I’ve curated many self defense “success” stories over the years. Some have effected me in the deepest of ways, aligning with my reverence for female disobedience and women’s innate capacity to call upon their primal nature in times of danger, even doing what some might deem unthinkable. (For a female I mean.)
As an example, this story – Nurse Kills Home Intruder – admittedly made my bosom heave. In case you missed it, in 2011, Susan Walters, a then 51 year old Oregon nurse, returned home from work one day to encounter an intruder wielding a claw-hammer. He quickly attacked, striking her in the head and face. Our girl gave as good as she got: she attacked back and wrested his weapon away. In the throws of what became a deadly ground fight, she strangled him… to death… with her bare hands. Police found the then 59 year-old intruder heaped on the floor. Good thing: this guy was no mere intruder but a hit man with a lengthy rap sheet who’d been hired by her hubby to kill her.
“Walters knew she temporarily had the upper hand, and if she continued to apply pressure the man would eventually stop breathing, but she offered him a way out. “I said, ‘Tell me who sent you here, and I will call you an ambulance,’” Walters said. “I wanted him to be afraid, as terrified as I was.”
When my fists stopped pumping the air, I printed out the story and filed it into my folder — Deadly Dames.
I’m now in contact with Susan discussing the possibility of collaborative work or interviews. She will always have to live with the fact that she took someone’s life, but as she says with clarity and wisdom: “I didn’t choose my attacker’s death. I chose my life.”
Amen to that, sister.
Survival like romance must capture our hearts.
I get it: The potentiality of violence – including from ‘loved ones’ and those we know– is an unattractive topic. It’s much easier to talk about life skills that sell women’s magazines: Dating, cooking, becoming a happier or fit person, who’s doing who, or “How to Shed Ten Pounds in time for The Holidays!”
(Ironic isn’t it, that publications billing themselves as empowering for women, featuring bold faced tips on “how to make friends with your body” are also chock full of toothpick-thin models and headlines urging women to “lose that ugly belly fat now!”)
The truth is: no one who wants to think that some day violence may be visited upon them. It’s my observation that women often assume they could talk their way out, after all women have majored in “talk” and “empathy.” While these are great strengths and useful self protection tools, allowing us to develop a rapport that might in fact lower an aggressor’s arousal, talk and empathy aren’t always saving graces– they can also be a hindrance. We need additional tools including forceful and explosive ones. And that has become my Major, my contribution, which I enthusiastically pass to other women.
Some think of this place as the dark side, but I call it home — literally. At my house, an overnight guest might find a push dagger and chocolates under her pillow and discover books on Close Quarters Combat sharing coveted bathroom space with Buddhism Today and Bon Appetite.
But it’s the totems on my nightstand that speak most directly to our fierce female endowment. First are photos of my beloved nephews: One glance at their faces and — pardon the gush — I beam with a radiant luminescence that outshines my most expensive haute couture sheen. At the base of their photos lies another love — my trusty Afghan knife, which I bought 40 years ago in the old Kabul market. It’s a small knife, seven inches from its pointy tip to the bottom of its curved wooden handle, with an odd ripple in its blade where the metal was hammered too hard, too thin. I remember the first time I slept with this knife and awoke to find my hand glued to its handle, its carved old wood, and how survival, like romance had captured my heart. I know this Beast Girl part of myself intimately and could no more divorce this primitive endowment than I could amputate a limb. Or disown my maternal and empathetic nature.
This isn’t just my story, my truth, or interior motif- it’s your story too and that is why I tell it.
Decades have passed since my foray into the martial arts. I can say with pride, women have come a long way. Heck, when I was growing up being prepared meant leaving home with clean underwear and change for a phone call. The best advice du jour? Throw up on your attacker.
Today, for every female on TV who ineffectually pummels an assailant’s chest another one dishes out punishing blows or just shoots the asshole. We’re past this damsel in distress stuff, right? So why does my enthusiasm still meet with resistance — and not just from men?
Maybe it’s the glint in my eye but when I tell choice stories — like the co-ed who stuck her scissors in her assailant’s “motherfucking guts;” or my student who cracked her attacker’s head against the bumper of her car then made pulp out of his groin; or when I gush about power, how learning to stomp and kick and slam just plain feels good, I can nearly hear a few uteruses sputter and spasm — in shock, not pleasure. “A fighting art?” quipped one old friend. “What’s wrong with yoga or poetry?” Nothing! I retort. It’s all good. We are multi-dimensional beings with infinite potentials, not one note on the flute.
So where do we get this cockamamie notion that women are all-beatific, do-no-harmers with nary a virulent, aggressive or power-loving bone? (Let me be blunt: If I had a twenty for every woman who lit up after delivering thwacking, penetrating blows, this wouldn’t be a blog but dinner with Dr. Ruthless, my treat.)
This disavowal and disconnect is not only insidious but poses real threats.
Besides, what could be more natural, more in tune with Mother Nature than knowing how to bash back and not become prey or fodder for a victimizer’s amusement?
Then there’s the incompetence argument — that a woman will only get hurt worse if she fights back. Of course fighting back carries risks. Yes, you might get hurt; but doesn’t getting raped, beaten or traumatized also constitute injury? Strategies aside, this archaic attitude reinforces the age-old pas-de-deux: Men are the protectors; women are the protectees. In other words, you, a wussy female, are defenseless against attack. Got it?
Tell that to the Chicago woman who (brace yourselves, fellas) bit off her would-be rapist’s balls. Compassionate soul that she was, she even brought his testes to the police station… in a baggie! Not to sound crass, but can we imagine the floss job?
Oh please, who said we can’t be outrageous and serious.
I’m not suggesting that fighting back is the solution to violence against women — of course not! — or that it’s always effective or the best option. Or that it takes the place of an urgently needed global shift in the male mindset of violent entitlement, the privilege to “take” without consent or to abuse women and girls. But what I am saying is this: when you boil it down, the answer to why men violate women, or each other, may be simpler than we think: those who will, do it because they can. When we discourage women from learning violent means of self defense we inadvertently encourage them to submit to victimization — not to mention suffering the traumatic aftermath. Distancing from our own lifesaving capacity for the use of force, keeps women unduly fearful of men and their powers. And it diminishes our Selves. And our collective future.
The gig is up. To be safer and self possessed and to pass power to our daughters we must become literate in the strategies of combat.
So here’s my new rule: Instead of shunning aggression I propose we view it as a resource and learn to wield its tools — just as Susan and many others have done, standing up to violence and taking it down or out. In my more sinister Buddhist moments, I liken my gospel to full contact compassion, so if that helps you, all the better.
Click to see My Mother, meaning original, youtube: