Ten girls in various states of excitement, nerves and giggles. Ten girls between the ages of fourteen and twenty, taking a private teen class in self-defense. This time I was lucky enough to be an assistant. I was nervous myself: afraid I would mess up somehow, forget something crucial (the video camera!), also afraid, honestly, that it would be tedious.
The hours flew by. Now that I know the basic strikes, it was all a lot less mysterious to me, but no less interesting. Interesting to watch the girls hit softly at first, and then with more and more strength as the male suited instructor upped the ante by giving them more resistance in the staged muggings. He evoked their ferocity and it came out, all at once for some, more slowly and tentatively for others.
Since it was teens, there was a whole section on date rape and dating violence. As I sat silently in the circle and listened to the instructors list off the various characteristics of rape and sexual assault as well as the more ubiquitous boudary trespasses, I thought "Shit! My boundaries have been crossed so many times I can't count them all." From age fifteen on, it was like I had a big target on my chest. Literally on my chest. I've had drunken men-- complete strangers--lunge at my breasts and grab them. I've had men grind their pelvises into me on subways and at parties. When I was a teenager the guy who cut my hair used to press his erections into my arm as it rested on the side of the chair. I blushed and was silent. I didn't know I could call him on it. I never told anyone.
I looked around the circle and wondered if these girls had begun experiencing those things yet. I always felt it was my fault for being big and voluptuous and not disguising my body adequately. Who would I have been if I could have truly understood that I could walk proudly in my body in the world? These girls have so much more education about these things than we did. Yet I saw some of them hunched over their breasts in the same way I was, disconnected from their breath and bodies.
It was great being on the other side of the mat, having the perspective of an assistant. When I was a student I was so hung up on doing the kicks and strikes perfectly. Turns out it doesn't matter that much. Yes, it's nice when someone has great technique and can really land a strike with precision and force. But the real deal is spirit--something you can't teach, only evoke. The spirit of ferocity, of willingness to fight for yourself, of rage and creativity, of courage. One of the male instructors had a T-shirt that read "Courage expands with use."
i struggle with this issue about being perfect. In self-defense class, in Wing It!, in being on Carla's caregiving team, in all my relationships, in teaching, and of course in writing. Funny, because I don't look like a perfectionist. But scratch the surface and there it is.
Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Working on a poem I'll put something through a thousand drafts (only to have Ruth write, "I liked your earlier draft better.") Allen Ginsberg wrote many many crappy poems. Walt Whitman had great spirit yet he was sometimes verbose and tedious.
In singing there is the harmonious note, and there is the one that is off-key. Some singers are perfect, and then there are those, like Bob Dylan, who aren't but have that something else--spirit. The desire to be excellent to be perfect wars within me with the desire to rebbel and also just this off-key thing which is not rebellion but the particular way I do things.
Anyway, the girls. I can't talk about them in too much detail because of confidentiality agreements, but they ranged from tiny and skinny to big, from a very young 14 to a very mature 20, from girls who were comfortable in their bodies to girls who were soft and plump and looked as if they hardly moved off the couch. All kinds of girls. They go to a small school and all know each other, and it was sweet to see them during breaks, sitting on each others' laps, leaning against each other, sharing gummy bears and energy bars.
I got the feeling that I could do this, teach this stuff, someday. I don't know. My teacher, Nicole, was so excellent, such a yogi, precise and energetic, a perfect fighter, that I walked away from class thinking, "I could never do that." but seeing other teachers now, with different styles, I realize that there's more than one way to do it. I could find my own style. For now, I'm happy to assist. I feel good thinking that there are ten more girls in the world who have the basics of how to defent themselves.