After a couple of months training in Krav Maga, I finally got in early enough yesterday to have the instructor show me how to wrap my hands. I almost always hurt my wrists in this class; punching and taking hits while holding pads jars them terribly, and they're rather delicate given the size of my hands.
I wrapped them up in red bandages, the sweet stink of use rising from them. Krav requires that you always keep your hands near your face; the smell is like nothing I can describe: rotting lettuce soaked in sweat? Rancid sweet butter? I began warmups with the group, all male today except for me. I felt the warmups, and the drills, getting easier with time and increased fitness. It's a thrill to feel my body respond.
We partnered up and practiced front kick to the groin, then a combination: front kick, straight punch, elbow, knee.
Holding the pad to my body I took the knees from a man about my size. He grabbed me by one shoulder and one trapezius muscle, yanking me down hard to knee me in the stomach. I'm a little taller than he is, and have the advantage of leverage. Bending me over that far is tricky for him, but the knees hit their target, and even with the pads, I felt it penetrate my gut.The first night I tried this
, I felt exhilarated afterwards, powerful and free, pumped with endorphins. I felt like nobody better mess with me. I felt like whatever else happened, if it came to it I could lay the smackdown.
In this class, for some reason, somewhere in the middle of drills I felt on the edge of tears. It felt as if the knees in the stomach had hit some emotional centers, opening me up in ways I didn't want to be in this circumstance. All at once I didn't want to hit as hard, didn't want to continue the drills, didn't feel the thrill that I usually get, and in fact, felt that doing so and feeling so was somehow wrong.
I kept on, resisting my impulse to step outside the class for a few minutes and either calm down or give vent to my feelings. As I continued, the feeling faded somewhat, but thoughts raced in my head until the end of class.
In this class I feel rage. I feel power. I feel power directed at me, and I take it. And over and over again, I think about what I would do if someone attacked me this way, that way, another way. How do I throw someone off-balance so that I can control their movement? How do I get out of a choke hold? What do I do if someone comes at me with a knife?
How do I stop this person as quickly as possible? How do I hurt them? How do I kill them if I have to?
I had a conversation with pir
back in December about Krav versus Aikido, which he takes. He's a big man, for those of you who don't know him: about six foot four and fairly solid muscle. I told him that I liked Krav because it made me feel that I could defend myself, that if someone attacked me I could actually hurt them and stop them. He told me that he hardly remembered a time in his life when he couldn't hurt, or even kill, someone. He takes Aikido because it teaches him how to stop somebody from hurting you while doing minimal damage to them. I take Krav because I need to learn the power in my hands first.
But I'm passing through a critical point.
This is the point at which I have learned two things, and those two things scare me and keep me on edge. One is the knowledge that I have this violence inside of me, that it is possible for me to exercise and channel my rage in order to hurt or kill someone. This is frightening, as I have pretty much always considered myself a pacifist. At the same time, it's empowering: I think of the bullies from my school days and what might have been different if I'd been able to fight them. Not that they ordinarily threatened me physically. But that power in my body might have given me just enough confidence to keep from being tortured.
The second thing is that practicing this form, which focuses almost exclusively on fighting and real-life situations, keeps the knowledge of people who want to hurt me ever at the front of my mind. The world becomes a place where muggers and rapists and murderers are around every corner, and where I am slowly being prepared to face them.
I wonder about the effects, on me and on the world, of this lethality building within me, and of a worldview informed by danger. I believe that the way we approach the world shapes the world, and I enjoy approaching the world in a somewhat trusting, open fashion. I'm careful, especially at night, but I try to inhabit my world with good thoughts and goodwill - to assume the best of people rather than the worst. Now, when I walk, I often look at people in terms how how likely they are to be a threat to me; think of what I would do if someone attacked me. I go through the motions in my head of kicking, punching, kneeing. Exploding into action as soon as I'm threatened, as Krav teaches. My fondest hope is that just the fact of my fighting back would be enough to scare most attackers away.
In this inbetween space of learning, on the path of the student, I am both incredibly frightened by thinking about such things, and uncertain as to whether I am yet trained enough to survive should I meet it today. Taking self-defense makes me hyper-aware of dangers that ordinarily, I don't want to think about, because I don't know what I would do if I met them. Not taking self-defense classes, in some sense, is like not going to the doctor. Something could be wrong, but because you don't get checked out, not only aren't you aware of it, you don't ever have to think about it.
Until it comes out of nowhere and kills you.
So I continue. Because I want to know how to face it if I meet it. But right around now, I'm thinking about forms I can take that aren't quite so rage-fuelled and violent. Krav Maga is the fastest fighting form to learn and the one that most effectively uses your natural instincts and body movements. But once I gain a certain proficiency, I might switch to something that has more art to it, something with a more philosophical base.
I know that this feeling won't last forever; that I'm in a passage between an essentially defenseless self and a powerful self. That passage is painful, like any kind of growing. Thinking about those who might wish to hurt me is scary; thinking about myself emerging as a worthy opponent is perhaps scarier. But I think of Asian masters of martial arts who are calm and centered in their approach to the world, and whose philosophy demands that they never hurt another soul.
Unless they have to.