I Did It!! This Runt is a Self-Defense Bad Ass Today!!

My arms are sore, my voice is raw, and my heart is thumping.

I can’t stop smiling.

I GRADUATED my self-defense class tonight!!

And to think I almost didn’t go. I couldn’t find my book, I couldn’t find anyone to practice with, and I was worried that I wouldn’t remember what I’d learned. I was worried I was too weak. Happy to say, I WAS WRONG!

Reminds me of being in school, the anxiety I used to have over tests. I would study like crazy and not get any sleep, and sometimes miss class. In the past I would find all the worst-case scenarios about why I would fail.

But instead of worrying, I decided to believe. Since there was nothing for me to study with, I had no choice. I decided to have faith in my own muscle memory, my instincts, my adrenaline.

I realized I wanted to see my classmates. I wanted to be there for and with them. We were all being tested. It wasn’t just about me. And I wanted to prove to MYSELF that I can do it.

There was just one condition: Don’t quit.

I told myself, “You are going to do it!” I shut out fear and focused on being positive.

I didn’t do anything physical to prepare. I did get a good night’s rest. I asked for some prayers, and I prayed myself. And I met up with one of my best friends, Catt, for pie beforehand. We caught up, we laughed, we ate pie, we hugged. I went to our final class in a great mood.

I watched a few people go before me. We were all rooting for each other. It was hard to watch the other women struggle and I could see when they were losing strength and wanted to quit. But we all yelling, “You can do it!” and our instructor would be right there, encouraging us too. And they triumphed! I could see I wasn’t alone– it was just as hard for them as it was for me.

When he called me up, I was ready. It was nice, again, to be called, “Miss Amee.”

To be respected.

The test was designed to make us tired, to catch us by surprise, to test our endurance. It was scary, and real.

I got through the push-ups, punches, blocks, and surprise attacks.

But mainly, I USED MY VOICE. That’s what he taught us the first day. My VOICE is my biggest weapon!

I can say this for myself, I screamed the loudest! It felt good, too. I feel like A LION!

It’s amazing to know I’m capable of it.

Our instructor said afterwards that using your voice provides a burst of energy, and it’s true.

The adrenaline DOES work. I used some of the techniques, but I was good at blocking punches and getting out.

I learned that it’s not easy to knock me down. I have more energy and instinct than I realized.

He asked us all how we felt afterwards. I told him I felt PROUD.

He had us line up and receive our certificate of graduation, and he gave us our t-shirts in a traditional way, then shook our hands.

The last time I got an award for something was my sales, at work. And I was happy about that!

But this was so much MORE exciting.

In this class I learned that it does not MATTER that I’m small. I am still a FORCE! I had someone take a picture of me with it, and also my classmates and our teacher.

I feel happy, confident. Strong. Like a total bad ass.

I’m glad our instructor didn’t take it easy on us in that last test.

I had been worried I might fail– I had thought before, “Who is this guy to pass or fail me?!”

But he had our certificates waiting, printed up. AND MY NAME WAS SPELLED RIGHT! My whole name! So many times, it’s been bungled. That’s the price of having two unique names.

He believed in us all along. He knew we would graduate. It was just up to us to go forward and claim it!

He did his job, we did ours. Everybody won. It wasn’t a competition.

And I’ll tell ya one thing: I am FRAMING that certificate!! And I already put on the-shirt, it fits perfect.

“She’s a Wildcat:” Week Nine of Self-Defense

I didn’t blog about last week.

But tonight was note-worthy. Small class, again.

I noticed my instructor complimenting me often, after weeks of criticism. I think he sees how hard I work– I’m probably trying harder than anyone in the class. That’s because I need the lessons in this class for my survival the most desperately, being the smallest. Also, I don’t assume I’ll be able to take the class again.

“She’s a wildcat,” he said, as I was about try something we learned with a partner. It was issued like a playful warning. I chuckled a bit.

This week I picked up the moves quick, and used my voice without thinking– loud and effective. In every exercise, I found myself yelling, “NO!” over and over. And he commented on that as well.

Clearly, I’ve earned his respect.

I noticed how calm I was doing these exercises. I used to get frustrated with myself instantly and want to give up. Now I can power through, especially with some help about my technique. Even when I had a neck spasm– I stopped, noticed it, massaged it briefly, and kept going. I was able to complete most of the moves with a calm face, without fear changing my expression. I have less fear, period.

But on one of our exercise scenarios, I started out working with a woman taller than me. We were working in a trio, along with a man I’ve worked with several times the past few weeks. She said she wanted to try it with him, not me, because my being small threw her off.

I thought that was fascinating. Here I am, feeling intimidated about “attacking” a woman bigger than me, almost feeling like I have a handicap because of my small stature.

And she was MORE afraid of me (when I role-played the attacker) because I’m smaller. I thought about how the joke about how elephants are terrified of mice– at least in cartoons. Probably a better example is arachnophobia. How often do most people joke about wanting to burn down a house just after seeing a spider? ONE?

Sure, spiders are poisonous– but only some. Bites can be fatal or at the least annoying. But the main reason people are so freaked is because they are small and move fast. Usually they blend in and you never notice them unless they move. My Dad has always said that “Spiders are a lot more afraid of you than you are of them!” And it’s true.

I suppose I can relate. How many times do spiders encounter grave danger, just going about their business? All they are doing half the time is walking or spinning a web, so they can eat. They are constantly being attacked by predators much bigger– they are pretty low on the food chain! Why do you think they are created to blend in? It’s their main defense against oblivion. But also, spiders are powerful. People know that.

I’ve been trying to blend in most of my life. I’m finding this is impossible. So instead of working so hard to do something that is sure to fail, I might as well embrace it. I stand out because of my smallness. I’ve got a big voice, though a quiet demeanor. I don’t raise my voice unless necessary– and that’s rarely. And this class is helping me learn to have a command presence as well.

If people want to be intimidated by me, I’m probably safer! So I’m going to stop hiding. I’m going to dress better, walk proud, make more eye contact and stop being meek. I’m not apologizing like I did. I’m doubting myself less and less.

I’m a serious woman, and I like that about me.

I have a feeling this will be good for me in business.

Strong, Not Cute: Learning Self-Defense

Tonight I’m strong, not cute.

I’ve been “cute” all my life. It’s a product of being petite and enjoying fashion.

Now I’m in a self-defense class, and it’s changing the way I feel. About using my voice, and my body– to protect myself. To assert myself.

I’ve been intellectual and creative for so long, I’ve nearly forgotten that I’m also naturally athletic. I’ve ignored this about myself since high school, when I decided the fall play was more exciting than cross-country.

I’m the smallest woman in my class– and I now see that as an asset. Until now, I’ve learned to diffuse situations and avoid physical altercations at all costs– which is a skill itself. I’ve mastered not reacting.

Now I’m learning that I’m more than just someone small and cute.

I may have delicate wrists, but I can still pull away quickly. I’m learning basics– punches, take-downs, blocks.

My partner tonight was taller than me by several inches– she kept apologizing for hitting me. But I told her to go for it. My wrists were turning red, but I wasn’t bothered. I used to play volleyball. I can deal.

It feels weird and also exciting to be hitting someone else– to be taking offense, not just defense. To learn how to move into someone, how to use their motion against them.

It’s wonderful to be taking agency with my body in a pro-active way that’s helping me be healthier, as well.

To shout, “NO!” This is my third class. Just shouting it at first, my voice was horse. I can match someone if they’re yelling at me when necessary to get them to back away. But I’m not used to speaking loudly these days.

I’m used to being the quiet, unassuming, humble one. My dominant strategy was to blend in.

Now I’m becoming aware. I feel my abs work when I turn, I feel my hips flex. I feel my breath.

I can see why so many people are obsessed with fitness. It feels good.

I’m learning what it feels like to hit things– even if it’s just a bag. I’m embracing the adrenaline.

I’m USING the fear, not letting it arrest me.

It’s gratifying to know that I’m intimidating to a woman bigger than I am– because I was more confident in my motions. She held back– I used all the power I had.

The world may be a Goliath, but I’m David with the sling-shot.

I feel like a natural.

I feel like I’m taking control of not just my behavior, but my bodily safety. I’m not a sitting target.

I’m moving. I’m quick. I’m stronger than I realized.

Best of all, I’m stronger than anyone else looking at me would realize.

I have quiet power.

Not a Quitter Anymore

My biggest regret is that I’ve defined myself by my flaws, and abandoned things I liked doing because it got hard or I failed.

I’ve quit a lot of things.

This stupid Pantene commercial made me cry, and realize that I’ve given myself the easy way out about a lot of things: my hearing, my math disability, or whatever is blocking me at the moment. Rather than persevere, I just quit.

I’ve let my hearing-loss get in my way– but this little girl didn’t. She inspires me.

I loved dance and had good rhythm, but was slow to learn choreography and couldn’t keep up with my class. I quit after second grade.

I began to learn piano in third grade, but was annoyed I couldn’t naturally play with both hands at once. And because of my severe hearing-loss, I had to work much harder to listen to my teacher, concentrate on my playing, and hear the chords. I quit.

I was a great swimmer and diver,  learning to swim when I was six and then taking swimming and diving lessons when my Dad got a membership to a great country club when we moved to Illinois in second grade. I was especially good at diving, and wasn’t afraid of the high dive.

But in fourth grade, I saw a boy I liked flip backwards off a diving board at a neighor’s  Fourth of July party. I was next behind him, and wanted to show off. I miscalculated, and wasn’t far out enough– instead I hit my head on the edge and got quite a nasty goose egg for a bit. i was fine, but traumatized. I was afraid to do any of the dives I had learned. I stopped going on the high dive. I quit.

I was great at gymnastics, built perfectly for it.  I’m petite, with that same square build. It makes me me aerodynamic and able to run fast and hard for a short distance to spring on the vault. My friends and I used to watch gymnastics on TV and practice routines on each other’s front lawns. We learned to do a lot of tumbling on our own. I started taking lessons, and began at level three for the floor and vault exercises.  I remember how sore I was after my classes, and how much I loved the fact that I be in perpetual motion with my entire body. I wasn’t chasing after a ball– I was DOING something. It was a terrific rush.

But I was only strong on the vault and floor, with no training at all on the balance beam or uneven bars. I got sick and missed three classes, and when I returned they were doing evaluations. I had weak arms, and still do. Rather than submit to start over and learn the basics on the uneven bars and balance beam, I quit. That’s one of my biggest regrets– who knows what kind of gymnast I could have been?

(Years later, I took a few private lessons, trying to learn to do a back hand-spring. My instructor was great, but I couldn’t afford to keep up the lessons. She told me I had a “powerful run,” and seemed like a natural.)

I attended cheerleading camps in junior high, and excelled at jumps, basket tosses,  and had a strong voice. But I never tried out at school, because none of the other girls in my grade thought it was cool in fifth or sixth grade. I think I started to try out in seventh grade, but felt sick the first day of try-outs and didn’t do too good. I didn’t come back for the second day. I had great tumbling skills, loved to jump around, and could yell loud.

In high school, I didn’t try out for cheerleading because I hadn’t done it in junior high.  Also, I thought the girls doing it were snots!

Freshman year of high school, a friend tricked me into joining cross-country. I was terrible. I got winded easily, couldn’t keep up with the others, and would be two blocks behind everyone else during practices when we ran through neighborhoods. My coach had me run four laps around or campus quad alone instead, because everyone was annoyed.  I would get lost at meets, or run out of breath and have to stop. I’d come in dead last if I finished at all. Once I had to be driven back to the finish line because I didn’t pay attention to the course tour and had a panic attack when I got lost.

At my first opportunity, I tried out for a play. It was “The Miracle Worker,” and I got cast to share the part of Helen Keller. I ratted up my hair, smudged dirt on my face, made my eyebrows straggly. I was short enough to look like a child– only 4’11,” and half-deaf myself. I won the part, sharing it with a senior. I would play the younger version of Helen. I was ecstatic, and quit cross-country.

THAT, I don’t regret. I loved being on stage, and HATED running. So I quit, and only ran first semester.

I love theatre but have difficulty with memorization– and it’s not my passion. I enjoy being in the ensemble, but don’t want the pressure of a lead role. Some day I may return to community theatre and dabble a bit, but right now my work schedule makes this impossible.

I still hate running. I don’t ever see myself being a “runner.” But it’s something I think could help me feel better, sleep better. I’m going to get out and start running a bit, and just see what happens.

But there are things I DO want to learn.

I want to save up and some day, I want to learn piano again. And learn to play with both hands.

I want to take voice lessons, and learn how to control my singing. I have a strong voice, but no idea what I’m singing or how to control it. I’d like to know what my actual “range” is– I know I’m an alto. I just imitate tones I hear, and would like to grow and learn to hold notes, project, and maybe stretch my range if possible.

I want to take a foreign language again– in college, I took Latin. But since I haven’t used it, it’s gone. Maybe I could take it again, or try something similar but more useful, like German. Something I could speak, and something I could actually hear and pronounce.

I want to learn how to do that damn back hand-spring! I will never have enough money or time to do all these– but I’ll spend my life trying.

I’m not going to be a quitter anymore. I want to finish some things I abandoned, and take on some new challenges.

The only thing I’ve consistently done throughout my life is write. And I even quit that for awhile, but now I’m taking it up again.

So many times, I’ve wanted to quit blogging. But I’ve kept this going a year and a half now. And I love it. It’s my freedom. My release.

Helen Keller has always been a personal hero of mine, since I identify with her severe hearing loss. And look at her– she couldn’t see, OR hear. And rather than give into a world of isolation and hateful silence, she blossomed and became an icon.

Helen Keller learned to read, speak out loud. Even write. She wrote books. She delivered speeches, and got over her insecurities about her voice– I’m sure she had them.

I almost wanted to quit my column because I was getting so burned out on it. I’m not going to let that happen.

I’ll work harder, write smarter.

I’m going to be someone who overcomes.