I’ve been going through my old newspaper columns. Here is one from July 2005.
There she is, my little girl, ponytail flopping … whirling and twirling, kicking out, hands flying.
But she’s not in dance class. She’s not in gymnastics. She’s not cheerleading.
She’s learning martial arts. We want her to be able to disable an attacker and run away from him or her. And she’s not alone in her class…her best friend is taking classes with her.
I sit in the parents’ room, and watch the white-belted (beginner) children bow in and out of the training room. This karate studio doesn’t participate in martial arts competitions; these classes are truly self-defense. The children are instructed in moves designed to disable an attacker.
“Someone grabs you from behind in a bear hug,” calls out Simu, the black-belted wife of the studio’s owner. “What do you do?” And the children lash out with pointed elbows and hand chops and kicks.
My daughter’s favorite exercise is called “dark alley.” Half of the class role-play attackers, the others are defenders. The lights are turned down in the room and attackers padded with shields rush the student “walking” down the dark alley.
I don’t consider myself a “Pollyanna.” But I’m sad that I consider it imperative to train my child to defend herself against attackers.
My husband says to me, “Don’t you wish you had this chance to learn when you were younger?” I think back to my college days, when a rapist was terrorizing the campus, and the town police and women’s groups rushed to set up self-defense classes.
I remember my own version of “dark alley” – those years of walking dark, empty streets to my car parked in the blocks-away lots. The few men in the company I worked for had company-paid parking spots in the building’s garage (they were important brokers.) Most of the women in the company were secretaries and accounting clerks. We had to pay for our own parking, so most of us tried to save money by choosing the cheaper lots five or six blocks away.
By the time we left the building during the winter months, it was dark, and the lots empty. There were nights I walked pepper spray in hand, praying that the man crossing the street behind me didn’t have evil intentions or that my car, sitting lonely in the lot, wasn’t disabled.
I don’t want my daughter to live in a state of fear. I want her to know that she’s empowered to defend herself…but not to become a bully. Simu reiterates this message constantly. She reminds the children of their responsibilities to not initiate fights.
At home, we try to lighten the atmosphere with silly references to SpongeBob and Disney’s Mulan. My daughter comes home with a new belt, and my husband bows to her.
“Young Mulan,” he tells her, in the voice of Mulan’s father, “you have honored the family.”
My daughter beams with delight, and bows back.