Learn Krav Maga
THE BADASS FACTOR:
Krav Maga is a self-defense system devised by the Israeli army that combines martial arts to train natural reflexes for real-world, life-threatening situations. I'm hoping it'll teach me how to hold my own in a fight (not to start one, mind you. Badasses don't start fights. Assholes start fights.).
I buy a Groupon for 5 classes at the Krav Maga Institute. For someone whose martial arts training consists of slapping Pelham County's resident douche Tripp Brockway in the face once in 9th grade, Krav Maga appears daunting. But according to the KMI website, the instructors welcome all levels of experience. So off I go to class.
I learn open-handed slaps, how to throw a punch, and why never to hand the red-orange rubber knives to one's partner. I notice that the women in class -- outnumbered two-to-one by men -- are much quicker to laugh. My partner, Kala, and I bond over how awkward a first-date topic Krav Maga can be, and we laugh at my instinctive exclamation of "Weeeee!" as she throws me to the ground. Meanwhile, the guys drill techniques over and over with intense hyperfocus. I wonder why this difference occurs, especially since women are more likely to train in self-defense because of past abuse, whereas men tend to be more drawn to the masculinity-boosting cool factor of martial arts. I don't want to draw uninformed conclusions, though, and Kala has already seemed to disprove this hypothesis in mentioning that boxing is a beloved pastime in her family.
We move on to choke-holds. Kala acts as the attacker, and our shiner-sporting instructor, Robert, asks her to grab my shirt collar instead of my throat. She probably doesn't know much about trauma triggers or the one I have around my neck, but she grabs my collar without question. I escape her over and over, kicking her knees out from under her.
Then it's my turn to attack. I notice quickly that my desire to support her is making me a literal pushover. Kala rolls over me with ease again and again, not even using the knee-kick we're supposed to be practicing. Finally, she stops me and says, "You need to bear down on me more. I'm not using the right technique because I don't have to."
She lies on her back, and I straddle her, propping myself up on my knees. She tells me to tighten my grip. My mind would have gone into shock by now with this much pressure around my throat, but this time, I don't back down. I tell myself she's not going to push me over this time. Reading my mind, she raises her foot and kicks one of my knees out from under me. I collapse onto the ground in an awkward heap, and she stands.
Robert calls for a break. As we both take gulps of water between pants, Kala tells me, "Normally, I don't mind taking it easy with simulated attacks, but chokeholds are different. Because that's what happened to me. I was choked in a park."
Kickin' knees and learnin' names with Kala subverted my expectations of Krav Maga. We both arrived here by a road laden with past trauma, and we evidently both value the inimitable healing power of humor and compassion. The KMI instructors actually embody the compassion/not-to-be-fucked-with interplay: Robert is definitely the guy you would not want to fuck with at a bar at 1am on a Tuesday, but he has devoted a full-time career to teaching people how to protect themselves. He's also a bona fide badass.
So the Road to Badass will require the ability both to defend against and empathize with others. (I love a good paradox, don't you?) After all, it was master of compassion Maya Angelou who said, "Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass."
Besides, after 5 classes and a handful of bruised knuckles, I have found there is no way to talk about Krav Maga and not sound awesome.