I am, sadly, not a stranger to aggression. I experienced physical and verbal bullying in school and at home. The latter continued well into adult life. While I always tried to stand up for myself, it never seemed to achieve anything, and I never stopped feeling afraid. Somehow this got twisted in my mind and I believed I was a coward.
In November 2014 I finally cut contact with a close family member, I was free from the last of the bullies. I knew this was my chance to become the person others had tried to grind out of me for all these years. But I did not fully know how to do that. I wanted to be strong, but I felt weak – the fallout from such a hugely emotional decision was draining.
My endlessly supportive and loving husband already trained at Leicester Shootfighters, and suggested that I go on the Women Only Kickboxing and Fitness Course that was starting there in January. In all honesty, I was as much motivated by losing the Christmas weight as I was changing my life!
The course was brilliant; the club was a safe, fun environment, and I really liked hitting things. I was still afraid a lot though. I was scared of getting hit. In the end I asked a training partner, a new friend I had made through attending, to hit my raised gloves just so I could get used to it without flinching. As I got the taste for it once a week wasn’t enough and I braved the mixed training sessions.
I admit I was very anxious about training with the men. They would be too rough, they would mock me, they wouldn’t want to train with me at all – but every single one of them have been excellent, thoughtful training partners. As with any organisation the atmosphere of respect and calm permeates from the top. The coaches at Leicester Shootfighters are all brilliant and any over-the-top macho behaviour is not tolerated.
I recently passed through the threshold between forcing myself to go because I knew I would feel better once there and after, and counting down the minutes in work til I can go and train. A lot of this has to do with improved fitness: I feel so much better in myself physically. But what else is changed is how I feel about myself: I feel stronger physically and mentally, I feel I have new part of my identity, and most importantly I feel brave. Not in a cocky way, more like a sense of accomplishment for pushing myself so far outside my comfort zone, and for overcoming many of my fears.
New handwraps selfie!
This, I think, is what Martial Arts can offer everyone, but perhaps particularly women who are often socialised to be delicate, accepting, obedient, to think of others before themselves. I can only speak of combat Martial Arts, but to learn you can be strong, and stand your ground is an incredibly powerful shift in your identity – it certainly was in mine.
I am only beginning and I have so very, very far to go before I am even proficient – but I think that pales in comparison to how far I have come in the last few months all because of a chance to become braver.