The importance of learning self-defence

As a woman, it is important to learn the art of self-defence

Women empowerment has become a buzzword, one that is high up on government and corporate agenda. But what does it really mean? We live in a country where the statistics of violence against women and children are staggering, bullying in schools is on the increase, and road rage seems to be a daily occurrence. My question is: what are we doing to equip women and children to protect themselves? I was recently a victim of road rage. It was midday, and I was driving to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, an area with which I am unfamiliar. I accidentally turned into the lane of the car driving next to me. I was ahead of the car, but I had no idea that the road we were turning into was a one-way, and I could have stayed in my lane. In my mind, there was no threat of an accident or bumper-bashing, and when the driver of the car hooted, and I realised my error, I apologised profusely. The driver then sped up to cut me off at the next traffic light, climbed out of his car and approached mine. Immediately, thoughts rushed through my brain. Can I drive around him? No, there were cars all around me.

There are two people in the car; what if they both get out? I could drive straight ahead; there was just enough space to manoeuvre my car past theirs, but this would cause damage to both of our cars and escalate the problem. What if they have a weapon? Can I reverse and drive in the opposite direction? I took a deep breath and made the decision to stay calm. I kept my window slightly open, so I could communicate. (I had also read somewhere that this would help, if an attempt was made to smash my window.)

The man was rude. He swore at me, despite my apology and explanation, and hit the car door, in what I believe was a move to instil fear in me. I took out my phone, took a photo of him and his car registration, showing no fear in doing so. Again, the thoughts running through my mind were that if this aggravated the situation, I would tuck my phone into my body, grab my keys, push the door open against him and run. I felt safe in this decision, as I am pretty fit and can run fast. I am strong enough to slam the door hard enough to throw him off balance. I weight-train, and while I may not be able to match the strength of a man, I would have the element of surprise on my side. Thankfully, however, I didn’t need to use any of these tactics. A car next to me, seeing what had happened, provided an escape route, and I sped off.

After the event, I was shaken up, but furious. I believe the only reason I was able to think of the solutions I did was because I have been empowered mentally and physically to do so. However, not everyone is. In that moment, I felt the fear that many a woman has felt – that paralysing and helpless fear. Due to the type of training I do, I am keenly aware of what my body is capable of. My training has made me sharper mentally, and helps me to control my emotional responses. As a kid, I practised the art of karate, and have had years of sport such as athletics, swimming and netball, all of which help me to think tactically and move quickly. My training now, as an adult, keeps me fairly agile and strong. Alan Mann and Anthony Segal of Israeli Krav International Krav Maga agree that fitness does influence your ability to defend yourself. And Clint Brink, a popular South African actor and muay thai practitioner and enthusiast, believes that learning a martial arts skill creates a sense of empowerment by developing a stronger mental attitude, as well as explosive power.