The following passage from my essay "Fierce Love: The Heart of the Female Warrior" was published in a predominately male-authored anthology. In it, I counter myths about the female of the species, paying tribute to women's own fighting heart. Brace yourselves ladies, here come fightin' words:
To be effective in self defense you cannot just defend, you must attack back. It's the ultimate reversal: You become the huntress, not the hunted. You summon all your life forces -- courage, will, physical powers, cunning -- and use them like secret weapons. There's little to compare this to: you dial up the creature within; you trade in your polite self for your animal-self and give that beautiful junkyard bitch within carte blanche to go for the throat.
Embedded in this passage lies a fundamental truth: the essence of physical defense (the last resort) is primal, elemental. It takes us into a subterranean stratum of our being, far below the topsoil and camo of our Cover Girl veneer. "Takes" is an imperative word. If forced to engage in aggressive self-protection, you don't ask; you take! You take control; sometimes you take a piece of whatever you get. Gloria Steinem once proclaimed that the act of taking is in itself empowerment. I agree.
Here's the really good news: Some part you already knows how to do this. The ability to counter attack, to burn through fear and bypass the "choke" of hesitation, which can take our breath away when precious seconds count, is prehistoric and preternatural, courtesy of Mother Nature. Sometimes this potential pops open like a seed under fire. But it also needs to be called out of hiding, trained and realized. Once uncorked and applied with focused intent, and even basic skills, this hidden potential can turn the fearful into the fearsome.
Kathleen can attest that it wasn't martial magic that saved her in a bloody struggle against a knife-wielding rapist. It was pure killer instinct, her animal-like determination not to be raped or killed, coupled with a no-holds-barred willingness to do the unthinkable. Her story appears in Sanford Strong's book "Strong on Defense." While fighting to take control of her attacker's knife, one of her assailant's fingers slipped into her mouth. Terrified and "mad as hell," Kathleen's jaw clamped down: "I felt my teeth go through his bone. I was so enraged that I went primal. Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean I can't fight like an animal." This savage bite coupled with her decision to seize that sliver of opportunity enabled her escape.
Gross, I know, but we need to get over the "ick" factor and hang-ups and cop to a larger truth: that something of the primitive exists in us all. And it's a potential game-changer.
April Marchessault knows this well. At 5'1", with no prior training, she fought off -- no, beat the crap out of -- a 200-pound, level-two convicted sex offender who slipped into her home one night while her children slept. Fueled by terror, she then terrorized. April fought like a combatant who understands the need to close on an enemy, to drive him backward; in her case, right down a flight of stairs! Her story is littered with gems of instinctual wisdom. Here's one for the taking: Intention fueled by fighting spirit is the Mother Technique. Once outdoors, she didn't want him to flee and offend others. So she took out his knee. "I kept hitting him in the head and stomping on his legs," she recounts. Mr. Rapist now faces charges. April's victory became every woman's victory. See? Sisterhood is powerful!
Here's why I share these true stories with you:
- Because courage is contagious.
- Because we're already inundated with stories of women being overpowered and becoming victims on the pointy end of male aggressions.
- Because drinking in these stories is good medicine, a curative tonic that bulks up the fighting heart and helps heal the ills and impotencies imposed by fear.
- Because each woman's story adds kindling to the fire that could one day save you or a loved one.
But before I help you find the "beast girl" within, let me recount one other story.
Picture this: Hafize Sahin is a tiny woman -- four and a half feet tall, 90 pounds, kind of tiny. A clerk in a Long Island convenience mart, she is a soft-spoken Muslim woman clad in a headscarf and long skirt. In other words, nothing about her demeanor suggested, "This bitch bites." When a gunman burst into her shop and stuck a firearm in her face, she initially stalled him while searching for the panic button. When he stepped away to lock the door (never a good sign), she grabbed an ax from under the counter, cocked it over her narrow shoulder and started chopping at the gunman from across the counter. I mean with the gusto of Paul Bunyon and the intent of a Paleo huntress in search of lunch. The gunman fled. What's stunning in the video is how she knowingly wields that ax in one fell swoop with uncanny familiarity and ease, as if it were pre-programmed, as if she'd done this before, been there and bashed that since the dawn of humankind, which is precisely my point: some part of you/me/us knows how to do this. The basics, I mean.
Survival Makeover: Step One
Sometimes, before moving into the future or learning something new, we first need to recover something of the past. Learning self-defense is one such time. To be battle-ready, especially as the smaller of the species without the luxury of size, we need to source power from our ancient roots, from our deepest interior well. This takes returning to what anthropologist Michele Rosaldo called "the image of ourselves undressed," who we are at the core in prehistory.
In case you've forgotten, I'll help you remember: Take a deep breath and think way back. Once upon a time, say 40,000 years ago you were a Neander-babe. You had thick, gnarly legs and a tribal chic hairdo. You coddled your young one minute, then stomped ugly snakes and speared marauding bears the next. Your nurturing and aggressive natures seamlessly entwined. You knew that you could be dangerous; could be a predator -- not just prey.
Snap back to now, but keep the she-creature alive. We've evolved, yes, but deep down we're still a mélange of beauty and beast; it's a combo that can knock a man out!
Let's respect this and learn to bring it to bear.
For onging tips, tools and self defense inspiration, visit my Dr. Ruthless Facebook Page, where I post like a fiend. Stay tuned for my next blog, a slideshow of "favorite hits" with practical points of instruction.