Last night I returned to krav maga after a break of nearly a month (due to school wrapping up, sickness, holidays). It was good to get back to a real workout after so much time off: working some strong kicks and groundwork was satisfying.

And then this unsettling thing happened.

I was the only woman in class last night. That happens with some regularity, as there is only a small number of women who attend the class (maybe about 4 now), and we rarely seem to coincide anymore. But a few of the men who regularly attend have learned that I can take a fairly hard hit without whining, so I think I have earned their respect – at least a little.

Last night, in the final 15 minutes of class, the instructor pulled me aside to let me know he was planning on doing some mounting drills. (These drills involve one partner literally being mounted by the other partner; the objective is for the partner on the ground to break out of the hold.) He wanted to give me an opportunity, I think, to opt out of the exercise in case I didn’t want to partner with a guy – a lot of intimate contact in this drill. But I decided to give it a go – I’m not taking the class to sit on the sidelines, right?

The drill consisted of the following:
Partner 1 (that’s him) lies on the floor (face up).
Partner 2 (that’s me) sits on Partner 1’s abdomen – Partner 1’s hips and legs are behind Partner 2.
Partner 2 throws a series of punches at Partner 1’s head.
Partner 1 blocks the punches and does a hip bump (lifts his hips off the ground) to throw Partner 2 off balance.
Partner 1 then traps Partner 2’s arm and leg, and hip bumps/rolls over Partner 2, so that Partner 2 ends up on the ground and Partner 1 is on top.

I partnered with one of the guys I’ve known and worked with for a while – he’s generally a considerate partner, and I do feel pretty safe working with him. But I was definitely nervous. As per the instructions, he got down on the floor and I sat on his chest. We started the drill – the first hip bump threw me way off balance and I yelled in surprise. I had very little time to register what was happening before my partner had me trapped and on the ground. My yell was the source of some amusement in the class (which I didn’t mind), and my instructor said something to the effect of “That’s probably the best reaction to this drill I’ve heard so far.”

Now, I want to stress: my partner is a good partner. He’s considerate, never dishing out more force than I can handle. He is kind, encouraging, and supportive. He did nothing during the drill that was inappropriate, dangerous, or confusing.

As we both stood up, a third classmate approached and asked to join in – we had an odd number in the class, and he proposed we rotate through the drill so we’d each have a chance to play the two different roles. My partner and I agreed, though I ended up standing off to the side and watching the two of them work on their techniques. When the instructor checked with me, I nodded and said, “I’m good, I’m observing.” Shortly thereafter, we wrapped up the drill and bowed out of class.

I was definitely unsettled by the drill. Going in to it, I thought I was ready. I wasn’t. The transition from being on top, in control, to being on the ground beneath someone else (who is clearly stronger than me) with almost no ability to control the situation occurred in less than 3 seconds. Quite honestly, I didn’t know what was happening until well after it was over. Real talk: I was straight up scared shitless.

I don’t like the feeling that I do not control what is happening to my body. I think most people feel that way.

I want to believe that gender had nothing to do with this, but I am forced to acknowledge that I would not have been this shaken if my partner had been another woman.

I also think that I have recently taken my own progress for granted. I have been walking around feeling kind of like a badass since May (when I started the krav classes). I can hit kind of hard. I can definitely kick hard. I’ve learned how to elbow the crap out of people. I’ve physically exerted myself more in the past 7-8 months than ever before in my life. And I’ve survived it, generally feeling pretty good the next day. So having someone take me from entirely in control to completely helpless in 3 seconds pretty much stripped that feeling of badassery away.

And it makes me wonder: if this is how I feel in a structured environment where this is only a simulation, working with people that I know and trust, how will I feel if it happens in the real world?

Walking to my car last night, I was physically and emotionally overwhelmed. My chest was tight, I had trouble breathing, and my body was shaking. As soon as I got into the car, I started crying. I made the 10 minute drive home and immediately indulged the incredible urge to shower. I cried some more in the shower, though the shaking didn’t stop for about another hour.

My instinct right now is to drop the krav classes.

In my final semester of school, I created a manuscript of poems as part of my senior project. One of the poems, “How You Learn to Fight,” was directly inspired by my kickboxing and krav classes. In it, the narrator reminds the reader that this kind of fighting is intentional:

You asked him to hit you, to teach you
how to greet surprise.

The right thing to do is to push through this. To keep going. To teach myself how to deal with the anxiety, the panic. To learn how to react to the situation. To get back on top – literally and metaphorically. To learn to greet, and overcome, the surprise.

I will keep going. I want to be the things my narrator identifies: a tornado; fearsome and alive; lightning-split air; hail that cracks the windshield. Not afraid.