Being able to defend yourself isn’t just a matter of knowing which technique will stop an assailant in his tracks so you can get away. It’s also about being physically able to execute the move and being mentally prepared to do it. The following are some defensive components that will help you do that by enabling you to make the most of what you’ve learned in the dojo.
Awareness It's essential to walk with confidence, and keep your head up and your shoulders squared. Always scan your environment. When a predator sees that you’re in touch with your surroundings, he’s more likely to think: “She’s a little too aware of what’s going on. She doesn’t look like the meek, mild, timid type. She doesn’t look like the type who’ll try to get into her car without paying attention.”
Kathy Long has studied aikido, kung fu san soo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kickboxing.
Commitment The most important — and the hardest — thing to learn is how to commit yourself to fighting back violently. That’s because you won’t know if you can do it until you’re in that type of situation. To help you and your classmates understand what you need to do in an extreme encounter, your teacher may need to discuss it in terms that are somewhat aggressive. He or she will explain what’s involved in jabbing your fingers in an attacker’s eyes, crushing his groin and punching him in the throat hard enough to make him gag. You need to learn how to switch on this ability at a moment’s notice. You have to program yourself to do whatever it takes to keep an assailant from raping you — or worse.
Reality-Based Training When you go into a dojo or any facility where they claim to teach self-defense, investigate how realistic the training is. You don’t want to acquire a false sense of security by learning fancy techniques that aren’t practical. At some schools, they put the “aggressor” in a padded suit and let you beat on him. That kind of training teaches you an important lesson: It's possible for you to hit a target with sufficient power to produce a debilitating effect.
Attire What you wear while you work out is another crucial component. A gi can be comfortable to train in, but realize that you probably won’t be wearing one when you’re attacked. Therefore, it’s good to occasionally train in street clothes: a dress, nice slacks or a suit — even high-heeled shoes, if you wear them. My kung fu san soo instructor used to occasionally have his students come to class in clothes they wore to work or to the theater so they could see what it felt like to execute their techniques while dressed up. If your teacher doesn’t do that, ask him or her to start.
Physical Fitness Upper- and lower-body strength is important for executing techniques, and cardiovascular conditioning will enable you to run. If you don’t have the time or money to join a gym, get a set of dumbbells and lift at home. It’s fun to gauge your progress by noting how long it takes for a certain number of repetitions with a given weight to become too easy. That’s a sure sign you’re building useful strength. (As long as you’re using weights that are lighter than 25 pounds, you need not worry about developing a bodybuilder-type musculature.) To hit your lower body, walk up and down stairs or run.
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Nutrition Eat everything in moderation. Stick to good sources of protein and carbohydrates, and supplement them with loads of vegetables and a little fruit. Stay away from fried foods, and don’t consume too much dairy because it’s high in fat. Avoid overloading on pasta and white rice because they turn into glucose and fat if you don’t exercise enough. Limit your intake of sweets. The better you eat, the better you will function. The better you function, the better you will feel. The better you feel, the greater endurance you will have and the happier you will be. When these factors are combined with increased awareness, proper mind-set and realistic martial arts skills, you will have maximized your personal security.
Kathy Long is a five-time kickboxing champion and a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame.