I knew for a long time that I should take a self-defense course. My mother drilled into my brothers and I as children, what to do if someone tried to hurt us. Scream as loud as you can, run away, tell mommy. She also told us something else, something that remained sharp in my memory all these years. She told us what to do if we couldn’t run away. Fight, she said, fight with everything you have! Scratch, bite, kick, punch. Do whatever you can to do. Never give up. She gave us these instructions with a ferocious intensity that only mothers have for their children, which is why I remember them so well. It was a scary thing to tell a child, but she did her work as a mom well; I was cautious of strangers and attentive to situations that gave me bad gut feelings. It was the first lesson I ever had in self-defense.
But as I got older and began to experience sexual harassment as a young woman in the world, narrowly escaping a couple of frightening assault attempts, I felt more and more pressure to find a self-defense class. However, like so many ambitions we scratch down on our to-do lists, it was neglected. It wasn’t in my budget, didn’t work with my schedule, and there were other more fun things to do.
When I joined the El HaLev community right after making Aliyah, I once again began to remember the instructions my mother gave me. At first, it wasn’t a conscious memory. I am the product of a pretty damn empowered feminist upbringing, and a graduate of the first women’s college in history. I found it thrilling to connect with an organization dedicated to bringing an effective method of empowerment through self-defense tools to the most vulnerable sectors of society. It was even more thrilling to see this in Israel, my new home and the land that I love. When Yudit Sidikman, founder and CEO gave me a tour of the facility for the first time, I was struck most by the posters lining the halls: women in white uniforms holding themselves in intimidating positions, girls on the floor fighting off armored attackers, seniors putting up their hands, and small children practicing Capoeira. Those posters showed me El HaLev’s dedication to strengthening communities with self-defense methods taught with love and encouragement.
So I took my next opportunity and signed up for IMPACT, of course. Anyone who has known me over the years is aware of the fact that I don’t usually choose the “easy” path, and IMPACT is El HaLev’s most intensive and comprehensive course. For five hours, once a week, I had to deflect assaults from some of the meanest, most frightful characters. It was physically and emotionally exhausting and not fun.
Before I stepped up to my instructor for a “krav” (a simulated assault with the male attacker), I would mentally pump myself up with mantras like “I’m gonna beat the sh*t of him”. I would make myself really angry at the “tokef” (attacker). Not because I am a violent, angry person, or because I believed our male instructor actually was a despicable person, but because I was so scared, and dreading the impending trauma of the exercise. After my instructor would make sure I was ok, and that I was ready for the krav, all of that gungho anger dissolved. With conscious breathing, and support of the class, all I would do was focus on the tokef and tell him to stop, to move away from me, and eventually, “NO!” before deflecting his attack with a bash to the face or groin. Contrary to the mindset of my mental preparation, I found myself executing these self-defense techniques drenched in adrenaline, without any premeditated aggression,. IMPACT forced us to be 100% in the fight using the incredible tools our instructors taught us, along with their ceaseless support. Our minds were rewired to simply respond, steadily and effectively.
The most incredible of these tools was our voice. We live in society where unfortunately, women’s voices, desires and boundaries are often disregarded. Despite my empowered upbringing, where I was consistently told that I was valued and strong, I have not really been able to use my voice at times in which I was threatened. Especially in a different language. As I stood in front of this large figure, that jeered and shouted at me in Hebrew, I would feel like a warrior in the IMPACT posture: back straight, one leg forward, arms up and hands in front of me. With a deep breath, I would take the air from my stomach and all of the momentum of my lungs and cry out “NO!”and most of the time, God willing, that would be enough.
My family lives on the other side of the world, so I was not able to have my mother come to my IMPACT graduation. At the very end, when my peers and I stood in front of our supporters, I thought of her. I realized that she was the one who planted the seed of self-defense in me. I realized that it was her efforts to encourage my strength and bravery that brought me to where I was standing and I remembered her voice, full of all the love and seriousness in the world
Fight with everything you have. Never give up.