Teaching Girls to Fight is Just Good Love

Sabriga Turgon

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By Sabriga Turgon

Girls must learn basic martial arts or self-defense skills. Right now.

From “I’m too sexy for this onesie” to three-year-olds in bikinis to twenty-somethings in stilettos and thongs, women’s bodies are marketed as walking male fantasies. Millions of young, defenseless girls are attacked by men who can overpower them. For women survivors of sexual assault or threats (about 99.999% of the women I know), such an experience can change/form their lives.

My question is: Why do we put women in constant danger without giving them the skills to deal with it? It’s like we want them to be vulnerable and fail.

The same way we push girls to go into typically male-dominated STEM fields or construction or whiskey-making or car racing, we must give them the skills to deal with men who assume they have privileges over women.

I already hear you saying, “My daughter doesn’t want to.” “My daughter’s too scared.” “My daughter doesn’t like rough play.”

So…you’d rather she be defenseless?

I am a math failure — should I have been allowed to not learn math just because I didn’t want to?

Self-protection is no less relevant to everyday life than telling time, totaling a customer’s purchases, calculating your Medium earnings, or creating a monthly budget.

If we loved our girls enough to make sure they could protect themselves, we would start teaching them self-defense tactics at age two.

No, they don’t have to break a board with their bare hands, but they can learn age-appropriate punching and kicking (like boys do). They can learn to put their arms in front of their face to ward off an incoming punch or how to duck it and get away.

Make it fun and “play” regularly. Going slowly and lightly makes self-defense less threatening. But it teaches your daughters to gauge and react. As your daughter grows, add age-appropriate increases in technique, pressure, or timing.

What is playful at two, four, and six years old creates muscle and cellular memory.

Then, when she’s seventeen and is threatened physically, that cellular memory may help her do the one thing that gives her time to run to safety.

Just having basic skills allows girls/women to think better under duress instead of panicking into helplessness.

I took martial arts for years. I’m miles away from a black belt. But I do know what that training did for me and other women.

I grew up with a fearful mother whose fear I absorbed. I was the painfully shy child, the one who wouldn’t try things that looked too hard or rough. I was the one who gave in to nearly every man’s desire for my beauty because I didn’t know how else to stay safe. After all, what if he attacked me? And Mom and Dad said, “Boys will be boys,” so it seemed I should give in.

Martial arts gave me physical and mental strength. I learned to really hit the punching bag. It felt good, once I got used to the idea and the sensation. I learned to kick the shit out of that bag, in fact. After a while, I took a lot of pleasure in watching it swing like a pendulum after my sidekick landed, hard.

I learned to think under pressure — literal body pressure. The first time I wrestled and got pinned, I nearly panicked at the sensations: the heat of a body holding me down; the pressure of the weight; the breathing in my face; my pounding heart; the fear rising in my mind and making breathing difficult.

All this in the safety of the dojo with the instructor monitoring everything and telling me what to do.

“Breathe!” he said. I couldn’t at first, but slowly forced myself to breathe into a calm-enough state that I could think and listen to him. “Move your right knee up.” “Twist your body.” Little by little, I got free.

I’ve never forgotten that lesson from twenty years ago nor the many strikes and kicks we practiced at every class. I’ve never forgotten how the training made me calmer under every kind of pressure, allowing me to think and strategize better.

And neither has my friend, Maggie, who told me her story in class. One night, she was home with her abusive husband when he tried to choke her. She blocked him with a defensive arm technique, followed it with a hard stomp on his foot to distract him, then a shove to move him away so she could get away.

Shanda Lynn Poitra talks about how she “came across [an] IMPACT self-defense class that…changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.”

Whether it’s through a self-defense class or martial arts, our girls must learn to protect their bodies.

We let them go through life being targeted by men, but we don’t teach them how to be safe?

What kind of love is that?

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Helping us get along with each other, the earth, and our precarious future. I write about the beautiful strangeness of life, women & kids, the planet's survival, and reflections from my 60s And I'll help you write your book.

Los Angeles, CA
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