In the summer of 2011, I climbed that huge hill up from Precita Park to Bernal Heights Park in San Francisco. It was awesome.

at the summit of Bernal Heights Park, July 2011

This moment (and later, this picture) made me want to change everything.

I upped my kickboxing attendance to 3 classes each week, including the 7 a.m. Saturday morning class that was mostly populated by the instructors. And I found that I could mostly keep up. I was learning other techniques in the classes, too: hapkido, kali (using escrima sticks), hand trapping, pak sao/lop sao. I started running in the winter, and was amazed at how I was able to push myself without the pain I’d previously felt in my leg (due to this fun thing).

I’m now exercising at least 5-6 days a week, have lost 30 pounds, and I’m stronger than I think I have ever been. I can hit hard, I can kick hard, and I can run farther than I thought. All my pants are too big for me, and I can carry bags of mulch and heavy patio pavers around my yard without getting winded. It’s a wonderful thing.

Last week, the owner and main instructor at the studio I go to went for a week-long training in krav maga. Now listen, that dude is fit. He doesn’t look like he could kick your ass if you walked by him on the street, but I have been on the receiving end of his roundhouse kicks and HOLY MOLY THEY HURT. He admitted to us last night that the training last week was hard, and that his body was ready to quit by the end of the week. And he had us practice some krav maga moves in our kickboxing class.

At the end of class, instead of our normal hapkido or trapping drills, he had us practice how to break a choke with the two-handed pluck. In order to demonstrate the real-life application of this move, he put his hands around my neck in a pretty solid choke, with his thumbs pressing on my windpipe and his fingers pressing into my artery. No joke, that shit was scary.

So I’ve been going to classes there for a year and a half. I trust the instructors, all of them, but especially this one. His control is spectacular, he’s a good teacher, and he is careful to teach us the right applications of the right techniques as we are ready for them. So I knew, logically, that he wasn’t actually going to choke me. However, my body sent up all the right distress signals immediately. It is, really, very intimidating to have someone put their hands on you in an aggressive way, even in the safest of spaces.

I couldn’t break his hold. He kept saying “More explosive! More explosive!” I couldn’t get it right. Finally he laughed and said, “Ok, it’s getting better.” I also had trouble being the attacker; I am uncomfortable putting my hands on people in that way. It made me realize that I am not as strong as I think I am.

But I am going to work to change that, too.

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