housewife knives
Defense against weapons typically begins once the student has achieved first degree black belt. Our school is small so we sometimes have to make do with the mix of students we have on any given day. I was the only bo dan among black belts in our tiny Friday night adult class, and that was my first opportunity to learn defense against weapons. We’ve been spending a lot of time on my test requirements, but my instructor didn’t want to neglect the learning needs of my black belt classmates, so he decided to bring out the rubber knives.

Taekwondo gets flak from other martial artists for the assumption that it is all about fancy kicks: jump kicks, spinning kicks, flying kicks, you name it, we do it. They claim we never do anything with our hands and don’t know how to fight in close quarters. Yes, there is emphasis on kicking because the legs are so much more powerful than the arms (even a Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioner told me to fight off attackers on the ground with my legs since I’d have more leverage), but we do quite a bit with our hands. Several of our self-defense techniques include elbow and knife-hand strikes, and students start learning intricate wrist and elbow locks when they hit red belt.

“You look like you’re going to cut a piece of meat. Hold the knife right,” my instructor teased me as I readied myself to stab at him. Apparently I was not a very threatening foe. Trying to kill someone is a lot harder than it looks! I did get him back when I accidentally (or not?) swiped him in the eye with my ponytail as I grabbed his wrist and spun around to elbow him in the face. Just when I felt like I was finally one of the guys my feminine wiles resurface.

The next day in bo dan and black belt class one of the masters decided to continue with weapons training since we were all advanced students, and there were no little kids in the room to dampen our fun. Real life self-defense is not like the crazy choreography we see in the movies. The master advised us to keep it simple and become competent at one or two things we could do effectively and quickly. Protect yourself, disarm and/or incapacitate, and get the hell out of there.

For much of the class we practiced defense against stabs to the gut and overhead stabs from anyone who wanted to play Norman Bates. I was shier and more tentative than I usually am in class. My brain likes to make the hand-to-hand self-defense complicated. While I enjoy puzzles and complexities in other areas of my life I tend to feel overwhelmed with hand-to-hand. Suddenly I don’t know my right from left, up from down, or which way I’m supposed to turn. I forget to use strong stances to leverage my weight and instead stay stock still while I’m flapping my hands. I’ve talked about that magical “click” before, that moment when your body and brain FINALLY work in sync. I guess it just hasn’t happened yet with this technique.

For the last bit of class we tried out defense against “sticks,” which are actually like skinny baseball bats that could land a very ugly blow to the head. I’m not a boy from 1930’s New Jersey so somehow I resisted the urge to want to play stickball with it.

If anyone still doubts taekwondo’s powers to fight off a close-up attacker with the hands I would like them to have been in my place when I swiped at my instructor with the stick…All I remember is that my elbow was crunched, I was dropped on my face and then finally flipped onto my back while my wrist was twisted backwards. It happened so fast that all I could do was will myself to keep my head up in the safety position as I was tossed to the floor. This was all done with a quick block, a precise grab, and a few twists of the wrist and shifts in weight. No kicks. I was a little stunned right after it happened and had to ice my elbow later that night. He definitely got his revenge for the ponytail blinding.

Don’t tell me we don’t use our hands.

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