Updated: Aug 14, 2020
You have the right to defend yourself against someone else's violence.
I cannot count the times a woman has told me they couldn’t use self-defence as it “feels so violent, that it would make me a violent person”. The reality is this couldn’t be further from the truth. In Fact it was mentioned to me so many times that I began to question it myself, and it would eventually lead me all the way to India in search of an answer.
These same women want to learn how to defend themselves but because of this perception they never take up classes or if they do, they have no intention of actually using these skills if the need arises. The problem here lies with the fact that a violent attacker can now control you with their violence.
Great example of this comes from stories I hear at the women’s self-defence courses that I run. I will teach certain techniques and I can see the looks on some people's faces. Pure cringe and horror, their body language almost withers back at the thought of how violent it seems. I can see the internal dialogue - I could never do that, it's so gross and violent. It’s true, it can be a horrible thought but it also needs to be put in perspective.
If someone pinches you on the butt at the pub are you going to use this? No, of course not, we’re not psychos. It's still assault and still needs to be dealt with but a full blown Uma Thurman Kill Bill style defence? no, this is violence. Now put it into perspective where someone is trying to rape or murder you. It is no longer violence, it is your right to self-defence against someone else’s violence.
Malcolm X nailed it by stating “It doesn’t mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time I am not against using violence in self defence. I don’t even call it violence when it’s in self-defence, I call it intelligence”.
Violence is a mindset. When we leave the house at night or are heading home from work, we don’t set out with an intention of causing harm. But a predator does. If that predator chooses to use his violence against me then I will unleash a mighty storm of fire upon him, but not in one single moment was I using violence to do so. My mindset is to survive, not to cause harm.
Back to my story...I was heavy with the idea of violence. Surely what I was teaching wasn’t violence was it, after all my main goal is to help people not make it worse. Surely I, the most anti-violence person on the planet, wasn't contributing to the cycle of violence? I went to India to find out. I attended a course set amongst a stunning organic farm owned by one of the world's most renowned ecofeminists.
For 3 days we discussed Gandhi’s principles and Satyagraha (principle of non-violence) caught my attention. Sitting beneath a Bodhi tree I asked my teacher one day “would Gandhi consider what I do as violence?”. His reply after careful consideration “no, Gandhi would consider this nonviolent action”. One week prior to this, I had been invited to attend an international conference in New Delhi. Whilst there I sat with Gandhi’s own granddaughter and engaged in another meaningful conversation.
I had found my answers and returned with full heart ready to answer women’s questions on violence will full confidence and conviction in my answers. I was a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.
Now research tells us that women who fight back increase their chances of stopping the assault. That's incredible but it’s more than that. It's standing up to violence, it's saying no to violence, it's regaining control over violence and that is never violence, its anti-violence. You become the opposite of what you feared you’d become.
Another myth that seems to circumnavigate the globe, wreaking havoc on our decisions, suggests that if you find yourself in an aggressive situation you can strike first or you will become the aggressor (aka the violent one). This is not the case. Wherever you feel genuinely threatened for your safety you have the right to defend yourself with whatever means appropriate to the level of threat.
When you take action you are standing up to violence. When you stand up to violence you are not a part of it, you are against it, screaming with the sentiment of NO MORE! No more violence! No more violence against women! No more submission to the toxic social conditioning that women learn to live with
So if you’ve ever wanted to take up self-defence classes but feared being violent, now is the time. It’s your right, just as a gazelle will fight for its life against a lion, you too can defend yourself when threatened. Self-defence is our right and we owe it to ourselves to give ourselves permission to use it.
“Self-defence in itself is not violence but purely defence against someone else's violence” - Zunami White
Chief Instructor/Founder of Guardian Women