The Price of Leadership

Teaching at 2 Days of the Blades - Photo credit David Rawlings

Those of us who teach eventually amass a small amount of authority that gives us access to some opportunities, relationships, and benefits that weren’t available to us as students. In a field where financial compensation is low and many of us struggle to make martial arts anything close to a full-time gig, these fringe benefits are often the best payment we get for what we contribute to our community, and we value the hell out of them. Of course, there are costs too. Hours and hours of work and training and blood and sweat and tears and stress and worry. We’re all pretty good at acknowledging those. What I see talked about a lot less is the opportunities that leadership takes away from us. We get to do all of this cool stuff like traveling, and getting to meet our idols, and having people admire and like us because of what we can teach them, but there are are also things that we don’t get to do anymore. Or, more properly, responsibilities we can’t abdicate.

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Queer Toughness

I had a really great conversation after today’s self defense talk that solidified a lot of floating ideas I had about why we need queer spaces for teaching this stuff. One of the things we discuss a lot in the “observation” material of our talks is body language. How unconscious cues can betray a person’s mindset, intentions (especially with regards to the fight/flight/freeze response set), emotional arousal, and capacity for violence. We talk about it both in terms of what others’ body language tells us, and what our bodies communicate to others. This intersects with gender in many obvious and less-obvious ways.

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Violence Dynamics and Gender: Unsorted Thoughts

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about violence lately. I’ve just started teaching another round of our women’s self defense course at Valkyrie; I’m working on a writing project that touches on how we need to be able to categorize and break down different kinds of violence to train for them; and I’ve started reading Anna Valdiserri’s new book, Creepology: Self Defense for your Social Life. There are a bunch of things bouncing around in my head right now that are important to how I write and how I teach, and I haven’t sorted them out entirely yet. This post is a first crack at doing that.

When we talk about violence in self-defense context, one of the first things we tend to do is sort it into two basic categories: social and asocial (or predatory) violence.

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Realism in Self-Defense: It’s Probably Not What You Think

Poster for a local course that advertises that you can test your skills against a padded opponent who will not be allowed to hit back

There’s been a video bouncing around my social media circles that criticizes women’s self-defense courses for making things too comfortable for their students, at the cost of realism and safety. It’s a good argument, and a real problem. All too often I see videos for self-defense techniques that rely on a compliant or practically inert opponent to succeed — the kind of attacker who grabs their victim and then patiently stands still and waits for a complex series of 8 strikes to land. Or, even worse, I see courses that advertise the fact that students will not be stressed or challenged in any way while practicing their techniques. Conversations about this problem in martial arts circles inevitably turn to the problem of realism, and how to prepare students for what actual violence looks and feels like.

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Self Defense Training: A Serious Offer

I’ve had a number of people reach out to me about self-defense instruction in the past week. A frightening number, to be honest, because it betrays how unstable our sense of safety is right now — as women, LGBT folks, people of colour, and religious and political minorities. So here’s the deal: I teach self-defense at Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly, and I happen to think that we are damned good at what we do.

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This Pride Season

Water bottle with a sticker identifying self as not "gay", not "straight", but "wibbly-wobbly sexy-wexy"

I’ve always had an arms-length relationship with Pride. As a teenager who thought she was straight, I didn’t think Pride was for me. My social circle was aggressively heterosexual and often consumed by petty teen rivalries over boys, and we saw Pride parades as cool things happening somewhere outside of…

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Getting Mad

This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. It’s not just an exorcism, but an admission. Yes, I am angry. I get so angry sometimes that I don’t know how to handle it, and bottling it up and pushing it aside is literally destroying me. I have been so afraid of my anger, and so unwilling to acknowledge that it even exists, that I’ve been letting it keep me awake at night, undermine my relationships, and tip me over into the killing blankness of depression rather than showing anyone that it’s there.

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On Making My Martial Arts School a “Safe Space”

A rainbow of boxing wraps at VWMAA

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “safe spaces”. Between constant articles about coddled university students who want to be protected at all costs from the real world, a recent blowup in the online HEMA community about letting Neo-Nazis air their views in martial arts forums, and the needs I’ve…

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Thing a Day Photo Project: January 18th – 24th

Mild rockiness continues, as I didn’t quite make it to 7 photos this past week. Still, I’m making progress, and I like the opportunity that this project is giving me to reflect on the positive bits of my life. If this set is any indication, lighting and landscape continue to be big influences, and important opportunities to stop, breathe, and enjoy the moment.

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