I could feel his presence before he grabbed me and pinned my arms to my side. Fear slid from my head to my toes like hot lava, but I didn’t struggle. Better to let him pull me to the ground, I was taught, where I’d have some self-defense options. Suppressing my instinct to struggle for freedom, I relaxed into his grip as we fell. Once down, I started my attack: groin strike, elbow strike, eye strike, kick to the head. It was a series of movements I’d practiced repeatedly before Chucky mugged me, but in the moment of the attack I struggled to recall them.
My attack took place in a seminar called Women’s Real Deal Self-Defense offered by Martial Arts Family Fitness. Despite the controlled environment, I was alarmed when Chucky-aka Bruce Williams, a third-degree black belt dressed in padded clothing and trained for this kind of work-“mugged” me. I’ve never been assaulted, never had my life threatened, but the fear of it has been with me as long as I can remember. When the opportunity arose to participate in the Real Deal and write about my experience, I was eager for the challenge, but also scared.
The 10-hour class began on a Friday evening. Anxious and unsure of what to expect, I packed a bag of comfort items-my favorite sweatshirt from the Bad Ass Cafe in Dublin, Ireland; my iPod; and a childhood teddy bear-and attended a kick-boxing class hours before the seminar to shake off my nerves. There were seven students in the self-defense class, as well as Williams and the facilitator, Melodee Meyer, a third-degree black belt and certified self-defense instructor who also has a master’s in spiritual psychology.
We started by sitting in a circle on the floor as Meyer explained the purpose of Real Deal, which is designed to teach us how to physically protect ourselves but also to explore-and tackle-fear. During a surprise attack, when lightning reflexes and decision making are crucial, mental paralysis is the most common response, said Meyer. (That fact was confirmed the following day when nearly all of us froze during our first Chucky encounter, despite having repeatedly practiced our defense strategies just prior.) When Meyer then asked each of us what we wanted to work on, I explained that while I feel physically strong, I’m vocally timid and worried that I won’t be able to say “no” powerfully enough-or at all.
Following the introduction, we did warm-up exercises and were taught the techniques required to bring down a mugger. After repeating the tactics slowly against a punching bag until we perfectly executed them-together with firm “no”s-we were ready to move on to the second stage: Acting out a mugging.
That’s when Chucky appeared. Williams had put on a bulky, padded suit that had black mesh where the eyes should be. Not only did Williams transform physically into an ominous threat, he also changed his personality. A kind, gentle man by nature, Williams informed us that to be able to simulate a real-life attack situation he had to become another persona, a cruel, aggressive, vocally abusive person. It might not sound like much as you read it, but Chucky was scary as hell.
Time with Chucky was broken into several parts: slow-mo mugging to practice our self-defense techniques; a real-time mugging, which requires real fighting back and left some of us with scrapes and bruises; unrelenting verbal abuse while we deflected his taunts with repeated “no”s and “stay back”s; and finally, a reenactment of our worst fear, whether that meant being attacked while sleeping in bed, being jumped from behind, or being pinned facedown. Though my intense Chucky time drove me to tears, it was essential to tangle with the harsh, faceless mugger, all the while getting encouragement and guidance from Meyer and the other students. It made the contrived situation feel surprisingly real.
Hopefully, I will never need the skills I learned, but the statistics are even more frightening than Chucky. In 2007, a total of 109,210 aggravated assaults and 9,013 forcible rapes were reported in California, according to the U.S. Justice Department. That’s a hefty number-nearly 25 rapes and 300 assaults per day!-even before factoring in that sexual assault is the least-reported violent crime. While being attacked is a chilling thing to think about, information and preventive measures are your best weapons for avoiding-or escaping-an attacker.
According to Gavin de Becker, author of the bestselling book The Gift of Fear, “Precautions are constructive, whereas remaining in a state of fear is destructive. It can also lead to panic, and panic itself is usually more dangerous than the outcome we dread.” The beauty of Real Deal is it allows you to confront emotional and physical terror in a safe environment, ultimately leaving you feeling powerful. And it just might save your life.
The next Real Deal takes place Friday, April 24, 6-10 p.m. and Saturday, April 25, noon-6 p.m., at Martial Arts Family Fitness (122 E. Gutierrez St.). For more info or to register, call 963-6233 or visit kickboxers.com.