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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Category: Gender Based Violence    Sports
Tagged with: gender based violence    Mental Health    Sports    strength    Women Who Inspire    women's health    WTF taekwondo

Miia Yliaho

A freelance writer and translator sharing her life between Stockholm and Lisbon. Passionate about stories, food, travels, literature, and equality for all. Utopia: creative writing classes for all children, everywhere. Girl crushes: Beyoncé and Patti Smith. "They thought that they could bury us, but what they didn't see was that we are seeds" - Mexican proverb

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