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Notes from P.E.

April 2, 2010

I’m taking a P.E. class this term called Self-Defense for Women. We have only had one meeting, but so far, I am loving it.

The list of why is long, but definitely ranking near the top is this little tidbit of information I picked up there:

Panic is a physical response, and it has a physical solution.

The solution? To breathe.

My paraphrased understanding is that when we panic our body tenses up. This tension constricts are breathing, limits our oxygen supply, and our ability to respond effectively and efficiently to our surroundings.

But if we focus on the act of inhaling and exhaling, our body will relax to allow us to take  those deep and essential breaths. With oxygen and a body that is calm rather than rigid, we can better handle and adapt to our environment.

Hopefully we will never have to respond to those situations the instructor is equipping my class for. But the importance of breathing, of calming our body and clearing our mind, carries over into every aspect of our lives.

And I love the idea that while those situations that induce my panic may be beyond my control or ability to fix, my panic itself is something I can manage. The way I respond to those situations is something I can control. And  it is as simple as allowing myself to breathe.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. adam permalink
    April 2, 2010 4:12 AM

    that’s deep gurl 😉 so true though. if you play sports, it’s easy to understand the edge that comes from coolness under pressure. breath can reign in your heart rate and your thoughts at the same time. same for stage performance actually, i’ve found– those breaths keep you centered and help you perform naturally. oh ya, and there’s that thing my dad always used to say about getting angry. you know, “take a deep breath and count to 10~” pretty cool what the body can do!!

    then again, adrenaline can completely change the game… 8) …not to mention stimulants… 8)

  2. Lisa permalink
    April 2, 2010 8:28 AM

    This is a question for Nko or anyone else (I’m just curious, please don’t take this as an attack on why you would be in a self-defense class).

    Do you think that even offering classes like “Self-defense for Women” plays into the idea that it is the woman’s job to prevent men from assaulting her? It seems like self-defense tips frequently go along with things like “don’t get drunk and walk around alone wearing a mini-skirt” which gets into some serious victim-blaming territory. But then again, the reality of physical harm to women is very real, so shouldn’t we know how to defend ourselves? Just wondering what other’s thoughts on this were.

  3. adam permalink
    April 2, 2010 9:41 AM

    sounds to me more like empowerment than anything. i remember another friend who took this course, and she had nothing but great things to say about it. i don’t think they take the approach that you’re gonna be attacked by men… but i never took the class.

  4. nko permalink
    April 2, 2010 11:18 AM

    I think those are really great questions, Lisa. The dichotomy of men v women that the title seems to imply was also something I thought about – shouldn’t self-defense be for anyone who wants to learn it? But the emphasis in this class is on creating a safe space for women, a space where they can learn how to defend themselves in case they ever need to.

    And I also understand where you are coming from – the amount of victim-blaming, of “WHAT was SHE thinking?” that characterizes discourse is appalling. But this class takes a very different approach.

    One of the first things the instructor told us is that all those theories – that you can avoid being assaulted if you don’t go out late, don’t dress provocatively, don’t drink, don’t travel alone – those are silly things. She said that we can’t and shouldn’t stop living, and that it is silly to think that if you do everything right, terrible things will never happen to you. Assault isn’t about us, about what we do or fail to do. Sometimes, it is only about the perpetrator. Our best response is to have as many options as possible.

    And that is the thing she kept repeating. She is there to give us options. Options that she hopes we will never need to exercise, but can if we find ourselves in that situation. And I think that is where the difference is, between self-defense and victim-blaming prescriptions: increasing our options rather that limiting us to a set of “safe” behaviors or characteristics.

    • Jill permalink
      April 2, 2010 12:39 PM

      Having taken the class myself, Nko’s assessment of the orientation of the teacher mostly reflects my experience. Her point was definitely to help us to better understand what our bodies can do–how to push/kick/punch/stomp efficiently so that you don’t hurt yourself, and give yourself a good chance of getting away from an attacker–rather than what we as women should do to avoid getting attacked.

      At the same time, it felt to me like the teacher really wanted to impart to us that attack is always imminent and YOU ARE NEVER SAFE. I don’t underestimate the threat of violence, which is constant for a lot of people and frequently present for a whole lot more. But I did kind of leave the class feeling more defeated than empowered. Maybe that’s a variable experience, and I hope you get a lot out of it, Nko, regardless.

    • Lisa permalink
      April 5, 2010 12:21 AM

      Jill and Nko, I’m glad to know that the class is much more “there are some creeps out there and you can be ready in case you encounter them” than “OMGZ bad things will happen if you out alone at night”. I definitely think there can be a place for self-defense classes and the like that don’t engage in victim-blaming.

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