Two men were closing in, angling me in the direction I didn’t want to go. They were taller than me and they meant business. I tried in vain to position myself to where the evening sun would be behind my back, shining in their eyes. Eventually I stopped trying for the optimal position. For an instant, the three of us were still. I only had a heartbeat to make a decision. As I drew breath I threw myself forward and sprinted between the men. On my right, a brief flash of pain as my thigh absorbed a kick. The left sleeve of my jacket slipped between the other man’s fingers. I was free, running down the soccer field like a rabbit. I ran towards cars, people, safety. I was grateful for all those times Sensei (the title for a karate instructor) had me sprint uphill, trying to beat my best time. This sprint on a level field was much easier.
I laughed around my mouth guard. My little experiment was a success. I ran just far enough to make my point, then turned back. I raised my padded fists in challenge to the two tall men, who were closing in once more. The whole point of the exercise was to engage, to experiment in a mostly safe way, so I threw myself into the fight. When circumstances permitted, I tried sprinting again. Sometimes I got away, sometimes I got caught. I learned the ideal times and relative positions for running away. This was as close to street fighting as I care to get.
Quite frankly, common sense, not Karate, has kept me alive for 47 years. First my mother’s common sense, then my own. To date, I have had to make a decision to fight or flee only once. The decision to run kept me alive. So in this more-or-less safe setting I practiced fleeing. But I also practiced fighting – after all, this was my chance to experiment with that too. My fellow students pressed me hard, and Sensei called a halt only when I was clearly exhausted and overwhelmed.
You learn a lot about yourself when your brain refuses to believe that you will come out of the situation with only a bruise on your thigh and some grass stains on your gi. I really am my own worst enemy. I’m glad I am learning how to deal with this in mostly-safe settings. That evening, yes I fought terror, but there were also moments of elation when something I did worked. Like when I got thrown to the ground and I twisted away from one opponent while planting both feet in the stomach of the other, pushing him hard with my legs. The elation I felt when I regained my feet was sweet.
So what did I learn about fighting in a life-or-death scenario? I learned I can’t be “nice,” otherwise I’m toast. I was “nice” to my two senpai (more senior students). I didn’t target joints, the throat, or (cough cough), um, “that.” I didn’t use very many techniques against these gentlemen because I don’t trust my ability to perform some of the really nasty joint-shattering things we learn from kata (forms) unless I’m going slowly in a highly controlled drill. So if I couldn’t kick knees, punch throats, or grab wrists and slam elbows, that left me with… Not much of anything. But conquering my opponents and looking like a superstar really wasn’t the point of this exercise. The point was to come as close as we could to real fighting without harming each other. The point was to see what worked and what didn’t work in a two-versus-one scenario.
Eventually it was my turn to be one of two opponents against someone else. Again I was the smallest of our group of three, and the only lady. My partner and our opponent fought hammer and tongs. I darted in at the worst possible times for our opponent. Sometimes our opponent saw or heard me coming and had a counter, sometimes he didn’t and I’d get a quick (light, controlled) hit to the kidneys or face. A dark glee rose up in me when our opponent went down. I have to admit at one point I even crowed, “He’s down!” and punched his nose (lightly).
Later, when I was driving home and processing things, at first I felt a little ashamed of this dark glee. I thought, “Two against one isn’t really fair, after all.” But then I realized that there is a time and a place for two against one. It is always OK to stop evil from happening. If the bad guy is outnumbered, too bad for him. Learning how to work with someone to bring someone else down is a valuable exercise. Processing the emotions that the successful execution of violence brings is also a valuable exercise.
I’m not sure I quite understand all the aspects of that dark glee I felt, but I’m working on it. I don’t think I can explain it – and I tried while writing the draft of this post. Most importantly, I’ve come to terms with that particular emotion and I recognize it has its place. I’m very glad I had a more-or-less safe setting and hadn’t actually hurt anyone. I wonder if policemen and soldiers sometimes feel this dark glee. I wish I could ask my late grandpa (a WWII veteran) about it.
What we learn in Karate is not just physical. I’ve come to appreciate being pushed and being pushed hard. Quite often, the most difficult physical exercises lead to the deepest lessons.
On a lighter note…
While I was watching the first trio of fighters I heard a little boy call out, “LOOK! A black belt is fighting two guys at the same time!!!”
Ya know, when I got through with my fight, nobody shouted, “Hey look! A slightly-lumpy middle-aged matron survived being beaten up by two big guys!!!”
Life just ain’t fair… LOL!