Why you should care

Because the best defense is a good offense.

The man was huge, 6′5″ and over 250 pounds. He tackled me to the ground, but I reached up and gripped my fingers under the sides of his chin, struggling to press my thumbs against the inside corners of his eyes. An attempt to pop them out.

Then the man, an expert in Krav Maga, tapped out, gave me a high five and shouted “Next!” Throughout the fight-training course, he’d teach us some serious brutality: how to gouge out the eyes, rip off the tip of the nose and, most shockingly, sever the testicles. “Twist and crush!” recounts a friend who took the course with me. And this, my friends, is what women should be trained to do — play offense against their attackers, not defense. Women shouldn’t learn merely to avoid and repel attackers; they should be trained to hit back harder and nastier.

Learning offense would flip a centuries-old script in which women are conditioned to think about their safety in terms of potential victimhood and reaction. That mindset — this “sugar and spice, everything nice crap,” as self-protection consultant Clint Cloys calls it — takes the agency out of women’s hands and puts it right where an attacker wants it. Indeed, self-defense is a posture of weakness, and the very notion that women should play defense fits well with the notion that we are passive victims. Cloys’ goal? Teach women to “turn predator into prey.”

Teaching women to harness that primal instinct can’t be taught in online classes or at Take Back the Night. It requires acting out violence and conditioning instinctual responses toward fight instead of flight, Cloys says. Here’s his trick: He’ll ask a group of women how they’d respond to an intruder about to assault their child. The scenario tends to bring the flagrant fierceness out of previously timid women. “They’re saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, but it’s going to be fast, violent and brutal.’ ”

To be sure, battle skills are not a panacea for rape or a substitute for programs that educate about the prevalence of sexual assault in our universities and elsewhere, points out Jessica Ladd, founder and CEO of Sexual Health Innovations. “Phrasing matters,” she says; the notion that teaching women offense would end rape is, to put it mildly, “problematic.” So let’s be clear: No matter what the circumstances, or how hard or little you fight back, it’s the perp’s fault.

What battle skills are about is a mindset. It’s been years since the class I took and even now, sometimes, I walk down the street, sizing up the passersby and figuring out how I would take them down. Sometimes I imagine a scenario playing out on the street — someone tries to accost me. I fight back. And I always win. Now that is power.

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