Friday, August 14, 2020


I found blog partner Kathy Fawcett’s latest post about the choice of whether to fight back in real life and the use of violence in our fiction presented some fascinating questions. I thought about commenting, but, as often happens, I had so much to say I thought I’d just keep the conversation going with another post.

Like Kathy, I’ve studied martial arts and self-defense for many years, reaching an advanced black belt rank in two disciplines. I started my study of Isshinryu karate (a traditional Okinawan style) over 25 years ago because I wanted to know how to make the fight scenes in my novels more realistic. Once I got into class, I discovered I really liked learning the history, the techniques, and the choreographed moves of martial arts. And, it turned out, the application of the moves to self-defense was my favorite aspect of what I was learning (and, later, teaching).

I noticed right away that women and girls in martial arts start at a disadvantage in one area. Even in this day and age, we are taught from the time we are small that using physical force to stand up for ourselves is “bad.” We’re not supposed to hit, or wrestle, or push, or yell. It’s not “nice” or “ladylike” to compete in any way physically, especially with boys. Sometimes this message is overt, especially in more traditional homes, but more often it’s subtle, enforced by the children themselves. Ladies, if, as a child, you ever stood on the sidelines of a game of baseball or basketball played by a group of boys, waiting in vain to be asked to join, you know what I mean.

Despite the advances of Title IX in women’s athletics and all the work of feminism, we still see the impact of this in the karate dojo (practice hall). From the youngest to the oldest beginners, females are still reluctant to engage physically with an opponent. Like the woman in Kathy’s example, who feared she would not be able to harm “another woman’s son” who was attacking her, these karate students hold back when punching or kicking, even when the target is just a pad or a bag. They hesitate to grab hold of their partners’ wrists in practicing self-defense for fear of “hurting” them. They say “sorry!” when they land a solid blow in sparring, when they should be grinning in triumph.

Our first task with these women and girls is to train the conditioning out of them that prevents them from defending themselves. We have to remove that false image of themselves as “nice, ladylike,” fragile little things and replace it with a better sense of themselves as strong, fierce, capable fighters. Strong, capable fighters will defend themselves if necessary. And never give up. 

Now this karate student is NOT lacking self-confidence!

It’s vital for us to believe in ourselves and develop that inner confidence. You’ve heard the saying, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog? Nowhere is that truer than in martial arts and self-defense. Bruce Lee, who was a legitimate martial arts legend in addition to his talent for self-promotion on the big screen, stood at a mere 5’2” and had one leg shorter than the other. His size didn’t stop him from defeating opponents much larger than he was. He just never doubted that he would win. 

If you travel through the world with that kind of confidence, you never have to demonstrate your martial skills. No one wants to mess with someone who is in command of her fear, who pays attention to her surroundings, who moves with assurance. The right kind of training can give you that, no matter where you started.

In answer to Kathy’s question, of course I would answer, yes, I wouldn’t hesitate to fight if necessary. That’s the answer I would hope all my students would give, too. But because we’ve trained and developed a confident attitude, I would also hope we would never have to use what we’ve learned.

As for my fiction, my heroes and heroines are all scrappers, even if they have no formal training. They often face circumstances in which they must defend themselves physically—and they rise to the occasion. I try to make my fight scenes realistic, but they aren’t brutal or sadistic. (After all, you try throwing a few punches and see how long you last. Fifteen-minute fight scenes aren’t real.)  And I don’t go for torture porn, either in my own writing or in my reading or watching preferences.

Anyway, thanks for the inspiration, Kathy!

Cheers, Donna



1 comment:

  1. I'm tickled that my blog post inspired your, Donna! These are all really great insights, too! I see our female students also taking a longer time to learn to kiai (shout) loudly. They either feel silly or don't want to yell (especially the teens). It's all part of training their confidence. I love seeing the transformation from timid to confident!


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