I stood there with my eyes closed, but I could feel his menacing presence. Suddenly, the violent force came at me.
"Hey bitch," he growled and then hit me across the face. My eyes shot open and I spotted the knife coming down toward my chest. My left arm blocked the blow before it was able to sink into my heart, and I punched my attacker in the face and neck with every ounce of strength in me. He fell back, and I swung a hard kick right to his dick.
My attacker looked up and had a big smile on his face. "That was really good! You've got a strong punch. Let's try that again."
I'm lucky, because that frightening assault didn't happen in a dark alley or an empty parking garage. It was at Impact Self Defense, a Krav Maga studio in North Park. Krav Maga is a form of contact combat training created by martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld to help Jewish civilians in Czechoslovakia protect themselves from anti-Semitic attacks in the days before World War II. It was later adopted by the Israeli army, special forces in various countries and now ordinary men and women looking to protect themselves.
I often find myself in situations where I don't feel safe, not because I have a penchant for hanging out in sketchy neighborhoods, but because that's the world women live in. That's not paranoia. Despite how many men tell you that #notallmen are violent misogynists, the fact of the matter is, women are in a vulnerable position most of the time.
The Isla Vista shootings prove that a vicious anti-woman mentality still persists in our society and that there are men out there seeking to punish us. There's not a single woman I know who's not experienced misogyny. Many of them, me included, have experienced it violently.
Do I think every man in the world is a woman-hating murderer or rapist? Of course not. If that were the case, I'd board up my windows, buy a shitload of frozen pizza and settle into a lifetime of HBOgo, because I'd never leave my apartment. I'd just be hanging in a ratty wedding dress pretending that a bottle of wine wearing a onesie is a baby. "Mommy loves you, Winey Jr."
If this feeling of vulnerability is prevalent and based in harsh reality, what does that mean for women? Do we hide? Do we feel sorry for ourselves? Do we accept deplorable behavior because it's easier than fighting back? Do we stay silent when men call us sluts, whores, bitches or cunts out of fear that a response might lead to a vicious attack?
No, I don't believe we should. But women do need to be prepared for what could happen when we do respond. That's why I chose to get my ass kicked doing Krav Maga.
Veronica Gabarra and Yury Sigal run Impact Self-Defense. Through Krav Maga, they dramatize life-threatening situations and teach people how to make it out alive. At my first session, I learned to throw a proper punch (fingers clenched tightly into a ball with the thumb lying over the index finger, you snap your fist into its target at a 45-degree angle and pull back immediately) and how to land a good kick (always to the balls).
Krav Maga is intense, and because the instructors aim to make it as real as possible, it can be pretty nerve-wracking. In one training exercise, I stood against a fellow classmate and practiced throwing punches in his weak zones (the neck, throat, chin and chest). He loomed over my 5-foot-4 frame with an intimidating look and pulled out a large rubber knife and attempted to sink it into me. I blocked the knife and punched at his throat. Just when I thought I was safe, I heard, "Hey!" right behind me. Another classmate came after me with a knife, and I had to use the skills I'd acquired to fight him off. Pretty brutal stuff, but as I was told, "You're not safe until you're back home watching TV on your couch."
During a private session with Gabarra and Sigal, they explain that Krav Maga is based on instinctual behavior. You learn to fight from a rest pose in order fend off an attack when you're least expecting it.
That's how I ended up fighting off a knife-wielding attacker. Drenched in sweat, my eyes closed, I could sense Sigal circling me. Suddenly, I'd get smacked in the stomach or face, or roughly pushed at the shoulder, and he'd call me a bitch or say, "Hey, I'm just trying to talk to you." Then I'd open my eyes to see him coming at me, and I'd deliver a fury of punches and kicks in a way that would do the most damage. Even though I knew it was a controlled environment, I couldn't help but panic. My heart would race and I'd fumble my punches, until I didn't.
"Shit like this happens in the street," Gabarra laments. "Krav Maga, it's not just physical training but also psychological. Many people come here because something happened to them, and it's not because they didn't fight back. It's because they didn't know what to do. We teach them the solution."
With every blow I landed on Sigal's face, I felt tougher and more empowered. My fists connected harder and more direct each time. I'm no shrinking violet, but there's always the fear of "What if?" What if someone attacks me? Could I survive?
Hopefully, I'll never be tested. But after leaving the studio sore, bruised and sweat-soaked, I felt more confident than ever before. "If you're not dead, you don't stop fighting," Gabarra tells me. Damn-fucking-right.