Last weekend’s Big Gay Sword Day ended up filling Valkyrie WMAA’s modest training space with attendees from as far away as Los Angeles, and attracting the interest of people around the world. It was a success. I’ve written the official review of the event already (it’s on the Valkyrie blog), but today I wanted to reflect on what it meant to me. And that’s led me to something that I think a lot of my peers don’t understand about queer events: that they’re not really about struggle, but about celebration.
I’ve had a complex relationship with adrenaline my whole life.
I got into what some call “extreme sports” very young. At twelve, I started snowboarding religiously. I’d be on the slopes alone every weekend, pushing myself to go faster, to tackle harder terrain, to hit bigger jumps and longer rails. I loved nothing more than flinging myself against a whole damn mountain and seeing if I could fly. A catastrophic accident put an end to riding for me when I was 18, and I took on the mountains from another angle. My new obsession was rock climbing. I preferred the outdoors to the gym, leading to top-roping, and multi-pitch trad to everything else. I found my element hundreds of metres off the ground, with nothing between me and a fatal fall but 9mm of nylon and a few chunks of metal shoved in a crack. Both sports routinely took me to the very margins of my physical competence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s an old refrain that pops up in discussions of gender in the Historical European Martial Arts community: that running events aimed specifically at women (whether they be introductory courses, ongoing classes, or tournament categories), or modifying ones’ teaching to appeal more to women, is discriminatory. The theory goes that…
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…
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.