pointy tip to the bottom of its curved wooden handle, with an odd ripple in its blade where the metal was hammered too hard, too thin. I remember the first time I slept with this knife and awoke to find my hand lovingly glued to its handle, its carved old wood, as if it were my groom and I a hungry bride, and how survival, like romance, captured my heart. I know this Beast Girl part of myself intimately and could no more divorce this savage endowment than I could amputate a limb.

Decades have passed since my foray into the martial arts. I can say with pride, women have come a long way. Heck, when I was growing up being prepared meant leaving home with clean underwear and change for a phone call. The best advice du jour? Throw up on your attacker. (Something equivalent to Flem Fatale.)

Today, for every female on TV who ineffectually pummels an assailant's chest another one dishes out punishing blows or just shoots the asshole. We're past this damsel in distress stuff, right? So why does my enthusiasm still meet with resistance -- and not just from men?

Maybe it's the glint in my eye but when I tell choice stories -- like the co-ed who stuck her scissors in her assailant's "motherfucking guts;" or my student who cracked her attacker's head against the bumper of her car then made pulp out of his groin; or when I gush about the rapture of power, how stomping and kicking and slamming just plain feels good, I can nearly hear a few uteruses sputter and spasm -- in shock, not pleasure. "A fighting art?" quipped one old friend. "What's wrong with yoga or poetry?" This from a boomer whose moon-to-uterus spirituality has it that we are all-beatific do-no-harmers with nary a virulent, aggressive or power-loving bone. (Let me be blunt: If I had a twenty for every woman who smacked her lips after delivering penetrating blows, this wouldn't be a blog but dinner with Dr. Ruthless.)

Besides, what could be more natural, more in tune with Mother Nature than knowing how to bash back and not become prey or fodder for a scumbag's amusement?

Then there's the incompetence argument -- that a woman will only get hurt worse if she fights back. Of course fighting back carries risks. Yes, you might get hurt; but doesn't getting raped, beaten or slaughtered constitute injury? Strategies aside, this archaic attitude reinforces the age-old pas-de-deux: Men are the protectors; women are the protectees. In other words, you, a wussy female, are defenseless against attack. Got it?

Tell that to the Chicago woman who (brace yourselves, fellas) bit off her would-be rapist's balls. Compassionate soul that she was, she even brought his testes to the police station... in a baggie! (Not to sound crass, but can you imagine the floss job?)

Oh please, who said we can't be outrageous and serious.

I'm not suggesting that fighting back is the solution to violence against women -- of course not -- or that it's always effective or the best option. But what I am saying is this: when you boil it down, the answer to why men violate women, or each other, may be simpler than we think: they do it because they can. When we discourage women from learning violent self defense we (inadvertently) encourage them to submit to victimization -- not to mention suffering the traumatic aftermath. The gig is up. To be safer and self possessed and to pass power to our daughters we must become literate in the strategies of combat.

So here's my new rule: Instead of shunning aggression let us view it as a resource and learn to wield its tools. In my more sinister Buddhist moments, I liken my gospel to full contact compassion, so if that helps you, all the better.

My Dr. Ruthless Youtube is up. Come by and reconnect with your primal roots--then get out there and learn how to give a good blow.

YouTube - Dr. Ruthless®: Practical, Primal Self Defense For Women