Content note: this post contains depictions of physical assault 

After being attacked on my way home, I decided to start training in martial arts. I wanted to become stronger both physically and mentally, and eventually, I found my way to the Korean martial art of taekwondo. Today, the mental tools taekwondo has given me help me out in all areas of life.

In my twenties, I was attacked on my way home after a late shift at work. A man followed me and forced his way into the building where I lived. Luckily, he didn’t have a weapon, and I managed to get out of his grip and scream for help. Even though he ran off when he heard people approaching, I was deeply shaken. What if there wouldn’t have been anyone around?

I felt so helpless.

The man who had attacked me wasn’t big – around my height. But when he grabbed me, it was like one of those nightmares where your muscles stop working. I was paralyzed by the thought that he might hurt me. I had never been hit by anyone, never hit anyone myself. I didn’t know what to do.

Later, I became angry. How come I had to be the one to take an expensive cab home when working late? To pop one of my headphones out when going for a late run? To not go through dark allies or choose certain clothes? I still pop one headphone out today, and it still makes me angry.

When the nightmares wouldn’t stop after the attack, it was time to do something. I decided that I wanted to find out, in a controlled environment, what it felt like to be hit, kicked – and to respond. To hit back, to take a blow and get back up. Physically, nothing might have happened, but mentally, I had changed: I realized that my body, potentially, wasn’t mine at all but someone else’s to handle as they wished.

Let’s stop here for a moment and clear one thing up: martial arts don’t turn you into an aggressive fighter. Martial arts are about self-control, physical health and mental health – not about being stupid and getting into situations you can’t control. If ever you are attacked, turn around and run. This is what any good trainer would recommend.

I found a kickboxing club at university. This was in the south of Europe about ten years ago, and the club reeked of testosterone. I was put in the ring straight away, with the only other girl in the room – and got beaten up. It’s not how it’s supposed to happen. This was an excellent example of a BAD club, where the trainers and my club mates weren’t doing what they are supposed to – making sure nobody’s attacked if they can’t defend themselves.

Afterwards, I was hurting everywhere and holding back tears of frustration. One of the guys walked up to me and looked me over: my long blonde hair and pink training shirt. “Shouldn’t you be doing ballet?”, he asked. I probably have that comment to thank for the fact that I never gave up fighting – I just moved on to a better club.

A few years later, I discovered taekwondo. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that, like many martial arts, is just as much a way of life as a way to get fit. To succeed in taekwondo, there is only one opponent you have to beat: yourself.

You need to accept your limits and turn them into advantages.

You need to accept failure and see it as learning: another step towards your goal.

You need to accept pain (in a healthy and controlled way), and you will learn that you can endure more than you think.

Today, I have trained in taekwondo for five years. I am stronger both physically and mentally.  I’ve found friends for life and gotten the courage to face situations that make me uncomfortable, not only in the dojang but also outside of it. I know that I can fail, hurt, fall – and get back up on my feet. This makes me feel strong, empowered. I’m a fighter, and I’m immensely proud of it.

Still today, there are stereotypes about women who fight. Why? It might change your world, and if not, it will at least make you stronger. Would you dare to try?

Cover photo credit: Jason Briscoe, Unsplash 

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  1. Wow–you hit the nail on the head with my thoughts, too. I’ve got a cyber-stalker and someone who wouldn’t/isn’t getting the hint I’m not interested in dating. After the last confrontation, I was nervous and shaken for the first time, and went looking for self-defense. I have a cold right now, or else I’d be going in today after missing for a week. I took up kickboxing training and jiu-jitsu, and can’t wait to get back to them. Though I hurt all over, it’s an accomplished hurt, and you get and give a lot of respect toward others in the group. They all help each other and I’m so happy. If i can stop getting sick and make this a habit (kinda new still), then I could probably make some great friends.

    I was taken aback at the cost for years, but this last confrontation told me it’d be cheaper to get healthy and learn self-defense than a stay in the hospital, coma, or death because I couldn’t help myself. I dropped money on it right away.

    For those waffling about it, find a good place near you, see if you can watch a class or two first and understand how the instructors and the place work, how many people show up, and maybe ask questions of those who are there. A good place will let you observe at least once. No harm in that, and maybe the moves would be tricky (I have crappy knees right now because of all my weight), but that’d be a good time to ask instructors about how to handle limitations til you’re stronger.

    Be good to yourselves (and you, too, dear author) and be strong!

    1. That cyber stalker sounds creepy – if he makes you feel shaken and nervous, I think you might want to talk to someone about him and let them know what’s going on. Training martial arts is no guarantee that you won’t be a victim of violence, but it IS a guarantee of a stronger body and mind. I wish you all the best!

      1. Well, there’s something underway there, but it’s more that I think that he’s resorted to cyber when I stopped being around (they’re still digging into it, last I heard). Just makes me aware of all the things I need to do to change it, but at least learning not to freeze is a big help already.

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