How I Learned to Fight, And Why All Women Should Take a Self-Defense Class

When the president-elect of the United States brags about assaulting women, the time to take a class is now.

It was the last fight of the day, and I was a little nervous.

We were lined up after an exhausting, three-hour Saturday class. This time, our instructor said she wouldn't tell us how she would come at us. Would she grab my wrist? Or only catcall? Did I want to knee the groin or elbow the face? How many times would I say "Stop!" until it was time to attack? I didn't have too long to think.

Like in real life.

For years, I had said I was going to take a self-defense class. Every time someone grabbed me at a bar or catcalled me, I thought about it—then time, money and life got in the way.

Donald Trump changed all that. When the president-elect of the United States brags about assaulting women, calls them pigs, hints that some aren't attractive enough to assault, and has been accused of raping both his ex-wife and a 13-year-old girl, it was time. So I signed up for two classes last month—in both, at least one woman said Trump was her primary reason for taking the class.

On a Saturday in December, as I sat in a circle of 30 women in a studio on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, my instructor's opening line hit pretty close to home.

"Self-defense classes are that thing you always say you're going to do but never get around to," she said.

Like so many things you never seem to get around to doing, I'm really glad I took the classes. And I'd wager that most of the other 30,000 women who've taken classes from One With Heart in the past 30 years feel the same.

"Training self-defense gives you peace of mind," says Annie Erickson, a self-defense instructor at One With Heart for eight years. "It has this ripple effect in other places in your life, where you see more choices and more power in the world. You can affect more things like relationships and the choices you make. In this three-hour class, you do learn practical skills, but you connect to something much, much deeper, too."

One With Heart's class costs $59. If you've got less money but a longer lead time, you can sign up for a free, three-session class from the Portland Police Bureau.

Don't avoid taking a class because you don't think you can fight. You might surprise yourself. I learned to hit someone's groin with my forearm if grabbed from behind, to twist my hips to deliver a swift kick to their face if I'm pushed to the ground, to elbow someone in the face if grabbed by my waist or wrist, and to hold someone's shoulders and knee them if they still don't let go.

Everything is taught step-by-step, and then you practice it, again and again and again.

"We want to be simple and effective for everyone," Erickson says. "In a three-hour class, it's about building rapid response that doesn't have time to get processed through your mind."

More difficult than learning those self-defense moves, though, was just practicing saying "no."

We learned to say no, a lot. It sounds silly. We stood there and yelled, "No!" "No!" "No!" And I can't explain how strangely emotional that was.

Realistically, if I'm hooking up with a guy who does something that I'm not totally cool with, I'm probably not going to kick him in the groin—although that would be pretty badass—but I can say no, a skill that requires practice.

The most practical scenario we played out was walking down a street and having the instructors aggressively catcall us. With each scenario, everyone became more and more angry. We cheered each other on and watched this ferocity come out, even in tiny 12- and 13-year-olds.

I realized that having pent-up anxiety about being attacked actually makes it easier to act when the time comes. There's anger and strength inside every woman.

Welcome to the 2016 Health & Fitness Issue


We Spent Two Weeks Trying Six Different Modern Group Fitness Classes Across Portland. Here's What We Learned.

How I Learned to Fight, And Why All Women Should Take a Self-Defense Class

We Tested Five Complete Nutrition Meals, The Foods of our Very Bleak Future

Here's How to Begin Preparing for the Looming Cascadia Earthquake

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